Mackinac Island, Michigan: Bustling streets of downtown Mackinac Island during tourist season. Editorial Credit: Michael Deemer via Shutterstock.

8 Most Scenic Small Towns in Michigan

There is a body of evidence suggesting that bodies of water like lakes have beneficial effects on mental health. If so, then the most scenic small towns in Michigan are certainly the most soothing places in the US due to their proximity to the Great Lakes (the state quite literally got its name from the Ojibwa word "meicigam," meaning "large lake" or "large water”). On Lake Superior, you will find an unparalleled winter town such as Munising. On Lake Michigan’s shores, you will be mesmerized by several sublime towns like St. Joseph, South Haven, and Traverse City. And on Lake Huron, you will fall in love with the inland and aquatic amenities of Mackinac Island. Let the sea-like breezes of the Great Lakes take you through the most scenic small towns in the Mitten State, and let the myriads of treats and treasures rinse away your daily worries.


Boats at the marina in Munising, Michigan
Boats at the marina in Munising, Michigan

Tucked neatly in Lake Superior’s South Bay, the amusing town if Munising becomes a winter wonderland for the adventurous and the daring. Munising’s most challenging area, Valley Spur, entices skiers with a great snowshoe trail called the “Snowman.” Furthermore, the frozen waterfalls of the area, such as the Curtains, present opportunities for engaging ice climbing escapades. However, you can still sightsee more of Munising’s natural features such as the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, so named after the multi-colored streaks of mineral stains all over the nearby cliffs. The wreckages of 19th and 20th-century ships attract many snorkelers and divers at the Alger Underwater Preserve, while Grand Island summons the worn and weary travelers into a tranquil and wonderful embrace. Similar to Grand Island, the Hiawatha National Forest calls and challenges visitors with soothing treks and vibrant camping grounds. Because Munising serves as an excellent resort town, one can rest in places like Munising Motel, Roam Inn, or Pictured Rocks Inn & Suites.

St. Joseph

The business district on State Street in St. Joseph, Michigan, USA.
The business district on State Street in St. Joseph, Michigan, USA. Editorial credit: Roberto Galan /

Known as the “Riviera of the Midwest” because of its luxurious location on Lake Michigan’s shores, St. Joseph is a great place to soak in the sun and fun in the middle of the US. At Silver Beach, one can enjoy a ride at the refurbished carousel or simple relaxation at a pavilion both from 1910. Similarly, on the other lip of the mouth of the St. Joseph River, Tiscornia Park promotes resplendent shores and beaches, as well as a beautiful view of the historic St. Joseph North Pier Lighthouse. Further inland, the Krasl Art Center showcases the talented creativity of local artists. Elsewhere, the Maud Preston Palenske Memorial Library educates visitors of the town’s humble origins. You can continue to wade through Lake Michigan’s waters at Lions Park Beach and Lookout Park. Only 90 miles from Chicago, see more of what St. Joseph has to offer, and stay a while at The Boulevard Inn & Bistro, Silver Beach Hotel, or South Beach Inn.

South Haven

Visitors stroll in downtown South Haven during the Blueberry festival.
Visitors stroll in downtown South Haven during the Blueberry festival. Editorial credit: Susan Montgomery /

Approximately 53 minutes from Grand Rapids, visitors can feel safe and sound in the opulent dwellings of South Haven. Similar to St. Joseph, which is only 27 miles away, South Haven contains several unique beaches and shores near the mouth of Black River. Travelers can spend much of their gorgeous hours charting and exploring the Kal-Haven Trail State Park. Or you can immerse yourself into the town’s maritime past—and the past of the whole of Lake Michigan—at the Michigan Maritime Museum. One can even board facsimiles or replicas of historic vessels such as the Friends Good Will for scenic voyages in Lake Michigan. For those looking to spend a long time in South Haven, consider picking one of the many fine lodgings in town like the Historic Hotel Nichols, Victoria Resort Bed & Breakfast, or Sleepy Hollow Beach Resort.

Traverse City

Main Street in Traverse City, Michigan.
Main Street in Traverse City, Michigan. Image credit: Michigan Municipal League via

At the ends of the East and West Arms Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City beckons tourists with its world-renowned cherries and over 40 unique wineries. From June 29 to July 6, the town celebrates the annual National Cherry Festival, when the cherry crops are in high bloom. Besides the delightful delicacies of the region, Traverse City boasts the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a verdant treasure rich with hiking trails and challenging dunes. Notwithstanding the vast expanse of Lake Michigan, several sparkling and spectacular lakes can be accessed nearby, such as Lake Leelanau, Torch Lake, Elk Lake, and Long Lake. Charter one of the many historic tall ships to sail across Grand Traverse Bay, or stroll between the history-filled buildings of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. When it comes to accommodations, the Cambria Hotel Traverse City, Bayshore Resort, and Wellington Inn are a handful of the places you can feel safe and sound at.


