During the course of my lifetime, I plan to travel all around the United States and a variety of countries around the world. One of the places that I have yet to visit is the state of Michigan.
Even though I have not yet been to Michigan, I still have some great fun facts about the state, and places to visit, to share. Helping me with this task is a Michigan-based freelance writer who knows all of the ins and outs of fun things to do and see while visiting Michigan.
Great Lakes Shipwreck Museums and Tours
Much of Michigan’s history is shaped by the might Great Lakes. Together, these lakes make up some of the largest bodies of fresh water anywhere on Earth. Out of the five Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario, and Eerie), Michigan directly touches four of them—all but Lake Ontario.
For centuries, people have use the Great Lakes as a means to travel or transport goods. The Native American peoples of the area would often use birch bark canoes to travel.
As more colonizers made their way into the state, and as time went on, bigger shipping vessels and steamships started to be used. Even today, ships of all kinds can be seen sailing throughout the Great Lakes.
While the Great Lakes has helped to bring abundance to Michigan, they also came with their fair share of tragedy. Because of all of the lake’s sheer size, large waves easily form on the water’s surface. Violent storms and crashing waves often brought ships and their crews to a sudden demise.
Today, Michigan natives and visitors alike can learn more about the history of these dramatic shipwrecks by going to a number of shipwreck museums that line the coasts of the Great Lakes. One of the most famous of these is simply called The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, oddly enough, located in Paradise, Michigan. To learn more, check out this link https://www.shipwreckmuseum.com/.
Another interesting way to learn more about shipwrecks on the Great Lakes is to take a shipwreck tour. Munising, a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is home to the Lake Superior glass-bottom shipwreck tours.
NOTE: The tour takes approximately two hours. During this time, visitors look at shipwrecks, sail near lighthouses, and enjoy other sites of Lake Superior.
Rich Mining History
One of the lesser-known facts about Michigan is that it has a rich history of mining, especially in its Upper Peninsula. Hundreds of years ago, the local Native Americans would dig holes into the earth to extract copper, which they then used to make tools and jewelry.
Around the early 20th century, more and more Europeans made their way to the Upper Peninsula to try their hand at mining. They mined much deeper into the ground than the Native Americans had. This made their mining ventures more profitable but also more dangerous. Many miners lost their lives below ground.
While most of the copper mines in the Upper Peninsula are closed for mining today, they are still open to the public as museums.
In some of these old mines, visitors can explore ruins and even go underground! Some of the most popular mines in the Upper Peninsula include the Quincy Mine and the Delaware Mine.
The Lower Peninsula did not have nearly as many times as the Upper Peninsula. Also, they did not often specialize in mining copper. One of the popular mines, the Domtar Mine, was located in Kent. Here, the miners took Gypsum out of the ground.
Another “down-state” mine was the Detroit Salt Mine. Needless to say, this mine focused on mining salt.
FACT: According to the USGS, throughout Michigan’s history, there have been over 1,000 mining sites.
Heikinpäivä and Finnish Traditions
As mentioned in the previous fun fact, copper mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula drew many people from Europe to the area. Many of these Europeans emigrated from Finland.
Today, many areas in the Upper Peninsula are still proud of their Finnish heritage. In some areas, Finnish flags line the streets, newspapers are printed in Finnish, and some members of older generations can speak Finnish!
One Finnish celebration that takes place every year in the small town of Hancock is called Heikinpäivä (Heik-en-pie-va). This takes place near the end of January each year. Some of the most common activities to take part in include sledding, trying traditional Finnish dancing, and jumping into freezing cold water!
Outside of scheduled celebrations, Finnish food also plays a big part of the culture in the area.
Today, Finnish foods like Nissua (Finnish sweet bread), Pannukakku (Finnish pancakes), and more are still enjoyed in the area. Pasties, similar to the ones miners took underground with them for lunch, are sold in most restaurants and grocery stores.
Believe it or not, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula gets more snow each winter than some parts of Alaska! Usually, it starts snowing in late October or early November.
It can then continue to snow until May. Sometimes, snow is still on the ground in June! On average, the Upper Peninsula gets around 300 inches of snowfall each winter.
Living with so much snow was difficult for many of Michigan’s early settlers and Native Americans and it’s still not easy today. Roads can become slick and blizzards can last for days at a time. While this makes it a great destination for skiing and riding a snow-mobile, it can make travel—and life in general—difficult in the winter.
One way the Michiganders here have learned to live with the wild winter is to have snow doors on their houses. While these are not used much today, they made life easier before the invention of the modern snow-blower and plows.
To phrase it simply, snow doors are doors that are usually on the second story of a house. Today, they look like they lead to nowhere, being so high in the air. However, back in the day, residents could have used these doors to leave their home when snow drifts got too high. Take a look out for them the next time you’re in the Upper Peninsula.
Henry Ford Museum
Henry Ford is one of Michigan’s most famous inventors. Many credit him for inventing the automobile and the assembly line. However, he did not actually invent either of these things. His real-life claim to fame does come from inventing and improving the automotive industry, though.
Henry Ford opened the Ford Motor Company in 1908, located in Detroit. One of the first cars the company made was the Ford Model T, one of the most famous “old” American cars. Over the years, the Ford Motor Company changed base, but stayed in Michigan. Today, the company is still thriving.
The Henry Ford Museum is located in Dearborn, which is just a short drive from Detroit. Car enthusiasts everywhere can appreciate all of the artifacts in this museum. Items from Ford’s past, as well as Ford memorabilia, are all inside!
Another, lesser-known, Henry Ford venture, which is also now a museum of sorts, is called Alberta. It is located in a town of the same name hundreds of miles away from Detroit, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, near Baraga County.
