traverse city lavender field with row of green trees

21 Hidden Gems in Michigan (from a local!)

Rachel HannahFebruary 23, 2023

A lot of Michigan’s most popular tourist attractions like Mackinac Island and the Sleeping Bear Dunes have a good reputation for a reason – I love these spots too! However, having lived in the state for over 20 years I’ve truly uncovered some hidden gems in Michigan, from unique activities to cute small towns to restaurants, and more!

I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to look a bit closer or adventure a little harder to find the most spectacular ones. These Michigan hidden gems are part of what makes my home state so great!

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

1. Cops & Doughnuts

one of the best hidden gems in Michigan is cops and doughnuts. chocolate coconut long john is pictured

Finally, a place that combines the class stigma of cops and donuts! The coolest part about Cops & Doughnuts is that it is not just cop-themed but it is actually part of its history!

It started as a small donut shop in Clare, Michigan in 1896 that almost has to shut down but in 2009, a group of 9 cops banned together and bought the business!

My favorite is the classic cream or custard-filled long John but one of their best sellers is The Bacon Squealer! Make sure to look at all the cool cop memorabilia and have your mug shot taken.

There are now several other locations around the state in case you don’t get the chance to visit the headquarters (but they aren’t as cool).

Cops & Doughnuts is definitely one of the most delicious hidden gems in Michigan that also helps support the local police precincts.

2. Golfing at Hawk Hollow

girl with golf putter on the green in front of pond

The Little Hollow course at the Eagle Eye Golf Club in the Lansing area is one of the few real green 18-hole putting courses in the country and 1 of 3 in Michigan. It’s truly one of the coolest hidden gems in Michigan.

The holes here are much more skill involved than your average mini-putt putt and there are even sand traps and the risk of sending your ball into the water. Plus, you get to see some wildlife around the course like birds and turtles.

In my experience, completing the course with 3 adults takes around 2 1/2 hours on average. A round costs $9 USD per person.

So if you love a friendly challenge then this is a super fun thing to do in Lansing!

3. See the Mackinac Bridge at night

mackinac bridge at night

Ok, so the Mackinac Bridge is definitely not one of the hidden gems in Michigan as most people who are exploring Northern Michigan at some point or another see the infamous Mackinac Bridge but have you seen the bridge at night?

Gazing at the colored lights on the arches of the bridges is a whole new experience!

I’ve driven across the bridge a couple of times at night which is awesome but the most recent time I was there, we decided to pull off to Bridge View Park on the St Ignace side for a few minutes to sit and admire the view of the bridge under the moonlight before continuing on our road trip.

If you are coming from the Mackinaw City side the best place to view the bridge is from Alexander Henry Park, you can park here.

Another great way to see Mackinac Bridge at night is to first join a sunset cruise that goes underneath the Mackinac Bridge. After the cruise ends it’ll be dark and the bridge lights will have been turned on so you’ll be in a perfect position to get yourself over to the bridge viewpoint on the beach at Alexander Henry Park. Can’t beat a two-in-one experience, am I right?

This specific sunset cruise lasts for 1-hour and only costs $29 USD per person. The bonus part of this tour is that you’ll get to learn some interesting facts about the bridge and some history on Mackinac Island. It departs from the dock directly across the street from Starbucks. I’ve done this cruise before and it’s so pretty and relaxing at this time of day!

4. Leelanau Cellars Tasting Room

Leelanau Cellars Tasting Room is one of my favorite hidden gems in Michigan because they make my favorite Michigan-made fruit wines!

While a lot of visitors visit the most popular wineries on a Traverse City Winery Tour they mostly head out to the Old Mission Point Peninsula instead of the Leelanau Peninsula.

However, if you’ve already done that before or would prefer to hit less busy wineries then Leelanau Cellars Tasting Room is a great place to start on the Leelanau Peninsula. The inside and outside patios have an excellent view of Suttons Bay and the wine pourers are very friendly and knowledgeable.

