Summer in Michigan is when the state really comes to life. Traffic jams fill northbound I-75 on Friday evenings as metro-Detroiters head Up North for a weekend of fun. Lazy summer days stretch into long nights and campfires. Nothing beats a Michigan summer. Here are 9 reasons to add it to your vacation list this year.
The Great Lakes
Summer is when Michigan’s lakes truly shine. Once the weather warms up, they turn into playgrounds for locals and tourists alike. You’re never more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes or 6 miles from one of the inland lakes, so pack a bathing suit and hit the sand. Some of my favorite Great Lakes spots are the Lake Michigan shore, Oscoda on Lake Huron, and the area around Port Austin on the top of the thumb region. The lakes are big enough that you can’t see the other side over the horizon and often feature the perfect blue waters associated with the Caribbean.
As a bonus, they’re freshwater and don’t contain sharks or jellyfish, and with their enormous size, you’d never know you’re not looking at an ocean from the shore. I once posted a picture of Oscoda’s beach on Facebook and was scolded by my Florida friends for failing to notify them that I was visiting the Sunshine State. Little did they know that I was actually in northern Michigan. If you’re looking for smaller lakes, Burt Lake, Crystal Lake, Bishop Lake, and Seven Lakes State Park offer fantastic swimming and boating.
Detroit River Days
This annual festival takes place along the Riverwalk lining the Detroit River. Live music performances highlight the event, and guests can sample delicious food offerings from local restaurants. Jet ski demos and riverboat tours tie in the waterfront, and families can enjoy carnival rides on land. Thrillseekers can even take a ride on a 300-foot zip line along the river. Spend some time strolling along the Riverwalk and playing in the fountains outside of the Renaissance Center. Learn more about the festival here.
Michigan Challenge Balloonfest
This hot air balloon festival in Howell, a small town between Detroit and Lansing, features over 50 balloons. The accompanying festival includes live music, and a full carnival for families. Local restaurants serve up delicious food offerings, and there are several scheduled balloon launches. The premiere event is the balloon glow, which takes place after dark on Saturday night. Festival goers are treated to the sight of many of the balloons inflating and lighting up the summer sky. Read more here.
The National Cherry Festival in Traverse City takes place around the Fourth of July and features numerous options for family fun centered around the area’s famous cherry trees. Airshows by the Blue Angels dazzle crowds, carnival rides thrill families, and pie eating and cherry pit spitting contests bring laughs to everyone. You can spend a day or a week enjoying the festival and never get bored.
If you need a break from all of the cherry festivities, head a bit west to explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The sand dunes are fantastic, and the area has been recognized as one of the best beaches. Find out more about the Cherry Festival here.
Fourth of July
Due to its close proximity to Canada – it’s the only major American city where you cross the border south to get there – Detroit and Windsor, Ontario combine their summer fireworks in a fantastic international celebration. Canada Day (July 1st) and the American Independence Day (July 4th) are only three days apart so both holidays are marked by a joint fireworks display during the last week of June. Barges park in the Detroit River and spectators line the prime viewing areas hours in advance awaiting the annual show that never disappoints. Other festivities, such as singing competitions, also accompany the show.
For celebrating on the Fourth itself, there’s nothing better than packing a cooler and heading out onto one of Michigan’s fantastic lakes. Many parks have free charcoal grills, so they’re the perfect spots to have a small cookout with friends and/or family.
Ann Arbor Art Fair
For a few days in late July, the streets of Ann Arbor are transformed into a sea of artwork, food stands, and street performers. The fair is actually made up of four separate art fairs that occur at the same time, so there’s a little something for everyone. The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair features artwork and crafts, as well as incredible recreations of famous paintings done in chalk on the sidewalk. The Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair is a juried collection of fine art. The State Street Art Fair combines merchants, street food, and all kinds of modern and traditional art creations. Last but not least, the South University Art Fair also blends modern and traditional styles and features artists from all over the world.
If you need a break from the endless arrays of artwork, spend some time exploring the University of Michigan’s beautiful Diag (go Blue!), head up to the Huron River, or enjoy the flowers and trees at the botanical gardens. Start planning your visit here.
Woodward Dream Cruise
This incredibly Detroit event takes place on a weekend in mid-August every year, though “pre-cruising” happens for several days the week before. During the Dream Cruise, classic cars from all eras are polished up and driven up and down Woodward Avenue – famous for having the first paved mile of road in the US. An estimated 1,000,000 annual spectators line the street and enjoy watching the classic cars cruise up and down the street while listening to music and snacking on treats from local businesses. Some visitors even come up with ingenious (or a little crazy, depending on your perspective) ways to view the cruise from the road by building viewing platforms on their cars. It’s a great homage to the auto industry that built the city, and a great way to support local businesses.
The Upper Peninsula
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula gets a bit snowy during the winter, but it’s a beautiful wilderness during the summer months. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore offers scenic drives, hiking, and kayaking opportunities. Tahquamenon Falls State Park includes the state’s largest waterfall (the upper falls) as well as a series of cascades tumbling down in the lower falls area. After exploring the scenery, you can take a break at the brewery located right inside the park. In Sault Sainte Marie, you can take a boat ride through the Soo Locks that raise and lower boats between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. You can also head all the way up to Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula to really get away from it all. If you’re brave enough, you can take a swim in the always chilly waters of Lake Superior.
Mackinac Island is dreamy in summer. Ferries bring boatloads of visitors fill the island. The long, warm summer days are perfect for exploring with a bike. The ring road that encircles the whole island is the perfect length for a ride and offers beautiful scenery and lots of places to stop and enjoy the view. I also recommend eating your weight in the island’s famous fudge. Mackinac is in full swing during the summer months, so book your hotels early and try for an early morning ferry if you’re not staying on the island.
Don’t want to visit during the summer? Here are Six Reasons to Visit Michigan This Spring.