Stories in Michigan

Top Outdoor Activities in Michigan

People kayak down a bend of the Two-Hearted River in Michigan. On the left of the river is autumn foliage and on the right is a sandy shore.

Michigan has no shortage of outdoor activities. Add one of these adventures to your bucket list.

Recreation in Michigan These kayakers are paddling the 23.6-mile Two-Hearted River in the eastern Upper Peninsula of Michigan. © Michael D-L Jordan/DLP

Whether you consider yourself a Yooper, a Michigander or an out-of-towner, there is no denying that Michigan is a beautiful place to spend time outside. From wading in the water to walking through winter wonderlands, there’s something for every season. Explore this guide to plan your next trip outdoors.  

Where to Spend a Summer Day

80 degrees and sunny? It’s time to head outside. Whether you’re looking forward to the perfect hike or a relaxing day at the beach, we’ve got a couple of suggestions to add to your summer plans. 

Keweenaw Peninsula

TNC has been active in the Keweenaw Peninsula for decades.

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Reach New Heights During a Scenic Hike

Location: Helmut & Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy in Eagle Harbor, Michigan

In it for the views? You’ll find what you’re looking for at the Helmut & Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy, also known as “lookout mountain.” At 730 feet above Lake Superior, this is one of the highest of The Nature Conservancy’s preserves in Michigan. About six miles round trip, this strenuous hike will take you to the very top of Mt. Baldy and back, so allow at least three hours for your visit.

With a watchful eye and binoculars, you may spot local inhabitants like black bear, snowshoe hare, peregrine falcon, ruffed grouse, golden-crowned kinglet, black-throated green warbler and yellow-rumped warbler. For interesting facts and things to look out for, use our free audio tour of the preserve.

A trail at Helmut and Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy in Eagle Harbor, Michigan overlooks Lake Superior on a clear day.
Scenic Hike at Mt. Baldy Take a hike at the Helmut & Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy in Eagle Harbor, Michigan. This strenuous six-mile hike comes with an incredible mountaintop view of Lake Superior. © Mary Louks/TNC

Add a Trip to the Beach to Your Bucket List

Location: Bete Grise Wetlands Preserve in Bete Grise, Michigan; Carl A. Gerstacker Nature Preserve at Dudley Bay, Michigan

Need a beach day? Located in the beautiful Michigan Keweenaw, Bete Grise Wetlands Preserve boasts nearly one and a half miles of high-quality sand beach along Lake Superior. The Bete Grise Wetlands are the only A-ranked occurrence of dune and swale in the U.S. portion of the Upper Great Lakes. If you’re looking to spend more than one day in the Keweenaw Peninsula, add a stop at Helmut & Candis Stern Preserve at Mt. Baldy or a visit to the rocky shore of Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor.

Another quiet option for beach day is the Carl A. Gerstacker Nature Preserve at Dudley Bay. Here you’ll find five miles of beautiful shoreline across four bays on Lake Huron, two small islands, Big and Little Trout Lakes, and parts of two creeks. The large expanse of forested area is an important location for migratory birds and other rare plant and animal species—so bring your binoculars!

The sandy shore of Bete Grise Wetlands Preserve in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula.
Beach at Bete Grise From the sandy shore of the Bete Grise Wetlands Preserve, you can take in stunning views as you splash in the shallow water. © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

Searching for Shipwrecks in the Great Lakes

Location: North Point Peninsula in Alpena, Michigan

There are more than 6,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Nearly 200 of these fall within “Shipwreck Alley”—a treacherous section of Lake Huron. Nearly 100 of these shipwrecks are within the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary (TBNMS), the only marine sanctuary in the Great Lakes. Visit the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center to learn about this history and take a glass-bottom boat tour of the wrecks.

Shipwreck Alley is part of the North Point Peninsula, a beautiful stretch of Lake Huron shoreline under temporary management by The Nature Conservancy. Plans to transfer this property to the Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary are in progress. While there currently is no public access at the property, we’re working with our partners to one day make this property available to the public.

The sandy shore of Lake Huron in the North Point Peninsula on a sunny, clear day.
Great Lakes Shipwrecks The oldest shipwrecks in the Great Lakes date back to the 17th century, and many have yet to be found. © Dietrich Ludwig

Where to Spend an Autumn Day

Crisp air and bright, colorful forests mean that autumn in Michigan has begun. Between apple picking and cider sipping, add one of these outdoor activities to your fall bucket list.    

