Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan.

9 Underrated Destinations In Michigan To Avoid Summer Crowds

Michigan, a seemingly obvious summertime getaway representing the Great Lakes of the nation, is largely unexplored, with immense state parks and shorelines left for the sole enjoyment of restless venturers. The Wolverine State boasts a real adventureland with four lakes: Huron, Superior, Michigan, and Erie, and it is split into the Upper Peninsula in the north and the Lower Peninsula in the south, with a connection by the five-mile Mackinac Bridge. Choose adventures for your group along the forested Upper Peninsula with low hills and access to Michigan's highest mountain, Mount Arvon, at 1,979 feet. The mostly flat Lower Peninsula, "the Mitten," with thousands of miles of shoreline, boasts destinations like the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Arcadia Dunes 

Arcadia Dunes between Arcadia and Frankfort Michigan, bluffs
Arcadia Dunes between Arcadia and Frankfort Michigan.

The stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline dominated by the Arcadia Dunes is vast and beautiful, with scenic sections that receive fewer crowds. You can plan for a virtually one-on-one experience with nature and the endless views all around. Strolling along the picture-perfect Sleeping Bear Dunes' golden sands with a forested fringe, you can feel a breath of fresh air, as if calling in all the adventurous souls.

Choose among the 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails around Lake Michigan to hide from the sun, take a rest-stop picnic, or get lost and let the natural world envelop you in a cool embrace. You can spend days exploring, from boardwalks to beautiful wildflower meadows, and head to the observation deck for sunset with incredible views of the calm waters. This tame slice of heaven, modestly called Arcadia Dunes, is located just south of Crystal Lake, along west Michigan’s M-22, in the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve.

Chapel Rock And Beach Trail

The Chapel Rock at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan.

The Upper Peninsula, which is year-round spectacular, is especially mesmerizing come summertime along its prized Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This vast, endlessly scenic shorespread offers hundred-mile walking and hiking trails with hidden gems that are overlooked for the joyous solitude of those who stumble upon them. Forget the populated Miners Castle in favor of Chapel Rock, a stranger to the tourist trap vibe due to the lack of a paved road off the main highway.

Take the gravel access road to the Chapel Rock trailhead for remarkable beauty and scenic trails fanning out three miles each way through notable landscapes. Choose adventure to your liking, from sandstone gorges to Chapel Falls picnics, or head straight to the Lake Superior beach with Chapel Rock itself. The lonesome, sandstone, water-washed precipice with a fir tree atop is the most instagrammable and heart-wrenching sight, calling for a close-up on a swim. The cold waters feel most refreshing after the hot hike, and the beckoning beach is the perfect place to lounge after diving in.

Detroit’s "Little Venice"

A kayaker in Detroit.

Visit Detroit's eastern neighborhoods, 'Little Venice," where the river canals slice in for a unique look of Italianesque streets, a unique sight in Michigan's most populous city or American scenery in general. The quieter district offers a break from the city without the typical crowds of rushing locals and visiting tourists on a layover, allowing you to finally enjoy some peace and quiet in your own backyard. Find a spot in the plentiful little nooks and crannies after a stroll to take in the whimsical feel of Prohibition-era Detroit.

Here, the ruthless bootleggers and "Purple Gang" would illegally move booze from Canada into their alcohol-free country. Now, you can enjoy a drink of your choice with a water view. Take a ride down the canal in your own kayak or join outfitters like Riverside Kayak Connection for an atmospheric paddle through the state's rough piece of history. It is a perfect laidback adventure for a summer day, where the photogenic Fisher Mansion and the resident waterfowl will accompany you in a tranquil, removed feel from the city.

Fisherman’s Island State Park

A herring gull on the shore of Lake Michigan, at Fisherman's Island State Park, near Charlevoix, Michigan.

Fisherman's Island State Park, a real state gem just a few miles south of the City of Charlevoix, offers a quick escape outdoors from the city. The beautiful state park is exactly as it sounds: an unspoiled island-set oasis with refreshing trails and scenic shores along the fish-teeming waters. Enjoy seaside recreation, strolls, and relaxation with views, or explore inward through rolling forest-covered dunes of maple, birch, cedar, and black spruce growth. It takes just a mental image of phantom scents mixing in the air over Fisherman's Island to start packing.

Take a stroll through the pristine 2,678-acre park where the sea breeze collides with the forest's fresh breath along wildlife trails, all fringed by five miles of the pristine Lake Michigan shoreline. Immerse yourself in the authentic Wolverine State atmosphere and one kind of beauty, difficult to find elsewhere, that feels like you've found your own slice of paradise. Enjoy easy access at low lake levels, 1.5 miles south on US-31 from Charlevoix, turning west for another kilometer on Bell Bay Road to the entrance. Choose a modern or rustic campground in the dunes along the lakeshore, with a nearby picnic area by the beach and miles of hiking trails.

Old Town Lansing

The Old Town Lansing in Michigan.
CaptionThe Old Town Lansing in Michigan. Editorial credit: T-I / Shutterstock.com

Lansing's Old Town, the site of the city's original Grand River settlement from the mid-19th century, retains the same look and flourishes as a commercial district. Find plentiful art galleries and independently owned businesses to eat and shop among antiques and live music. The Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA) keeps the Old Town in tip-top shape, preserved in the galore of the past, through socioeconomic development efforts. Browse along the streets with old storefronts and vintage sights, or join exciting walking tours.

