When someone says "Northern Michigan," there are actually a few places that might come to mind.
But when I say it, I'm specifically talking about an area that might constitute the state's pinky and ring fingers — this, of course, being a reference to Michigan's hand- or mitten-like shape.
If you want to get technical (geographical?), we could say this somewhat loosely-defined area consists of pieces of 10 of Michigan's whopping 83 counties, including the especially scenic Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. Mason, Lake, Manistee, Wexford, Benzie, Antrim, Charlevoix, and Emmet would be the others, to be sure.
Everything you could possibly want out of a Northern Michigan summer — short of venturing to the Upper Peninsula — can be found here. And, if you have no idea where to start, here are just some of the things you might want to look into:
1. Drive scenic M-22 and visit the Arcadia Overlook
Recently declared a Pure Michigan Byway, M-22 and all its gorgeous curves is probably the most attractive stretch of road in Northern Michigan (as defined above). The highway, which runs 116 miles through Manistee and Benzie counties, is familiar with Michiganders the state over, and one popular stop is the Arcadia Overlook, also known as Inspiration Point.
Sitting two miles north of the unincorporated community of Arcadia, the overlook is located at the tippy top of Manistee County and offers amazing panoramic views up and down the coast of Lake Michigan (obviously the best Great Lake out there).
2. Stop in at Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes, a 35-mile-long stretch of lakeshore — plus the North and South Manitou islands — was named "The Most Beautiful Place in America" by Good Morning America in 2011. There are sandy beaches, towering bluffs, lush forests and clear inland lakes, so if you're an outdoorsy person, you really can't go wrong here. Camping information is available on this site.
The historically-inclined may be interested to know that South Manitou Island features a lighthouse built in the 1870's, and that the lakeshore is also home to three former Coast Guard stations and Port Oneida Rural Historic District, which consists of a set of 19th-century farms.
3. Put the pedal to the metal on the Big M Trail
Err, maybe that is not exactly the right expression when I'm talking about mountain bikes? Anyway, the Big M Trail is an approximately 38-mile loop trail system located off M-55 in Manistee County that's open to hikers and mountain bikers from April to September. (It also supports cross country skiers and snowshoers in the colder months.)
The trail is part of the Huron-Manistee National Forest; open 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and will cost you a mere $5 for one-day use. Not to miss: the Udell Lookout Tower on the un-groomed section of the trail.
4. Kayak down the Pine or the Platte
Or canoe. Or tube. Or paddle board. Whatever your pleasure. The Pine River, which runs about 54 miles through Osceola, Lake, and Wexford counties, is the (slightly) faster of the two, and you'd be well-advised to get in touch with the folks at Pine River Paddlesports for rentals and for camping information, if you're so inclined.
The Platte River, which covers almost 30 miles in Grand Traverse and Benzie counties, is your more traditional "lazy" river. For a nice and easy float that will take you to the mouth of the Platte along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, hook up with Riverside Canoe Trips near Honor, Michigan.
5. Take a wine tour on Traverse City's Old Mission Peninsula
If the woods and the water aren't exactly your thing, perhaps wine is. Old Mission Peninsula, which divides Traverse City's Grand Traverse Bay into its west and east arms, has more than enough offerings for connoisseurs. The peninsula is home to ten wineries, including Black Star Farms, Bonobo Winery, and Chateau Grand Traverse.
If you're not too tipsy after tasting all that wine, you can also stop in for a cold brew and a bite to eat at the Jolly Pumpkin, which serves up a variety of artisan ales. The food is also pretty damn good — especially the Bison Sloppy Joe.
6. Catch a flick at the Cherry Bowl Drive-In
Transport yourself to the 1950's at the Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre, situated along U.S. 31 in Honor, very near the Platte River. Open every summer season since 1953, the Cherry Bowl is the real vintage deal, with a diner, mini golf course, and contemporary, family-friendly double features playing each weekend.
In keeping the experience authentic, weekends at the Cherry Bowl include a vintage film, an introduction, intermission, and cartoons. The first contemporary film starts rolling at dusk.
7. Hit up an island
Mackinac Island is one of Michigan's largest tourist draws in the summer, but there is also the previously-mentioned North and South Manitou islands, Bois Blanc Island, and Beaver Island (which you can find a complete travel guide for here). High, Hog, and Garden islands are also situated close to Beaver Island and can be reached with the help of Archipelago Charters.
Depending on the depth of your pockets, perhaps you'd rather just purchase a private island for yourself though?