The best time to visit Michigan: a season-by-season guide

The best time to visit Michigan: a season-by-season guide

Clear winter skies and ice on the Detroit River with the city skyline at sunset © David Bonyun/500px

Michigan’s abuzz with travelers every summer, with draws like the Great Lakes, charming islands and unspoiled wilderness at their most accessible. And every Michigan season comes with its own side of magic, from vibrant spring flowers and eye-popping fall foliage to an array of winter sports – and a chance to see the Northern Lights.

 Here’s our guide to help you choose the best time to visit Michigan.

High Season: May (Memorial Day) to September (Labor Day)

Best time for outdoor adventures

Michigan’s high season kicks off on Memorial Day (the last Monday in May). Adventurers are already outdoors as major draws – like kayaking along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – are in full swing. Ferries start to depart more regularly to popular spots like Beaver Island and Mackinac Island, whilst summer-only establishments – in places like Copper Harbor on the Upper Peninsula (the UP) – lift their shutters. 

The weather is mostly sunny and warm as temperatures range from 76°F (24°C) to 85°F (29°C). This means an array of summer-only outdoor activities begin: Shipwreck tours of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, cliff jumping from Marquette’s bay, kayaking to Turnip Rock and glamping in a blueberry field on the shores of the UP – not to mention hiking, biking and other sweat-inducing pursuits.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is at its most colorful from May to August, when the lake is at its most accessible too. Trekkers, however, take note: Isle Royale National Park is only open from mid-April through October. Summer (late June to late September) promises the best weather, plus moose-sighting opportunities.

The best time to visit Michigan: a season-by-season guide

Michigan's natural assets like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore draw lovers of outdoor activities © Rudy Balasko / Shutterstock

Shoulder Season: March to May, October to November

Best time for photographers

Visiting Michigan in the spring (mid-March to mid-June) is a gamble as snow has been known to fall in April and – further north – in May. During the shoulder season, the state is blissfully quiet with very few crowds, but an increasing number of restaurants, tourist attractions and tour operators close when the leaves turn, particularly in the north. While numerous restaurants, shops and attractions close in summer-centric getaways like Mackinac Island, including the Grand Hotel come November, residents do live on the island, so ferries run year-round (weather-permitting).

Few sights match the beauty of the state’s wild landscapes and national parks. Come fall (late September), photographers should seek out spots like the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness, which is often blanketed in red and copper leaves.

Michigan has another jaw-dropping autumnal attraction too: The Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. The state is far enough north for the Northern Lights to make an occasional appearance. Eagle Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula and Headlands International Dark Sky Park, near the Mackinac Bridge, are among the best places to catch a show.

Spring has its own host of captivating nature displays. Visit the city of Holland, Michigan in late-April or early-May to see the tulip fields ablaze with rows of brightly colored flowers, or head to Traverse City as its cherry blossoms transition to full bloom. Comerica Park in Detroit, meanwhile, swings into life each April as the city's Major League Baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, return for another season.

The best time to visit Michigan: a season-by-season guide

There's plenty to see and do in the cooler months, including events at Detroit's infamous Third Man Records © Aubrie Pick / Lonely Planet

Low Season: December to February

Best for winter sports

Most of Michigan's warmer-weather draws, like lighthouse tours, Great Lakes kayaking and Traverse City’s tall-ship boat excursions, have closed by December. The days are shorter and colder, keeping many tourists at bay, but those brave enough to face Michigan during its coldest months – when temperatures can drop below 0°F (-18°C) – you’ll witness a side of the Wolverine State few travelers get to see.

A host of ski resorts, such as Crystal Mountain, just outside Traverse City, start to welcome visitors. In Marquette, the Noquemanon Trail Network has 35 miles (56km) of groomed, single-track trails which soon get busy with snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Michigan also hosts the world's largest snowmobile race at Sault Ste. Marie, in the very far north of the Upper Peninsula. The International 500 Snowmobile Race is the state’s take on the Indianapolis 500.

With frozen waterfalls at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and mushing at Double JJ Resort in Rothbury, just northeast of Muskegon, there's plenty of variety for visitors throughout the winter. Not to mention cozy, come-in-from-the-cold breweries like Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo and Founders Brewing Company in Grand Rapids. One thing to note, though when visiting Michigan in the winter: the further north you go, the fewer restaurants that are open. Bring groceries, and other supplies, ​for any northerly winter trips.

