Michigan may be known as the Great Lakes State — and exploring the endless miles of shoreline is a wonderful way to spend any day — but there also are many day trips in Michigan that showcase the state’s past, present, and future.
These Michigan day trips are perfect for families looking for fun and affordable getaways, couples who want to quickly escape to someplace romantic, or individual travelers who are simply hoping to go on another adventure.
Head to the Upper Peninsula to Explore Marquette
Marquette Michigan may be located far north on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula, but it’s well worth the effort to get there. This city is bursting with historic charm and unbelievable natural beauty.
Families will find that the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum is the perfect place to spend the morning, and then everyone can head to the beach for an afternoon of fun in the sun.
Those who are passionate about the lakes that surround Michigan will delight in the interesting and engaging exhibits at the Michigan Maritime Museum.
If you would rather spend your day in Marquette breathing in the fresh air that rolls in from Lake Superior, then you can bike, walk, or hike along the Iron Ore Heritage Trail — which offers not only spectacular views but also insightful information about the history of the iron ore industry in the local area.
Indulge in the Bavarian Lifestyle in Frankenmuth
Known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria, Frankenmuth is probably the most iconic day trip destination in Michigan. You will know you have reached this city when you end up in a downtown area that looks like something from the pages of a German fairytale.
While walking through the town and exploring the local shops is a favorite pastime of visitors and locals alike, you would be remiss if your trip to Frankenmuth didn’t include a chicken dinner at either Zehnder’s or Bavarian Inn.
Before you leave town for the day, don’t forget to stop by Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, which is the world’s largest Christmas store. This massive store is dedicated to selling all things Christmas throughout the year, so no matter when you visit, you’ll always be filled with the spirit of the season.
Spend Your Day at the Many Museums of Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids is the largest city in West Michigan, and it is quickly gaining notoriety as the art and culture hub of the state.
The city boasts a sparkling downtown area that has enjoyed significant growth over the past several years, which has ushered in new businesses, such as local restaurants and boutique shopping destinations.
In addition, the city is famous for its dozens of museums, making it a place where people can go to learn a little more about themselves and the world around them.
Soak Up History & Culture in Ann Arbor
Located in Southeast Michigan, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, which has helped to establish its identity as a sophisticated, cultural community.
When you take a day trip to Ann Arbor, you will find that it would be easy to spend the whole day walking through the historic university campus. The Law Quad, in particular, is a beautiful place to be. However, you would be missing out on so much that Ann Arbor has to offer.
The city is home to dozens of local businesses — including more than 30 bookshops — and its restaurant scene is unbeatable. Ann Arbor is where the endless potential of education and the unique flavor of a multicultural community come together in a welcoming and wonderful way.
Experience the Charm of Lexington
If you are looking for a day trip destination that includes waterfront views and a quaint downtown area, then Lexington is the best place to go in Michigan. Described as a harbor village, this small town rests on the shores of Lake Huron not far from the city of Port Huron.
Today, Lexington looks much like it did years ago, allowing you to escape to a quieter, simpler time. As you walk through the downtown area, you will find plenty of locally owned shops that sell candy, souvenirs, boutique clothing, and more.
In addition, there are many restaurants to choose from, but the most fun eatery might be Wimpy’s Place — an old-fashioned burger joint that is simply bursting with character. To best enjoy the beautiful views that Lexington is known for, consider booking a boat ride in the harbor.
Visit the Tip of the Thumb in Port Austin
Michigan has long been known as the Mitten State, and the Thumb is a region all its own. At the tip of the Thumb, you will find an idyllic Michigan town called Port Austin. It has the same panoramic views as many of the most famous lakeside towns in Michigan but far fewer crowds.
If you want to experience the best that Michigan has to offer in a more relaxed setting, then Port Austin is the place for you. You can easily spend the day relaxing on the soft sands that line the shores of Lake Huron, or you could go for an adventure on a kayak to Turnip Rock.
The small yet charming downtown area of Port Austin is filled with shops and restaurants, which can help make the day feel like a true vacation.
Explore Corktown, Detroit’s Oldest Neighborhood
As Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown has seen the city through all of its stages. When you visit this iconic neighborhood, you will see that for yourself.
Many of the buildings in the neighborhood were constructed around the time that Corktown was developed, but most of the businesses are new additions — evidence of the city’s revival over the last several decades.
A day trip to Corktown will allow you to explore the Irish heritage of the neighborhood and experience the flavor of modern-day Detroit.
