20 Unique Day Trips in Michigan

Michigan is a state filled with natural beauty, history, and unique experiences. We feel blessed to be lifelong Michiganders and there are still plenty of amazing destinations we haven’t yet explored.

Whether you’re a local or just passing through, there are countless day trip options that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

Here are 20 Unique Day Trips in Michigan:

Travel Back in History

1 – Mackinac Island

Imagine traveling back in time to when cars haven’t yet been invented. This historic island is a popular tourist destination, known for its Victorian-era architecture, horse-drawn carriages, and natural beauty.

There is so much to see and do on the island. If you decide to check it out, be sure you read our posts about Mackinac Island first to get some insider tips!

2 – The Ghost Town in Fayette Historical State Park

Fayette Historic State Park in Michigan is a unique and historic site that offers visitors a glimpse into the past. It is located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is the site of a once thriving iron-making community in the 19th century.

The park is located on the site of the former Fayette Iron Works, which was in operation from 1867 to 1891. Today, the park features well-preserved remnants of the iron-making community, including restored blast furnaces, charcoal kilns, and other industrial structures.

Visitors can take guided tours of the furnaces and kilns and learn about the history of the iron-making industry and the workers who lived and worked in the area.

In addition to the industrial structures, the park also features hiking trails, picnic areas, and a campground, making it a popular destination for outdoor recreation.

We absolutely loved camping there and can’t wait to go back. This campground is also unique in that it’s open all year long! The bath house is closed during the winter and the water spigots are turned off but the electricity stays on throughout the winter.

3 – Greenfield Village

Greenfield Village is an outdoor living history museum that recreates the feel of a 19th-century rural village. Visitors can walk through the streets and visit restored homes, farms, and workshops of some of America’s most famous inventors, including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Noah Webster.

The village also features historic transportation vehicles, such as Model T cars and horse-drawn carriages, which add to the authentic feel of the museum. Visitors can pay extra to take these early cars for a spin!

In addition to the historic structures, Greenfield Village also features a variety of interactive activities and demonstrations, including blacksmithing, pottery-making, and other traditional crafts.

Visitors can also attend special events and programs throughout the year, such as holiday celebrations, music concerts, and living history reenactments.

4 – Colonial Fort Michilimackinac

This is one of our favorite historical destinations to visit in Michigan. It is a reconstruction of an 18th-century French fur trading post and military fort that played an important role in the early history of the Great Lakes region. It’s also the location of one of the longest archeological digs in the country!

The fort was originally built in 1715 by the French and was used as a hub for the fur trade and as a strategic military outpost. Today, the reconstructed fort features a variety of restored buildings, including barracks, a chapel, and a trading post, which offer visitors a glimpse into what life was like in the fort in the 18th century.

The blacksmith shop is always a highlight for us! Visitors can also explore the fort’s ramparts, watch costumed interpreters demonstrate traditional trades and crafts, and learn about the history of the fur trade and military life at the fort.

One of the unique features of the fort is its location at the Straits of Mackinac, which was a major crossroads of trade and commerce in the Great Lakes region. This, combined with the well-preserved structures and interactive exhibits, makes Colonial Fort Michilimackinac a unique and fascinating destination for history enthusiasts and visitors of all ages.

5 – Tunnel Tour at Grand Traverse Commons

This tour takes visitors through the labyrinth of underground tunnels that connect the buildings, revealing the fascinating history of the hospital and the surrounding community. Along the way, visitors will see firsthand the infrastructure that supported the hospital, including a kitchen, bakery, laundry, and morgue.

The tour also includes stops in some of the buildings that have been repurposed as retail shops, restaurants, and apartments, showcasing the stunning architecture and design of these historic structures.

The Tunnel Tour is an excellent way to learn about the rich history of Grand Traverse Commons and the people who lived and worked there. And if you’re brave, you can take the Twilight Tour to hear excerpts of first hand experiences from former employees and listen for the creaks and groans of the asylum “cottages” settling at night.

6 – Tour a Castle

Michigan may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of castles, but the state is home to several impressive and historic fortresses that are open to the public. From grand estates to medieval-style castles, these architectural gems offer a glimpse into Michigan’s rich cultural history.

Here are four castles you can tour in Michigan:

  • Castle Farms: Located in Charlevoix, Castle Farms is a 100-year-old castle that was once the home of the famed horticulturist Albert Loeb. Today, the castle is open to the public and offers a variety of tours, events, and attractions, including a model railroad exhibit and a garden maze.
  • Henderson Castle: Built in 1895, the Henderson Castle in Kalamazoo is a stunning example of Queen Anne-style architecture. The castle has been restored and now serves as a bed and breakfast, offering tours and tastings in its winery and distillery.
  • The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House: Located in Grosse Pointe Shores, this grand estate was once the home of the prominent Ford family. Visitors can take guided tours of the mansion and its grounds, which include stunning gardens and a private lake.
  • Castle Museum of Saginaw County History: Housed in a historic 1898 castle-like building, this museum in Saginaw offers exhibits on the history of the region, including Native American culture, the lumber industry, and the automobile industry.

