When the holiday season is in full swing, our inboxes, ears, and eyes can be overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of commercialism. Buy this! Half off! Buy more, more, more!
There is a growing trend, especially among Millennials, of skipping the pricey gifts and focusing on gifting experiences instead – something that can be done together. Whether it’s planning a weekend away at a spot the recipient has always wanted to visit but hasn’t, or an adventure such as kayaking on Lake Superior, giving an “experience” is really a two-fold gift of quality time while cultivating lifelong memories. It doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with finding that perfect gift for those on your list to set under the tree (and as travelers, we can always update or replace or streamline!), but think about complementing it with an experience you and your family will never forget, such as visiting some of the places or doing one of the activities we describe below.
Upper Peninsula: St. Ignace
Most travelers cross the Mackinaw Bridge (which is an experience of its own) and pass St. Ignace without a second thought. Yet this U.P. town has a lot to offer. Visit the Mystery Spot for a guided tour of gravitational phenomena or Deer Ranch, the oldest live whitetail exhibit in North America. You can also climb Castle Rock for a paramount view of two of the Great Lakes. As for day trips, hop aboard a ferry to visit Mackinac Island (and pay the $10 fee to walk the Grand Hotel porch, it’s completely worth it) or travel 34 miles to the town of Hessel for some cross-country skiing on the St. Martin Hiking and Ski Trail or, for paddlers, to embark on a trip across the water through the Land Trust Conservatory Marquette Island preserves.
Northwest Lower Michigan: Boyne Falls
The Zipline Adventure at Boyne Mountain has 10 different courses to choose from. It’s a great idea if you have older children (teens) or if you want a little thrill yourself. It’s open year-round, too. If you enjoy golf, there are several courses around where you can enjoy a leisurely 9 or 18. Other attractions include Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark, and Boyne Mountain Resort for skiing and snowboarding. Avalanche Preserve is the spot to go for walking, hiking, biking, or getting energy out of the dogs. There are lots of trails in the area, which you can check out at PetoskeyArea.com. Day trips include downtown Charlevoix (where you can hop a ferry to Beaver Island) and the Tunnel of Trees (M-119) between Harbor Springs and Cross Village.
Northeast Lower Michigan: Harbor Beach
Visit the “thumb” of the mitten for pristine views, low crowds, and plenty of waterfront. The main attraction is the 19th century lighthouse. Tours are available in season on Saturdays. For hikers, take the Harbor View Trail, a two-mile path that connects the marina, various parks, and the beach. For those who crave being on the water, there is a kayak access point at Trescott Street Pier. The water trail runs both north and south along the thumb, with various landing and launching points along the way (view map). A day trip could be to quaint Lexington for some brews, music, and theatre, or Bavarian Frankenmuth (tip: visit The Clock Shop).
Southwest Lower Michigan: Grand Haven
This Coast Guard City is brimming with beauty and charm. For a day outside, visit the sand dunes of Rosy Mound and then cool off by jumping into Lake Michigan (summer only, of course). You can also take the easy, winding trails of the Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes Preserve. The Grand Haven Musical Fountain is the world’s largest musical fountain, with a complete synchronized display. The show happens every night between Memorial Day and Labor Day and is free to enjoy. In pleasant weather, stroll the historic Riverfront District on a self-guided walking tour. For a day trip, travel north to Holland for a little Dutch hospitality. Visit in May for the Tulip Festival if you can.
South-Central Michigan: Township of Somerset
McCourtie Park in Somerset Center is on the original 42- acre estate of W.H.L. McCourtie. It was designated as a historic site in 1991 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, but history isn’t why you visit. It’s the fairy tale charm. There are 17 cement bridges that mimic the natural twists and turns of branches and vines into works of art and fancy. This is the ideal spot to have a picnic. Bundy Hill in nearby Jerome is another outdoor attraction and was the highest point above sea level in Lower Michigan for years. Go there for some off-road fun with the ATV, quad, or dirt bike. For a day trip, drive east to the Irish Hills area (here are some ideas of what to visit while you’re there) or to historic Lansing to visit the state capitol building.
Southeast Lower Michigan: Ypsilanti
This college town is situated between Ann Arbor and Detroit. Fishing abounds here, as the Huron River has an abundance of small-mouth bass and carp for the catching. When you’re in southeast Michigan, you’re in one of the oldest and most industrialized parts of the state, and with that comes a colorful history. The Willow Run Plant was the largest war factory of WWII, producing B-24 bombers at a rate of one per hour. It’s now owned by the Yankee Air Museum. For an additional and unforgettable experience, go up on a 25-minute aerial tour in a restored war-time airplane. You can also meander through the downtown area of Ypsilanti or visit the many craft breweries in the area. For a day trip, visit the River Raisin National Battlefield in Monroe or Eastern Market in Detroit.
Remember, if you need a place to make your base camp, our campground members are more than willing to host you and offer recommendations! Read our member directory for complete details by region.