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7 Must-See Natural Attractions in Michigan Outdoors with Serious Wow Factor

Our list of top 7 natural attractions in Michigan outdoors, each with its own variation of a simple recipe for happiness: simply add fresh water.

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Michigan’s natural beauty is due to its abundance of fresh water, with ample opportunities for recreation and soaking in the scenery. For those new to Michigan, or for residents eager to explore Michigan’s natural attractions, our list of places to see in the Michigan outdoors covers all parts of the state.

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Turnip Rock

Ecosystems rich with diversity and picturesque rock formations left by receding glaciers along the shores of Lake Huron comprise the Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail, a 110-mile paddler’s playground.

All skill levels will enjoy scenery that ranges from undeveloped wetlands, which are wildlife havens, to sand dunes, cliffs, sea caves and ruggedly stacked rocks. The most famous of these rock formations is Turnip Rock, which is only accessible by water.

Public domain image from 1906 postcard

To get to Turnip Rock, rent kayaks or stand up boards at Port Austin Kayak Rental. From there, it’s a short, easy paddle.

Lighthouses, small town festivals, wineries and campgrounds complete the shore experience throughout the Blue Water Area. For places to stay in Port Austin, check out our map:

Silver Lake Sand Dunes

Over 2,000 acres of sugary sand dunes are a favorite destination for off-road vehicle enthusiasts, hikers, and sunbathers on a strip of Oceana County between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Safety rules and regulations are the name of the game for all vehicles and passengers entering the dunes.

Comfortable resorts and campgrounds, friendly B&Bs and cottages await in the towns of Hart, Mears, and Pentwater. For more information on where to stay and activities in the area see our post: 10 Fun Things to Do in Silver Lake Michigan

Tahquamenon Falls

Comprised of upper and lower falls about four miles apart from each other on the Tahquamenon River in the eastern Upper Peninsula, Michigan’s most famous falls are a popular destination in any season, and one of the most photographed natural attractions in Michigan.

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan natural wonder
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Mentioned in Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha, the Falls are located within Tahquamenon Falls State Park, whose mailing address is apt: Paradise, Michigan.

Image by Jason Gillman from Pixabay

A restaurant and gift shop is housed in a logging camp building replica. Hikers and picnickers will enjoy a variety of designated trails and relaxation areas. Fishing, canoeing, hunting and camping are all available.

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For places to stay near Tahquamenon Falls, check out our map:

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Take a boat from our favorite town in the Upper Peninsula, Munising, to America’s first National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks. This is one of two National Lakeshore sites included in our list of natural attractions in Michigan.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

Your leisurely tour will take you along Lake Superior’s beaches, dunes, and waterfalls. Majestic sandstone cliffs painted by Nature’s hand in rich mineral colors rise high above the emerald waters to make ever-changing abstract vistas.

bridal veil falls pictured rocks national lakeshore
Bridal Veil Falls Public Domain Image

You’ll imagine battleships, castles and battleships, even an Indian head, in the enormous formations. The photographer in you will be inspired!

See boat tour options for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Charles Dawley from Petoskey. Cropped and color-corrected 2008-07-29 by Daniel Case [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Click on the map below to see places to stay near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

With bluffs up to 450 feet high over Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes can boast sweeping vistas over 35 miles of shoreline to the Manitou Islands beyond.

Ashinaabe legend tells of a grieving mother bear forever waiting on shore for her two cubs who have fallen behind. They, in turn, become the two islands while the sands of time blanket her in repose.

Sleeping Bear Dunes aerial view Michigan natural attraction
National Park Service employee [Public domain]

Set aside for preservation in 1970, the protected area also comprises the traditional Manitou Passage between shore and islands where many 19th century commercial vessels make their graves, lost due to unpredictable weather conditions and unmarked shoals.

Check out places to stay near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Lake of the Clouds

Located in the Porcupine Wilderness State Park in Ontonogan County in the Upper Peninsula, pristine Lake in the Clouds is positioned between two protective ridges.

Troy A Heck, Public Domain

Two trails provide access to the lake: the Big Carp River Trail and the Escarpment Trail. The lake can also be viewed from a scenic, accessible overlook on M-107.

Stevenliuyi [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

For places to stay in the Lake of the Clouds area, click on the map below.

Kitchi-Iti-Kipi Spring

Michigan’s largest freshwater spring, Kitchi-Iti-Kipi was called “Mirror of Heaven” by early Native Americans, and is the subject of other indigenous legends.

Doug Coldwell [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Located in the Palms Book State Park near Manistique, Kitchi-Iti-Kipi is a low-key attraction which features a hand-operated viewing raft over the 40 foot deep pool, which has a constant year-round temperature of 45 degrees.

Kitchi-Iti-Kipi Michigan freshwater spring natural attraction
Doug Coldwell [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The spring’s moving water creates a changing kaleidoscope of sand formations, with seemingly suspended fish and branches in its depths, for one of the most unique natural attractions in Michigan.

For more things to do and places to stay in the Kitchi-Iti-Kipi area, check out the section on Manistique in our post: 5 Best Small Towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan or click on the listing in the map below:

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