7 – View a Shipwreck

There are many boat tours available that showcase the natural beauty of the Great Lakes, including lighthouses, wildlife, and glass bottom boats that go over shipwrecks. You can find them in pretty much any town on a great lake so do your research!

8 – Tour a Lighthouse

Michigan is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the United States, with over 120 beacons dotted along its 3,288 miles of coastline. These historic structures are not only functional navigational aids, but also serve as fascinating examples of Michigan’s maritime heritage.

Here are some of the best lighthouse tours you can take in Michigan:

  • Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum: Located in Leelanau State Park in Northport, this lighthouse has been guiding ships through the Manitou Passage since 1852. Visitors can take guided tours of the museum and climb the tower for stunning views of Lake Michigan.
  • Big Sable Point Lighthouse: This 1867 lighthouse is located in Ludington State Park and is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan. Visitors can take guided tours of the tower and keeper’s quarters.
  • Whitefish Point Lighthouse: Located in Paradise, this lighthouse has been in operation since 1849 and is known for its role in the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975. Visitors can tour the museum and climb the tower for views of Lake Superior.
  • St. Joseph North Pier Lighthouse: This red-and-white striped lighthouse in St. Joseph has been guiding ships into the St. Joseph River since 1907. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the lighthouse and learn about its history and operation.
  • Fort Gratiot Lighthouse: Located in Port Huron, this lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in Michigan, with the current tower dating back to 1829. Visitors can take a guided tour of the tower and keeper’s quarters.
  • Crisp Point Lighthouse: The most remote lighthouse in Michigan, this one takes some effort and the right weather to reach. If you don’t mind getting your car muddy, this is a fun trip. We have attempted this trip twice and the first time we had to turn around due to road conditions. But the second time we made it and it was a fun adventure.

These are just a few of the many lighthouse tours available in Michigan. Whether you’re a history buff, a maritime enthusiast, or simply looking for stunning views of the Great Lakes, a visit to one of these lighthouses is a must-see destination.

Take in the Beauty

9 – Take a scenic drive along the Michigan shoreline

You can pretty much pick any road that follows the perimeter of Michigan and have a beautiful scenic drive but some areas follow the lakeshore more closely than others. Here are a few of our favorites to check out:

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes – Located in northern Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a natural wonder and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. With over 64 miles of scenic trails and towering dunes that lead to Lake Michigan, it’s the perfect place for a day trip of hiking, biking, and kayaking.
  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Take a cruise along the stunning shoreline of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and see the colorful cliffs and caves up close. With over 40 miles of pristine Lake Superior shoreline, it’s a natural wonder that’s not to be missed. You can also drive from one end of the park to the other but many of the roads aren’t close to Lake Superior so you’ll want to meander down some of the side roads that offer beautiful views and contain hiking trailheads.
  • M-22 – One of the most iconic and picturesque drives in Michigan, M-22 offers stunning views of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. The drive starts in Manistee and winds its way through charming coastal towns like Frankfort, Glen Arbor, and Leland. With panoramic views of the lake, towering sand dunes, and vibrant fall foliage, M-22 is a must-see for any nature lover.
  • Brockway Mountain Drive – Located in the Upper Peninsula, Brockway Mountain Drive is a scenic road that offers panoramic views of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The drive is especially beautiful during the fall when the trees turn bright shades of red, orange, and yellow. Along the way, visitors can stop at scenic overlooks to take in the stunning views of Lake Superior.

10 – Stargazing Without Light Pollution

Skies with almost no light pollution are a rare and valuable resource for stargazers and astronomers. Michigan has several locations that are known for their Bortle 1 skies, including the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, located in Mackinaw City.

This park is situated on the shore of Lake Michigan, providing an ideal location for stargazing and astronomical observation. Visitors to the park can attend educational events and workshops, take guided tours, and observe the night sky through telescopes and binoculars.

Other areas in Michigan that are known for their dark skies include the Jordan River Valley, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Muskallonge Lake State Park, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. These areas offer a rare opportunity to see the stars and planets in all their glory, making them a must-visit destination for astronomy enthusiasts and anyone interested in the natural world.

Have an Adventure

11 – Get your Foodie Fix

Enjoy the culinary scene, including the famous Michigan cherries, Michigan craft beers, and local wines. Michigan is home to many famous microbreweries, and taking a tour of one of these facilities is a great way to learn about the brewing process and sample some of the state’s best beers.

Another staple of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula culture is the pasty, a Cornish pastry which is filled with meat and vegetables.

12 – See it from the Air

Take a hot air balloon ride over the stunning Michigan countryside. You can also attend an air show where hot air balloons, military aircraft, and other festivities can be enjoyed. We have enjoyed the Battle Creek several times. Here’s a list of all of the 2023 Michigan Air Shows.

