Explore scenic wonders high and low at
Michigan’s seven national parks. From the heights of beachside bluffs to the depths of closed copper mines, the Great Lakes State is a wonderful (if not underrated) place to appreciate unique landscapes and topography.
Scuba diving among the remains of shipwrecks and exploring old mining sites aren’t some of the first activities that come to mind when thinking of things you can do at national parks, but at some of Michigan’s nationally preserved sites, you can.
Here to give you an introductory guide to five of these parks is
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Isle Royale National Park
Location: Houghton, Michigan (mainland headquarters)
Hours of operation: Varies based on
Admission price:$7 per day or $60 for a season pass (plus any applicable permit costs)
What makes Isle Royale National Park special?
Four and a half miles from the northwestern shore of Michigan’s Lake Superior lies an island known as
Isle Royale that’s teeming with adventures for hikers, boaters, scuba divers, and general outdoor enthusiasts.
The park is over 132,000 acres, covers 850 square miles,and consists of a large main island that’s surrounded by several hundred smaller ones. The isolated environment makes up a unique ecosystem that many researchers are drawn to studying.
The following are Isle Royale National Park’s three main areas:
Houghton is the national park’s mainland
headquarters where you can obtain a boating permit or orient yourself at the visitor center before making your way to the island.
Rock Harbor is found on Isle Royale’s
northeast side with plenty of places to explore by land and water, including Suzy’s Cave.
Windigo is on Isle Royale’s
southwest side, where you can find Minong Ridge Overlook and get a view of Canada’s shoreline.
What to do in Isle Royale National Park
For the right explorer, Isle Royale National Park offers plenty of opportunities for adventure on both land and water.
Hiking: Whether you’re looking to make a trek that’s just an hour or two or chasing a full-day adventure, there are plenty of
hiking options on Isle Royale, especially on rugged terrain.
Boating: To make sure you can get a boating permit for your trip, contact the Houghton Visitor Center ahead of time so you can plan ahead.
Canoeing and kayaking are generally safest on inland waters rather than on choppy (and cold!) Lake Superior.
Fishing: A Michigan state
fishing license is required for fishing on Lake Superior but not for the park’s inland lakes or streams. You can get a 24-hour license on the island during store operating hours, but it’s a good idea to get one ahead of time.
Scuba diving can let you take a closer look at the area’s marine life and
past shipwrecks, but you’ll need a permit to do so.
Camping: Isle Royale has 36
campgrounds scattered across the island which are only accessible by foot or by boat. Permits are required for all overnight stays.
Tours led by park rangers can help you more quickly orient yourself on the island, especially if it’s your first time visiting.
When to visit Isle Royale National Park
Isle Royale National Park is open from April to mid-September. The area’s severe winter conditions leave it closed to the public the remainder of the year.
Peak visitor season is July through August, when the weather is warmest. If you’re looking to avoid crowds, consider visiting during June or early fall.
Pro Tip Because of Isle Royale’s remote location, cell service can be somewhat unreliable. While basic emergency services are available on the island, sometimes calling for help can be difficult. Before visiting, read up on the National Park Service’s
trip planning advice.
River Raisin National Battlefield Park
Location: Monroe, Michigan
Hours of operation: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. during winter; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. during summer
Admission price: Free for outdoor areas; viewing the park film is $3 per person
What makes River Raisin National Battlefield Park special?
River Raisin National Battlefield Park commemorates the battles fought by the River Raisin militia in southeast Michigan during the War of 1812. The park includes a heritage trail for hiking or driving.
The park is where the most prisoners of war were taken within the United States by a foreign power and where the largest number of American soldiers were killed in battle during the War of 1812.
Following the battles and their associated casualties were the forced assimilation and displacement of Indigenous people across the United States.
What to do in River Raisin National Battlefield Park
There are two main ways to tour River Raisin National Battlefield Park: by foot or by driving tour.
Walk, bike, or skate the
eight miles of River Raisin Heritage Trail and participate in outdoor activities along the way that will introduce you to historic sites, area parks, and significant environmental features.
Take off on the 1812 Michigan Driving Tour that spans Michigan,
Ohio, and Ontario. You can find a map of the route
Good news for pet owners! While many national park sites discourage pets for ecological reasons, River Raisin National Battlefield Park is one place where they’re welcome—just make sure they’re on a leash and you clean up after them.
When to visit River Raisin Battlefield National Park
River Raisin Battlefield National Park is open nearly year-round, with the exception of certain holidays, but summer tends to be when the weather is most favorable.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park
Location: Empire, Michigan
Hours of operation: 24 hours, year-round (some areas and services close seasonally)
Admission price: $15 per person, $25 per vehicle
What makes Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park special?
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park offers vast rolling sand dunes and a 450-foot-high overlook of turquoise Lake Michigan. At the park, you’ll find a combination of sand beach and bluffs as well as forests, inland lakes, and a unique ecosystem of plants and animals.
In addition to its natural wonders, here are some things you can find at Sleeping Bear Dunes:
Lighthouses: You can spot at least half a dozen
lighthouses from Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Glen Haven Village: Glen Haven offers visitors a chance to step back in time. Parts of this village have been restored to how they would’ve appeared during the 1920s. It has a general store, cannery-turned-boathouse, and a blacksmith shop.
What to do in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive: This 7-mile route is a great way to get a sense of the park if you don’t have enough time to spend the whole day here.
Dune climbing: One of the most popular activities at Sleeping Bear Dunes, the
Dune Climb can be a great way for kids to burn off some energy or to get a better view of Glen Lake.
