Most photographers know the best landscape spots often require more effort than the everyday tourist is willing to spend. Northern Michigan is no exception to this rule, but the effort is mostly spent in travel time. The map can be deceiving, and the weather can be unpredictable. However, the end result will be fantastic and you’re sure to find some amazing Michigan photo locations. Living in Chicago for a few years, we came to learn that a lot of Chicagoans call this part of Michigan “up north,” and it is a very seasonal travel destination. Vast state and national forests, lakes and rivers, and an impressive shoreline along Lake Michigan make this area a tourist hotspot in the Summer and Fall months. These locations are sure to remind you of the popular Pure Michigan campaign.
1) This Train is Bound for Beauty
In a somewhat hidden location outside of Traverse City, Michigan, our car rounded a corner and I caught a glimpse of this sight. Racing against time to capture the best light before sunset, we pulled the car over and I sloshed through wet marsh getting mud caked all over my new shoes. It was worth it. Taking this photo reminded me of the song This Train is Bound for Glory, but I thought the title sounded better as This Train is Bound for Beauty. It’s easy to interpret this scene in many different ways, depending on what’s happening in your life at any given time. Does it symbolize a new chapter with unknown outcomes, or a relaxing vacation with nothing on your schedule and not a worry in sight? For me, this is at the top of my list of Northern Michigan photo locations, and I hope to return here someday and experience the view again.
2) Muskegon River Fall Colors
The Muskegon River is the second largest river in Michigan, second only to the Grand River. Now a popular paddling experience, the colors along the river really pop in the fall months. Driving down Highway 131 it would be easy to speed right past this location as the standard tourist viewpoints beckon with easy roadside stops. But if you spend the time to navigate beyond the main highway, you will find this stunning and peaceful spot all to yourself. Imagine slowly canoeing down the river, with no bother of your cell phone ringing, or having to rush to that next meeting.
3) Charlevoix Lighthouse Sunset
A quaint and welcoming little town often called “Charlevoix the Beautiful,” driving into this area immediately puts a smile on my face. Art galleries and small shops line the streets, and the popular red lighthouse marks the entrance to the harbor. The sunset can be fast, so don’t waste your time or the best light will be gone in a flash. It’s a bustling spot when the weather is nice, so be patient if you want a shot without anyone in the frame. If you’re a lighthouse fanatic, check out a beautiful lighthouse along the Oregon Coast in this post, or on the shore of Oahu here.
4) Traverse City Winery Sunset
Driving north on Highway 37 from Traverse City reveals some stunning landscapes, especially at sunset. Plenty of places to stop your car along the road make this an easy and relaxing drive to take in the sights, and this Traverse City winery sunset did not disappoint. Rolling winery fields overlook the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay on the drive up to the Old Mission Lighthouse.
5) Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Recently named the Most Beautiful Place in America on Good Morning America, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore can be intimidating on a hot summer day. Rolling sand dunes that seem endless when you hike over one thinking you are about to see a majestic view of Lake Michigan, only to see another huge dune waiting for a climb. Sometimes looking the other way can give equally-inspiring views, like this shot looking over Glen Lake.
6) Joshua’s Crossing Covered Bridge
My absolute favorite of the Northern Michigan photo locations, this covered bridge will transport you to another time. Located in Lake Ann, Michigan, the bridge was built in 1995 so guests can gain access to the back side of a resort property. The interior walls are lined with half picnic tables that pull down for seating. Info on a flyer says the bridge can be rented for events – how much fun that would be! With the deep red color, an overcast or misty day makes for the best shot. I only wish the leaves had been turning colors, but that just means I will have to return another day to see this bridge in the fall.