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.

natural attractions in Michigan Pinterest Pin

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.

7 amazing Michigan natural wonders Pinterest pin

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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5 Best Small Towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan

best small towns in michigan on lake michigan

You can find some of the best small towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan. They’re also some of the prettiest places in Michigan, so don’t miss!

best small towns in michigan on lake michigan

Michigan has some of the prettiest small towns in America. For atmosphere, you’ll want to visit the best small towns on Lake Michigan for a variety of activities in all seasons.

Our five recommendations for the best small towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan were all settled in the 19th century, and boast architecture, atmosphere, and great places to stay and eat. Read on for our tips and put them on your list!

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best small towns in Michigan - Saugatuck aerial view
Robert Moore [Public domain]

Location: West Michigan, on the Lake Michigan shoreline south of Holland.

Notable for: A celebrated artistic community since the 19th century, Saugatuck was prominent in the Arts and Crafts movement.  More than a dozen art galleries and many small, independent shops make this a tourist mecca.

Where to Eat: Grow for all day breakfast and lunch in a café style environment, The Southerner for traditional cuisine flavored in the American South, the Wild Dog Grille for pretty patio dining, and the Saugatuck Drugstore Fountain for authentic vintage fare.

Where to Stay: The Hotel Saugatuck – a new luxury hideaway B&B with 18 king suites, many with water views. The hip and historic Judson Heath Colonial Inn has eight guest rooms with garden or village views, full breakfast.

Use and book with our interactive map for other stay options!

Don’t Miss: Oval Beach – a tropics-caliber beach with sugar sand and sweeping sunset views. The Chain Ferry – an old-fashioned hand-propelled trip across the Kalamazoo River, the only chain ferry remaining in the United States.

saugatuck chain ferry best small town on lake michigan
Parkerdr [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]


aerial view of leland best lake michigan town
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, photographer not specified or unknown [Public domain]

Location: Western Leelanau County on the Lake Michigan shoreline north of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Notable for: A thriving 19th century commercial fishing center on the site of a former Ottawa village located adjacent to a natural fish ladder, turned elite summer resort served by steamship traffic.

Where to Eat: Fish is what you’re here for and several places in town know just how to do it. Try The Riverside Inn’s Gallic-influenced menu for a special occasion, Village Cheese Shanty for box lunches,  and Carlson’s of Fishtown for specialty fresh and smoked fish to take home.

Where to Stay: The Leland Lodge – family owned and operated next to the golf course with its own Bogey’s 19th Hole restaurant on site. The Whaleback Inn – a classic Northern Michigan experience on Lake Leelanau.

Use and book with our interactive map for other stay options!

Don’t Miss: Fishtown – the historic fishing village and wharf area preserved by a dedicated non-profit. A day trip to South Manitou Island will take you on a 90-minute ferry ride where you can enjoy a lighthouse tour and a beach hike next to a shipwreck.

fishtown area of leland in winter
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Bay View

bay view chapel
Bobak Ha’Eri [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

Location: just east of the city of Petoskey on US 31

Notable for: A 19th century community modeled on the Methodist Camp Meeting concept, with the Chautauqua movement incorporated. Consisting of more than 30 community-owned buildings and about 440 residential “cottages,” Bay View is famous for its Eastlake, Queen Anne, Stick and Shingle Style architecture, with its buildings dating from 1875 – 1900. The entire community is on the National Historic Register.

Where to Eat: If you’re not going to eat at the fine restaurants located in your vintage hotel (see below), try The Side Door Saloon for great bar and grill fare, or The Palette Bistro, which offers Mediterranean flair.

Where to Stay: For a vintage experience, book a stay at Stafford’s Bay View Inn (check out the murder mystery weekend options in the fall) or The Terrace Inn and 1911 Restaurant, both within the community. A mile away, in downtown Petoskey, is Stafford’s Perry Hotel, which dates from 1899 and has 75 guest rooms. Or, try the Gingerbread House for a B&B experience in a historic rooming house.

bay view cottages best small lake michigan town
Bobak Ha’Eri [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

Use and book through our interactive map for accommodations!

