What’s There to Do Outdoors in Michigan in the Summer?
If you’re looking for Michigan summer outdoor adventures, you’ll find plenty to do—explore, kayak, hike, bike, golf, and wander. While the list of Michigan summer activities can seem endless, you can use these ten ideas to create your personalized Michigan summer bucket list.
Explore South Manitou Island
South Manitou Island is the perfect Michigan summer day trip, as the only overnight accommodations on the island are campgrounds.
As soon as you arrive, check-in at the Visitor’s Center and Museum. It provides South Manitou Island’s history. The Visitor’s Center is the perfect place to finalize your plans for the day.
Here’s a link to a map of South Manitou Island’s attractions to use in planning your hikes.
Burton’s Wharf was the original village on South Manitou Island. William Beck settled South Manitou Island in the mid-1830s to provide cordwood to the Great Lake’s steamships.
Hike north from the present-day dock, where the ferry lands, for about a half-mile to the original village. The village, built around Burton’s Wharf, included a post office, grocery store, blacksmith shop, house, barn, and a tamarack railroad.
Finally, decide on your hike, several options are available. The island’s perimeter is a ten-mile hike in a loop. From the Visitor’s Center, walk to the lighthouse. It has about 117 steps up a spiral staircase with landings about every 20 steps. From the top, you’ll see views of the Manitou Passage, and Sleeping Bear Point on the mainland. Both are scenic sights.
Starting at the lighthouse, it’s about a three-mile hike to the Francisco Morazan, an above-water shipwreck that ran aground in November 1960. Nearby the Giant Cedars, also known as the Valley of the Giants, are the world’s most gigantic cedar trees. Some of the cedars are more than 500 years old. From the 400-foot perched dune, you can see a 360-degree view of Lake Michigan.
Be sure to check out Florence Lake, the 78-acre inland lake. It’s just a half a mile hike from the southern edge of South Manitou Island.
If you’re not much of a hiker, Manitou Island Transit offers two wagon tours. The Kubota tractor-pulled wagons have plenty of padded seating. One tour covers the schoolhouse and farm, while the other includes the cedars and shipwreck. One day isn’t enough time to take both wagon tour, as each is between two and two and a half hours. The day trips include only about three and a half hours on the island.
Getting South Manitou Island
Manitou Island Transit leaves from Leland (Fishtown) at 10:00 a.m. for the 14-mile ride to South Manitou Island. It arrives on the island at 11:30 a.m. Usually, the ferry returns about 4:00 p.m. to pick up those on an island day trip. The boat sells refreshments if you’re hungry from all the hiking.
What Should I Pack for South Manitou Island?
Note the island has no services, including stores, restaurants, or hotels. You won’t be able to purchase food or other necessities on the island. Plan your snacks and lunch. A favorite is the cheese sandwiches from the Village Cheese Shanty in Fishtown. Grab some before boarding the boat to the island.
Other items to be sure to bring or wear:
- Water bottle
- Insect repellant with DEET
- Treatment for bug bites
- Treatment for Poison Ivy–Beware, poison ivy is abundant. Know what it looks like to avoid it.
- Hiking boots or walking shoes
- Sweater or jacket, the boat ride can be windy, and at times need long sleeves to protect yourself from insects.
- Arrive early to sit on the top deck. Arrive 45 minutes before the boat departs to walk from the parking lot and check-in for the trip.
- The park service doesn’t allow dogs on the island. Make other arrangements for your pets during your trip.
- The entrance to South Manitou Island requires a park pass. Buy one at the Fishtown dock.
- Bring what you need with you. No restaurants, hotels, or stores exist on the island.
- Take an insect repellant with DEET for black flies and mosquitos. Wear long pants and long sleeves.
- Charge your phones, by the dock. There is no other electricity.
Kayak or Stand-Up Paddle Board (SUP) Pictured Rocks National Shoreline
In my opinion, 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.
A sea kayak is required to 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 the use of 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 the Chapel Rock to the Painted Coves.