Tastings are only $5 USD for around 6 or 7 2oz samples (and our bartender definitely threw in some bonus pours for us!) but we chose to upgrade to the $10 USD one that included a souvenir crystal wine glass.

My all-time favorites are the Farm Fresh Cranberry, Witches Brew, and Vintage Port.

On the weekends, bottomless mimosas are only $12!

You can drive yourself here and explore other nearby wineries afterward or join this 5-hour Leelanau Peninsula Wine Tour for just $99 USD a person. Note: this tour does not guarantee a visit to Leelanau Cellars (or any others on the itinerary) as it depends on how busy the location is.

5. Leland Fish Town

cheese shanty leland michigan

One of the best small towns in Michigan is the waterfront town of Leland. At first glance, this old fishing village appears too cute to be real as all of the shanties have been perfectly maintained to keep the history alive.

There are several different businesses operating here like gift shops, The Cove restaurant on the dam, and the Dam Candy Store but my favorite one is the Village Cheese Shanty which prepares fresh deli sandwiches (get yours served on fresh pretzel bread). They have over 60 different types of cheeses to choose from and you can add on chips and drinks including wine and beer.

Across the street from the main village, you can grab coffee at MadCap Coffee which is my favorite coffee shop in the entire state of Michigan!

If you really want to soak up all Leland has to offer you can even stay at Falling Waters Lodge and fall asleep to the gentle sounds of the dam.

Leland’s charm easily makes it one of Michigan’s best hidden gems!

6. Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park

side view of Laughing Whitefish Falls in upper Michigan with fall colored trees surrounding it

So far, Laughing Whitefish Falls is one of the most beautiful and underrated waterfalls in Michigan that I have been to!

This waterfall is a Michigan hidden gem in the Upper Peninsula that you have to go off the beaten path to get to! By off the beaten path I mean a 30-minute drive from the closest cities with a guaranteed gas station (Munising and Marquette), minimal to no cell service, and some dirt roads.

There is an honor system $10 state park charge for out-of-state vehicles and Michigan plates without a recreational passport.

Once you get to the Laughing Whitefish Falls Trailhead it is only around a .6 mile hike to the top part of the waterfall and then 100+ stairs to go down to the base which is a must-do!

The views from down here are brilliant and how the water sprawls down over the rocks is unlike any waterfall I have ever seen. If the flow isn’t too strong you can even climb up on the rocks and get right next to the top.

I even spent some more time exploring part of the river trail further into the woods. This is definitely a Michigan hidden gem you need to add to your U.P. travel plans!

My Finiding’s Tip: Make sure you have downloaded your route and that your car has plenty of gas before driving here.

7. Copper Peak in Ironwood

view from top of copper peak ski jump

A Michigan hidden gem I recently got to visit was the Copper Peak ski jump in Ironwood. It is no longer in operation as a ski jump but visitors can take the chairlift up for $25 USD to the base and then take the elevator up most of the way or climb 461 stairs up to the top!

Copper Peak is the highest vista in the midwest and the panoramic views of the Porcupine Mountains are so beautiful. If the visibility is good you can even see 3 states, Canada, and a sliver of Lake Superior in the distance. This activity would also be great in the fall when all the leaves change colors!

The elevator was broken when we visited (lucky us!) so by default, we got to climb up all those stairs. To be honest, climbing to the top was way more interesting and satisfactory than the elevator anyways so I didn’t mind!

8. Belle Isle

girl leaning on red bridge with trees bell isle

Out of all the Michigan hidden gems in the guide, Belle Isle is probably one of the more popularly known places and best things to do in Detriot. However, I have to mention it because a lot of locals I’ve talked to still haven’t heard of it yet and I didn’t either until a couple of years ago!