Henry Ford and his company-built Alberta. The town itself centered on a logging point and sawmill. A dozen or so tiny cabins and cottages lined the streets of this town. Mostly sawmill operators and their families lived here. Now, the town is often used as a summer camp or a place for tourists to visit to learn more about Henry Ford.
Many people think of Detroit as a menacing city with only skyscrapers and crime to offer. However, it’s much more than that. Detroit has many centers that are of cultural value and that provide entertainment. The Detroit Zoo is just one of the many examples of this.
Being a Zoo, of course this place is most famous for its animal attractions. Believe it or not, there are over 2,000 animals at the zoo (and over 200 species). The species range from types of birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Some of the most interesting animals the zoo houses include camels, gorillas, lemurs, and several types of penguins.
Outside of looking at animals, the zoo also offers a variety of other types of entertainment. Children and families might enjoy the SpongeBob simulation ride. There’s also a playground for young children. A tadpole viewing, science facts, and a 4D theater add to the list of attractions that anyone of any age can enjoy.
Read More: Family Destinations in the USA
If you were to travel between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas even a hundred years ago, you would either have to drive around Lake Michigan, detouring hundreds of miles. The other option would be to take a ferry. Of course, boats can’t cross in the winter because the strait freezes over.
It took years of planning before the Mackinac Bridge went under construction. The construction was finally finished in 1957. The bridge, then and now, spans five miles from St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula to Mackinac City in the Lower Peninsula.
Afraid of crossing long bridges? It’s a common fear. Because of this, there is a service available that allows drivers to call and ask for someone to drive them across the bridge. This service is simply called the “Drivers Assistance Program.” This service is free to use! If you ever need help, just call (906) 643-7600 to get help.
Mackinac Island is a small island that lies between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. While there are a variety of that belong to the state of Michigan, this one stands out for several reasons. One of the biggest things that make stand out is that there are no cars on the island! Instead, visitors travel on foot, bike, or by a horse-drawn carriage taxi.
This quaint island is perfect for anyone who loves history. Much of the island has not changed much since the 1800s. Picturesque buildings line the streets. Souvenir and fudge shop, along with cute restaurants, line the streets.
This island is especially great for anyone who loves Michigan history. On the island, visitors can check out Fort Mackinac, which has been on the island for hundreds of years.
A replica of a Native American home and other buildings of old are also on display for the public (during tourist season, which runs from about June to October).
Outside of everything already listed, the island also plays host to a butterfly house, house of mirrors, and much more. There is sure to be something for anyone to enjoy here. Learn more about Mackinac Island’s attractions here: https://www.mackinacisland.org/visit/activities/.
Along with the Great Lakes surrounding most of Michigan, there are also dozens of inland lakes scattered throughout the state.
Because of this, there are a variety of outdoorsy activities that anyone can do nearly anywhere in the state.
Camping is a common summertime activity. Whether you are one to use a camper, tent, or sleep under the stars, there are a number of state parks and other venues that cater to campers for about half of the year. Most camp grounds and state parks with camping areas are open from around May to October.
Fishing and Kayaking
In Michigan, fishers (who intend to keep their catches) need to have a fishing license. To get one, go to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
License costs and the types of fish you are allowed to catch with him vary with age and location of the fisher. To learn more about how to fish legally in Michigan, use this link https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-350-79119_79147_82102—,00.html.
Kayaking is another fun summer sport that nearly anyone can try, so long as they have some upper body strength and a lot of determination!
If you have your own kayak, that’s great! If not, that’s not a problem.
NOTE: Beaches all over Michigan often have kayak rentals at a reasonable price, along with all sorts of other small watercrafts.
Apple Picking and Cider Making
One of the many types of produce that Michigan is famous for is its apples. Apples of all kinds are grown in orchards in most parts of Michigan. Many people even have an apple tree or two in their backyard!
Of course, not all apples are created equally. Some apples, like sour crab apples, aren’t very tasty when they are just picked off a tree and eaten. However, it would be a shame to make the fruit go to waste. That’s part of the reason why sometimes “subpar” apples are turned into cider.
Apple cider can be alcoholic or not, depending on whether it is given time to ferment. Freshly-made apple cider will not be alcoholic. Anything labeled “hard cider” is explicitly alcoholic.
During the fall, apple cider, alcoholic or not, can be purchased at most grocery stores. In some parts of Michigan, orchard owners open their farms to visitors. Here, visitors can pick apples and make their own cider.
Making cider at home can be difficult because of the equipment that’s needed.
TIP: Spending a day at an apple orchard and making cider can provide a couple hours of cheap and wholesome fun for the whole family.
Read More: Family Destinations In The USA
Fort Gratiot Lighthouse
Because Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes, its only natural that it would also be home to more than a few lighthouses. While there are dozens of lighthouses that could be included in this article, let’s look at the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse.
The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse stands out from the rest because it is the oldest surviving lighthouse anywhere in the state of Michigan. It is also the first lighthouse to be built on Lake Huron.
It was first built in 1825 but had to be rebuilt in 1829 and 1861 for various reasons. Since then, the lighthouse has soon strong against anything nature has to throw at it!
Believe it or not, the lighthouse is still operational! During business hours, visitors can tour the lighthouse and learn about its history. There is even a museum that goes along with it!
Both the lighthouse and the museum are located in Port Huron, which is, more or less, on the border between Michigan and Canada.
According to an actual Michigander, the places in this list are some of the best places to visit whenever tourists come to Michigan.
NOTE: The best times to visit, unless you’re extremely interested winter sports, are between June and October, when the weather is at its best.
The places on this list provide a little something for everyone. History enthusiasts, couples on honeymoon, and families on vacations can all find something fun to do.
Whether you plan on visiting the Upper or Lower Peninsula, or both, there are attractions all over the state that are sure to make your vacation memorable.