Summer in Michigan is when the state is really at its finest. Locals 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 are the highlight of summer in Michigan
Summer Michigan is when the state’s many lakes are at their best. Once the weather warms up, they turn into playgrounds for locals and tourists alike. While in the state, 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 or hitch up your boat and hit the water. Some of my favorite Great Lakes spots are the many Lake Michigan beach towns, Oscoda on Lake Huron, and the area around Port Austin on the top of the thumb region.
The Great Lakes are truly incredible, with some spots boasting the kind of Caribbean blue waters you usually picture in tropical locations. And they’re freshwater and don’t contain sharks or jellyfish. With their enormous size, you’d never know you’re not looking at an ocean when you stand on the shore. Late summer is the best swimming time if you’re out on the big lakes as their temperatures stay chilly well into July. If you’re looking for smaller lakes, Burt Lake, Crystal Lake, Bishop Lake, and Seven Lakes State Park offer some of my favorite options for swimming and boating.
Check out this list of the best beaches in Michigan to find out more!
Celebrate Detroit River Days
This annual festival takes place along the Riverwalk lining the Detroit River in Detroit. Live music performances are a highlight of the event, and guests can sample delicious food from local restaurants. Jet ski demos and riverboat tours add an extra dimension to the festival, and families can enjoy carnival rides on land. Thrill seekers 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.
Be Awed at the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest
This hot air balloon festival occurs annually in Howell, a small town between Detroit and Lansing, and features more than 50 balloons. The accompanying festival includes live music and a full carnival with rides and games for families. Local restaurants serve up delicious food offerings in addition to the fair food, and there are several scheduled balloon launches. The premiere event is the balloon glow, which takes place after dark on Saturday night. During the glow, festival goers are treated to the sight of many of the balloons inflating and lighting up the summer sky. Read more here.
Eat up at the National Cherry Festival
The National Cherry Festival in takes place in Traverse City around the Fourth of July and features numerous events centered around the area’s famous cherry trees. Airshows by the Blue Angels dazzle crowds, carnival rides provide family fun, and pie eating and cherry pit spitting contests bring laughs to everyone. You can spend a day or a week enjoying the festival and enjoy every minute.
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 in the country. Find out more about the Cherry Festival here.
Enjoy the 4th of July fireworks in Detroit
Due to its close proximity to Canada, Detroit and Windsor, Ontario – its neighbor across the border – combine their summer fireworks in a fantastic international celebration. Canada Day (July 1st) and the American Independence Day (July 4th) are conveniently close on the calendar 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 best viewing areas hours in advance awaiting the fireworks. Other festivities, such as singing competitions, also accompany the show.
For celebrating on the Fourth itself, there’s nothing better than heading out onto one of Michigan’s fantastic lakes or beaches for a barbeque or picnic lunch. 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 taken over by a sea of artwork, food stands, and performers. What’s generally known as 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 crafts and artwork, as well as incredibly detailed chalk reproductions of famous paintings on the sidewalk. The Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair is a juried collection of fine art. The State Street Art Fair combines street food, merchants, and all kinds of modern and traditional artwork. Last but not least, the South University Art Fair also blends traditional and more modern styles of art 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 Diag (go Blue!), relax along the Huron River, or enjoy the flowers and trees at the botanical gardens. Start planning your visit here.
Take a Ride at the Woodward Dream Cruise
This oh-so-Detroit event takes place on a weekend in mid-August every year, though “pre-cruising” starts well before the official event. During the Dream Cruise, classic cars from all eras are showcased and driven up and down legendary Woodward Avenue – famous for having the first paved mile of road in the US. It’s estimated that 1,000,000 spectators line the street each year to watch the classic cars cruise by while listening to music and snacking on treats from local businesses. Some enthusiasts 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.
Visit 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 some of the best scenic drives, hiking, and kayaking opportunities in the state. 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 hitting the trails, you can grab a drink at the brewery located right inside the park. In Sault Sainte Marie, you can take a boat tour through the Soo Locks that raise and lower boats passing 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 even take a swim in the always chilly waters of Lake Superior.
Take a Step Back in Time on Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is one of the classic destinations for summer in Michigan. The warmer months turn this island with no motor vehicles into a dreamy escape from normal life. The ring road that encircles the whole island is the ideal length for a ride for visitors of all ages and offers beautiful scenery and lots of places to stop and enjoy the view. The breeze coming off the lake makes the warm summer days perfect for exploring with a bike. I also recommend eating your weight in the famous Mackinac Island 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.