Essentially Belle Isle is a little island in Detroit that rests in the Detroit River and if you’re lucky you might even see a cargo ship passing along the river! You could truly spend a whole day at Belle Isle Park, it’s so beautiful, and there is SO much to do here! I allowed 4-5 hours and that still wasn’t quite enough time to see everything!

See the impressive James Scott Memorial Fountain built in 1923, walk the Oudolf Gardens and gaze at the Nancy Brown Peace Tower, explore the exotic plants in the conservatory, see the garfish at the aquarium, and take pictures of the Detriot skyline at Sunset Point.

There are also several trails and public beaches to walk around or for an authentic Detriot experience ride around Bell Isle in a Ford Model A on this private antique car tour. Instead of just seeing all the cool sights on the island you’ll get to hear some backstory from your driver while riding in a historic 90-year-old car. If it’s a nice day they’ll even take the top off, what a memorable experience this would be!

9. Warren Dunes State Park

girl running up warren dune

For people who live in Southwest Michigan, Mid-Michigan, or even Northern Indiana, Warren Dunes might not be one of Michigan’s hidden gems because it is one of the nicest beaches near the Indiana border and only 1.5 hours from Chicago.

However, if you live more north or are an out-of-state visitor Warren Dunes State Park may have not been brought to your attention as it gets overlooked by the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear, Saugatuck, and Silver Lake.

My favorite thing to do inside the park is to climb the massive dune that you can see right from the parking lot. It’s likely that you’ll already see a bunch of people climbing it. Once you’ve taken some time to enjoy the beautiful views of the lake from the top running down the dune is super exhilarating and the way I recommend coming back down!

If you want a longer and harder hike you can opt for the 5-mile Warren Dunes Trail Loop which takes you through Mount Randall and Great Warren Dune and along the beach. It takes an average of 2 hours to finish. Going counterclockwise is the most recommended way to complete this trail.

One of the best secrets here that not many people know about is the creek that leads to a clay pit. You can reach it by walking south on the beach until you reach the mouth and walk it upstream. If you go far enough you’ll see the banks are lined with clay, so have fun and paint yourself or someone else with it!

10. Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters

grand rapids coffee roasters interior

Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters is a full-on coffee shop, roastery, and warehouse all in one on the outskirts of Grand Rapids. This was one of the Michigan hidden gems that I stumbled upon accidentally thanks to a google maps search!

The owner Craig popped out and greeted us at the time his business was still recovering from COVID so they weren’t serving coffee yet (as of February 2023 they are serving coffee).

I was disappointed, but he offered to give us a full coffee tour! He provided us with a lot of information, let us watch the roasting process, and answered all of our questions – I learned so much about coffee!

Craig really cares about the quality of the beans and he frequently travels internationally in search of the best places to source from. It was great seeing someone so passionate about what they do!

The same tour he gave us is the weekly “Saturday Experience“, just ask for Craig or any of the staff and they will get started!

Since I didn’t get to try the coffee let me know how it is if you visit!

11. Swim at Canyon Falls Roadside Park

Canyon Falls has to be one of the lesser-known waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but since it is right off of a main highway (HWY 41) it sometimes draws local crowds. This waterfall cuts through a gorge so the uneven rock formations make for some really nice pictures!

Just park at the Canyon Falls Roadside Park and then hike a pleasant half-mile on a well-maintained path to reach the falls. For the best views climb down on the rocks at the overlook and then just a little further down on the trail you can get all the way down to the bottom.

We were daring enough to get in and swim – the water felt wonderful! We went further out in the deeper pools to the left and there were some currents that were a little worrying but we took our time to navigate these areas and it was fine!

12. Lake of the Clouds

woman standing on lake of the clouds lookout

Believe it or not Michigan does have one mountain range and The Lake of the Clouds Overlook is by far the best viewpoint to see the Porcupine Mountains in the U.P. It really feels like there’s a lake in the sky and it is gorgeous!!!

There are also hiking options here too if you want to get even more off the beaten path to witness this hidden gem in Michigan.

