Michigan truly has it all, from exciting cities to gorgeous natural wonders to plenty of watery delights along its coastline. Among its wealth of offerings, this Midwestern destination also boasts a slew of charming towns on its two peninsulas. These pint-sized destinations — all with a population under 10,000 — are home to beautiful views, charming hotels, and stellar outdoor adventures the whole family will love.
If you’re planning a trip to the Wolverine State, here are the 13 best small towns in Michigan.
With a population under 500, Leland packs a big tourism punch for such a small town. Located on Michigan’s pinky and straddling two beautiful bodies of water — Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan — this coastal gem shines all year long. Check out Fishtown, home to historic fishing shanties that now house cool small businesses. (Tip: Don’t miss the life-changing sandwiches at Village Cheese Shanty in this area or the scenic ferry trip to the Manitou Islands.) Nearby, the best souvenirs can be found at Leland Gal, and visitors may sample locally grown wine from the Leelanau Peninsula at Verterra Winery.
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Copper Country is can’t-miss part of Michigan, and Calumet is a great base for exploring the region. This small Michigan town is located about 30 miles southwest of Copper Harbor at the very tip of Keweenaw Peninsula, famed for its rugged beauty and Lake Superior shores. The wild Upper Peninsula is renowned for its outdoor adventure offerings, and this destination certainly delivers with hiking trails and craggy coastline aplenty. Don’t skip Keweenaw National Historical Park, which pays homage to Calumet’s storied copper mining age.
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One of the most accessible small towns in Michigan, New Buffalo is just 70 miles from downtown Chicago. It’s part of the upscale southwestern shore towns of Harbor Country, sometimes called the Hamptons of the Midwest. Those looking to imbibe can check out nearby wineries on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail — New Buffalo is its southern terminus. Additionally, this small beach town offers stunning Lake Michigan views, so get out on the water with New Buffalo Sailing Excursions or Third Coast Paddling, or check out the massive public beach. Finally, nature enthusiasts will enjoy the marshy wetlands and boardwalk hikes at Galien River County Park.
Courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau
Voted the best island in the continental U.S. in Travel + Leisure‘s 2022 World’s Best Awards, this “Jewel of the Great Lakes” rests in Lake Huron, between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. A beyond charming, car-free spot, Mackinac Island has been a tourism destination for decades. While here, experience old-school grandeur at the Grand Hotel, one of America’s last remaining grand dame properties. Guests can enjoy an architecture walk through the West Bluff cottages or a themed lecture with the on-staff historian. When in town, consider sampling some of the famed Mackinac Island fudge (on its own or in ice cream form). Travelers can also experience a sunrise paddle with Great Turtle Kayak Tours, a welcome alternative to the island’s bustling bike path.
Courtesy of Pure Michigan
Located on the scenic shores of Lake Huron on Michigan’s eastern side, Tawas City and its approximately 1,800 residents have something to celebrate. This escape is ideal for travelers seeking tranquility, with a mix of small-town charm and outdoor offerings. Tawas City visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the pier, take a wine and hops trail tour, and soak in the natural beauty of Michigan’s Sunrise Coast at Tawas Point State Park, the Cape Cod of Michigan.
Though not as well-known as its Minnesotan cousin of the same name, Grand Marais is another can’t-miss on Lake Superior. A true gem of the Upper Peninsula, this historic village encompasses more than 50 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. Highlights range from waterfalls to lighthouses to trails primed for hiking and biking. Grab an epic photo at one of the best scenic spots on Lake Superior — the Log Slide overlook at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore — and learn about lighthouse history at the Light Keeper’s House Museum.
Courtesy of Craig Watson/Saugatuck Douglas Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
Another western Michigan hot spot, Saugatuck has something for everyone, with six beaches, a thriving art scene, and local eateries and breweries. This small town is part of the “art coast” of Michigan, so attractions like the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, Waterfront Invitational Art Fair, and Ox-Bow School of Art are regional highlights. For sustenance, stop into Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions for thoughtful farm-to-table fare or the James Beard-nominated Southerner for, you guessed it, a dose of Southern hospitality and cuisine.
Courtesy of Pure Michigan
An old Hemingway haunt, Petoskey is not only one of the best small towns in Michigan, but also the entire Midwest. Quintessential Petoskey stops include hunting for local stones at Petoskey State Park, exploring Michigan’s newest AVA, and sampling local preserves at beloved American Spoon. Consider a stay on nearby Walloon Lake at Hotel Walloon, voted one of the best resorts in the Midwest in T+L’s 2022 World’s Best Awards.
Courtesy of Munising Visitors Bureau
Munising is the gateway to the Upper Peninsula’s most-visited sites: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the Hiawatha National Forest. Adventure seekers will appreciate the endless opportunities for kayaking, hiking, camping, ice climbing, chasing waterfalls, and more. This town of less than 2,000 is also noteworthy for its pasties, a Michigan delicacy; Lake Superior whitefish tacos at The Duck Pond Eatery & Beer Garden; and local sips from ByGeorge Brewing Co.
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Only accessible by boat or plane, this small town on Beaver Island — the largest island in Lake Michigan — is a bit of a challenge to reach. Still, it’s well worth a visit, thanks to the iconic Beaver Island Harbor Lighthouse and Beaver Island Marine Museum. Consider an overnight stay at the Beaver Island Retreat, one of the most incredible glamping spots around, and grab a delicious bagel breakfast sandwich from Dalwhinnie Bakery & Deli the following day.
Courtesy of Pure Michigan
Empire lies in the center of one of Michigan’s most treasured destinations — Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — stunning visitors with panoramic coastline views, immersive trails, and dark skies for stargazing. Sleeping Bear is known for having the highest bluffs in all of Lake Michigan, rising 450 feet above the glistening blue waters. Hike the short Empire Bluff Trail through the beech maple forest for epic views, or rent a paddleboard or kayak from Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak. For those who prefer to sightsee from the comfort of their vehicle, the well-marked Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive provides an excellent overview of the area.
Courtesy of Pure Michigan
For a place packed with Bavarian hospitality, look no further than the small town of Frankenmuth. While this destination is a popular stop in the winter, thanks to its charming Hallmark holiday movie feel, Frankenmuth offers year-round attractions, too, including eclectic shopping, historical attractions, and outdoor adventures. Come summer, consider the sprawling zip lines and aerial ropes course at the Frankenmuth Aerial Park. Fall brings Oktoberfest, a classic German beer celebration. In the wintertime, shop at the ChristKindlMarkt, inspired by Europe’s famous Christmas markets. Spring, meanwhile, is ideal for reflecting on the past at the Frankenmuth Historical Museum.
Courtesy of St. Ignace Visitors Bureau
St. Ignace may be best known for its ferry access to Mackinac Island, which connects the Upper Peninsula to the popular tourist hub. But this tiny destination has a bevy of historic attractions, stunning beaches, and outdoor fun, too. Unique experiences abound, like shipwreck scuba diving in the Straits of Mackinac and checking out the sights from the stunning Castle Rock viewpoint. Hikers can also access the North Country Trail, one of just 11 National Scenic Trails.