Michigan is one of the most unique areas on our planet. Touching four of the largest freshwater sources in the world, it has the longest freshwater coastline of any political area and contains over 64,000 lakes.
It is home to glacial moraines and dunes, mountains, beaches upon beaches, and many square miles of preserved old-growth forest and wilderness within its two peninsulas.
Michigan has the largest state park and state forest system of any state, with 78 state parks, and six state forests. Here are some (note: just some) of its most unique state parks and features!
Tahquamenon Falls State Park
Perched on the eastern rim of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls State Park features 50,000 acres of incredible vistas.
The park’s hallmark feature includes a large waterfall with a 50-foot drop and a span of over 200 feet, but there are many other features to appreciate about Tahquamenon. The efforts made towards park accessibility are especially admirable!
Fishermen and water-lovers will love this site. In the Upper Falls, visitors can see the Tahquamenon River mouth fed via Lake Superior, and will find plenty of fishing opportunities for brown trout in this area. The Lower Falls includes five smaller waterfalls spilling around a small island and is a hot area for walleye, northern pike and musky. Canoeing, rowboats, and kayaks are available for rental and can be used on some of the park’s 13 lakes, which include more great fishing.
The park hosts many family-friendly outdoor activities, including a fantastic free wheelchair “track chair” rental program that makes most of the park accessible to the elderly and disabled. These durable track chairs fair well in the snow, sand, and up to eight inches of water! Over forty miles of trails are available for snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, hiking, and biking.
Tons of wildlife can be found at Tahquamenon, including over 125 species of birds, in addition to moose, black bears, and wolves. Camping is available via lodge, cabin, modern, rustic, and backcountry sites.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park
While this park is on the smaller side, boasting 550 acres and two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline, its uniqueness makes up for it. Visitors to Headlands International Dark Sky Park are offered the rare opportunity of seeing the night sky with virtually no local light pollution.
There are now 40 international dark sky parks in the world: land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.
The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, however, no overnight camping is allowed to take place within the park. The park is intended to be used as a place to “Stay awake and view the stars!” When the Observatory is open, visuals are projected onto the big screen monitors on the main level.
During scheduled observing nights, Professional star-gazers and astronomers are available on-site to enhance the viewing experience. Scheduled events are often sequestered around meteoroid showers, solstices, visible Northern Lights, and so on.
There is an abundance of rare and endangered plant life within the Headlands’ woodlands and shore, in addition to many wild animals. Bald eagles, wild turkeys, coyotes, osprey, white-tailed deer, and the occasional black bear are sighted at the park. Trails for hiking, cycling, and cross-country skiing span the park. Every nature-lover is sure to enjoy the features of this park, particularly the nightly views.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park
Michigan’s largest state park arguably contains the best-unbridled wilderness in the Midwest. With over 90 miles of hiking trails, a 35,000-acre old-growth forest, powerful waterfalls and rivers, and 25 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is unrivaled in terms of its natural offerings and size.
Spanning 94 square miles and 60,000 acres, no other state park in Michigan offers as many opportunities to get lost in (and admire) nature at its best.
Located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, just north of the Ottawa National Forest, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park features many scenic areas and activities. Lake of the Clouds scenic area is a must-see. The Fall Color Ski Lift Rides are a must-do in the fall.
In the winter, snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing bring many “Porkies” to the park, in addition to snowmobiling trails. Many of the park’s access roads are unplowed in winter, and as such, are re-designated as snowmobiling trails.
Camping is limited to 63 designated backcountry sites, but reservations can be made up to six months in advance, with specific check-ins instructions to be followed by all campers. As Black Bear are common at the park, precautions must be taken by campers.
The Friends of the Porkies organization offers several unique opportunities for artists, including a residency program, a music festival, and folk school: all celebrating the richness of this Michigan state park, and extending this richness to visitors old and new.
Lakenenland Sculpture Park
Located in Marquette, Michigan, Lakenenland Sculpture Park’s 37 acres have become quite the local -and national- phenomenon. The drive-thru park features many metal sculptures by owner/artist Tom Lakenen and attracts everyone from tourists to snowmobilers, to art-lovers and beyond.
After being open for sixteen years, the small park has relatively quickly become one of the top tourist attractions in the Upper Peninsula.
In the winter, you can find Mr. Lakenen outside, blowing snow off of his sculptures, stoking a campfire or woodstove, and handing out free hot chocolate to snowmobilers and tourists who’ve stopped to view his work.
His sculptures range everywhere from pink elephants to giant lizards and lumberjacks, and were made mostly from scrap metal Lakenen took home from odd jobs. The park remains free and open to the public and is an absolute must-see in the Upper Peninsula.
What do you think about these state parks? Leave a comment below!