Discover Michigan's Hidden Gems: A Map of the State's Protected Areas

Michigan's Unique Geography

Michigan, a state resembling a mitten, is composed of two peninsulas sandwiching the Great Lakes. The Upper Peninsula is bounded by Lake Superior in the north and Huron and Michigan to the south, while Wisconsin is its western border.

The state's legendary mitten shape was created by glaciers thousands of years ago. These glaciers sculpted the landscape, altering nearby water bodies and forming lakes, rivers, and the shape of Michigan itself, as reported in Michigan Nature.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Beaver Basin Wilderness

Michigan is a topnotch manufacturing and tourism state known for more than 11,000 lakes, surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes. The state boasts of a shoreline stretching over 3,000 miles (4,828 km), second in length to Alaska.

The Mackinac Bridge is a five-mile-long engineering wonder that connects the two peninsulas. The Lower Peninsula is part of the Great Lakes Plains that stretch from Michigan and Wisconsin to Ohio.

The region is generally flat, but visitors to the south will find low rolling hills. However, the area changes to a hilly terrain in the north, specifically the northern tableland of hilly belts. The state's lowest point is on the shore of Lake Erie, found in the Lower Peninsula.

The Upper Peninsula is level and has marshy areas in the east, while the western area is known as the Superior Upland, characterized by higher elevations and rugged terrain. The Superior Upland runs along Lake Superior and extends into the Porcupine Mountains of northwestern Michigan, where Mount Arvon, the highest point with an elevation of 1,979 feet (603 meters), is located.

Porcupine State Park Michigan

Climate and Weather

It's fascinating how the Great Lakes modify the climate of Michigan by cooling hot summer winds and warming the cold winter winds. This results in a moderate and moister climate compared to other north-central states. While the Upper Peninsula can get colder, the temperatures in the state's far northern and southern cities don't differ significantly.

In Sault Sainte Marie, in the far north of Michigan, high temperatures in January hover around the low 20s F (-6°C), while lows usually drop to about 5°F (-15°C).

Within the southeastern region of Michigan lies the bustling city of Detroit, where the winter season brings average high temperatures of around 30°F (-1°C), and an accompanying low of a chilly 20°F (-7°C).

In stark contrast, Detroit's summertime temperatures are a warm 80°F (29°C) during the day, with mid-60°F (18°C) temperatures as night falls.

Annual precipitation in the state of Michigan is typically between 30-38 inches (760-965 mm), though the southwest region sees the most rainfall, trailing off towards the northeast.

Amongst the dry places in the eastern United States lies Alpena, located in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

Michigan hosts two "snow belts" - one next to Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula, and another on the shores of Lake Michigan in the Lower Peninsula.

Flora and Fauna

The state of Michigan is home to an endless variety of plant and animal life, including numerous elusive species. Amongst the rare animals may be found gray wolves, short-eared owls, long-eared owls and Fowler's toad - many of which are endangered or threatened.

Michigan boasts a range of native plant life such as bloodroot, compass plant, common milkweed, and a variety of wildflowers. White birch and jack pines are among the native trees of the region.

Bird enthusiasts might have a chance to witness several kinds of rare birds native to Michigan, amongst them the Kirtland's warbler, one of the rarest in its species and a common prey for avid birdwatchers.

National Parks of Michigan

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale is the elongated red island located within Lake Superior, a remote and secluded location out of sight and sound from civilization. Explorers, hikers, backpackers, kayakers and scuba divers alike are invited to partake in breathtaking adventures in the scenic park.

The only means to reach Isle Royale is across the beautiful Lake Superior, via personal boat, ferry or seaplane. Once arrived, journeyers can either set up basecamp on the island, or explore different parts of the island by either paddling or hiking.

Rock Harbor Lodge houses two excellent restaurants: the Lighthouse Restaurant and the Greenstone Grill. Basic camping necessities can be purchased at the nearby camp stores in Rock Harbor and Windigo.

A total area of 850 square miles encompasses Isle Royale National Park, including submerged lands that stretch out four miles into beautiful Lake Superior - with 99% of the land having been federally designated as wilderness.

Embedded in the vast expanse of the oceanic horizon, lies an archipelago featuring numerous parallel ridges formed by ancient lava flows that have been tilted and glaciated over time. These islands also host over a hundred ponds filled with walleye, perch, and trout.

Featuring 165 miles of gorgeous hiking trails and 36 campgrounds, this place is a paradise for kayakers, backpackers, and recreational boaters. Visitors can indulge in fishing, visit historic lighthouses and shipwrecks, explore ancient copper mines, and revel in wildlife observations.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Beaver Basin Wilderness

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Beaver Basin Wilderness, distinguishable by a red stripe on the Southern shores of Lake Superior, showcase dazzling beaches, towering sandstone cliffs, serene waterfalls, clean lakes, and dense forests spread over 11,740 acres. Here, visitors can engage in hunting, hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, backpacking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, to name a few activities. The park contains three clear lakes, Beaver Lake (762 acres), Trappers Lake (45 acres), and Legion Lake (35 acres), and five cold water streams, including Arsenault Creek, Lowney Creek, Little Beaver Creek, Beaver Creek, and Sevenmile Creek. The vast wetlands and clear streams provide a stunning habitat for several species of fish, including coaster brook trout, bass, northern pike, and white sucker. Old-growth cedar swamps are crucial for supporting white-tailed deer in the area, while beech-maple woods stretching throughout the upland hardwood forests provide homes for varied mammals, birds, and flowering plants. Visitors to the area can trace the land's glacial geology, including post-glacial meltwater channels, Lake Nipissing beach ridges, and escarpments as they explore.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Michigan, marked by a red stripe on the eastern side of Lake Michigan, boasts stunning bluffs 450 feet (137 meters) above Lake Michigan, miles of sandy beaches, dense forests, and unique flora and fauna. Crystal clear lakes are an added bonus. The high dunes offer panoramic views of the area, while a lighthouse and coastal villages provide insights into the park's maritime history. There are multiple campsites to choose from, including a day camp area. The Platte River Campground provides electric hookups, showers, and modern restrooms, while the rustic D.H. Day Campground with dirt roads and vault toilets is also available. Visitors can't miss the Manitou Islands, a haven for exploration.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Michigan