13 – Drive over the Mackinac Bridge

This impressive 5-mile long bridge connects the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula, offering stunning views of the surrounding waters. Some people are nervous to drive over the bridge because the railings aren’t very high and it gets breezy.

We go back and forth over the bridge as often as we can and we haven’t ever had an issue. The Bridge Authority does tell traffic to drive more slowly during bad weather.

People also flock to Mackinaw City on the shores of Lake Huron to take in the sun setting over the majestic bridge. They have some amazing sunsets in that area.

14 – Ride the Rails

If you enjoy biking, you might want to try out these brand new rail bikes in the Traverse City area. A company called Wheels on Rails in the Traverse City area is rolling out 6 mile guided tours for 2-passenger and 4-passenger rail bikes on discontinued sections of railroad tracks.

These tours are starting in May of 2023 and they require reservations. You can book your ride here.

15 – Get Spooked in a Haunted House

  • The Ghosts of Kalamazoo Historic Tour takes visitors on a walking tour of some of the city’s most haunted places. Led by a knowledgeable guide, visitors will learn about the history and legends of Kalamazoo as they explore cemeteries, historic buildings, and other reportedly haunted locations.
  • The Ghosts of Grand Rapids Tour is a popular walking tour that takes visitors through the city’s historic Heritage Hill neighborhood. Visitors will hear stories of the area’s haunted past, including tales of ghostly apparitions, unexplained noises, and other strange occurrences.
  • Traverse City Ghost Tours – Traverse City has several different tours to choose from including a ghost hunting tour!
  • Old Mill Museum in Dundee is reportedly one of the most haunted places in Michigan. The museum offers guided tours that take visitors through the building’s history and legends, including stories of unexplained footsteps, ghostly apparitions, and other strange occurrences.
  • Erebus Haunted Attraction in Pontiac is the world’s largest haunted house. The four-story haunted house that was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Largest Walk-Through Haunted Attraction in 2005. A unique feature Erebus is its “Exit Protocol” experience. Visitors are led through a maze of corridors and doors, with the ultimate goal of finding the exit. However, they must navigate a series of obstacles and challenges along the way, including puzzles, tight spaces, and other surprises. It’s a must-visit destination for anyone looking for a spine-tingling, hair-raising Halloween experience.

16 – Take a Trip to Hell

Located in Livingston County, Hell is a small town with a big reputation. Its quirky name and devilish themes make it a popular tourist destination, attracting visitors from all over the state and beyond.

Visitors to Hell can explore the town’s unique shops and restaurants, which offer a variety of devil-themed merchandise and cuisine. The town also has several photo opportunities, including the “Gateway to Hell” sign and the “Screams” ice cream shop.

Hell is most appreciated by folks with a great sense of humor.

17 – Visit Frankenmuth

Known as Michigan’s “Little Bavaria,” Frankenmuth is a charming town that offers visitors a unique taste of German culture. Spend the day exploring the shops, restaurants, and bakeries, and don’t forget to stop by the famous Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland for some holiday cheer. It is the world’s largest Christmas store which is bigger than one and a half football fields in size featuring over 50,000 trims, gifts, and collectibles.

18 – Drive on Sand Dunes

Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan is a popular destination for off-road vehicle (ORV) enthusiasts. The dunes cover over 2,000 acres and offer a variety of terrain for ORVing, including steep hills and challenging trails.

Visitors can bring their own ORVs or rent them on-site, and the park offers a variety of camping options for those who want to make a weekend of it. Whether you’re an experienced ORV rider or just looking for a fun day out with friends or family, Silver Lake Sand Dunes is a great destination for outdoor adventure.

19 – Dig for Fossils, Rockport State Park

Rockport State Park is home to one of the most unique and exciting recreational opportunities in Michigan – digging for fossils. The park’s ancient limestone quarry is filled with marine fossils. Visitors can bring their own tools or rent them on-site and spend hours searching for fossils that have been preserved in the rocks.

Common finds include brachiopods, trilobites, and crinoids, but lucky fossil hunters may also uncover rare specimens like cephalopods or even shark teeth. The park staff provides guidance on how to identify fossils and what to do if you find something interesting.

This activity is perfect for all ages and skill levels, and it provides a unique opportunity to learn about the geological and biological history of the area. And when you tire of digging in the rocks, you can snorkel to historic shipwrecks, hike to massive water-filled sinkholes, or explore the nearby ghost town.

20 – Experience an Ice Luge

Who says you can’t visit Michigan in the winter? The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex is one of only four ice luges in the nation and it offers visitors access to acres of ice, trails and woods for those who want to experience our winter wonderland.

Choose between skating, snowshoeing, skiing, or learning how to ride the luge on a track that was built but an Olympian.

These are just 20 of the unique day trips in Michigan that you can experience. There’s so much history, beauty, and adventure in our state. Come visit us and have an adventure with memories that will last a lifetime!