Some of the best things to do in Corktown include shopping at local stores — such as the Eldorado General Store or Detroit Athletic Co — or visiting the site of the old Tiger’s Stadium, which is known as The Corner Ballpark today.
Don’t forget to finish your day at one of the many restaurants in Corktown, such as Ottava Via or Takoi.
Sit Along the Banks of the Red Cedar in East Lansing
Michigan is home to many sprawling college campuses, but none are as picturesque as Michigan State University. If you are hoping for the true college town experience for the day, then East Lansing is the place to be.
On the campus itself, you will find the mighty Red Cedar River flowing. Join the students and relax on the banks of the river, or consider tossing the ducks some chopped lettuce or oats.
After you spend some time on the river, wind through the historic campus and admire the buildings — many of which were built in the 19th century. Before long, you will find yourself on Grand River Ave in the heart of downtown East Lansing, where you will find all of the shopping and dining options you need.
Depending on the time of year, you may even consider catching a show at the Wharton Center, watching basketball at the Breslin Center, or cheering on the Spartans at Spartan Football Stadium.
Travel a World Away to Holland Without Leaving the State
Did you know that it’s possible to discover European flavors without leaving the state of Michigan? When you drive to Holland Michigan on the west side of the state, you will feel as if you have traveled across the ocean and back in time to the Netherlands.
The Dutch settlers who established the community of Holland would be proud to know that their heritage still plays a primary role in the culture and everyday life of the city. Even if you don’t make it to Tulip Time, you can enjoy the sights and sounds of Holland.
Some of the most popular attractions in the city include Windmill Island Gardens, Nelis’ Dutch Village, and Holland State Park.
Sip Wine in Traverse City Michigan
For a day filled with excellent wine and even more spectacular views, consider spending time in Traverse City. While the city is most well known for its cherry farming, it also enjoys the best possible conditions for grape growing, which has led to a burgeoning wine industry.
All along the Old Mission Peninsula and the Leelanau Peninsula, you will find a diverse range of wineries that specialize in whites, reds, and dessert wines.
While it will be hard to tear yourself away from those flights of wine, you should also consider exploring other attractions in the city, such as the Mission Point Lighthouse and Front St shops and restaurants.
Leave Your Car Behind & Ferry to Mackinac Island
One of the best day trip opportunities in Michigan is Mackinac Island. Located between the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, this tiny island is only 8 miles in circumference — but it is one of the most famous spots in the state.
Perhaps one of the reasons is that no cars are allowed on the island, and everyone who needs to get around relies on horses, carriages, and bicycles. Stepping onto the island is truly like taking a step back in time.
Once you disembark from the ferry, you will find that it’s hard to decide how to spend your day. You could rent a bike, ride around the island, climb to Arch Rock, and grab some fudge at the end of your journey. Or, you could spend your day exploring the historic Fort Mackinac and strolling by the iconic Grand Hotel.
See the Soo Locks in Action
In Sault Ste. Marie, history and modern ingenuity reign supreme. This city is known for being the oldest European settlement in the state of Michigan, with a history spanning more than 350 years.
In addition, its most famous attraction is the Soo Locks — an engineering marvel of the 19th century that revolutionized transportation through the Great Lakes. If you take a day trip to Sault Ste. Marie, you can take a boat tour through the locks to experience them for yourself.
Don’t forget to stop by the Visitor Center to learn more about the development of the Soo Locks and the role that they play in the world today.
Step Back in Time at Greenfield Village in Dearborn
History comes alive each day at Greenfield Village, a living museum that is located in Dearborn Michigan.
Founded by Henry Ford in 1933, this village is one of the most comprehensive collections of historic buildings in the country. The homes are strategically laid out across the village’s campus, allowing you to feel as if you are walking through a town that existed centuries ago.
You can step inside the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law, walk through the hallowed halls that Noah Webster lived in, and see the birthplace of Henry Ford himself.
In addition to exploring the buildings, you can taste homemade frozen custard, ride on an authentic Model T and take a spin on the Herschell Spillman Carousel, which is more than 100 years old.
You may even find people dressed up in their best 19th-century apparel, waiting to play Victorian lawn games with you or talk to you about the latest inventions of their time. It’s an immersive and inviting experience that is memorable for people of all ages.
Climb the Dunes at Silver Lake State Park
Just north of Muskegon on the west side of the state, you will find Silver Lake State Park. This picturesque park in Mears Michigan boasts more than 3 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan, and it is known for having some of the best sand dunes in the state.
