Things to Do in Northern Michigan in Summer

When you hear Michigan, you probably think Detroit is not your first pick for a summer vacation spot. Drive North (and West at a point) as far as you can, and you’ve hit Northern Michigan, a whole other world within the state.

My family grew up spending one week every August in Northern Michigan, particularly in Leland, Lelanau (fish town), and Northport. My parents loved the retreat this spot provided, and we now have a place up there.

I looked forward to this trip when I was younger: swimming at the beaches with my cousins, playing at various parks, and taking day trips to nearby towns.

However, I grew up going here every year, and I did not learn to appreciate it as I should have. Then, I went through the high school phase and wanted nothing to do with this place. I mean, why would anyone want to go somewhere with bad cell phone reception? Something you will now never hear me say!

Needless to say, I developed my true appreciation for Northern Michigan in the summer when I made the 6-hour drive from Chicago and spent five days up there. We had a blast, and seeing someone’s reaction to its beauty for the first time made me realize that I needed to stop and really soak in how amazing Northern Michigan really is. Northern Michigan is a great place for couples (young and old) and families!

Towns I would recommend staying in:

  • Leland/Lelanau
  • Glen Arbor
  • Charlevoix
  • Suttons Bay
  • Northport
  • Traverse City

There are plenty of lodges, B&Bs, small hotels/cabins, and even campgrounds – but I would suggest booking early!

Things to Do in Northern Michigan in Summer.

Hike the Sleeping Bear Dunes

In order to make it to the end of the beach, I would recommend being relatively physically fit. There are many different hikes catered to how long you want to spend and the difficulty, so pick the one that is right for your group. You can still climb to the top of the first hill to get the beautiful view without being in shape.

Bring plenty of water!!! Once you are up on the sand dunes, you will be without water for potentially 1-4 hours, depending on your climb.

Spend the day at the beach: there are beaches all over; pull up a map, and you will find plenty. I typically head to the beach next to Falling Waters Lodge (Van’s Beach) across from the Leland Fish Town marina.

Check out Mackinaw Island

Make the couple-hour drive to the port (~130 miles), and you will take a ferry across to this secluded island, using only carriages and bikes as means of transportation. The island is filled with delicious fudge and ice cream.

Bike rentals are available (or you can bring your own for an added ferry fee), and you can bike around the island (it takes about an hour at a leisurely pace without stopping). There are plenty of restaurants, shops, mini golf, historical sites (there is a Fort you can go through that sits up on the hill), and more. It is also fun just to ride your bike up and down side streets to see the cute houses.

If biking is not your thing, you can take a carriage ride around the island at a higher cost.

If you are into hotels, the Grand Hotel is the famous white hotel you will see as you are on the boat approaching the island. You can stop by the hotel (if wearing appropriate clothing- think Sunday country club) for tea. Mackinaw Island is a great one-day trip or to stay a night or two. Warning: Watch out for horse poop!


The fishing is excellent in Northern Michigan- one of my Dad’s favorite spots for salmon, trout, and smallmouth bass. There are harbors to rent dock slips, public dock ramps, and plenty of charters to take you out on their boat. There are also day and overnight boat trips to hike Manitou island, where you will really be able to connect with nature.

Check out the Wineries

Northern Michigan has so many great wineries. I actually stock up whenever I head up there and am so happy to notice that some Detroit restaurants are starting to sell their wines. A lot of the wineries are free or charge $5-$10, and then you are able to keep your wine glass.

The wineries here are more spread out, so it would be a smart idea to consider having a DD- I’m not sure how feasible biking would be, and this is not a place to find taxis. I posted a map (click on the image and zoom in), but you can pick up wine trail maps all over.

Head to the Suttons Bay Farmers Market!

This is a great market to pick up fresh veggies and fruits, lotions, and much more. I LOVE 2 particular products here- the maple syrup by Maple Sugar Bush (10361 E. Melkild Rd.) And the raspberry preserves by Windy Ridge North (6863 Bay Shore, Northport). Both are typically at the market on Saturdays during the summer, or you can pick them up at the address listed (this is what I do in the winter when the market is closed)

Also, do some research- I’m sure there are many other great markets in surrounding areas. The Suttons Bay Movie Theater is very charming- while only showing 1-2 movies, it replicates the old-fashioned theater.

Traverse City is also home to many great festivals, including the Cherry Festival, a Film Festival, and more (including an air & water show). Downtown traverse city is a really cute area to walk around; there is a mall and familiar convenience stores if needed heading back South. I would definitely recommend taking a day trip to a nearby town- I Love the fun shops in Glen Arbor, and it’s right next to the Dunes, a great day trip!

Restaurants to try in Northern Michigan

  • The Amicle (229 e front street, Traverse City; 231-941-8888, make reservations)
  • Riverside Inn (Leland, 231-256-9971)
  • Martha’s Vineyard Cafe in Suttons Bay
  • Make sure to have a taste of the wonderful homemade ice cream, which you will find every couple blocks; the Garage Bar & Grill (231-386-5511, Downtown Northport)
  • Don’t forget to stop by Barb’s Bakery in Northport – go early while everything is warm, and order with your eyes.

Make sure to stop at a stand on the side of the road for some cherries & cherry pie, grab some M22 gear, and drive past the 45th Parallel near Northport/Omena.

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About the author
Growing up in Detroit, Lindsey is a Michigan State University alumnus. She feels incredibly lucky to live in Detroit, and much more, to spend her days promoting the Detroit area as a travel destination.