When you hear the words “national park,” what comes to mind?  A rugged, remote island accessible only by boat or seaplane? Historically significant structures that tell the stories of America’s past? Breathtaking vistas from mountainous hills of sand, or towering cliffs lining freshwater seas? How about a sense of peace, knowing that much of the natural splendor in this country is protected for years to come?


This year marks the centennial of the  National Park Service, created by President Woodrow Wilson to preserve America’s wilderness and heritage. Back in 1916, 35 parks and monuments were designated as part of the system; today there are over 400. Michigan’s share is rich in beauty, serenity and history. Geographically, its parks range from the southeast corner of the state to northern Michigan and even beyond the northernmost point of the Upper Peninsula.

We’ll take it from the top.


Located in the northwest part of Lake Superior, isolated Isle Royale welcomes soft adventurers who prefer a comfortable stay at Rock Harbor Lodge, and offers the ultimate backcountry experience for extreme outdoor-lovers who carry necessities on their back and live on granola for a week.

The park, 45 miles long by nine miles wide, is part of an archipelago of about

400 islands. It has no roads, but 165 miles of nature-rich trails that cross rough and wild country speckled with primitive campsites. Visitors—who number fewer in a year than Yellowstone sees in a day—come for hiking, paddling, fishing, scuba diving and the hope of spotting Isle Royale’s wolf and moose populations. Guided boat and walking tours and ranger programs are available.

To reach the island, most visitors hop a ferry or seaplane from Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, more than 50 miles away. Boaters are allowed to dock their private watercraft with permit. nps.gov/isro


Jutting into vast Lake Superior is a peninsula rich in heritage, artifacts and copper mining legacy. The Keweenaw native peoples mined here 7,000 years ago, but the copper rush that built this region began in the 1840s and lasted into the 20th century. Keweenaw National Historical Park interprets the significance of that era through extensive exhibits at its Calumet Visitor Center, where you can also join a guided walking tour of the once booming city.

The park partners with a network of museums, mining locations and landmarks designated as Keweenaw Heritage Sites, including the impressive Quincy Mine in Hancock. Tour the five-story home of the world’s largest steam-powered hoist engine, and glimpse the hard lives of miners on an underground foray into the dark and dank No. 5 shaft. nps.gov/kewe


Sandstone cliffs up to 200 feet high look as though they were brushed with watercolor, giving the colorful ledges along the Lake Superior shoreline their vibrant name. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stretches 42 miles between Munising, the park’s western gateway, and the village of Grand Marais to the east.

In between you’ll encounter nearly 100 miles of hiking trails through a fantastic array of flora and scenery, as well as waterfalls, monumental dunes, inland lakes, backcountry camping, beaches and swimming in Superior’s chilly waters. The wind and water-carved rock arches and sea caves are an experienced kayaker’s dream.

Families and sightseers enjoy the 2-1/2hour Pictured Rocks Cruises, Glass Bottom Boat Shipwreck Cruises, and wild, jet-propelled Riptide Ride, all departing Munising. nps.gov/piro


The Legend of Sleeping Bear is the touching, centuries-old Native American explanation of how a mother bear and her two cubs formed the giant sand dune on Lake Michigan and, just offshore, North and South Manitou islands. Protected as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the park covers the 65-mile long coastal area of Michigan’s pinkie finger in the northwest Lower Peninsula.

Sleeping Bear has something to entice everyone you can pack into the car: its 450-foot-high bluffs and 35 miles of soft sand beaches bordering sparkling fresh, Caribbean colored water; paddling and tubing; camping, picnicking and sunset watching; hang gliding and paragliding; hiking 100 miles of trails and bicycling the paved, non-motorized path.

Be sure to allow time to scramble up the challenging Dune Climb, then run or tumble down its sandy slope, only to do it all over again. Cruise the seven-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive at a leisurely pace, savoring the views that explain why ABC’s Good Morning America audience named Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore the “Most Beautiful Place in America.” nps.gov/slbe



Plan a road trip to visit museums, homes, landmarks and other cultural and heritage sites in southeast and central Michigan related to the growth and impact of the automotive industry. motorcities.org


Monroe, in southeast Michigan, was the scene of the greatest defeat of Americans during the War of 1812. The park offers interpretations of these battles of January 1813, which gave rise to the cry, “Remember the Raisin!” nps.gov/rira


Stretching through seven states from New York to North Dakota, this walking trail zigzags through Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, crosses the Mackinac Bridge and traverses the entire U.P. nps.gov/noco

This article originally appeared in the 2016 spring/summer issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


Amanda Wais is an outdoor adventure writer living in Michigan's northernmost town: Copper Harbor. She enjoys sharing her stories as much as experiencing the journey. writingfromdaharbor.com.