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.
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 during the three-hour tour, you become tired, you can clip on a kayak seat and convert your paddleboard and continue with a sit-on-top paddleboard. If you want to rent paddleboard equipment, they will rent it for your use on inland lakes and rivers. They don’t rent the paddleboard equipment for use on Lake Superior.
Getting to Pictured Rocks National Shoreline
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located between Grand Marais and Munising, is on the south shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. You can fly into Marquette (MQT), Escanaba (ESC), or Sault Ste. Marie (CIU), Michigan, with the closest being Marquette. Keep in mind there is also a Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, so don’t confuse the two when making your flight reservations. Once you have reached Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, you will need a car.
What Should I Pack for Pictured Rocks National Shoreline?
You’ll want a jacket even in the summer because evenings are cool and temperatures on Lake Superior maybe ten to 15 degrees cooler than on land.
Bike Mackinac Island’s Perimeter – or Ride Horseback Ride, or Take a Carriage Tour
While Mackinac (pronounced MACK-in-awe) Island has only 600 year-round residents, while over one million tourists experienceMackinac Island annually.
Mackinac Island doesn’t permit motorized vehicles. On the island, horsepower is real horsepower. More than 500 horses summer on the island. Travel includes horse-drawn carriage, horseback, bicycles, or walking.
We took a horse-drawn carriage tour of the island and stopped for a look at the lake through Arch Rock. A walk on Main Street ended with free fudge samples from several of the specialty fudge shops. Choose your favorite to take home with you.
Getting to Mackinac Island
Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry transports you back in time to Mackinac Island. The company provides free outside parking with a shuttle to take you to the ferry. If you stay at the Grand Hotel, they include special ferry discounts. The ferry ticket price includes luggage transportation to the island.
What Should I Pack for Mackinac Island?
Unlike South Manitou Island, Mackinac Island does have stores, hotels, and restaurants, so if you forget something, you will most likely be able to purchase it somewhere on the island.
Here’s a list of some items you might not think to bring:
- Water bottle
- Insect repellent
- Treatment for Poison Ivy
- Treatment for bug bites
- Cocktail dresses and suits, if you are staying at the Grand Hotel
- Hiking boots or walking shoes
- Sweater or jacket, the boat ride can be windy, and at times need long sleeves to protect yourself from insects
- Gloves or mittens for early morning or late nights, as it can get cold even in the summer
Discover the Upper Peninsula’s Waterfalls
Spend some time discovering nature in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where you’ll find about 200 waterfalls. Here are only a few of Michigan’s waterfalls for you to explore.
Tahquamenon Falls is the third largest falls, 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.
In Pictured Rocks National Shoreline, you’ll find Spray Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and Chapel 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 is an 80 feet waterfall, where the water comes 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.
Wander through Michigan’s Public Gardens
Public gardens are abundant in Michigan, and I had a hard time deciding which ones to mention. Three of my favorites are Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Dow Gardens in Midland, and Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids
Since Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park 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. To get a quick overview of the sculpture garden takes the narrated tram tour. While technically classified as a museum, this primarily outdoor facility isn’t your typical museum.
Other features included an eight-acre Japanese garden that incorporates both sculpture, horticulture, and a children’s garden. During the summer take in a concert at the garden’s outdoor stage.
If you have kiddos, be sure to take in the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, the most extensive children’s garden in the United States. The five-acre children’s garden contained within the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has an exclusive entrance where a giant mouse sculpture greets them.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor
Interaction is a feature in 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 round of Conservation Bingo or to participate in a Scavenger Hunt.
The Wayfinder’s Maze, with its dynamic swinging gates, allows for a game of hide and seek amongst the hedges. Since the gates swing adjust, you can always enjoy the maze in a new and different way.
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 both flowers and vegetables in their Growing Gardners program. If you have children, read more about four Michigan’s Children’s Garden’s here.
View Michigan’s Lighthouses
With 150 lighthouses, Michigan has more than any other state. Explore a bit of 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.
