We are home from Michigan–although the older I get, the more I realize home means a lot of different things.
We are home from home, settled back into our routines, comforted by the simplest things we missed–my favorite coffee mug, the way the steering wheel turns in my own car, lighting the candle on my desk when I first wake up, the familiarity of my kitchen and our beds and the whir of the dryer from the laundry room late in the afternoon before Brett comes home. But home is also what we left–where I grew up, where my family will still be enjoying summer for weeks to come–tall pines and scenes of lakes and docks and a sky that stays lit long into the night as if it knows Midwesterners have too much to enjoy in one summer day.
I like loving two places–where we live with the ocean and the palms and the friends and family we couldn’t wait to return to, and where we long to be in the summer and again in the fall when we see pictures of golden tree lines and hear descriptions of what the cider mill smelled like and how the air is just cold enough to wear a sweater. I’m thankful we get to enjoy both.
There are some massive impressive lake houses on my dad’s lake, and yet this little blue cabin tucked in the woods is one of my favorites.
I figured the best way to neatly package a labyrinth of Michigan moments into a blog post would be a wrap-up of ten favorite things I love about a Michigan summer. We do a pretty good job of exploring hidden corners of Michigan, and I can definitely play tour guide when it comes to places we’ve been; but keep in mind Michigan is large, full of so much goodness, we’ve barely scratched the surface. The upper peninsula, for example, is a playground of picturesque beauty we haven’t even begun to explore yet. And there are still so many experiences we haven’t yet enjoyed on our Michigan bucket list (like sleeping in this light house–can you even?!). That said, if you’re considering Michigan for summer travel, DO IT. Head north (although Detroit is fun too!). The Great Lakes are where the spell begins. My dad’s cabin is in Lewiston, Michigan–a very small town with several lakes. It’s great because it offers us a landing spot for the summer where we enjoy calm, quiet lake life away from tourism; and yet it’s drivable for day trips to the most beautiful sightseeing landmarks–Sleeping Bear Dunes, Mackinac Island, Petoskey and Harbor Springs, Leland, etc. With that said, my top 10 Summer Michigan treasures:
1. Sleeping Bear Dunes and Glen Arbor
I haven’t seen a Sleeping Bear Dunes photo yet that really does it justice, but something happens when you’re up there on those dunes looking out on the water. It’s breathtaking, and there’s a reason Good Morning America awarded it THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE IN AMERICA a few years back.
We stay for hours, and no one gets bored. We drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive up to Overlook #9 where we set out a blanket and snacks and drinks, and the kids climb and jump and explore. There’s also a Dune Climb entrance where you can start at the base of a dune and then walk trails through the dunes all day.
Whatever the case, you cannot explore Northern Michigan without visiting the dunes. The sistering town Glen Arbor complements the dunes with its northern charm and unique location gift of being snuggled between two of Michigan’s most beautiful lakes–Lake Michigan and Glen Lake (turquoise waters!). The whole town feels like a summer movie–the shops, the bookstore (it’s a log cabin), the little bars, the kayakers on the river, the ice cream shack, the art galleries, the side streets. It’s all glorious in that this-belongs-in-a-coffee-table-book kind of way.
Some Glen Arbor favorites: The M22 store (and outdoor bar), Riverfront Pizza (so good! and super cheap soft serve ice cream with toppings), The Totem Shop, Andersons IGA (upscale little grocery with good wine), Cherry Republic (go to the Wine Tasting room!), The Cottage Book Shop, Boonedocks, Imagine That, Cottonseed Apparel, Bay Lavender Trading Company.
Our view from the Riverside Pizza dock where we ate dinner and watched the kayakers.
2. Ocqueoc Falls
New to our Michigan trip this year, we were completely charmed. “Don’t tell anybody about this,” my niece instructed, “This is too good to be shared–needs to stay a secret.”
The falls are the perfect height for climbing and exploring, and yet there are pools throughout deep enough to wade waist-deep through and a small little pool even deeper to jump. We brought wine flasks and snacks and wished we would have arrived earlier so we could have stayed longer. And it’s in the middle of NOWHERE (we drove an hour through mostly empty roads to it), so it feels like a good summer secret.