The family-friendly district is a perfect outlet from the businessy side of Lansing to support a local piece of the state's history with its rich and vibrant streetscape, both lively and quaint under the historic ambience in the air. Check out MEAT Southern BBQ and Ozone’s Brewhouse for food and drinks, and don't forget to stop by Great Lakes Art and Gifts for home decor, memorabilia, and unique souvenirs for friends.

Olive Shores

Pigeon Lake in West Olive, Michigan.
Pigeon Lake in West Olive, Michigan.

The lakeside oasis of Olive Shores, just off US-31 in West Olive, is a gorgeous and welcoming 20-acre dune formation and forest. There's something for every lounger or adventurer with stunning views of Lake Michigan below, like scenic trails and picnic areas throughout. The wooden stairways and boardwalks to the beaches are photo ops against the backdrop of the breathtaking 738-foot Lake Michigan. After a stroll, a jog, or a bike ride, the sparkling waters could not be more inviting at your side to cool you off on a refreshing swim.

Choose a spot along the crowdless beach to relax or enjoy scenic recreation with a close group. You will beat the mid-day heat of summer in the embrace of west Michigan’s natural beauty, with nothing better than those beautiful sunsets over the water and lakeside evening cookouts—the quintessential elements to experience on a getaway from it all in the Great Lakes State. Olive Shores' series of hiking trails through beech-maple-hemlock forest, perfectly lush in the second half of summer, will call you back soon for fantastic foliage.

Sand Point Beach

The beautiful Sand Point Beach.

The real tranquil Sand Point Beach continuously mesmerizes new tourists and delights its loyal followers, just a few miles from downtown Munising. Sand Point is a gorgeous slice of Michigan's nature to relax on a stroll, swim, and enjoy waterside recreation with unparalleled views along Lake Superior. Sand Point is a reprieve from typical beach crowds along its pristine sandy shorelines, the cool Lake Superior's waters, and scenery that seems to stretch on forever.

This heavenly slice retains its hidden gem status and is often overlooked along the Upper Peninsula. Come to immerse yourself in a real retreat that your heart desires, end the summer on a high note, and have memorable experiences. Relish in the tranquil vibe on a real getaway that finally helps you achieve relaxation by exchanging the city haze for lazy gazing at Munising Bay and strolls to the beauty of East Channel Lighthouse.

St. Joseph

Aerial view of St. Joseph, Michigan.
Aerial view of St. Joseph, Michigan. 

The small town in the shadows of nearby South Haven is a delightful lakeside getaway with low crowds along one of Lake Michigan's best beaches. St. Joseph is an unmissable port town with a friendly community that likes to stay active in the beautiful outdoors. From its unmatched waterfront access to plentiful vineyards near seven exquisite beaches, each equipped for family-friendly visits, St. Joseph offers a perfect weekend getaway, a day trip, or the rest of the summer spent.

Seek respite in this real beachgoer's slice of paradise under the sun by the cooling waters and refreshing nature for hikes just steps away. St. Joseph beaches are easy to find for easygoing strolls and scenic relaxation by the waters, or thousands of sprawling acres of State Parkland. Choose from modern and rustic campsites with all amenities to stay in between hiking trails and sand dunes ventures. Find playgrounds, picnic areas, a covered pavilion, volleyball nets, and, of course, the miles of sandy shore for easygoing recreation.

Twelve Mile Beach 

The gorgeous Twelve Mile Beach in Michigan.
The gorgeous Twelve Mile Beach in Michigan.

Twelve Mile Beach is not just your regular sandy destination for lounging, strolling, and swimming in the most pristine natural environment. The tremendously beautiful beach, featuring a dominating park with cliffs, will realize and exceed any summertime dreams with low crowds. There are 37 tucked-away campsites along the shore of Twelvemile Beach, under a stunning sandy bluff. Take a morning shore stroll and access the park from the doorstep, with a cooling lake awaiting to refresh you post-hike.

The getaway is perfect for every group, taste, and age seeking to stay active or relax in unobscured views, and you can even bring your leashed pet to the beach. Find a day-use area with nearby picnic spots at the east end of Twelvemile Beach Campground, just a short walk from the parking lot and a long flight of photogenic, descending steps from the bluff to the beach. Another 1.5-mile trail at the end of Little Beaver Lake Road to Lake Superior leads to the western end of the beach, with more hiking through the Beaver Basin Wilderness zone.

Enjoy easy access from Detroit and other big cities to the underrated summertime hotpots, as well as from neighboring Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin in the south and Canada in the east, north, and west. From state parks to the 400-foot dunes along clear Lake Michigan, the state is covered 40 percent by water for all your summertime dreams. Choose a small town or the old town center of Lansing, and you will have access to water after a short drive from anywhere in the state to diversify your second half of your summertime vacation. From there, the islands like Isle Royale, a national park in the middle of Lake Superior, offer a remote atmosphere for total solitude.


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