January

Despite temperatures dipping below freezing, a swathe of events (both indoor and outdoor) help start the year with a bang. If you’re planning a road trip through Michigan in winter, a 4WD is recommended due to snow.

Key Events: Annual Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race, World of Winter Festival, Zehnder’s Snowfest, Tip Up Town Festival, Kalamazoo Craft Beverage Week, Ann Arbor Folk Festival
 

The best time to visit Michigan: a season-by-season guide

For a proper adventure, head to Michigan's Upper Peninsula in winter to see it as few tourists ever do © Posnov / Getty Images

February

There's plenty of snow, but for a true adventure – and a glimpse into a Michigan few tourists see – it’s hard to beat frigid February. Ice-centric adventures and events abound.

Key Events: Plymouth Ice Festival, Mackinaw City Winterfest, Annual International 500 Snowmobile Race, Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival, Great Lakes Comic-Con, The Dirty Show Detroit

March

Winter is hardly over by March, particularly in the north. Expect a mixture of snow showers and sunny spring days. In the southern part of the state, “the mitt” slowly reawakens, with a number of annual festivals.

Key Events: Southern Michigan Winter Beer Festival, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Detroit St. Patrick’s Day Parade

April

There may still be a stray snow shower, but the days begin to get longer and temperatures rise. Annual festivals return and Major League baseball restarts in Detroit, luring Michiganders outside for some warm weather fun.

Key Events: National Trout Festival, Detroit Tigers Opening Day, Detroit Music Awards, Isle Royale National Park reopens

May

April’s showers bring May flowers, including the renowned Holland Tulip Time Festival, when millions of bulbs finally bloom. It’s also wine month across the state and more than 100 wineries showcase their best blends.

Key Events: Holland Tulip Time Festival, Michigan Wine Month, National Morel Mushroom Festival

The best time to visit Michigan: a season-by-season guide

The windmill may be imported from the Netherlands, but these tulips are blooming in Holland, Michigan © Craig Sterken/Shutterstock

June

Few months can match the pleasant weather of June. Outdoor festivals and abundant blooms draw in lots of visitors as do the state's hiking trails and lakes.

Key Events: Electric Forest Festival, Festival of the Arts, Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, Michigan Challenge Balloonfest, National Strawberry Festival, Detroit River Days

July

Tourism season is in full swing come July. The crowds reach their peak – and for good reason. The weather is nearly perfect, the state’s nature is most accessible, and the warm-weather event schedule is entirely jam-packed.

Key Events: Alpenfest Gaylord, Beaver Island Music Festival, National Cherry Festival, Traverse City Film Festival, Michigan Summer Beer Festival

August

August draws Michigan travelers pining for that last taste of summer. The weather remains warm enough for outdoor excursions and lakefront adventures, with numerous food-focused festivals to enjoy the state’s fresh fare.

Key Events: Greenville Danish Festival, National Blueberry Festival, Michigan Honey Festival, Suds on the Shore Craft Beer Festival, Coast Guard Festival

September

While technically shoulder season, September in Michigan still sees a fair amount of tourism – largely due to the month’s prime leaf-peeping and food-focused events, starting with the Michigan State Fair.

Key Events: Michigan BluesFest, Michigan ElvisFest, Michigan State Fair, Romeo Peach Festival, Detroit Jazz Festival, Frankenmuth Oktoberfest, Motor City Pride

The best time to visit Michigan: a season-by-season guide

Fall brings all the color – a boon for photographers of course – here at Copper Harbor overlooking Lake Superior © dszc / Getty Images

October

Tourism winds down, but Michigan continues to impress with fall colors and pleasant autumn temperatures. October is also one of the best times to see the Northern Lights in Michigan, as increased twilight hours mean there’s ample time for those auroras to dance.

Key Events: Fresh Coast Film Festival, Motor City Comic Con, Detroit Fall Beer Festival, Capital City Film Festival

November

By November, food and brews become Michigan’s main attraction, with colder temperatures giving travelers a reason to cozy up at local establishments or grab tickets to one of the state’s many craft beer festivals.

Key Events: America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Traverse City Beer Week, International Wine, Beer, and Food Festival 

December

It may be a low month for tourism, but December kicks off Michigan’s beloved winter adventures, from snow-mobiling to skiing. Holiday events also add a dose of magic to Michigan’s chilly winter air. 

Key Events: Holly Dickens Festival, Christmas in Mackinaw, Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo

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