Outdoor Seating At Night Downtown Alpena Michigan
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12 Often-Overlooked But Worth-Exploring Small Towns in Northern Michigan

In the northeastern region of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, there’s an endless string of charming towns that are as idyllic as they are welcoming.

It seems that every town includes a collection of delicious local restaurants, eclectic boutiques, and a stunning lighthouse. But, each community offers an experience that is distinct and memorable.

Check out these small towns in Northeast Michigan the next time you want to explore the Mitten State…

Related: 39 Under-the-Radar Small Towns in Michigan

Cheboygan
Cheboygan | photo via flaminiom

Cheboygan

If you are looking for a place to stay along the Straits of Mackinac that is a bit quieter than other popular tourist hotspots, then Cheboygan Michigan may be the best place to go.

This tiny town is just a quick 20-minute drive from Mackinaw City, but you will feel as if you have escaped to an entirely different world.

Cheboygan is beloved by those who enjoy fishing and kayaking along the calm waters. The Cheboygan Crib Light stands watch over the straits, making it one of the most iconic attractions in the city.

In recent years, the city has become famous for its plethora of patio dining experiences, many of which offer waterfront views of the Cheboygan River.

40 Mile Point Lighthouse-Rogers City
40 Mile Point Lighthouse | photo via lyanta.mi

Rogers City

Located along the shores of Lake Huron on Michigan’s Sunrise Side, Rogers City is known for its breathtaking views and impeccable bicycle trail.

The Huron Sunrise Trail has become a favorite among visitors of all ages, particularly those who like biking along scenic routes. This paved trail extends for 11 miles along the shoreline, winding through wooded areas and dunes and offering glimpses of streams and beachfront along the way.

If you begin your adventure along the trail in Rogers City, you can take it to the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, which is one of the few lighthouses along the Great Lakes that does not designate the mouth of a river or the arrival of a harbor.

Ss Florida Shipwreck - Lake Huron-Presque Isle
SS Florida shipwreck – Lake Huron | photo via chris_roxburgh_

Presque Isle

Presque Isle (not to be confused with Presque Isle) is one of the special places in Northern Michigan where the state’s maritime history comes to life.

The waters that surround Presque Isle contain several of the infamous Great Lakes shipwrecks, and visitors are often looking to embark on diving excursions to the wrecks to learn more about these tragic tales from the deep.

If you aren’t the type of person who wants to descend into the depths of the Great Lakes, perhaps you might enjoy a bird’s-eye view. Also, Presque Isle is home to the tallest lighthouse on the Great Lakes — the New Presque Isle Lighthouse.

Alpena City Hall, Alpena - Indoor Things To Do In Alpena
Alpena City Hall | photo via @saragrochowski

Alpena

Known as the Sanctuary of the Great Lakes, Alpena Michigan is a small town that has the heart of a big city. It’s one of the few places in Northeast Michigan where you will find cultural attractions and museums alongside picturesque beaches and nature trails.

During the day, you can easily fill your time with trips to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan, and fossil hunting at the Rockport State Recreation Area.

But, you will want to save at least some energy for a nighttime adventure because Alpena is home to three Dark Sky Parks where you can soak up uninterrupted views of the constellations, planets, and if you are lucky enough, the Northern Lights.

Hubbard Lake
Hubbard Lake | photo via mad.scenery

Hubbard Lake

Everyone talks about Michigan’s Great Lakes, but Hubbard Lake is just as magnificent and mighty as those other famous bodies of water.

This small unincorporated community in Alcona County has grown around the shores of Hubbard Lake, proving to be one of the most welcoming places with more and more tourists discovering its charm each year.

Lake enthusiasts are continually impressed by the crystal clear waters of Hubbard Lake, which makes this a popular spot for angling during the summer and ice fishing in the winter.

Sturgeon Point Light-Harrisville
Sturgeon Point Light | photo via evemarie7171

Harrisville

With so many incredible towns to visit along Lake Huron, it’s easy to miss Harrisville. In fact, this tiny town is considered one of Michigan’s best-kept secrets.

While other lakefront towns are overrun with tourists and packed with crowds, Harrisville slips under the radar with its quiet charm and relaxed pace.

One of the most well-known attractions in town is the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, which extends 70 feet into the air and overlooks Lake Huron.

Another spot that you simply have to visit is the Harrisville Train Depot. This historic train station was built in 1901, and it’s currently being restored by dedicated community members who want to preserve the past while looking toward the future.

Paul Bunyan Days, Oscoda - Fall In East Michigan
Paul Bunyan Days – Oscoda, Michigan | photo via @eldonmcgrawmedia

Oscoda

Home to less than 1,000 residents, Oscoda is so small that it’s not even officially considered a town in Michigan. However, this census-designated place has made its mark on the Great Lakes State.

