Moving through the treetops along the nation’s longest canopy walk is totally safe. But your brain doesn’t always process it that way.
As you hang out on a cargo net a few stories above ground or peer through a glass overlook 40 feet high, there’s a “perceived sense of danger,” as if you’re constantly on the edge of falling off a cliff. There’s also a very real and exhilarating sense of adventure and discovery.
You could say the same thing about this spring in Michigan.
It’s been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And although the virus remains a risk to be taken seriously, this spring is our best chance in a long time to get out of the house and enjoy some of our state’s coolest places, like the 1,400-foot canopy walk at the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens in Midland. When you experience the thrill of getting up high in the trees – amid over 50 acres of forest, ponds, meadows and orchard – you realize in ways you never could see before that there’s just so much to explore.
We all know Detroit, our state’s biggest city, and Lansing, home of our state capitol. Maybe we’ve spent time on the west side of Michigan, anchored by Grand Rapids (a.k.a. Beer City USA), or gone “Up North” to enjoy four seasons of outdoor recreation in small towns and endless miles of wilderness.
But what do you know about Michigan’s Great Lakes Bay region?
Well, it’s where you’ll find the nation’s longest canopy walk, for one. It’s also a collection of six unique communities, each with their own personalities and one-of-a-kind attractions that you can safely visit this spring.
“As you go through Michigan you’re going to have awesome experiences. The Great Lakes Bay region really is the opportunity to experience six very different communities in a very short amount of time,” said Michael Hensley, travel marketing manager for the Great Lakes Bay Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“If you’re planning a spring road trip, you could hit all six communities if you wanted to and have a plethora of things to do throughout the region.”
Let’s take a closer look at some of the things to do in the Great Lakes Bay region. Here are six stops to make on a Michigan road trip this spring:
Bay City – The Great Lakes Bay region gets its name from Saginaw Bay, and it’s no wonder the community near the base of the bay is called “Bay City.” Bay City has a nice mix of urban and outdoor recreation to enjoy. It’s the place to book a Saginaw Bay fishing charter (and spring is the best time to hook a walleye). It’s also where you can catch a ride out into
Saginaw Bay for some incredible tall ship sailing, or cruise the Saginaw River on the Princess Wenonah. Bay City State Park features five miles of trails with a pair of 32-foot observation towers plus a nature center in one of the largest remaining freshwater, coastal wetlands in the entire Great Lakes. And the Riverwalk makes for a nice stroll or bike ride through parks and along the waterway that splits Bay City in two.
Downtown, you’ll find boutique shops, art galleries and the enormous 60,000-square-foot Bay City Antiques Center, which is Michigan’s largest antique store with more than 400 booths. Of course, there are plenty of downtown dining and drinking options, too, including the Sunrise Pedal Trolley where you can ride from place to place on a bike big enough for 16 people!
Saginaw – With a craft brewery, wine and martini bar, distillery and other watering holes, the Great Lakes Bay’s largest city is the perfect place to start a self-guided tour of the region’s many breweries and taprooms. It’s also a cultural center that’s home to the Saginaw Art Museum, which has a permanent collection of more than 2,000 objects spanning over 4,000 years, and the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, which exhibits more than 200 plaster, bronze and metal works.
Families visiting Saginaw with younger children will want to check out the Mid-Michigan Children’s Museum for tons of hands-on educational activities and the Saginaw Children’s Zoo for 10 acres of beautiful gardens, animal exhibits and a hand-carved carousel.
Saginaw also makes a great home base for an exploration of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, nicknamed the “Everglades of Michigan.” Even just driving through the refuge can expose you to lots of migratory birds. But the best ways to catch sight of bald eagles and great egrets is by booking a scenic boat tour with Johnny Panther Quests Adventure Trips.
Birch Run – With the warmer weather of spring, it’s a great time to come out of hibernation and enjoy some outdoor shopping. Birch Run Premium Outlets has more than 100 name-brand stores offering daily discounts of up to 65% off.
But shopping is just one of many things to do in Birch Run. The community offers up-close animal encounters at Wilderness Trails Zoo, which features more than 200 animals and 50 different exotic species including zebras, lions, parrots and reptiles. Kids will also have a blast at Alpine Mountain, an entertainment center with two mini-golf courses, an arcade, go karts and bumper boats. And spring is when the green flag comes out for the start of racing season at the short track Birch Run Speedway.
In addition to brand-name shops, you’ll also find lots of familiar restaurants where you can refuel during a day of activity in Birch Run. And if you’re looking for something special, be sure to check out Tony’s I-75 Restaurant where you can get a one-pound BLT loaded with bacon!
Frankenmuth – Although it’s in the middle of the Great Lakes Bay region, Frankenmuth looks and feels like you’ve gone across the pond. The community with strong German roots highlights that heritage through architecture, food and even shops. River Place Shops is a German-style outdoor mall with more than 40 stores and attractions such as a maze of mirrors. Frankenmuth also is known for Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store.
Beyond shopping, Frankenmuth is a paradise for kids with two indoor water parks and the Frankenmuth Aerial Park high-ropes course and zip line. Visitors of all ages will appreciate The Michigan Heroes Museum, a one-of-a-kind attraction that pays tribute to military veterans from our great state. And, of course, like any good town with a German influence, guest ages 21 and up won’t have any trouble finding adult beverages in Frankenmuth. In fact, Frankenmuth Brewery is the oldest brewery in Michigan, and one of many stops you can make on a 2-hour PedAle Trolley cycle tour.
Chesaning – With a population of fewer than 2,500 this charming village nestled into the countryside on the Shiawassee River offers a quiet getaway in classic small-town America.
You can slow the pace of life with a picnic along the picturesque waterfront or a relaxing round of disc golf in Showboat Park. You can browse the farm market or take a look at the
Laura Ingalls Wilder display at the Chesaning Area Historical Museum. Sit down to a peaceful dinner in a downhome restaurant such as Showboat Restaurant or the Riverfront Grille or savor dessert at The Malt Shop. Then you can spend the night in a delightful country inn or one of five cozy scrapbooking and quilting retreats.
Midland – Spring brings leaves to the trees along the canopy walk in Midland. It also brings a blooming display of more than 20,000 flowers to the beautiful Dow Gardens, and spruces up the exterior of the nearby Alden B. Dow Home & Studio where a tour of the 20,000-square-foot structure is a delight for architecture buffs and a really intriguing experience for the rest of us, too.
Spring is a great time to get outside and hike some of the 19 miles of trails at Chippewa Nature Center, a 1,200-acre haven including a visitor center with hands-on exhibits. This time of year is also when the Great Lakes Loons minor league baseball team gets back on the field at Dow Diamond, one of the best minor league stadiums in the country.
Once you decide which stops to make on your spring road trip to the Great Lakes Bay region, it’s a good idea to check on any COVID restrictions that may be in place. You can contact attractions directly or find updated information through the Great Lakes Bay Regional Convention & Visitor Bureau. Gogreat.com is the best place to plan your spring trip!
Precautions including social distancing, hand sanitizing and mask wearing are in place throughout the region to keep visitors comfortable and safe. That lets you concentrate on discovering all the extraordinary things to do in the Great Lakes Bay region.
“We have been experiencing the same thing for the last 12 months,” Hensley said. “We want to give people the chance to get out and have new experiences this spring.”