Don’t Miss: The Bay View Music Festival – the oldest continuous music festival in North America, since 1886, with a wide variety of options for various musical tastes. Wander through the Bay View Association to enjoy the architectural riches and read the history of the buildings.


chicago club in charlevoix
Bobak Ha’Eri [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

Location: Southwest of Petoskey on US 31 along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Notable for: A late 19th century resort developed by the Chicago-based First Congregational Church, and expanded with the advent of rail service and Lake Michigan passenger liners around the turn of the 20th century. The Loeb family, founders of Sears, Roebuck & Company, built an experimental farm here, and Charlevoix was popular with Chicago gangsters during Prohibition.

aerial view of charlevoix
User:My name [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]

Where to Eat: For breakfast and brisket BBQ, check out Smoke on the Water. Sandwich and burger fans will want to visit Scovie’s Gourmet. Terry’s Place is the number one rated restaurant in town and you’ll not be disappointed.

Where to Stay: Weathervane Terrace Inn is an historic, romantic hotel centrally located. Charlevoix House offers a B&B experience in the heart of town.

Use and book through our interactive map for accommodations!

Don’t Miss: The Mushroom House Tour – 28 magical structures designed by Earl Young in a storybook style. Castle Farms Guided Tour – the restored 1918 experimental farmhouse modeled after stone buildings in Normandy. Now a premier wedding venue and home to Michigan’s largest outdoor model railroad and a WWI museum.

mushroom house in charlevoix
Kathleen Conklin from Falls Church, USA [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]


red lighthouse in manistique small town on lake michigan
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Location: On Lake Michigan’s North Shore on US2 in Schoolcraft County, Upper Peninsula

Notable for: Nicknamed the “Emerald City” after the nearby Kitch-iti-kipi springs.

aerial view of manistique
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, photographer not specified or unknown [Public domain]

Where to Eat: For waterfront dining, The Upper Crust gets top marks. We like the vintage speakeasy atmosphere at Tap 21. Try the Cedar Street Café for an outstanding breakfast in a quaint atmosphere.

Where to Stay: Top rated Quality Inn gets good reviews, but our surprise preference is the Econolodge.

Don’t Miss: Kitch-iti-kipi – Michigan’s largest freshwater spring, also known as the “Mirror of Heaven.” The Manistique Boardwalk and River Walk is a lovely shoreline stroll with informational signage and views of the famous red lighthouse.

kitch-iti-kipi spring near manistique
Doug Coldwell [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

If you enjoyed this post on the 5 Best Small Towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan, you may want to check out 10 Fun Things to Do in Silver Lake, Michigan – another favorite area with dunes right on Lake Michigan.

10 Fun Things to Do in Silver Lake Michigan

things to do in silver lake campground michigan

Looking for sand dunes? Michigan has ’em! And Silver Lake Sand Dunes is a great Michigan dunes vacation. See things to do in Silver Lake Michigan for a plan!

If you grew up in West Michigan like I did, chances are you have fond memories of a visit to Silver Lake sand dunes. Vacationing on the Lake Michigan dunes is a popular summertime activity for Michiganders and out of staters, too. There’s just nothing like it anywhere!

lake michigan dunes
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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The magnificent Silver Lake Sand Dunes are adjacent to Silver Lake, Michigan, which is located near the Lake Michigan community of Mears in Oceana County, north of Muskegon. The lake is separated from Lake Michigan to its west by Silver Lake State Park, which has recreational facilities and an off-road vehicle area.

Check out things to do in Silver Lake Michigan and plan the experiences you’re going to love in this unique destination!

1. Play on the Silver Lake Dunes

There are many fun things to do in Silver Lake Michigan, but the big draw, of course, is the sand. Silver Lake Sand Dunes are the only dunes in Michigan where it is legal to drive on the sand.

You can take Silver Lake dune rides in your own off-road vehicle if you have one, rent a dune buggy or ATV, or ride along in a multi-passenger specialty vehicle. If you plan to do your own driving, click here to review the Silver Lake dunes rules from the Michigan DNR.

If you don’t own an ORV, you’ve got plenty of options. For our money, the dune rides Michigan boasts are the real deal in terms of thrills.

Most people think of a traditional sand dune buggy when they consider their options. But be aware you can rent Jeeps and ATVs, too.

Silver Lake Michigan Dune Buggy Rentals

For Silver Lake dune buggy rentals, your go-to is the aptly named Silver Lake Buggy Rentals, where you’ll find 2 and 4 person options.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes ATV Rental

Wild Bill’s ATV Rentals is your source for Silver Lake ATV rentals as well – this is a single person, four wheeler vehicle.

