Michigan is a winter wonderland with skiing and snowmobiling and a summer spectacular with great weather and many things for tourists to do. Before visiting Michigan in spring, I spent some time googling “Traveling in Michigan in Spring” and “Michigan in Springtime”. The searches didn’t come up with much. There were mostly articles about the multitude of museums that could be visited in the spring, especially in Detroit. But we weren’t going to Detroit and I wasn’t planning on spending much time in museums (just not my thing).
Closed Until Spring
Closed for the Winter. Opening Memorial Day. Open on May 13. Closed until spring. Closed. See you in May.These are just some of the signs my parents and I saw on our 9 day car trip to Michigan in late April – April 19-28th to be exact. While it was annoying that many sites were closed, it was also rewarding that we were only a few tourists to be around so there were no lines, no traffic, and great deals on accommodation.
Great Deals on Hotels
Hotels, especially those around the great lakes, had incredible deals. For example, at Harbor Lights in Frankfort, the going weekend rate for a non-view motel room is $195 in the summer but we got the room for $79. A top floor, lakeview room with deck in Munising costs $250+ in summer (assuming you can even get a reservation, they sell out months in advance), but we paid $110 a night for a room with a balcony and view of the lake.
But Some Spots Will Be Closed
The best sites were open in the end of April. The biggest disappointment was the scenic drive at the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore was closed. Other than that, some restaurants, wayside rests, and some tourist traps were closed. Not significant enough to affect our trip.
Possibly the most unpredictable thing about traveling in Michigan in late April is the weather. You can have pouring rain and wind (like we had for a whole day of driving across northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula), you can have gorgeous days (like 70-80 degrees and sunny, like we had for several days), and you can even have snow (luckily, we only had a few minutes of rain/snow mix one day).
Places to visit in Michigan in Spring:
Our trip started north and headed south with nights in Munising, Traverse City, Frankenmuth/Birch Run, and Grand Rapids for a total of 8 nights in Michigan.
The first day was spent in Upper Peninsula. This was the one day that it rained all day long. It didn’t stop once, but it ranged from sprinkling to pouring rain and temperatures that didn’t go above 37 degrees. We didn’t make a lot of stops this day, but did stop at a Great Lakes visitor center in northern Wisconsin and along the shores of Lake Superior to see a little bit of lake ice that remained in one spot The lake was nearly ice free by April 22. We only saw ice in a few spots around Munising. Our last stop of the day was a very short walk to Munising Falls on the edge of the town.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Miners Castle is the top accessible site in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We literally had the place to ourselves, the only car in a parking lot that holds 100 in the busy times.
Big Spring State Park
By noon, the sun had begun to shine so the Big Spring was aglow in a state park. You can use a handwheel to propel you over the spring in a wooden platform attached to a cable. Here you can see the water shooting out of the springs, and a few dozen huge 3 foot fish that are near it.
Frankfort, Michigan – on the beach of Lake Michigan
Three nights in Frankfort, a town southwest of Traverse City with sunsets to die for. This location allowed us to enjoy a Friday night fish fry at the Eagles FOE lodge, a day at the former state mental hospital in Traverse City, a show at the opera house, half a day at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and a drive up the Peninsula with visits to several lighthouses. It was on a deserted beach on the peninsula where we met an old man who was searching for Petoskey Stones. These stones are fossilized corals that are unique to this area. He graciously gave us a couple of these collector stones. Check out this blog about finding and polishing Petoskey Stones.
The next couple nights were in the Frankenmuth area, and frankly (ha ha, get it?) we should have only stayed for one. Upon telling other Michiganis, Michiganers, Michiganoids? That we were going to Frankenmuth, they always asked “Are you going to eat the chicken dinner?” But, I had seen negative reviews on Tripadvisor. But the Michigan residents won out and we went for the $23 all you can eat chicken dinner. It was served family style and consisted of dry bread, 5 salad that were quite good, noodles that tasted like the crushed crackers that topped them, boxed mash potatoes, gravy, good dressing, and bland chicken. We didn’t even finish the first plate of chicken so we got to take those leftovers. Besides the chicken dinner, the town is mostly a tourist trap. Shops with junk, cheese, wine. We did have a wine and chocolate tasting and bought 4 bottles of sweet wine (my mom’s favorite).
St. Lorenz exterior
Wine & Chocolate tasting
Burning off oil near Birch Run outlet mall.
Holland Michigan Tulips
The last 2 nights were spent in Grand Rapids. The first day was sunny and 80 degrees so we hightailed it over to Holland to see the tulips. It was clear they had reached their peak bloom, unfortunately 10 days before their annual Tulip Festival… but they were beautiful.
Magnolias in bloom too.
Full bloom in Centennial Park
Grand Rapids – Meyer May House and Meijer Sculpture Garden
On the last day of our trip, we saw two of the most famous tourist attractions of GR – the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Meyer May house. Steelcase had restored this house in the mid 1980’s and no expense was spared.
And then we stopped at the Fredirik and Lena Meijer Sculpture Garden. This is one of the top 100 visited art museums in the word. Highlights are a Japanese garden, many sculptures, and an Ai Weiwei exhibit. For 2 months each year, they hatch 7,000 butterflied in many species, into their tropic conservatory.
Things I Learned:
I was too young to remember anything from my only other trip to Michigan, but noticed some interesting things that might be unique to Michigan:
- At BP, all of the gas triggers are green. I had to check and double check that I wasn’t putting diesel in the car
- UP definitely has a sense of humor. My favorite restaurant name was UP Chuck’s.
- The drivers are aggressive. If you fail to notice that a light has turned green because you’re checking a map, they will honk and continue to honk even after you’ve gone thru the intersection. And no one stops for pedestrians.
- A “Party Store” is not where you buy your cups, napkins, and decorations, but instead your beer, wine and liquor.
All in all, spring is a wonderful time to visit Michigan IF you get lucky with the weather.
Where I stayed:
- Holiday Inn Express in Munising. Great views and pool. Many rooms have balconies.
- Harbor Lights in Frankfort
- Hampton Inn in Birch Run. Great pool. Close to Outlet mall and next to a movie theater. Book it now.
- Hampton Inn in Grand Rapids. Great pool & breakfast. Easy access to interstate to visit Holland. Book it now.
Where I ate:
My most memorable meals were local charity meals (pancake lunch, fish fry dinner) give you a chance to mingle with locals – it’s cheap and proceeds go to a good cause