13. MOO-Ville Creamery

If you want to satisfy your sweet tooth then you have to plan a stop at MOO-Ville Creamery in Nashville, Michigan.

What makes MOO-Ville special is that all of their milk products have no growth hormones and are minimally processed. They also make, bottle, and pack everything right on the farm.

At their in-store ice cream counter you can try ice cream in all kinds of flavors and variations from soft serve, hand-dipped, malts, shakes, sundaes, and more!

Their top-selling products are their milk and ice cream! When I lived in Michigan this is the only dairy milk I would drink, it’s just so pure, creamy, and delicious!

If you are traveling and can’t store a whole gallon there are single-serve bottles available of regular and chocolate milk for purchase!

The property also has a free petting farm with over 40 animals and you can take a self-guided tour to see the cows being milked by the robots and pet the baby calves for $3 USD.

The only con is that MOO-Ville is quite literally in the middle of nowhere, I mean it is a farm after all. The closest big cities are Lansing (40 mins northeast), Grand Rapids (1 hour northwest), and Kalamazoo (1 hour southwest).

However, they do have other locations in Eaton Rapids, Ionia, and Zealand, and their milk and ice cream are sold at many different retailers around the state so you can check the map here and see if there is something nearby.

If you do have the time to make your way to this dairy farm the whole experience makes it one of the best Michigan hidden gems in the state!

Note: The Nashville location is the only one with a petting farm and tours.

14. The Guardian Building

If you’re visiting Detriot I highly recommend stepping inside the lobby of the Guardian Building for a few minutes. It’s free of charge to enter making it one of the most budget-friendly places to visit in Detroit!

The hand-painted tilework on the ceiling is truly beautiful and there is a poster with history on why it was done along with a nice mural of Michigan on the back wall.

15. See the lavender at the Secret Garden

secret garden brys estate lavender field traverse city

If you’re visiting some wineries in the Traverse City area or are booking a wine tour to Old Mission Peninsula you might find yourself at Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery. Now what you probably didn’t know is that the property also has a lavender field called the Secret Garden at Brys Estate.

To get there from the main parking lot you can either walk for a few minutes or drive back down the way you entered but instead of turning right keep going straight until you start to see the bright purple fields!

The peak lavender season is from June to July and early July is when the colors are the most vivid. I visited in the middle of July and the colors were still incredible!

The garden is free to roam and you can U-Cut lavender in July (price per stem not announced for the season at the time of writing). There is a small gift shop where you can buy lavender-scented products and flavored treats including ice cream and lemonade!

I am so bummed that I didn’t get the chance to go inside as they had already closed for the day, I guess that’s more incentive to come back to this Michigan hidden gem!

You can find out more information including their business hours here on their website.

16. Order a cheesesteak at Mr. Spots

mr spots restaurant ann arbor

One of the best things to do in Ann Arbor is to order a Philadelphia-style cheesesteak and wings at Mr. Spots – my mouth is watering just thinking about how good they taste! If you come on a Michigan football game day this place will be packed so expect a bit of a wait but the madness that goes on inside of this hole-in-the-wall is part of the local experience!

This place is locally famous and loved by students, coaches (including Jim Harbaugh), players, and alumni, there are photos and signatures on the walls.

Mr. Spots has even been mentioned in the sports side of the news. The most famous was the time when Tom Brady had a game in Detroit against the Lions and he arranged to have enough food delivered post-game to feed the whole team!

This is a hidden gem in Michigan your taste buds can’t afford to miss!

17. Hurricane River Campground for sunset

Around an hour east of Munising past the waterfalls and trails at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the Hurricane River Campground.

This campsite is an epic place for sunset (even if you aren’t staying here). Once you park just walk out onto the wooden bridge over the Hurricane River that flows into Lake Superior.

There is also room to sit on the riverbank to the side of the bridge which is what my friend and I ended up doing. Of course, you could also just walk down to the beach too!