Silver Lake Jeep Rentals

Perhaps the above Silver Lake dune rentals don’t appeal. You’re not limited just to dune buggy rides in Michigan if that’s the case. Open air Jeep Wranglers are perfect for self-drive or be-driven guided options. Get in touch with Parrot’s Landing Jeep Rentals and Tours for the lowdown.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes Rides

Don’t feel like driving yourself at all? For sure, these big dunes can be intimidating, but you can still enjoy a thrill with Mac Woods Dune Rides. Personable guides will take you on a 40 minute journey from the dunes summit at Silver Lake. Sand dunes rides wouldn’t be complete without splashing along the water’s edge, too. Mac Dune Rides’ experience is safe for all ages, and accessible for the mobility impaired.

Walking, Picnicking, or Sand Boarding at Silver Lake

With over 2000 total acres of dunes, Silver Lake State Park has plenty of room for those who prefer to get where they’re going on their own power. The designated walkable part of the state park makes the Lake Michigan dunes experience even more thrilling.

test hill silver lake dunes
Test Hill [Image in public domain]

If you’re a sand boarder, this is one of the best places to practice your skills. Those in the know rate the slope’s pitch and sand texture as the very best. Need a board? Rent one at Wave Club Watersports.

Beach lovers can stake a claim on Lake Michigan sand dunes or Silver Lake Beach. Michigan’s soft, golden sand is perfect for a day spent relaxing and picnicking at the water’s edge. For a change of scenery, check out Charles Mears State Park in close by Pentwater, which has swimming, picnic, and play areas.

Pentwater Harbor Navigation Project at Mears State Park
Cpmwjune [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

2. Silver Lake Camping in the Scenic Outdoors

Each of these Silver Lake campgrounds promises fun and relaxation in scenic surroundings. Near Silver Lake Sand Dunes, camping options vary from simple tent sites to amenity-laden resort-style experiences for those who like to bring the comforts of home along.

Silver Lake State Park camping has been popular ever since its opening in the 1950s. The Silver Lake State Park Campground has 200 sites with eco-friendly and many accessible features. Modern facilities include an off-road recreation area, boat launch, hiking trails, fishing pier, playground, and more. Note: alcohol is prohibited within a ¼ mile of the off-road area and completely prohibited throughout the park from late May to early June.

things to do in silver lake campground michigan
NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Other camping options are plentiful: the Silver Lake Resort and Campground has over 200 full hook-up sites on 30 acres, with camping cabins, heated swimming pool, camp store, and family movie nights. Playground, picnic area, pavilion for groups, laundry facilities, catch and release fishing pond.

The Silver Creek RV Resort welcomes big rigs and large groups from April 1 – October 31. This gated entry resort has full hook-up sites, each with concrete slab. The community includes a gathering center, fitness center, pickle ball and basketball courts, arcade, pool and hot tub and store. Playground, pet area and wi-fi provided.

Sandy Shores Campground has been located across the lake from the dunes in a beautifully wooded, grassy setting for almost 40 years. This is the only private park with beach on Silver Lake. Michigan camping should include a swimming area with a sandy bottom perfect for all ages, and you’ll find it here. Outdoor heated pool, full playground with equipment, laundry, spacious sites and basic wi-fi.

silver lake dunes michigan
Dale Fisher, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers [Public domain]

Silver Hills Campground offers a range of experiences from rustic, non-electric sites to self-catered A-frame cabins. Back-in and pull-through options offer electric, optional water and pond views. Pool, bath house, and store on site.

3. Stay in kitschy Silver Lake Sand Dunes hotels

Silver Lake, Michigan hotels are mostly traditional, but there are a couple of kitschy, retro options you will want to consider for a unique, throwback experience!

The Gateway Motel is an unassuming, 18-unit, family-owned accommodation in a quiet country setting 9 miles from the dunes. Accommodations are clean and simple, with cable TV, Wi-fi, mini-fridge and microwaves in the room. Continental breakfast included, open year ’round.

Try a rustic or full service cabin rental at Dune-Town (formerly Jellystone Park). The Dune-Town Silver Lake experience includes more than 200 campsites, but you’ll want to check out the cabin rentals. Take your pick from self-catered duplex units with kitchens, rustic cabins, or “camping rooms” (like a motel room) that sleep four. On duty every Tuesday and Thursday during peak season for “tuck-ins” – a bedtime story where you’re staying with milk and cookies – is Yogi Bear. Silver Lake’s most endearing tradition, Yogi is also available for singing birthday balloon deliveries.

Great for couples or family groups, Sierra Sands Family Lodge is a 12 minute walk from Silver Lake beach, and has a playground, outdoor swimming pool, outdoor fireplace and picnic area, and free wifi.

