5 natural gems even native Michiganders don't know about

May 30, 2013

Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore was voted 'The Most Beautiful Place in America in 2011,' we know that. 

Some Michigan natives try to avoid the popular tourist sites during peak visiting months. The crowds can be overwhelming for some tourists, too.

Lifelong Michigander or not, if you're trying to soak up Michigan's beauty without all the people, check out michigantrailmaps.com.

Jim DuFresne is the Editorial Director of the site, and the author of more than 20 outdoor, hiking and camping books, including Lonely Planet travel guides. 

Michigantrailmaps.com is a two-year-old website that uses GPS to produce accurate trail maps from all over the state. Users can search by trails, county, or activity type. Once you find a trail you like, just download the map, print it out, and bring it with you on your next adventure.

Here are DuFresne's top five:

1. The Manitou Islands

North and South Manitou Islands are just off the coast of the Leelanau peninsula. Take the ferry from Leland and spend a day on South Manitou or camp overnight at either location. The ferry drops you off on South Manitou around 11 am and picks you up around 4 pm. 

There are three shipwrecks to check out, and the island is also host to the largest white Cedar trees in the state. 

"It's a true escape. You take the ferry out and catch it back in, the park rangers have tents and sleeping bags in case you miss the boat," DuFresne said.

2. Garden Peninsula

Located in the UP, the Garden Peninsula is is off of US 2, the only interstate highway.  The Garden Peninsula has a few vineyards and Fayette State Park. Fayette was the main stop for the Jackson Iron Company, and now is an abandoned ghost town. 

"I'm always stunned at the amount of lifelong Michigan residents who never go to the UP, there are some great beaches and campgrounds."

3. Grand Island

You've probably already been to Pictured Rocks, or at least heard of the park. If you want an equally enticing trip with less people, DuFresne suggested Grand Island. The island has sandstone cliffs and great hiking and mountain biking trails. There's some great kayaking, too. Just jump on the ferry from Munising, it's not a long trip. 

4. Port Austin

"The best part about the 'thumb' area is that it's only a two-hour drive from Detroit," DuFresne said.

A must-see is Crescent State Park, which, to many people's surprise, has sand dunes. The Sanilac petroglyphs are cool, too.

5. Emmet and Charlevoix Counties

Though Petoskey State Park has a wonderful beach, DuFresne suggested that you move inland.

"The best is Avalanch Peak, near Boyne City. It's about 450 steps, but when you get to the top it's the best view in the lower peninsula -- you can see Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan."

DuFresne also likes the Skyline trail and Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands. He suggested hiking to the top of Boyne and take the zip line back down.

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom

To listen to the audio, click the link above.