Surrounded by the Great Lakes and dotted with dense, uninhabited forests, Michigan is an outdoor paradise. Although certain attractions in this large state are popular with tourists — such as the tulips in Holland and the remarkable Mackinac Bridge — many others are situated far off of the beaten path. If you’re hoping to enjoy this Midwestern state’s beauty without the crowds, book Michigan vacation rentals near these hidden gems.
1. Isle Royale National Park
Situated far out in Lake Superior off of the tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is Isle Royale National Park, one of the least-visited national parks in the United States – in fact, the park averages just over 18,000 visitors per year. This small island features fantastic hiking, moose viewing, and unparalleled access to Lake Superior. To get there, you can take a boat or a sea plane from Houghton or Copper Harbor; search for rental properties in either town. Because of the Upper Peninsula’s intense winters, Isle Royale is only open from mid-April through the end of October.
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2. Tahquamenon Falls State Park, Paradise
Watch as water thunders 50 feet over a cliff in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The star of the show is the Upper Falls, which is more than 200 feet wide and fills the air with a fine mist. A few miles away, the Lower Falls features five smaller falls and a small island. Getting to this picturesque spot requires a bit of a drive; 1.5 hours from vacation rentals near the Mackinac Bridge or Sault Ste. Marie. The park is gorgeous year-round; in the winter, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through the silent forest.
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3. Kitch-iti-kipi, Manistique
Hidden away in Palms Book State Park is Kitch-iti-kipi, a huge freshwater spring. Underneath this crystal-clear pool, which is more than 40 feet deep, a bed of limestone allows water to bubble up all year. The consistent water temperature means that the spring never freezes, so you can see it year round. The most exciting part? You can hop on a special observation raft and float across the spring, stopping to look at centuries-old tree trunk and the occasional fish. Stay in Manistique and arrive early to have the spring to yourself, particularly during the summer.
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4. Chapel Rock, Munising
Paddle down the spectacular Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to reach Chapel Rock, one of the area’s most beautiful formations. This freestanding rock pillar, which is made from ancient Cambrian-Age sandstone, was once part of a sea arch that collapsed decades ago. Tour boats don’t stop at this area, so the only way to get there is by kayak or a three-mile hike from the end of Chapel Road. From your vacation rental in Munising, you can visit year-round; in the winter, you must use skis or snowshoes.
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5. Silver Lake State Park, Mears
Climb towering sand dunes next to Lake Michigan at Silver Lake State Park. Here, a wide stretch of tall dunes extends for miles along the shore, creating an outdoor paradise. Not feeling like hiking through the sand? Rent an ORV and enjoy a high-speed ride along the dunes. The best time to visit is from spring through fall, but if you bundle up, the area is also stunning in the winter. Stay nearby in Mears, Hart, or Pentwater.
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6. Bete Grise Sea Arch, Lac La Belle
Paddle through a natural rock arch near Bete Grise in the northern part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Launch your kayak or canoe from the Bete Gris Beach and paddle east, keeping the shoreline on your left side. After a couple of miles, natural rock sea stacks and sea arches rise from the shockingly clear water of Lake Superior; in one, you can float through the arch and hang out in the shade. This area is accessible from late spring through late fall; if you’re not an experienced paddler, be extremely careful in the fall, when weather can kick up big waves quickly. Stay in Lac La Belle for the easiest access.
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7. Lake of the Clouds, Ontonagon
A shimmering blue lake tucked into the forested Porcupine Mountains, the Lake of the Clouds can seem like a mirage. The best way to reach the lake from your Ontonagon vacation rental is via the excellent Big Carp River Trail or the Escarpment Trail. If you’re not up for a hike, you can also drive to an overlook for a beautiful view. The area is open all year, but roads are often closed in the winter due to heavy snowfall.
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8. Ludington State Park, Ludington
It’s a breeze to find a private stretch of Lake Superior beach at Ludington State Park. A long, pristine stretch of white sand extends for miles along the eastern shore of Lower Michigan, creating plenty of opportunities for sunbathing and swimming. From early summer until early fall, the water is usually warm enough for swimming; in the winter, pack your snowshoes to hike along the shore. Vacation rentals in nearby Ludington place you within a few minutes of the park.
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9. Platte River, Honor
Thousands of visitors flock to Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore each year, but most of them miss out on the area’s hidden gem: the Platte River. Cool off on a hot, humid summer day with a float trip down the river; as you lounge in an inner tube, the river’s current takes you gently downstream. Local outfitters in Honors can provide tubes and a shuttle service – you can even rent a cooler tube to carry snacks. The best nearby rentals are on the Lake Michigan waterfront by Frankfort.
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10. Mount Bohemia, Lac La Belle
Hidden away in the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Mount Bohemia provides some of the most exciting skiing in the Midwest. As you enjoy 900 feet of vertical drop and more than 270 inches of annual snowfall, look out from the top of the hill for expansive views of Lake Superior. In the winter, try backcountry skiing and snowboarding; the rest of the year, enjoy hiking and swimming in the nearby lakes. Bear in mind that snowfall is intense in the colder months, so a four-wheel drive is advisable. Book vacation rentals in nearby Lac La Belle or Copper Harbor.
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