For those who prefer a more branded experience, or are looking for Pentwater MI hotels, these hotels near Silver Lake Sand dunes fill up fast during the season: Dunes Express Inn and Suites and American Host Inn.

Check out our interactive map for great places to stay near Silver Lake Sand Dunes!

4. Try an Escape Room

Looking for things to do near Silver Lake MI that are mentally challenging but not overly physically strenuous? If you’ve never tried this unique experience, you’ll want to get a group together and head over to Bamboozled Escape Rooms. You and your team will be locked in, and given a series of clues to solve in order to achieve the steps necessary to free yourselves within an hour’s time. By appointment only.

5. Play on the water near Silver Lake Sand Dunes

Michigan is revered for recreation that revolves around the water, and there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of that here in this beautiful setting.

For recreational boaters, water skiers, and jet skiers, Wave Club Water Sport Rentals is your outfitter. Choose from water ski boats or pontoons to fit your group (up to 12), powerful wave runner machines, and a full range of paddle equipment. Life jackets and safety instructions included with all rentals.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Paddlers who want to explore inland waterways should check out Pentwater Outfitters, where you’ll find a full range of SUP boards, canoes, and kayaks, and comfortable apparel to complement your experience. Guided trip options and lessons available.

6. Visit a Lighthouse

little sable point lighthouse things to do in silver lake michigan
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

One of a 3-lighthouse cluster, Little Sable Point Lighthouse is a remarkable brick structure which dates back to 1874. Still equipped with its original lens, the lighthouse has a copper roof cap. You can climb to the top for a small fee, and educational guides are on hand during the season.

7. Tour and Taste at a Michigan Winery

Years ago, we’d laugh at the thought of Michigan wines, but the industry has matured and is producing impressive, nuanced offerings nowadays. Take a break from the water and sand to sample and tour at these friendly locations!

Fox Barn Winery – a restored antique tasting barn and food board for patio dining are just two of the features here. With more than 2000 acres of a 5-generation family farm given over to vines and woodlot operations, a full range of vintages includes dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet and sweet varieties. Note their specialty asparagus wine, which sells out every year.

Pleasant Valley Farm and Vineyard – 100% farm sourced interpret classical Europe and modern day styles. Private tastings and tours by appointment, yoga class and tasting, and special events during the season. Wedding venue holds 150 (more guests if outside).

Jomagrha Vineyards and Winery – a small boutique winery established in 1999 with hand-crafted French and new generation hybrids, Bordeaux and Burgundy viniferas. Tasting room is housed in one of the distinctive white barns on the property.

8. Walk or Bike a Beautiful Trail

The William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail State Park is the pride of this area and with good reason! Part of Michigan’s “Rails to Trails” project, the 22 mile paved trail has now been expanded in the hopes of linking now to other projects.

bike trail with two cyclists
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Originally laid as a rail bed in the 1870s and a popular stop as a passenger pigeon hunting center at that time, the trail is an easy, flat surface with five waypoints which have drinking water and restrooms. The route takes you through forested areas, Christmas tree farmland and the fruit orchards so typical of West Michigan.

9. Race Go Karts, Bumper Boats, Zip Line and more!

Craig’s Cruisers Family Fun Center – Since 1979, a simple go-kart track has evolved into a destination for a variety of fun things to do in Silver Lake. From soaring over the lake on a single or double zip line, to double bumper or swan paddle boats and three kinds of go-karts, you’re sure to have a blast at Craig’s Cruisers! See how good a racer you are on the outdoor track, or partner up for 18 holes of mini-golf.

10. Get Acquainted with an Old-Fashioned Country Dairy

The Country Dairy has been family owned for four generations, boasting Michigan grown and made cheese and ice cream from local milk. Products are certified non-GMO and hormone free. But that’s only part of the story.

silver lake michigan things to do country dairy holstein cows
Image by Cally Lawson from Pixabay

Tours take you literally from farm to table during 90 minutes of guided learning about dairy practices, the industry, and the farm itself. The Country Dairy encompasses the entire process of producing and handling milk and turning it into fresh product.

Tour the bottling plant and learn how the farm’s 1200 Holstein cows are fed and milked, sample the incomparable chocolate milk and cheddar cheese curd “moochies.” The Farm Store and Deli serves up a variety of salads, sandwiches, and Country Dairy ice cream treats, and offers gift boxes in various sizes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our top ten list of things to do in Silver Lake Michigan. The Lake Michigan lifestyle can’t be beat! Check out our post on the 5 best small towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan for more fun ideas!