3. A Rainy Day
Because we do so much adventuring in the summer, I welcome the rainy days that invite us to dive into some of the quieter things on our summer bucket list–doing puzzles, writing post cards, reading books, watching Parent Trap, baking cookies. There’s something enchanting about rainy days in Northern Michigan–all the trees that soften the sound of the rain, the smell of a storm on a lake, how quickly it gets cold, giving us a chance to wear the sweatshirts we packed.
Or we’ll head to the small town theater a half hour away, coming back after a few hours to my dad’s grilled cheese and tomato soup and our pajamas laid out (warmed in the dryer, of course). Every summer, I’ve been fortunate to tuck away at least one middle-of-the-night storm when I wake up in the bunkhouse, alert just enough to make note of the blessed fact that I am sleeping in a tiny cabin in the woods and it’s pouring outside.
4. “The Other Lakes”
Michigan is, of course, known for its Great Lakes which are truly impressive, but I love all the little lakes in between. You can’t swing a stick in Northern Michigan and not hit a lake–any lake–and the smaller lakes are better for swimming and fishing and independent kid exploration. In just my dad’s tiny little town–population 1,392–there’s West Twin Lake, East Twin Lake, Tee Lake, Snyder Lake, Big Bear Lake, Little Bear Lake, Wolf Lake and Spectacle Lakes.
Smaller lakes can also offer cheaper places to stay and are great locations for quiet summer lake days.
I love our memories on this lake. Like Pontoon Breakfast Day where my dad prepares and packs up the most amazing breakfast right down to the coffee carafe and whipped cream topping, and gives the kids all chances to wear the captain’s hat while they drive the boat in their pajamas.
5. Traverse City
We’ve always stopped in Traverse City as a midpoint to some of our other destinations, but this year is the first year I went beyond the tourist Front Street and beach area, although we did really enjoy Little Fleet, a family friendly food truck park, for lunch. This year, we drove toward Old Mission, down the strip of land between the arms of Grand Traverse Bay, and Traverse City charm exponentially increased. The view! The wineries! The produce stands! The farms!
We found a little lavender farm, wandered through its barn full of dried lavender bouquets, picked cherries straight from the trees, ate lavender ice cream, brought home lavender tea and candles and handmade soaps and promised we’d never visit Traverse City again without driving this stretch of heaven.
6. Lake Parks
Where there is a lake, there’s a park; and we’ve made it our mission to swing on as many swings we can find overlooking a lake.
7. Mackinac Island
We’ve been singing the island’s praises for years now and wrote a whole post dedicated to it last week, but I can’t make a Top 10 List without including it. There’s something to be said about making the effort to get on a fairy and leaving everything behind to enter a place with no cars, stunning views and true summer cottage living. Summer magic.
8. Inhaling Nature
Yes, we have beautiful nature in Florida too, but Michigan’s summer nature is simply intoxicating, an irresistible invitation to slow down and enjoy it. The wildflowers (they’re everywhere!), the birch trees, the birds, the dirt roads, the water, the rocks… Lake Michigan’s shores are covered with the smoothest stones you’ve ever seen. I collect so many to bring home.
There are so many hidden roads and faraway highways up north lined by forests like I’ve never seen anywhere else. The tallest trees, all lined up–rows and rows of them–with sunshine seeping through and spilling out in a way that is so enchanting. I always want to pull over, walk in and get lost but also I don’t want to be a national headline.
Perhaps this is my favorite of all–that we’ve come back to this same place summer after summer, and all its magic is now part of my kids’ childhood, part of them. I’ve offered other summer explorations to them, but they get upset just at the suggestion. It’s like coming home to them, and they’re perfectly content to repeat the same experiences in the same place.
They’re subconsciously stockpiling goodness that will cushion, comfort and guide their future experiences. These night swims, these bonfires, these cold sweatshirt mornings with Poppa’s pancake breakfasts. They’ll tell their kids about them someday, and there will be generations of Michigan lovers to come–I am sure of it.
10. Coming Home
It’s sad to leave a place you love, especially after a month of so many wonderful experiences…
…but I love the reflection that comes in the closure and the excitement of returning to our home and our life here. We cannot have Michigan summers without real life the rest of the year. The juxtaposition is what makes it so good.
Now it’s time to tuck our new souvenir mugs in the cabinet, drop our favorite summer photos in our family album, break out the cherry preserves and lavender lotion we brought home, and move forward toward all the good that is in store.
Back to School posts coming!