Although Grand Island is designated as a National Recreation Area, the Grand Island East Channel is on private land. Therefore, the best way to see the lighthouse is via a commercial boat tour or by private boats or sea kayaks. You can’t view it from the land.
Spend the Day at the Beach
With Michigan’s 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.
In Petoskey along the shore, search for Petoskey stones. In Saugatuck, take a dune buggy ride on the dunes with Saugatuck Dune Rides.
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. Standing on Lake Michigan’s shore, you’ll see nothing but the clear lake. The other beach is 118 miles away.
Boating on Lake Michigan and in Grand Traverse Bay using powerboats, sailboats, kayaks, or canoes make for a fun-fill day outdoors. Tall Ship cruising is another option. Go for an afternoon ice cream or a sunset dinner cruise. Experience an overnight journey where the Tall Ship becomes a Bed and Breakfast.
Play 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 Greatest Public Golf Courses.
Explore a Park in the Greater Lansing Area
If you love living summer outdoors, the Lansing area’s Ingham County parks maybe your version of heaven. The parks span more than 1,200 acres dedicated to sports and recreation. Enjoy the luxury of quiet simplicity on a sailboat in Lake Lansing or spend an afternoon playing volleyball, hiking, or canoeing the Grand River. Sports fanatics crush home runs at the three ball diamonds, toss a ringer at horseshoes, or play basketball. Each park offers something unique.
Burchfield Park is Ingham County’s largest park with over 540 acres of woods, trails, and beaches. It sports some of the best fishing in Ingham County. A stocked fishing pond offers a chance to hook eight to thirteen-inch trout or tell tall tales about that “big one” that got away. Accessible fishing docks and boardwalks allow you to take the kids fishing without getting muddy.
Canoes and kayaks can be reserved ahead of time and are weather dependent. The Grand River has three routes; McNamara, the shortest, is about 45 minutes. Fifteen-passenger vans are available to take you upstream, so you paddle your way back to Burchfield Park.
The swimming beach is open Memorial Day through Labor Day only on weekends and holidays, from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. weather permitting. The beach is closed Monday through Friday. Other water activities include renting paddle boats.
For landlubbers, there are hiking trails, six miles of single-track mountain bike trails, and disc golf. Disc golf is like traditional golf, but instead of a ball and clubs, players use a flying disc or Frisbee. Play starts at a designated tee area, and you throw it to a goal basket.
Hawk Island is a 100-acre park and the newest to the Ingham County park system. There’s lots of water fun at Hawk Island. Enjoy the swimming beach open seven days a week. Run through the water sprays or wait for a bucket of water to dump at the Splash pad—rent paddleboats or rowboats. Fish from the accessible fishing docks and boardwalks to stay dry.
Lake Lansing Parks – South and North
Lake Lansing Park South is a 30-acre venue with the largest lake within 30 miles of Lansing. A sandy beach with four acres of green grass surrounds the beach. Memorial Day through Labor Day use the beach with restrooms to change into swimming suits. Enjoy the convenience of concession stands. Free Friday Night Concerts at the Lake Lansing Park South Band Shell take place during the summer months.
Lake Lansing Park North is a wooded 530-acre natural recreation area. Mature oak and maple woodlands, marshlands, pine plantations, and transitional field areas exist in the area.
Lake Lansing Park North offers two playgrounds, a basketball court, hiking trails, horseshoe pits, picnic shelters, sand volleyball courts, and softball diamonds. There’s also a nearby boat launch.
The park also provides more than five miles of trails where interpretive signs mark a more than two-mile loop of the trail. The trails and boardwalks provide access to evergreen forests, swamps, marshes, a deciduous forest, and fields.
Hike or Bike Urban Trails
Michigan ranks second in the nation for the most trail ways, and Lansing contributes more than 13 miles of River Trail running from downtown Lansing to MSU’s campus. You can enjoy the trails through hiking, running, biking, or blading.