Discover Michigan's State Parks and Forests

The Majestic Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Nestled on the northwestern end of the state, the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park boasts a distinctive lime green polygon that stands out along the shores of Lake Superior.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Spread across a vast area of about 60,000 acres, this state park is second to none in Michigan, featuring one of the few remaining wilderness areas in the Midwest. You'll discover a 35-thousand-acre old-growth forest, miles of streams and rivers, and gushing waterfalls to explore.

Hikers can indulge themselves in over 90 miles of scenic trails, with both modern and rustic campground options available for varying preferences. For the adventurous, there's always the backcountry camping option, perfect for those wanting to rough it out.

In summer, the shoreline of Lake Superior is a go-to destination, while the Presque Isle River corridor is perfect for unwinding amid picturesque settings.

With natural attractions like the Lake of the Clouds, it's clear why the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is a major tourist hotspot in Michigan. Visitors can take in the stunning scenery while enjoying activities such as the Porcupine Mountains Ski Area, the Summit Peak Observation Tower, and an 18-hole disc golf course.

The Stunning Huron-Manistee National Forests

The Huron-Manistee National Forest, south of Alpena on the western shores of Lake Huron, is a sprawling expanse located between the two most popular lakes of the Lower Peninsula.

Huron National Forest, Michigan

The park offers year-round recreational activities for novice and experienced outdoor enthusiasts alike. From non-motorized to motorized activities, the opportunities are limitless.

The campgrounds and trails are the most sought-after areas in the forest, with 4 nationally designated scenic and wild rivers, including the Manistee, Au Sable, Pere Marquette, and the Pine.

Further, if you fancy a rendezvous with some remarkable species, the HMNF is home to Kirtland's warbler, karner blue butterflies, pitcher's thistle, and piping plover.

During winter, you can enjoy over 600 miles of trails for snowmobiling, as well as over 300 miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Ice fishing is another all-time favorite activity during the colder months.

Ludington State Park

Also, check the calendar for designated free days where you can use the park facilities without paying the day-use fees.

Lose Yourself in Ludington State Park

The picturesque Ludington State Park is a lime green wonderland that sits between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake.

This state park offers a captivating mix of sandy beaches, beautiful sand dunes, wetlands, marshlands, and serene forests. The iconic lighthouse is a popular attraction.

Take a stroll through the extensive trail system to view a wide range of wildlife in their natural habitat. Also, indulge in the metal detecting area in the park.

Ludington State Park boasts numerous attractions, hikes, classes, and interpretive programs all year round. Visitors get an opportunity to learn about the Great Lakes, sand dunes, the history of Big Sable Point Lighthouse, and local lumber town history.

Behold Tahquamenon Falls State Park, a picturesque green polygon located in northern Michigan, nestled between Lake Superior and the Beaver Basin Wilderness. The park spans close to 50-thousand acres, encompassing over 13 miles (20.9 Km) of undeveloped woodland, devoid of roads, power lines, or buildings.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

This stunning park is centered around the Tahquamenon River and its impressive waterfalls. Of particular note is the Upper Falls, one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. The falls stretch over 200 feet (60.96 meters) across and plunge nearly 50 feet (15.24 meters), with a maximum flow of over 50,000 gallons of water per second. Four miles downstream lies the Lower Falls, where five smaller falls cascade beautifully around an island.

While not as grandiose as the Upper Falls, the Lower Falls are still incredibly picturesque, with stunning views visible from the riverbank or the island accessible by rowboat, which visitors can rent from a park concession area. The breathtaking island walk offers picturesque vantages of the falls in the south channel.

With year-round camping available, visitors can enjoy the park during any season. To ensure maximum accessibility, Tahquamenon's Track Chair is available for use, granting visitors access to areas otherwise inaccessible by traditional wheelchairs. The chairs are available on a first-come, first-serve basis and are entirely free.

Palms Book State Park, Michigan

For a delightful side trip while visiting the Upper Peninsula, be sure to check out Palms Book State Park, a tiny lime green area between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. This park is known for the Kitch-iti-kipi or the Big Spring, the state's largest freshwater spring, measuring a staggering 100 feet (30.48 meters) across and 40 feet (12.19 meters) deep. The spring flows year-round, maintaining a constant temperature of 45°F (4.44°C).

For those venturing to Michigan to explore its scenic lakes and forests, be sure to stock up on all of your outdoor essentials. Need a map to explore Michigan's protected areas? Look no further than Natural Earth Data, where you can download shapefiles for Michigan's state boundary lines, major rivers, and cities. It's also worth checking out the Parks and Public Lands shapefiles for Michigan, available on USGS.

Remember, this nature map is continually updated with new data, and you can stay informed by joining my email list! Created by Luz K. Molina with D3.js.

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