Smitten with the Mitten: 10 Places to Visit in Michigan

Written by Jessie Fox

When an article by thrillist.com declared Michigan as the #1 state in the country and swept through Facebook at the end of the summer, I noticed some confused responses from Hillsdale’s out-of-state students on my feed.

“What is there in Michigan?” they asked. “I think there might have been a mistake.” Of course, these out-of-state students are partial to their own home states, but I believe their baffled reactions to this ranking stems from the fact that they haven’t seen the best parts of the Mitten State. Less than 20 miles from the Ohio border, Hillsdale is barely hanging on to its Michigan residence. Our southern Michigan location can discourage students from exploring the astonishing beauty that can be found in the 96,000 square miles outside of Hillsdale County. Similar to the beauty found across America from sea to shining sea, there is beauty here in Michigan from lake to shining lake.

I’ve spent a great deal of my life preaching the Pure Michigan campaign to out-of-staters. Through this feat, I’ve found that the best way, and truly the only way, for me to convince a non-Michigander that this oddly-shaped state is a hidden gem would be to encourage him or her to venture through it on their own.

So let me be your travel guide.

Hop in the car with your friends and start up your GPS. Get out of your comfort zone and into a place you’ve never been. All you need is a few off-days, and, lucky for you, fall break is fast-approaching. By the end of your trip, I guarantee you will be “smitten with the mitten.”

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  1. See our cities
    Picture of bridge and city skyline
    And no, I’m not referring to Jonesville or Jackson. Ann Arbor is only an hour and a half away from Hillsdale. Visit the Big House to watch the Wolverines in action. Meander through the busy streets of downtown and make sure to stop at Zingerman’s for one of their world-famous sandwiches. Or, head two hours northwest to find Grand Rapids. Not only is it the perfect place to wander around, but it’s only a hop and a skip away from Lake Michigan.
  2. Petoskey
    Petoskey pier
    Head “up north” to the city that shares a name with the state’s stone. Enjoy the lakeshore of Little Traverse Bay in the summer, the giant pumpkin patches and vineyards in the fall, and the nearby skiing in the winter. Petoskey is a year-round destination with easy access to other Michigan favorites, such as Boyne City, Charlevoix, and Harbor Springs.
  3. Our west coast (best coast)
    Grand Haven lighthouse
    For easier, more southern access to Lake Michigan: Grand Haven, South Haven, and Holland are about two hours away. These beaches give you an ocean-like vibe with their sandy coasts and powerful waves. Walk the piers, explore the sand dunes, and check out the quaint downtowns.
  4. Ludington
    Rocky coast of Ludington
    Escape the library atmosphere and spend a weekend camping on the Lake Michigan shore. Less than four hours away, Ludington is the perfect destination for a refreshing road trip with friends. Make sure to check out House of Flavors for some delicious homemade ice cream.
  5. Mackinac Island
    Aerial shot of Mackinac Island
    Travel back in time to a place where the only transportation is a boat, a bike, or a horse. Mackinac Island, an island of Lake Huron settled between the two peninsulas, is a perfect place to experience history while enjoying the pure beauty of Michigan. Visit the Mackinac Fort, and then rent a bike and ride around the island to see breathtaking views. Experience a peaceful and fulfilling weekend and, whatever you do, don’t forget the fudge.
  6. Sleeping Bear Dunes
    Sand and sea off Sleeping Bear Dunes
    First: read the legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Second: pack your bags and go see it for yourself. In Empire, Michigan, you will find over 100 square miles of enormous, rolling sand dunes and gorgeous views of Lake Michigan. You can even rent a dune-buggy to get wild and let off some of that mid-semester steam.
  7. The Upper Peninsula
    Aerial shot of U.P.
    Make the journey to the Mackinac Bridge and enter into a whole different world. The Upper Peninsula offers sights and experiences that you can’t find in the lower peninsula. Visit Marquette and jump off the Black Rocks into Lake Superior (I’m warning you, it’s a little chilly), or rent a kayak and see the Pictured Rocks coast line in Munising. Let yourself get lost on this pleasant peninsula. The 5+ hour drive is a commitment, but the oddities and quirks of the U.P. are more than worth it.
  8. Detroit
    Sunset over Detroit skyline
    Visit the comeback-kid of America and see what Detroit has to offer. Attend a Lions game, catch a concert or a Broadway show at the Fox Theatre, or visit the Henry Ford Museum, the Motown Historical Museum, or the Detroit Zoo. It’s Detroit Vs. Everybody, and the Detroiters would love to have you on their side.
  9. Our capital
    Lansing Capitol building
    If you’re interested in politics or history, it would only seem right to make a visit to Lansing, our state’s capital. Take a tour of the capitol building that’s been used since 1879.
  10. Experience a Michigan autumn
    Autumn colors and lake
    About half of Michigan’s 36.4 million acres are forested. Because of this, Michigan’s beauty is only intensified when the leaves begin to change. The further north you go, the more vibrant the scene. Traverse City, as well as the U.P., offer stunning views and are ideal destinations to hike or bike. Or, for a quick taste of a true Michigan fall, head to a local pumpkin patch or cider mill for a seasonal glass of apple cider and a tasty doughnut.

Jessie FoxJessie Fox17, is a native Michigander from Chelsea, MI, studying marketing/management and Spanish with a minor in journalism. She is a member of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, works for Campus Recreation, and is an assistant editor for the college newspaper.