Forest Restoration in Action

We're working with partners to make Michigan forests more diverse and climate-resilient.

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View the Fall Foliage from the Water

Location: Two-Hearted River Forest Reserve in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan

There’s no shortage of inland lakes and rivers for you to kayak or canoe on in the U.P. A quiet paddle along the Two-Hearted River will take you along sandy shores and forests of trees covered in autumn leaves. Along this winding river, you’ll pass through the Two-Hearted River Forest Reserve. TNC actively manages this property to improve its ecological health, including some carefully planned timber harvesting.

For peak colors in the Upper Peninsula, plan your trip for late September or early October. We’d also recommend ending your journey before you reach the mouth of the river, which enters Lake Superior. Kayaking on the lake requires a sea kayak and can be very dangerous. If you do plan to continue your journey onto Lake Superior—do your research, be prepared and consult a professional.

The Two-Hearted River on an autumn day in Michigan. Trees covered in autumn leaves bend over the water and reflect in its surface.
Two-Hearted River The Two-Hearted River in northern Michigan was made famous by Ernest Hemingway’s story “Big Two-Hearted River.” © Drew Kelly

Wildlife Watching in the Upper Peninsula

Location: McMahon Lake Preserve in Newberry, Michigan

It is not impossible to spot a Michigan moose, but it does require patience. We recommend bringing your binoculars to McMahon Lake Preserve in Luce County. The variety of wildlife at this preserve is astounding. Moose wander the vast expanse of undeveloped land, and various species of woodpecker can be seen and heard throughout the beautiful pine forest. Look to the sky to spot the majestic marsh hawk, and watch for the wolves, coyotes and bears that also roam the area.

The best time to visit this preserve is August through September, when the bugs have retreated. Take the 2.7-mile loop trail starting in late September to view the preserve’s stunning autumn colors. You can also use our free audio tour for tips on catching the sights and sounds of the area.

Moose at McMahon (3:08) For the best chance of spotting a moose in Michigan, start your visit in the early morning and evening.

Leaf Peeping in the Lower Peninsula

Location: Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow in Manchester, Michigan

In autumn, the Nan Weston Nature Preserve transforms with colorful foliage, making it the perfect place for leaf peeping. Watch as the stunning yellow beech leaves fall and cover the forest floor. As you stroll along the trails and sections of the boardwalk, you’ll pass a series of small streams before approaching the River Raisin.

Our free audio tour will guide you along the mile-and-a-half route. Along the way, keep an eye trained on the sky as migrating birds travel through the Great Lakes for the fall migration; the preserve serves as a stopover habitat for many species.

In the spring, we’d recommend heading back to the preserve for another visit. You’ll hear a symphony of toads and frogs, pass vernal pools as you march along the boardwalk and gaze at the more than 260 species of wildflowers and other native plants that grow in Sharon Hollow. 

A group of people walk along a boardwalk at Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow in Chelsea, Michigan during the fall.
Leaf Peeping Watch the forest at Nan Weston Nature Preserve transform during the autumn season. © Rebekah Wuchner/TNC

Where to Spend a Winter Day

The winter is snow time to be stuck inside. Michigan is full of unique opportunities for recreation during the cold-weather months. 

Chase Starry Skies and the Northern Lights

Location: Upper Peninsula, Michigan

Winter nights are perfect for stargazing. The skies are clear, and there’s little traffic. To spot a star or a streaking meteor, look for a place with very little light pollution. Maxton Plains Preserve and Carl A. Gerstacker Nature Preserve at Dudley Bay are both great options for stargazing.

For a glimpse of the elusive northern lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the perfect place to view this natural phenomenon, thanks to the latitude and low light pollution. We’d recommend heading to the shore of Lake Superior in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Both the Bete Grise Wetlands Preserve and Mary Macdonald Preserve at Horseshoe Harbor are excellent options.

If you are headed out this winter, make sure you are prepared and dress for the conditions. 