With more than 2,000 acres of dunes, the park is a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts who love to climb the dunes or traverse them in ORVs.
If you are just planning to visit Silver Lake State Park for the day, you can enjoy the inland beach on Silver Lake or spend your time on the dunes that define the coastline of Lake Michigan.
Relax in Splendor on Belle Isle
Most people don’t think of pristine islands when they think of the Motor City, but Belle Isle happens to be one of the best Detroit destinations to explore. This small island is located on the Detroit River between Detroit and Windsor, and it’s only a short drive from the heart of downtown Detroit.
There is nothing quite like spending a day on Belle Isle. With several public beaches, you can easily pack a picnic and splash in the waters all day long. Or, you can spend your time exploring the cultural destinations on the island, such as the Belle Isle Aquarium and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory.
No trip to Belle Isle would be complete, though, without a photograph in front of the iconic James Scott Memorial Fountain. It’s worth noting that, while Belle Isle is a popular summer destination, it’s actually open all year long, so it’s always a good time to take a day trip to this one-of-a-kind destination.
See the Michigan State Capitol Building in Lansing
As you drive down Michigan Ave, you will quickly see why Lansing is the capital city of Michigan.
Its downtown area is a perfect blend of urban flair and small-town charm, and the white-domed Capitol Building makes for a breathtaking anchor at the end of the street. The Michigan State Capitol and its sprawling campus are worth the visit themselves, but there are many other things to do in Lansing.
To discover the history of the city, head to the Turner-Dodge House, a 19th-century home that has been lovingly preserved. For outdoor recreation, consider riding your bike down the Lansing River Trail.
In addition, there are many local restaurants and shops to frequent, which can give you a taste of the authentic flavor of the city.
Allow Culture & Natural Beauty to Blend in Saugatuck
One of the most beautiful cities along Michigan’s west coast is Saugatuck, which is known for its picturesque downtown and breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. If you are hoping to embark on a day trip with cosmopolitan flair but plenty of beachfront access, then Saugatuck is the place to be.
The city has earned a nickname of being Michigan’s Art Coast, largely because there are dozens of art galleries located in the center of town. In addition to absorbing the many displays of art in Saugatuck, you can read the day away with your favorite book on the shores of Oval Beach.
Not far away from the city’s center, you will also find a handful of local Michigan wineries that serve some of the finest vintages in the city, allowing you to celebrate your day away in Saugatuck.
Spend a Day in Hell Michigan
When someone tells you to go to Hell, you might assume that they are insulting you. However, this is a genuine recommendation for one of the most unique day trips in Michigan. Many are surprised to find out that Hell is not a place in the netherworld — it’s actually a small town in Southeast Michigan.
Located about 60 miles from Detroit and near the quiet lakeside community of Pinckney, Hell Michigan is a town that plays up its name and offers visitors plenty of devilish attractions.
From dinner at the Hell Hole Diner to ice cream at Screams, you are sure to find the tongue-in-cheek experience that you are hoping for. In fact, if you are looking to elope, you can earn the bragging rights of saying that you got married in Hell at the Hell Wedding Chapel.
Get Lost in a Magical Lavender Labyrinth
Corn mazes are a traditional fall activity in Michigan, but the lavender labyrinth is a new take on an old classic. Lavender is quickly becoming one of the top crops in Michigan, and many lavender farms offer unique experiences to visitors who love this peaceful plant.
At Cherry Point Farm in Shelby, Michigan, you will find a winding lavender labyrinth that offers a chance to quite literally get lost among this sweet-smelling plant.
The labyrinth is not only designed to be an immersive, fragrant experience but also allows you to see that gardening and farming can be a form of art all its own. You may not even want to find the end of the maze because you’d rather spend your time among the relaxing fragrance of freshly grown lavender.
Experience the Heart of Michigan in Midland
Midland is a Michigan city located in the center of the state, and it offers the chance to escape the hustle of everyday life without leaving behind your favorite amenities.
You may wander around the idyllic Dow Gardens or kayaking under the Tridge, but you are still just moments away from some of the most spectacular art in the world, which is housed at the Midland Center for the Arts.
Make time in your itinerary to visit the historic Alden B. Dow house, which is a renowned piece of architecture that was largely considered to be the best example of Dow’s work.
Plan Day Trips in Michigan Throughout the Year
While these day trips allow you to spend a wonderful 24 hours in Michigan, any of these destinations can be expanded upon to create a full itinerary.
You will find that each city and community in Michigan offers pockets of surprises that will leave you craving more long after you have started your trip home again.