The famous North County Beach Trail can also be joined from here and if you walk to the right for 1.5 miles the trail will take you to the Au Sable Lighthouse.

There are also lots of trees here that are perfect for hammocking with a view of the lake. We had originally planned to watch the sunset from here the mosquitos attacked us so we had to move! There were still some near the river but not as bad, so make sure to bring some bug spray.

If you want to hammock it would be best to do that during the day before the mosquitoes come out.

If you are interested in camping here you can see more info and reserve a spot online here.

18. Float down the Two-Hearted River

If you decide to make your way out to the Hurricane River Campground then another place to hit (or camp at) just an hour further east is the Two-Hearted River.

The Two-Hearted River is located in one of the more remote areas in the Upper Peninsula and it’s definitely one of the Michigan hidden gems on this list that not many people have ever been to before.

The 45-minute journey to the river is a long and bumpy one on a dirt road and this is often enough to deter people from visiting.

I’ve ridden here in just a normal car before and it isn’t fun but it can be done and once I get here the struggle is always worth it! Although a 4WD would make things much easier!

This river is very special because it flows into Lake Superior and the rocky beach is so beautiful and often deserted. If you work up some courage to brave the cold water like I do you can float down the river straight into the big lake. Ahh, so refreshing!

From the parking area, you’ll see a short suspension bridge that takes you across the river and dunes to access the beach.

If you want to camp the Two Hearted River State Forest Campground is right next to the river and beach access. If you fish or kayak it’s also an excellent place to do either of these!

Getting there: Following Google can mess you up, you want to drive to the campground which is at the end of 423 or labeled as Mouth of 2 Hearted Rd. There is NO cell service up here so you either need to download offline maps of the area, screenshot, or write down the directions.

19. Buchan’s Blueberry Hill

In the Traverse City area out on Old Mission Peninsula, Buchan’s Blueberry Hill is a stand-out for blueberry picking and homemade ice cream made from local ingredients!

You better believe they make a mean blueberry-flavored ice cream! I had to try it along with the lemon but I was sad that I couldn’t also get the lavender because the sample I has was spectacular too! I can’t wait to come back again this year to get my fix!

I’m sure you don’t need any convincing, this 5th-generation family farm is a must-stop and one of the best hidden gems in Michigan!

20. Golden Harvest

golden harvest lansing restaurant sign

Golden Harvest is a diner open for brunch in Lansing, Michigan with funky and eclectic decor inside and out. If you are a foodie, this is a restaurant hidden gem in Michigan and one of the best restaurants in Lansing that you must try!

Their food is killer, the portions are massive, prices are decent, and they have a rotating specials menu with unique combinations to try.

If you come randomly during the weekends you will need to bring some patience and make sure you aren’t starving. Expect at least a 1-2 hour wait and an additional hour to get your food served. It’s such a small space that the only place you can wait is outside.

However, if you time your visit right and go during the week or get there at least 30 minutes before they open you should be able to get in without a wait.

21. Whitefish Point

driftwood on beach at whitefish point michigan

Whitefish Point is where you can find the oldest lighthouse in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s about a 1.5-hour drive from the Mackinac Bridge.

During its prime, the Whitefish Point Lighthouse was key in helping the ships pass through the most dangerous portion of Lake Michigan. Over 200 shipwrecks have happened in the area and you can learn about them at The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum next to the lighthouse.

The beach here is super beautiful and there is always a ton of driftwood that has washed up onto the shore. Lake Superior is always cold but if you can get over the initial shock the water is so clear and refreshing!

Final Word on Michigan’s Best Hidden Gems

There are so many amazing hidden gems in Michigan and I’m happy that I could share some of my favorites with you all! Have you heard of any on this list? I’m curious so let me know down below.

If you are traveling more around Michigan I have lots more guides for you to check out including these below:

Romantic Michigan getaways

Unique hotels and airbnbs in Michigan

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