The Bavarian Inn, one of the main restaurants and attractions in Frankenmuth, Michigan.
The Bavarian Inn, one of the main restaurants and attractions in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Editorial credit: Kenneth Sponsler /

With its Bavarian architecture, German heritage, and an 80-mile proximity from Lansing and Detroit, Frankenmuth creates an exciting atmosphere for those who are looking to delve deep into Michigan’s wild and cultural side. The Frankenmuth Historical Museum illustrates the diverse stories of German immigrants and pioneers whose contributions developed Frankenmuth into a bustling community. Close at hand, Michigan’s Military & Space Heroes Museum exhibits US flight gear, Medals of Honor, and military equipment of some of Michigan’s most valiant and gallant heroes.

Heritage Park, bordered by the Cass River, entreats travelers to enriching paths along the river as well as an event pavilion that often hosts some local performances. Meanwhile, the Frankenmuth Aerial Park promotes ziplining and rope adventures over a lush woodland. From March 15 to April 14, participate in Frankenmuth’s Osterbrunnen, a Bavarian Easter celebration with ties to Franconia Germany (Northern Bavaria). You can also watch ragtime performances during Zehnder’s Ragtime Festival in April 24 - 26, or watch Michigan’s largest beer sampling event on the third weekend of May. Do stay at the Bavarian Inn, Marv Herzog Hotel, or Zehnder’s Splash Village during your long vacation in Frankenmuth.


Street view in Holland, Michigan
Street view in Holland, Michigan, via Juli Scalzi /

Welkom to the little town of Holland, a venerable slice of Denmark in the middle of America. In this Dutch-themed village, one can take memorable photos of De Zwaan ("The Swan"), a centuries-old Dutch windmill found in the Windmill Island Gardens. In the period of May 4 - 12, Holland celebrates the Tulip Time Festival, a fertile experience when tulips bloom all over the region in honor of the town’s roots with the original Holland (i.e., Denmark).

Outside the Dutch homages, Holland promotes other photo-worthy attractions such as the Big Red Lighthouse, a historic landmark connecting the miniscule Lake Macatawa to the infinite Lake Michigan. Nearby, the Holland State Park Macatawa Campground provides leisurely space for you to roam and relax, as well as sheltering migratory birds and grazing deer. The Holland Museum and the Cappon House Museum chronicle the various Dutch immigrants who established a new kind of Holland in America. When exhaustion seeps in, remember to rest up at the Holland Farmhouse Inn B&B or the Tulyp Hotel.

Mackinac Island

Looking down the main street of Mackinac Island.
Looking down the main street of Mackinac Island. Image credit Michael Deemer via Shutterstock.

Near the watery borders between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, the island town of Mackinac Island floats placidly in the sea-sized Lake Huron. Visitors can ride horse-drawn carriages towards venerable destinations and attractions in the island. The Mackinac Island State Park was given the honor by National Geographic of being one of the ten best parks in America, while the limestone Arch Rock formation attracts hundreds of tourists all over the US and beyond. Within the walls of Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes are several military buildings elucidating the War of 1812.

Elsewhere, the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop gives interactive insight into the work life of a blacksmith, while the Biddle House in the Mackinac Island Native American Museum showcases turbulent changes undergone by the Anishnaabek people. The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum similarly illustrates the trials and tribulations of Mackinac Island, while also catering to modern artistry and bohemian works. Try not to miss out on annual events like the Fudge Festival in August or the Lilac Festival in June. Naturally, the island is riddled with many luxurious lodgings, and you will not feel bothered at all while staying at the Hotel Iroquois, Grand Hotel, Chippewa Hotel Waterfront, or Lilac Tree Suites.


Street view in Charlevoix, Michigan
Street view in Charlevoix, Michigan, via Fsendek /

About an hour away from Traverse City, Charlevoix operates as a floodgate and barrier between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix. Overlooking Lake Michigan, the Charlevoix South Pier Lighthouse watches over the waters flowing between two lakes of differing sizes. Air and ferryboats offer safe travels to the nearby Beaver Island, and many locations in town were visited by famed American writer, Ernest Hemingway. The Little Traverse Historical Museum specifically narrates the life and times of the author. The many unusual quirks of the town include the world’s largest cherry pie and several Earl Young mushroom houses. Go hunting for Petoskey and Charlevoix stones—Michigan’s state stones—at Fisherman’s Island State Park, or tour the baroque grounds of Castle Farms and Event Barns. Last but not least, book a room at The Earl at Charlevoix, Charlevoix House, or Charlevoix Inn and Suites.

In Conclusion

With a multitude of titles like “Motor City,” “the Lighthouse Capital of the World,” and “the Great Beer State” you will be vrooming through the Mitten State’s countryside and past over 115 lighthouses watching the shores of lakes Superior, Erie, Huron, and Michigan—all while drinking some of the finest beer in the land. More importantly, you will be spending much of your merry days and nights in the most scenic towns in Michigan. Celebrate in the German and Dutch legacies at Frankenmuth and Holland, respectively. Dive into the hidden, underwater marvels in Munising. Traverse the cultural and natural attractions of Traverse City. And finally, take pictures of yourself or your friends and families in the most scenic towns in Michigan.

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