City Guide: Northern Michigan
Boketto City Guides are odes to our favorite places. This is a weekly micro-series by Team Boketto. This week we visit Northern Michigan with our social media and content strategist, Kate Belew — who grew up in Michigan and couldn't help but fall in love with the land of the Great Lakes.
There is nowhere that has my heart as much as Northern Michigan. Take a moment to explore this land map to better understand the Indigenous nations to whom Michigan belongs. The stories and legends of these nations can be found everywhere in the naming of things. Michigan comes from the Ojibwe word mishigami, meaning “large water” or “large lake”.
I grew up in Marshall, Michigan, a small rural town in the southwest of the state. Growing up, we would go "up north," which is really anywhere north of Grand Rapids (a city in the middle) of the state.
There is the Upper Peninsula, and the Lower Peninsula. You can go “up north” without every leaving the Lower Peninsula.
Though I've been up north hundreds of times, last year, my boyfriend Cody and I took a motorcycle trip along Lake Michigan to the Upper Peninsula, where we drew a big circle across the space.
We started in Interlochen, Michigan (outside of Traverse City), went up the coast, past The Sleeping Bear Dunes on M-119 through the Tunnel of Trees, to the Mackinaw City Bridge. Once in the Upper Peninsula, we went to Drummond Island, home of the beautiful alvars of The Maxton Plains, to a city named Paradise, where we stopped to see Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Whitefish Point Lighthouse, where The Edmond Fitzgerald wrecked, the Pictured Rocks, and then down to Manistique, where Clyde's drive in is, near Kitch-iti-kipi, the largest freshwater spring in Michigan.
While in Michigan, eat whitefish sandwiches, say hello to strangers, drink a beer by a lighthouse, go skinny dipping in all of the Great Lakes, drive on a dirt road in the rain, almost run out of gas, take a lot of pictures, tell stories.
These are some of my favorite spots in Northern Michigan…
Sleeping Bear Dunes
The Sleeping Bear Dunes are stunning sand dunes that overlook Lake Michigan. The park covers a 35-mile long stretch of the coastline. The name comes from the Ojibwe legend of the sleeping bear. In the legend, a forest fire drives a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake for shelter. They tried to swim across the lake, however the two cubs didn't make it. The mother waited for them on the dunes on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and the sands buried her where she still waits to this day. The Great Spirit created two islands, North Manitou and South Manitou Island to honor the cubs, impressed with their bravery. The Sleeping Bear Dunes are experiencing horrible erosion! And must be protected.
The Tunnel of Trees
M-119 is also known as The Tunnel of Trees. After you leave Harbor Springs in the rearview, you can drive this beautiful road (noted as one of the most scenic in our country). Along the way, you can stop at Pond Hill Farm and drink a cider, shoot squash out of a squash launcher, and admire sunflowers. If you keep driving, you’ll pass through Good Hart, which is worth a quick stop. Just past the town of Good Hart, you’ll see cars pulled over against the dunes. Just beyond the dunes is Lake Michigan. Go swimming!
The Maxton Plains
On Drummond Island (after you take the ferry) you can find The Maxton Plains. The 1,185-acre preserve is arguably one of the world’s only examples alvar grassland. Alvars have only been documented in parts of Scandinavia, Estonia, Ireland’s County Clare and the Great Lakes. While on Drummond Island, watch for deer and Sandhill Cranes. The Fossil Ledges are a great place to explore. The Bear Track Inn has great breakfast.
Chase some waterfalls at Michigan’s 46,179-acre state park. The waterfalls are gorgeous and turn a burnt reddish color due to the plant sediment. Joe Pera takes you on a Fall Drive to Tahquamenon Falls here.
While in Michigan, you have to eat a Whitefish sandwich. Whitefish Point is the home of the Whitefish Point Lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The Edmund Fitzgerald crashed just off the coast. Do you know its story? Check out the famous ballad here. If you’re there, make sure to drive through the Shelldrake ghost town. We stayed there in a little airbnb.
The Pictured Rocks
Pictured Rock National Lakeshore is unreal beautiful. Overlooking the vast waters of Lake Superior, the cliffs of sandstone stand guard over the chilling water known as the graveyard of the Great Lakes. The rocks are known for their unusual formations called Miners Castle and Chapel Rock. You can hike over 100 miles of trails. We stayed in the Superior Motel in nearby Munising after riding through a rainstorm. Normally, I would have been cold and over it, but riding through the forest of The Pictured Rocks nearly brought me to tears.
I love a diner or a drive-in. Clyde’s drive-in in Manistique, MI was built in 1949 and doesn't look like it's changed a bit since. Cody and I are vegetarians so we had grilled cheeses and a diet coke. We sat outside and watched the trains pass by.
Kitch-iti-Kipi is Michigan's largest natural freshwater spring. It means “big cold spring” in the Ojibwe language, or mirror of heaven. There are many legends about Kitch-iti-Kipi, some believe that the waters have special healing properties, some believe that the surrounding Tamarack trees have magical properties, some believe that the spring may offer up a name for your newborn if you know how to ask. There is a boat that can take you across the spring. I guarantee you'll never see a color blue quite like this.
If you go, always take the backroads. It’s more fun.
To travel virtually to Michigan listen to two of my favorite Bob Seger songs, Night Moves and Roll Me Away.