Hiking: Sleeping Bear Dunes has over
100 miles of trails ready for exploring, and most are maintained throughout the winter for those who enjoy activities like cross-country skiing. Trails have varying levels of difficulty and accessibility.
Swimming: Summer weather makes for the best time to enjoy the park’s beaches and cool off in Lake Michigan.
Scuba diving: Underwater exploring can get you an up-close look at marine life and sunken shipwrecks. (You’ll need to have a permit already.)
River floating: Make your way down the Platte River or one of the park’s inland lakes by canoe, kayak, or tube. Various rentals are available.
Winter recreation: Michigan’s winter weather makes Sleeping Bear Dunes a great place for sledding, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.
Leashed pets are allowed in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, but only on certain beaches and never during cross country ski season (December through March). Still, there are nearly just as many off-limits places for pets, so make sure you understand the regulations and where they are and aren’t allowed before bringing them along.
When to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park has beautiful sites that are open to the public year-round. The best time to visit mostly depends on what you’d like to do.
If you’re hoping to take advantage of winter recreation like cross-country skiing, consider visiting from December to March.
If you’re looking to enjoy the beaches, May to August is the most popular time to visit. This is when the weather’s warmest (in summer, mid-70s to mid-80s).
If you don’t mind a chillier hike, visiting in early to mid-October affords stunning fall foliage views.
Keweenaw National Park
Location: Calumet, Michigan
Hours of operation: Varies
Admission price: Free (some heritage sites may charge fees or request donations)
What makes Keweenaw National Park special?
People had mined for copper in the area that now makes up Keweenaw National Park for at least 7,000 years. While mines in the area are no longer active today, it remains a place of cultural and historical significance.
The Keweenaw Peninsula is believed to be the source of copper for the North American continent’s earliest known instances of metalworking.
After mining activity here came to a close, area mines became an ideal
bat habitat. The park is also an important site for other pollinator species.
What to do in Keweenaw National Park
Keweenaw is a unique national park in that it offers plenty of opportunities for exploration both above and below ground:
Hiking: Different sites throughout the park have
hiking trails that let you explore the area’s natural wonders and take a look at former mining sites.
Guided tours allow you a (literal) in-depth exploration of some of the park’s mines. The Quincy Mine takes you as low as 350 feet below ground. Hard hats equipped with flashlights are provided.
Geology tours: If you’re looking to learn more about geology, the
mineral museum and a wide selection of guided tours are a great place to start.
When to visit Keweenaw National Park
Operation hours for Keweenaw National Park are a bit complicated. That’s because many of its services are provided by
Keweenaw Heritage Sites in partnership with the larger park. Each site has hours that vary depending on the season.
Generally speaking, most sites open by late May and close by late October.
As of March 2022, Keweenaw National Historic Park Headquarters remained closed due to COVID-19. For more information about the park, call 906-337-3168.
Pictured Rocks National Park
Location: Munising, Michigan
Hours of operation: 24 hours, year-round (some roads close due to snow during winter)
Admission price: $5 per person, $10 per vehicle
What makes Pictured Rocks National Park special?
As its name suggests, Pictured Rocks National Park is a picturesque place to take in colorful cliffs, sand dunes, beaches, waterfalls, lakes, and forests.
The park’s Pictured Rocks cliffs range in height from 50 to 200 feet above Lake Superior’s water level along a 15-mile stretch, the most colorful portion of which you can find east of Miners Beach.
Miners Castle is one of Pictured Rocks’ most notable landmarks, and it’s the only cliff accessible by car. A wheelchair-accessible trail leads from the parking lot to the site and has plenty of overlooks along the way.
Sand Point is a popular place for swimming, sunning, and admiring sunsets.
What to do in Pictured Rocks National Park
Hiking: Pictured Rocks National Park has plenty of
hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels.
Kayaking and swimming: Lake Superior’s water is chilly for much of the year, with temperatures ranging from the high 50s to 60s during summer. Waters in the Munising Bay area can reach 70 degrees by mid-August.
Scuba diving, snorkeling: Snorkeling and scuba diving are allowed throughout the park, one of the most popular areas being
Alger Underwater Preserve.
Backcountry camping: If you’re looking for a more challenging outdoors experience or some greater solitude, a
planned backpacking trip could be just what you’re looking for. Permits are required.
Leashed pets are allowed on park trails that are paved. Before bringing your pet to Pictured Rocks, make sure you understand where they are and aren’t allowed, as well as
Pro Tip Though it might seem tempting to adventurous people, it’s illegal to jump from cliffs or rocks higher than 15 feet into Lake Superior.
When to visit Pictured Rocks National Park
Pictured Rocks National Park is open year-round. The best time to visit depends on what you’d like to do.
If you’re planning to spend a lot of time near and in Lake Superior, summer (especially mid-August) is when you’ll find the warmest water temperatures.
Late September to mid-October is a good time to beat the heat, avoid crowds, and score scenic autumn photos of Pictured Rocks’ colorful cliffs and the gorgeous autumn leaves.
How to prepare to visit Michigan’s national parks
Before you make the trip to one or more of Michigan’s national parks, here are some tips for how to prepare:
If you’re planning to visit more than one national park in Michigan, or you’re planning to visit other national parks later, cut down on costs by checking out the various
annual and lifetime passes the National Park Service has to offer. Passes are additionally available to specific groups like fourth-grade students, senior citizens, people who have disabilities, and NPS volunteers.
Michigan’s weather can vary considerably depending on the time of year you’re visiting, so it’s always a good idea to check the weather forecast before you leave and plan accordingly.
Read up on each park’s potential hazards and emergencies and make preparations accordingly.
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