Top Places for Outdoor Activities in Michigan in 2024


Outdoor activities in Michigan are great for outdoor enthusiasts. Michigan has 103 state parks, so you’ll have many outdoor adventures in the parks. Multi-use trails cut through lush forests, and you’ll find miles of scenic trails along the pristine beaches and the beauty of Lake Michigan.

Here are the top places I’ve discovered in Michigan for a day of outdoor recreation and outdoor fun.

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Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Waterfalls

One of the best outdoor activities in Michigan is chasing waterfalls. While Michigan’s Lower Peninsula has only one waterfall, the Upper Peninsula is the perfect place to chase waterfalls. The UP has over 300 waterfalls. Spend some time discovering nature in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and you’ll find some. Here are a few of Michigan’s waterfalls for you to explore. Spend some time discovering nature in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and you’ll find some. Here are a few of Michigan’s waterfalls for you to explore.

Tahquamenon Falls

Tahquamenon Falls is the third largest, by volume, east of the Mississippi River—about 50,000 gallons of water per second passes over these falls. In Tahquamenon Falls State Park, you will also find the Lower Falls, which has a series of five falls.

Spray Falls at Pictured Rocks National Shoreline
Spray Falls at Pictured Rocks National Shoreline

You’ll find Spray Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and Chapel Falls in Pictured Rocks National Shoreline.

Spray Falls

Spray Falls is the most remote waterfall on Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, where the Lakeshore Trail leads to the top of the falls. It’s approximately a four-mile hike from Chapel Falls. Spray Creek jets about 70 feet over the Pictured Rocks cliffs and then drops into Lake Superior. About a quarter of a mile east of the falls is a lookout point with a safe side view of the falls. One of the Pictured Rocks boat tours features Spray Falls. The boat tour is a perfect viewpoint for the falls.

Chapel Falls

Chapel Falls is an 80-foot waterfall with water from Section Creek. Allow approximately an hour to hike to Chapel Falls. The falls are east of Miner’s Castle, Traveling West on H58 from Munising, with a driving distance of about 15 miles. About one-and-a-half miles past Melstrand, on the left, a sign indicates Chapel Area. Remain to the right and follow the signs. The one-way hike from the parking lot to the waterfall is about three.

A fun outdoor activity in Michigan is Kayaking at Pictured Rocks National Shoreline
Kayaking at Pictured Rocks National Shoreline

Sea Kayaking

One of the safest ways to kayak at the Pictured Rocks National Shoreline is to use one of the partners through the National Parks Service with Certified Use Authorizations (CUA). Several National Parks Service partners have experience with guided kayaking tours of the Pictured Rocks National Shoreline. Kayaking has many safety requirements in this area, and these tour guides are aware of them and know how to keep this a safe activity.

You must have a sea kayak in Lake Superior, not a recreational kayak, under 14 feet long. Do not use canoes in open water like Lake Superior. The law requires a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) or life jacket AND a whistle or air horn.

This company does an offshore launch, and then you can kayak to the most famous sections of the Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, from Chapel Rock to the Painted Coves.

Piper’s Pro Planning: Be Cautious! Cell phones may not work. If they do, it could take an hour and a half for help to reach you. Rough weather could lengthen the time for help to arrive.

Another outdoor activity in Michigan is Stand-Up Paddle Boarding at Pictured Rocks National Shoreline
Stand-Up Paddle Boarding at Pictured Rocks National Shoreline

Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP)

Another water-based activity is stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) by North Coast Paddleboarding. SUP is a low-impact activity, with tours suitable for children 12 and older. If you become tired during the three-hour tour, you can clip on a kayak seat, convert your paddleboard, and continue with a sit-on-top paddleboard. They will rent paddleboard equipment for your use on inland lakes and rivers if you want to rent it. They don’t rent paddleboard equipment for use on Lake Superior.

Piper’s Pro Planning: You’ll want a jacket even in the summer because evenings are cool, and temperatures on Lake Superior may be ten to 15 degrees cooler than on land.

Round Lighthouse in the Straits of Mackinac, exploring waterfalls are a fun outdoor activity in Michigan
Round Lighthouse in the Straits of Mackinac

Michigan’s Lighthouses

With 129 lighthouses, Michigan has more than any other state. You’ll find plenty of ways to explore Michigan’s nautical history at the museum inside the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. The tower still functions today for demonstration purposes. If you’re a true lighthouse fanatic, you can spend a week here as the lighthouse keeper. That will give you an opportunity for many outdoor activities in Michigan’s Traverse City area.

At Holland State Park, photographers will enjoy taking beautiful pictures of the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan, Big Red.

Although Grand Island is designated as a National Recreation Area, the Grand Island East Channel is on private land along the Pictured Rocks National Shoreline. Therefore, the best way to see the lighthouse is via a commercial boat tour, private boats, or sea kayaks. You can’t view it from the land.

The Beach

Michigan, the Great Lakes State, touches four of the five Great Lakes. That provides Michigan with more than 3,288 miles of freshwater shoreline—the largest in the nation. You’ll find plenty of beach activities to keep you busy all summer. Some of my favorite beaches are along the Lake Michigan coastline in western Michigan.

In Petoskey, along the shore, search for Petoskey stones. Take a dune buggy ride on the dunes with Saugatuck Dune Rides in Saugatuck.

Traverse City is home to Lake Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Congress designated it as a coastal area with natural and recreational importance that requires preservation, making it one of four national lakeshores in the United States. You’ll see nothing but the clear lake on Lake Michigan’s shore. The other beach is 118 miles away. While you’re here, climb the sand dunes for scenic vistas of Lake Michigan.

