Thursday, August 2, 2012

My top five outdoors destinations in Michigan

I saw a post on the Pure Michigan blog earlier this week that got me thinking: it asked readers for the top five cities to visit in Michigan for a native New Yorker now living in Ann Arbor. Naturally, cities such as Detroit, Grand Rapids, Frankenmuth, etc., popped up, and I threw in my two cents as well.

But what about the top five outdoors spots in Michigan?

The following list is the one I came up with:

5. Island Lake State Recreation Area/Kensington Metropark

Sorry I brought up snow, I'll tell it to go away now.
This is a surprise on the list, but it's not for its summer activities. Island Lake and Kensington are great for the winter, complete with trails for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, you name it. Island Lake is practically empty during this time, and the two rustic cabins in the park make for a great weekend, something I've done for years.

The sledding and tobogganing hills in Kensington are tall and steep, and make for a great afternoon of fun in the snow.

Now, let's stop talking about winter, and move on to the warmer spots, such as...

4. South Manitou Island

I've been fortunate enough to travel here three times, and have spent two nights sleeping at Weather Station campground. The island, park of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, takes about 90 minutes to get to, but is full of sights to keep you busy.

This photo doesn't begin to capture how big these dunes
really are off the island's coast.
The lighthouse is stunning, especially if you're able to climb up the tower and look out onto Lake Michigan. The sand dunes on the opposite side of the island are majestic, and stretch high above the lakeshore. They're so tall, you can roll a rock down them and it becomes a game.

The shipwreck of the Francisco Morazan, along with the grove of giant cedars makes this island worth the boat ride.

Speaking of boat rides...

3. Round Island
(Flickr photo by hatchski)
Not your typical destination point. The island, which lies in the Straits of Mackinac, can only be reached through a charter boat; no docks exist, so you have to climb into the water of the straits to reach land.

But once you make it, it doesn't get more rustic than that. When I went in 2003, we were the only ones on the island. No designated campsites, just wherever you could find a place to pitch camp. We (of course) chose the beach, facing Mackinac Island. I still remember sitting at the campfire at dusk, watching the fog and freighters roll in. One of the most vivid memories I have is seeing the row of lights from atop the Grand Hotel as the night got darker. Truly a beautiful sight.

Other places have unique views as well, including...

2. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

The dunes, they speak
for themselves.
This is a given, especially if you've hiked the entire Lakeshore Trail like I did with my old Scout troop in 2006. The entire 50 miles is lined with breathtaking views, from the rock sculptures near Munising to  the sand dunes closer to Grand Marais.

The dunes especially have captured my imagination since I left. The view topped that of Sleeping Bear, which I didn't think possible. Loggers used to use the dunes to slide logs down them to Lake Superior, and it's clear why.

The trail, part of the North Country Trail, is windy, and includes beaches. It's a sight to see.

You get a great mix with Pictured Rocks, and you can choose how intense you want to be. You can hike the whole thing with a pack on your back, or you can camp in your RV and walk to the beach every day.

My No. 1 place, however, you can't do that so easily...

1. Isle Royale National Park
It doesn't get any better than this.
This island is the goal of many outdoorsmen here in Michigan. This is the gem of Michigan, which we all can thank Ben Franklin for.

It lies 54 miles off the coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula, and takes more than 3 hours to get to. But the trip is unforgettable, which is why I featured recently in a Flashback Friday post in July.

It's what natural life is all about. Pump all your own water, carry all of your food, swim in the coldest lake I've ever been in. It's all about survival, and seeing an ecosystem recovering from copper mining.

Old mine shafts still dot the island, and one wrong step and you'll fall. Landmarks such as Daisy Farm, Chickenbone Lake and Moskey Basin make up the isle with the backbone of the Greenstone Ridge.

Wildlife is beautiful and unique. From loons to moose to wolves, you'll see animals you won't see on Michigan's mainland.

It truly is tops when it comes to the outdoors. The people I've spoken to that are outdoorsmen crave the island, and have waited years to travel there. I was lucky enough to go when I was 17, and I've never regretted it.

What do you think of my list? What locations would you include?

1 comment:

  1. I think your lists look awesome. I can’t think of any right now to add to it. Maybe some national parks? They also have the best views in this wide green earth. Great photos by the way. Really eye catching.