These ten most charming river towns in Michigan boast some of the best ways to experience the state for nature lovers and explorers. They are more under the radar than other places in Michigan, but a visit to any of these destinations offers you a chance to experience some of the most picturesque places in small-town Michigan while enjoying the calm waterfront culture that these places have to offer.
Saugatuck, Michigan is a vibrant town on the Kalamazoo River that prides itself on its flourishing artistic community as well as being a breathtaking destination for beach lovers. Voted Best Beach Town in Michigan for the second year in a row in 2021, you can find this quaint destination right by Lake Michigan as well as Lake Kalamazoo, with the Kalamazoo River flowing westbound into Lake Michigan. Because of the abundance of waterbodies surrounding the town, there are tons of opportunities for water sports or just sitting along the riverbanks on a sunny day. The town is also well known for its bustling LGBTQ community, as well as its breweries and culinary scene.
A drive up to northern Michigan will take you to Indian River, a charming river town in between two other bodies of water, Burt Lake and Mullett Lake. The entire township is completely surrounded by water, with the Indian River flowing over the northern parts of the town, while the Sturgeon River surrounds the area from the southernmost part, allowing for tons of water sports and activities. In addition, hundreds of thousands of visitors come from all over the world to see the town’s top tourist destination. The world’s largest crucifix, the National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods stands an impressive 28 feet tall.
Pentwater, Michigan is a charming harbor village that you will find on the shores of Lake Michigan, which the Pentwater River flows into. There is more than just one waterbody to explore. Pentwater Lake, which is a 500-acre inland lake is in town, adding to the plethora of water sports that you can do while here. Known for its artistic charm, eclectic shops, art galleries, and antiques, the town is perfect for souvenir shopping and general perusing. In June, July, and August, the town hosts an Art Stroll on the last Friday of each month, which has participating galleries opening their doors all day for art lovers to observe their displays.
Glen Arbor is in northwestern Michigan between Sleeping Bear Bay (Lake Michigan) and Glen Lake. The Crystal River runs through the town, dubbed The Most Beautiful Place In America on ABC’s Good Morning America. The scenic Sleeping Bear Dunes are nearby, which gives visitors the opportunity to take in the immaculate sights, hike the trails, and go rafting. There are also farms and cider mills to visit, amusement parks, restaurants, and much more.
In the southeast corner of Michigan minutes away from Ann Arbor is Dexter, a hidden gem of a locale with small-town charm situated on the banks of the Huron River. There are 14 public parks and numerous walking trails throughout town that offer access points to the river, such as Mill Creek Park as well as the 104-mile-long Huron River Trail. Biking and paddling are other popular modes of recreational transportation. The town itself has museums and cultural activities such as a local theatre, concerts, and festivals.
The town of Marshall, Michigan is a great stop if you are near Detroit or Chicago because it is right in between them on the Kalamazoo River. The town itself is charming with sycamore trees lining the streets. There are also unique places to visit such as the renowned Dark Horse Brewing, tours of historic homes, garden tours, a blues festival, candlelit walks through town, unique local shops, and much more in this small town that is one of the country’s largest historical landmarks districts.
Saint Clair is a must-visit destination for those looking for a small-town Michigan charm near a big city. You can find the quaint town about 52 miles northeast of Detroit, on the banks of the St. Clair River as well as the small Pine River. You can visit the St. Clair boat harbor which has water activities with a canoe and kayak launch ramp along with rentals so you can paddle down Pine River, or walk along the wooden boardwalk of the harbor and enjoy the sights.
This gem in Michigan’s Little Bavaria is a great destination, especially in the winter. The entire town is Bavarian-inspired, including the architecture, and people come from all over the country to eat the famous chicken dinners. The Cass River runs through the town, and you can go ice skating in town as well try an ale from the Frankenmuth Brewery. Horse-drawn carriage rides are a popular choice while visiting this picturesque German-style river town in Michigan.
The city of Grand Ledge is just outside of Lansing, Michigan, on the banks of the Grand River. There are numerous spectacular parks and outdoor spaces to explore that showcase the beauty of the small-town Michigan landscape. The town has 15 parks with 114 acres of parkland. There are 9,820 feet of waterfront to explore, as well as a boat launch. Island Park has a particularly beautiful view of the river and is the largest of the area’s Seven Islands. You can cross the island via a bridge to appreciate the wildlife and natural scenery.
Manistee is a town on the Manistee River, which flows into Lake Michigan. It is a charming waterfront town with Victorian architecture and a historic downtown that is part of the National Register of Historic Places. You can enjoy the riverwalk through town as well as the beaches, trolley tours, museums, and much more. There are tons of boating activities in this mesmerizing location full of history.
Experience the River Towns of Michigan!
A visit to any of these charming river towns in Michigan will definitely exceed your expectations. The small-town charm, spectacular waterfront views, and numerous cultural and historical relics to explore make these river towns in Michigan a great family vacation or simply a destination for your next getaway.