Boating on Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay using powerboats, sailboats, kayaks, or canoes makes for a fun-filled day outdoors.

Tall Ship Cruising is another option in the Traverse City area. Go for an afternoon ice cream or a sunset dinner cruise. Experience an overnight journey where the Tall Ship becomes a Bed and Breakfast.

Star Gazing, an Outdoor Activity in Michigan

Outdoor activities are also fun after dark. Michigan has three internationally recognized Dark Sky Parks – Keweenaw Dark Sky Park, Headlands International Dark Sky Park, and Dr. T.K. Lawless Park. Each location provides conditions where you’ll have the maximum opportunity to enjoy the night sky. The Northern lights, or aurora, are a colorful, magical display of nature. In the north, these are called Aurora Borealis. Dark sky parks also optimally display the Milky Way, the planets, and the Milky Way.

A Round of Golf

Michigan has over 650 golf courses and is one of the top golfing destinations in the country. Play the award-winning 18-hole golf course, the Jewel, at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Moving from the front nine to the back nine via horse-drawn carriage is a memorable golf cart.

Within 30 miles of Lansing, there are more than 25 golf courses. Zagat rated the Forest Akers Golf course at MSU as one of the top golf courses in America. Golf Digest listed Hawk Hollow in Bath as one of the Top 100 Public Golf Courses.

The Trails

Michigan ranks second in the nation for the most miles of trails, and Lansing contributes more than 13 miles of River Trail running from downtown Lansing to Michigan State University’s campus. You can enjoy hiking, running, biking, or blading the trails on this multi-use trail.

Iron Ore Heritage Trail

The Iron Ore Heritage Trail in Marquette County provides a historical look at the area’s iron ore heritage through a trail system.  The trail is a 47-mile, year-round, interpretive multi-use trail crossing the Marquette Iron Range in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Michigan’s Gardens

Public gardens are abundant in Michigan, and I had difficulty deciding which ones to mention. I’ve found exploring gardens are a great outdoor activity in Michigan. Three of my favorites are Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Dow Gardens in Midland, and Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor.

Dow Gardens, Midland

Dow Gardens has a luxurious atmosphere of peace and meditation. A red footbridge crosses the stream that runs through the garden, adding to the serenity.

This garden emphasizes growing flowers and vegetables in their Growing Gardner’s program. If you have children, read more about four of Michigan’s Children’s Gardens here.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor

Interaction is a feature in eastern Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum. The Visitor’s Center near the garden entrance lends adventure backpacks with all the necessary supplies for a children’s adventure. The bag has everything to play a competitive Conservation Bingo round or participate in a Scavenger Hunt.

With its dynamic swinging gates, the Wayfinder’s Maze allows for a hide-and-seek game amongst the hedges. Since the gates swing adjust, you can always enjoy the maze in a new and different way.

Entrance to Frederick Mejier Gardens & Sculpture Park a great summertime outdoor activity in Michigan
Entrance to Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids

One of the best outdoor activities in Michigan in the Grand Rapids area is the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Since the garden is one of the world’s hundred most visited museums and one of the 30 must-see museums in the world, the 158-acre venue holds over 50 sculptures by artists from Degas to Rodin. Take the narrated tram tour for a quick overview of the sculpture garden. While technically classified as a museum, this primarily outdoor facility isn’t your typical museum.

Other features included an eight-acre Japanese garden incorporating sculpture, horticulture, and a children’s garden during the summer take in a concert at the garden’s outdoor stage.

If you have kiddos, take in the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, the most extensive children’s garden in the United States. The five-acre children’s garden in the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has an exclusive entrance where a giant mouse sculpture greets them.

Pin this to your favorite Michigan outdoor board!

Top Outdoor Activities in Michigan Pinterest Graphic
Amy Piper
Amy Piper

While Piper is a lifelong Michigander, she’s had adventures worldwide. Bomb-sniffing dogs chased her in the middle of the night in Bogota (working late), gate agents refused her boarding to Paraguay (wrong visa), and US Marshals announced her seat number on a plane while looking for a murder suspect (she’d traded seats). It’s always an adventure! She even finds exciting activities in her home state of Michigan, where she lives in Lansing with her husband, Ross Dingman, her daughter, Alexis, and two granddaughters.


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Plan your flight and book your airline ticket with these links:

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Plan to save on all of your activities, from tours to attractions. These links will help:

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  1. Tara

    Michigan is so underrated for outdoor adventures! I’ve explored a bit, but this list totally makes me want to go back! Awesome post!

    • Piper

      Thank you! We do have a lot of beautiful scenery and things to do outdoors year round.

  2. Katie

    I LOVE Pictured Rocks! Easily one of Michigan’s most beautiful treasures.

    • Piper

      Definitely take the boat tour to get a great view of the entire coast and see the full effects.

  3. Tami

    This actually sounds like a dream trip, especially right now. I’ve always wanted to see mackinac ISLAND and I love lighthouses and the weather looks perfect. Besides that I’m a photography buff so anything I can take a good picture of makes me happy.

    • Piper

      I was out this weekend making some images and one was the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse on Michigan’s Sunrise Coast. Come see Michigan!

  4. Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids

    Thanks for sharing so much great information! My family and I are hoping to go to Michigan next year and we are finding so many great places to go.


    Here comes Michigan visit list additions.


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Welcome to Follow the Piper! Discover interesting destinations, and practical planning tips for packing more travel into your everyday life.

Our founder and author, Amy Piper, is a freelance travel writer, blogger, photographer, and author specializing in luxury and multi-generational travel. She is a native Michigander who travels through the lens of a food lover and has been to 41 countries and 45 states.


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