Just a few miles southeast of Jackson  via U.S. 127 and U.S. 12, the lovely Irish Hills have long been a popular family getaway, dotted with summer cottages owned by residents of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. The area was formed during the last Ice Age, when huge ice chunks swept across the land, leaving behind a varied landscape of round kettle-hole lakes, steep valleys, and picturesque sweeping meadows. It got its name from Irish settlers who thought the region resembled their homeland.
You can enjoy the area’s natural state at W. J. Hayes State Park (1220 Wamplers Lake Rd., Onsted, 517/467-7401, daily, state park vehicle permit required). The 654-acre park, which isn’t far from the Michigan International Speedway , features two popular fishing lakes tucked amid gentle rolling hills. Facilities include a sandy swimming beach, a boat launch, a picnic area, and 185 modern campsites.
Nearby, the Cambridge Junction Historic State Park (13220 M-50, Brooklyn, 517/467-4414, hours vary, free) features the 1832 Walker Tavern, which tells the story of the spine-crunching Chicago Road, the chief route of settlement during the 1830s pioneer boom. Now a fine small state historical museum, it illustrates how travelers once piled into the tavern’s few sleeping rooms, shared beds, and passed much of their time in the first-floor bar and dining room. Daniel Webster and James Fenimore Cooper stayed here on expeditions west.