Commonly called the Sunrise Side, the northeastern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is perhaps the L.P.’s most underappreciated region—a shame given the untamed beauty that abounds here. Of course, year-round residents and seasonal vacationers value the tranquility of this less-traveled place, so most are grateful that development has been slower here than in other parts of Michigan.
The area’s remarkable woods—including sizable Hartwick Pines State Park —lure a wide array of recreationists, from hikers in summer to hunters in winter, while the region’s many lakes, such as Higgins Lake south of Grayling , attract numerous anglers, boaters, and canoeists.
Wildlife enthusiasts relish Northeast Michigan, too—it’s common to spot scurrying foxes amid the underbrush, curious deer along country roads, bald eagles circling above the coves, and majestic elk stalking through the Pigeon River Country State Forest , home to the largest free-roaming elk herd east of the Mississippi River.
Although many locals live here all year long—even during the splendid, if bitter-cold, winters—more come during the summer months, escaping humid places like Chicago and Florida. Dwelling in vacation cottages that line the roads and encircle the area’s idyllic lakes, these seasonal residents spend their summers playing golf, shopping for antiques, fishing for walleye, and picking wild blueberries.
A superb way to experience the hinterlands of Northeast Michigan is, ironically, via the road. The 22-mile River Road Scenic Byway showcases the high cliffs, white pines, and wooded lakes of the Au Sable River Valley. Meanwhile, the Sunrise Side Coastal Highway (U.S. 23) stretches for 200 miles along the Lake Huron shoreline, from Standish to the Mackinac Bridge . Along the way, motorists can experience quaint coastal towns, inviting beaches, and lovely lighthouses. These stunning drives are especially wonderful in the fall, when the trees are ablaze with spectacular colors.
Situated just north of the mainland lies Mackinac Island , a nostalgic destination claimed by both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Although most of the island is preserved as a state park, about 20 percent of it has become a year-round tourist mecca, offering boat docks, historic sites, enchanting hotels, and intriguing attractions like the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House .
Since automobiles are banned here, bicycles, horses, and carriages are the preferred modes of transportation—just another facet of the island’s yesteryear vibe. Mackinac Island might be, at times, teeming with “fudgies” (a local term for tourists), but its charms are unmistakable, worth a look after exploring the wilds of Northeast Michigan.