Michigan is a land of wonder. From the beautiful shorelines in the Upper Peninsula to the quaint beach towns of Southern Michigan, it’s an outdoor haven. But did you know that many of the state’s wonders belong to our nation’s parks? Let’s look more closely at some of the best national parks in Michigan.
How Many National Parks Are There in Michigan?
While there’s technically only one national park in Michigan, there are five other National Park Service units. So, that makes six national parks total.
There’s Isle Royale National Park, which is on a rugged island in the northernmost part of Michigan. Keweenaw National Historical Park is also in northern Michigan and offers a glance into Michigan’s copper history.
With two national lakeshores, a national scenic trail, and a national battlefield park joining the ranks of Isle Royale and Keweenaw, there’s plenty to explore in Michigan!
Best National Parks in Michigan
Lake Michigan and Lake Superior are the hallmarks of Michigan, so it’s no wonder that two of the best national parks are national lakeshores. Add to that an island and some copper mines, and you’ve got yourself quite an experience!
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Location: 9922 Front Street, Empire, MI 49630
This national lakeshore is in northwestern Lower Michigan along the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan. Traverse City is the nearest town, 25 miles to the east.
About: Sleeping Bear Dunes is open all year for all-weather fun. Getting its name from the Mother Bear, this dune once appeared to resemble a sleeping bear. Indigenous peoples used it as a natural landmark when traveling through the region.
Today, with miles of dunes, coastal villages, and forested lakes, you can sink your toes into the sand or disappear into the canopy of trees.
View Lake Michigan from the 450-ft towering bluffs or visit the island lighthouse. And with four campgrounds here, you can explore all day while resting comfortably at night.
What to Do: You can spend your days on the water, kayaking, canoeing, or swimming in the summer. On the other hand, if you’re more of a landlubber, there are many hiking and biking trails worth exploring. Or you might climb the dunes that make this national lakeshore unique. In winter, snowshoeing through the forest is another option.
For a taste of history, visit Glen Haven Village. In this small museum town, wander into the cannery boathouse, blacksmith shop, and local mercantile. Since it’s right alongside Lake Michigan, you’ll want to bring your suit along for a quick dip in the lake, as well.
Additionally, don’t miss the casual 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This drive loops through the Beech-Maple Forest overlooking Glen Lakes, the Dunes, and Lake Michigan.
The South Manitou Island Lighthouse is another famous sight in the area. Only open in the summer, it’s worth the 117-step climb, taking you 104 feet above Lake Michigan.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 9.4/10
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Location: N8391 Sand Point Rd, Munising, MI 49862
Pictured Rocks is in the Upper Peninsula on the south shore of Lake Superior. It’s between the visitor center in Munising (west) and Grand Marais (east).
About: Pictured Rocks is open year-round for all activities, including camping. Be aware, though: some roads may be closed due to snow and inclement weather.
The sandstone cliffs, forests, dunes, beaches, and waterfalls all along Lake Superior make this place a stunning treasure. Shipwrecks, logging, and maritime activities have shaped this area for years, bringing you many of today’s natural and man-made wonders.
What to Do: During the winter season, there’s a lot to keep you busy at this Michigan national park. Try your hands at ice climbing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling. Then, you can enjoy bicycling, boating, fishing, swimming, and kayaking in the summer. It’s an outdoor dream right along the water.
There are drive-in and backcountry campgrounds here. For additional lodging at hotels, cabins, and other campgrounds, seek out the nearby Munising and Grand Marais communities.
The cliffs here are made of hard, limey sandstone called the Au Train Formation, which has created many majestic waterfalls. A few of these include Munising Falls, Miners Falls, and Bridalveil Falls.
Sandpoint Beach, Miners Beach, Chapel Beach, and more are within easy access on Lake Superior. Not to mention, there are plenty more beaches if you’re willing to take a hike to get there. However, we strongly believe that the best way to experience Pictured Rocks is from the water!
With its impressive waterfalls and numerous activities, Pictured Rocks is easily one of the best national parks in Michigan.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 9.7/10
While you’re in the Upper Peninsula, be sure to check out these awesome campgrounds.
Isle Royale National Park
Location: 800 East Lakeshore Drive, Houghton, MI 49931
Isle Royale is an island on Lake Superior. Getting there means leaving your car on the mainland and using a ferry, a seaplane, or a private boat from Minnesota or Michigan. Travel can take anywhere from two to six hours. So, use the step-by-step directions listed on the national park website to simplify your plans.
About: Surrounded by Lake Superior, this rugged and isolated national park is unique. It’s also historic.
According to the U.S. NPS website, “If you stand at the top of the cliffs at Passage Island Lighthouse, you stand in the footsteps of 100 years of lightkeepers and assistant lightkeepers, watching the lake and trying to keep ships safe.”
Due to extreme winter weather conditions, Isle Royale is only open seasonally from April 16 through October 31.
What to Do: There’s backpacking, hiking, boating, kayaking, scuba diving, and more. In fact, you’ll need to plan on staying overnight to fit it all in!
And staying overnight at this national park in Michigan can be quite the experience. Your lodging options include backpacking from campground to campground around the island, setting up a basecamp, docking your boat, or staying at one of the resorts. The resorts include lodging at either the Rock Harbor Lodge at the NE end of the island or booking one of the two rustic cabins in Windigo in the SW end of the island.
The Visitor Centers in Houghton, Rock Harbor, and Windigo offer many educational and historical resources. In addition, the Rock Harbor Lodge has boat, canoe, and kayak rentals, along with many hiking trails.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 9.8/10
Keweenaw National Historical Park
Location: 25970 Red Jacket Rd, Calumet, MI 49913
The Keweenaw Peninsula is on the south-central Lake Superior coastline in the western Upper Peninsula. The park’s Quincy Unit is ust north of Hancock. The Calumet Unit is about 12 miles north along US Hwy 41 in Calumet. The Calumet Visitor Center is at 98 5th Street in downtown Calumet.
About: Keweenaw National Historical Park is one of the best national parks in Michigan for history lessons, artifacts, and mine tours. Miners have been digging up copper here for over 7,000 years. Consequently, it was and still is a vital resource for creating copper tools.
In the 1800s, it continued its popularity during the great mineral rush that gave the Keweenaw Peninsula the nickname “The Copper Country. Here, you’ll learn about the copper industry, as well as the people that crafted this region.
What to Do: Start your history lessons at the Quincy Mine Hoist in Hancock, Michigan. Here, you can actual take a tour down into the 7th level of the mine, about 350 feet underground!
Then head over to the famous Calumet Visitor Center, where you can explore three floors of interactive exhibits, films, and museum pieces. Then, make your way through the many other historical sites.
Several heritage sites include A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, Adventure Mining Company, and Carnegie Museum. These sites and more stretch the Keweenaw Peninsula’s length, from Copper Harbor to south of Ontonagon. Operating independently of the park, they have different hours and fees, so check with each before visiting.
Not only will you become quite the history buff, but there’s plenty of outdoor activities here too. The nearby area offers hiking trails, lighthouse visits, and geological sights.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 9.2/10
The Wonders of the Best National Parks in Michigan
Michigan has many wonders within its national parks – from the rugged beauty of an island to the awe-inspiring rocks and historic copper mines along the coast. In fact, you’ll wonder why you didn’t visit the best national parks in Michigan sooner!
Seeking a respite from the harsh Michigan winters? Take a drive south and visit the best national parks in Florida.
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