A person stands on a large rock formation on the beach and holds a light. Behind them, the sky is filled with millions of stars and colorful hues.
Starry, Starry Night Michigan is home to a number of dark sky preserves, which make for stellar views of the Milky Way, northern lights and more. © Lorenzo Ranieri Tenti/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Spend a Day Snowshoeing

Location: Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve in Covert Township, Michigan

Hear the crunching of snow under your feet as you explore a rarity in the Great Lakes region—a coastal plain marsh. While the Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve is open year round, winter is especially pretty as the lake-effect snow blankets the ground. With more than five miles of trails, there is plenty to explore. We’d recommend traversing this tranquil winter wonderland via snowshoes for the best winter experience.

As one of the last blocks of northern hardwood forest in southwest Michigan, the preserve is a great place to experience the forest any time of the year. Our guided audio tour of the property follows a three-and-a-half-mile route that loops through the southern two-thirds of the nearly 1,500-acre preserve. Depending on the season, you can encounter reptiles and amphibians, spot mammals like coyote and red fox, or search the sky for colorful songbirds.

Seasons Change at Ross (2:35) Ross Coastal Plain Marsh Preserve in southwest Michigan is a wonderful place to watch the seasons change.

Where to Spend a Spring Day

There are countless ways to spend a spring day in Michigan. Celebrate the beautiful weather with one of these activities.  

Stop and Smell the Wildflowers

Learn about Michigan's incredible biodiversity as you view these blossoms.

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Find the Prettiest Wildflowers

Location: Upper and Lower Peninsula, Michigan

As the snow begins to melt, spring wildflowers begin to appear at preserves across the state. In early spring, you can find bloodroot and common trillium at the Nan Weston Nature Preserve at Sharon Hollow, along with other spring ephemerals. In May, the gorgeous pink plumes of prairie smoke begin to appear at Maxton Plains Preserve at Drummond Island. Meanwhile, the elusive Dwarf Lake iris begins to bloom in early May at Grass Bay Preserve.

Some of these wildflowers are easy to spot, while others, like the Dwarf Lake iris, are rare. Whether you are exploring a preserve, a sandy shore or your own backyard, keep an eye out for the blossoms. In areas where rare species grow, be careful where you step, and avoid areas with vegetation.

The pink seedheads of prairie smoke grow at Maxton Plains Preserve at Drummond Island.
Wildflowers at Maxton Plains Eight Michigan state-rare plants grow in the alvars of Maxton Plains at Drummond Island. Among these are prairie smoke. © Jason Whalen/Fauna Creative

Visit a Historical Lighthouse on Lake Michigan

Location: Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie in Frankfort, Michigan

When the lakes are this great, there are bound to be a few lighthouses, and of the Great Lakes states, Michigan is home to more lighthouses than any other. The historic Point Betsie Lighthouse has been in operation continuously since 1858 and is open for visitors interested in learning about the daily life of lighthouse keepers. There is also an exhibit dedicated to TNC’s work to protect and restore dune systems like the ones found all around the lighthouse.

Located just south of the lighthouse is the Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie. This dynamic area hosts a mosaic of shifting sand dunes, wetlands, boreal forest and sandy beaches. The dunes are part of the largest freshwater dune system in the world, covering 275,000 acres of Lake Michigan shoreline. For your safety and to protect this fragile ecosystem, stay off the tall dunes themselves. Walk along the shoreline or through the flatter part of the preserve to take in the view and avoid trampling rare plant species.

View of Point Betsie Lighthouse from the shore of Zetterberg Preserve at Point Betsie in Frankfort, Michigan.
Lake Michigan The original lighthouse, fog signal building, and keeper’s residence are all open for visitors at Point Betsie Lighthouse. © Jason Whalen

Check Out Some of the Best Birdwatching

Location: Erie Marsh Preserve in Monroe, Michigan

As the spring (and fall) migration begins, grab your binoculars and head to one of the best locations for birdwatching in the world. Erie Marsh Preserve, tucked alongside Lake Erie, is a critical nesting and stopover spot for thousands of birds. As you walk along the pathways dividing the different wetland areas, you are likely to see a number of ducks, shorebirds, songbirds or a great egret, great blue heron or black-crowned night heron.

This is also an excellent location to spot a bald eagle in Michigan. Their nests are large and bulky. Scan the sturdy trees along the water's edge to catch a glimpse of these magnificent birds.

A person trains their camera on the still waters of Erie Marsh on a cloudy day.
Birdwatching at Erie Marsh In addition to being a birding hotspot, Erie Marsh contains 11% of the remaining wetlands in southeast Michigan. © Rebekah Wuchner/TNC

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