Oscoda has become known as a year-round destination for families looking to enjoy an adventure together. The most popular activities here include golfing, fishing, biking, and horseback riding.

Home to several resorts, boutique hotels, and campgrounds, families of all shapes and sizes have started to consider Oscoda as one of the best places in Michigan to escape, enjoy the lakes, and make memories together.

Tawas Point State Park-East Tawas
Tawas Point State Park | photo via dstill07

Tawas City

Tucked away on Tawas Bay, you will find the coastal community of Tawas City, which invites visitors to enjoy a relaxing and refreshing getaway.

Of course, anyone who stays here will be able to experience the pristine beaches that Lake Huron is known for and the winding trails that exist throughout the region.

But, what truly sets Tawas City apart from other Northeast Michigan destinations cannot be found in the sand or the waves but in the sky.

The city has earned a reputation as a birding destination thanks to its prime location along the migratory patterns of some of Michigan’s most distinctive bird species.

The peak migration season takes place throughout May and into early June. During that time, bird-watchers can discover more than 200 different species — including trumpeter swans and Kirtland warblers.

Small Towns In Michigan - Fall Leaves Framing A Metal Water Tower

West Branch

Life moves a little bit slower in West Branch, and that’s just the way that its residents prefer it to be.

Travelers who are searching for a place that values the little things — like a friendly wave or a home-cooked meal at a local restaurant — will find everything that they want and need in West Branch.

The downtown area is known for its Victorian appeal and plethora of shops and restaurants. And, those who want to connect with the great outdoors will love exploring the Rifle River Recreation Area.

It may not be located along the lakeshore or be home to a stately lighthouse, but West Branch is an up-and-coming destination in Michigan that is worth a visit.

Firemen's Memorial-Roscommon
Firemen’s Memorial | photo via hiking_with_the_harris_family

Roscommon

Campers who are searching for the quintessential Michigan experience will love everything about Roscommon. Whether you are looking to tent camp or park your RV at an incredible site, you will love the options at South Higgins Lake State Park.

Considered the largest state park campground in Michigan, this park puts campers in the perfect spot to enjoy birding, fishing, swimming, and boating. As a bonus, the beach at the park is pet-friendly, so you can even bring your four-legged friend along for the adventure.

Wellington Farm Usa
Wellington Farm USA | photo courtesy of @sarah.k.smith.180

Grayling

Nature lovers who know that Michigan’s beauty is unsurpassed will find that Grayling is one of Michigan’s hidden treasures. Within reach of all of the state’s major cities, this small town is a wonderful escape from the hustle of everyday life.

For a cultural experience unlike any other, consider spending a day at Wellington Farm USA. This living history complex has an interpretive museum that provides an in-depth look into what life was like on one of Michigan’s farms during the difficult era of the Great Depression.

For an outdoor excursion filled with pristine views, consider canoeing on the Au Sable River, which has long been a treasured pastime in Grayling.

Downtown Gaylord Has Whimsical, Alpine-Inspired Architecture Everywhere You Look!
Downtown Gaylord | photo via Rhonda Greene

Gaylord

Those who live in Gaylord Michigan are proud to call this outdoor paradise home, and they are always inviting visitors to experience it for themselves.

Gaylord may be a tiny community tucked away in the woods of Northeast Michigan, but it’s home to an astounding number of inland lakes — more than 90!

This is a quintessential Up North town where locals are hardy and perseverant and summer residents arrive in droves to inhabit cozy cottages.

If you decide to pull yourself away from the water, you’ll find a burgeoning downtown area filled with shops, restaurants, and family-friendly attractions.

Outdoor Seating At Night Downtown Alpena Michigan
Alpena | photo via Taran Schatz

Explore Beyond These Small Towns in Northeast Michigan

From rolling waves along the lakeshore to sprawling fields of towering corn, the views in Northeast Michigan are simply unbeatable. There are so many small towns in this region of the Lower Peninsula, it may be hard to choose which one to visit next.

Whether you stay in one town for a weekend or take a tour along the coast of Lake Huron, you are sure to make memories that you will cherish for years to come. And, you can explore beyond Northeast Michigan. There are dozens of great small towns in Michigan to visit.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for including northeast Michigan. It’s usually always about Traverse City and that side of the state. I’m from Tawas and I truly believe the Tawas Area is one of Michigan’s best kept secrets! Thanks again.

  2. Thank you for sharing some of the best kept secrets Up North has to offer! Other gems in NE Michigan and Harrisville include the historic Craft Makers Cabin https://www.facebook.com/HarrisvilleCabin/ as well as the beautiful Harrisville State Park with campsites along the sandy shore of Lake Huron. Also everyone is invited to help support the Harrisville Train Depot, now owned by the Alcona Historical Society and in the first steps of being saved! harrisvilledepot.com

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