Written By: Nick Meekof
Ever since the “Pure Michigan” state advertising campaign was introduced, Mitten Pride has been flying high across the Great Lakes State. “Those who move to Michigan are often teased by locals about the purity of their new citizenship. You’re not really a true Michigander until you swim in Lake Michigan, eat a pasty in the UP, or point to your hometown on your palm.” Until you start referring to your cities as GR, Kzoo, A2, TC, and the D. There are lots of things every Michigander ought to do during their residency in the Great Lakes State, like take in a Tigers Game, try some brews from Beer City, and visit Pictured Rocks.
This list here is for the dedicated lifetimers. If you’re here for the long haul, and want to prove to your peers just how Pure of a Michigander you really are, try these on for size:
1. See the sunrise over Lake Huron and the sunset over Lake Michigan in the same day.
If you live in St. Ignace, this might be every day for you, but for the rest of us Trolls downstate, watching the sun rise and set over two different Great Lakes takes a pretty deliberate effort. A few summers back, I was camping with my family at Port Crescent State Park, and I got up early to kayak around the Thumb and watch the Huron sunrise. We drove back to Grand Rapids later that day, just in time to join some friends for a trek out to Rosy Mound for the Lake Michigan sunset. There is no better way to bookend the perfect Pure Michigan day.
2. Read “Big Two Hearted River” while drinking Two Hearted Ale on the Two Hearted River.
The Two-Hearted River was made famous by Ernest Hemingway, who spent his childhood summers and post-war excursions in the Land of Hiawatha. The wilderness waterway serves as the setting for “Big Two Hearted River,” a short story in Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories about a veteran seeking PTSD-relief through fly-fishing. The Two Hearted’s storied reputation has inspired one of Michigan’s most famous craft beers of all time, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Completing the trifecta is not easy, though. Getting to the mouth of the Two Hearted requires a harrowing journey across barren sand plains, through miles of two-track wilderness far from gas stations, cell service, or civilization. We owe a great thanks to our Upper Peninsula forests, for places like these inspired some of the greatest works of American literature ever produced.
3. Swim in a Great Lake during every month of the year.
June, July, and August are easy. Spring and Fall can be chilly, and you gotta be a downright maniac if you want to polar plunge during the winter months. It’s pretty rare when the ice doesn’t freeze over the shoreline for the duration of January & February, so you need to stick around for a few years and wait for opportune dates. I dashed through a sandstorm on a cold, windy night in November, charged through snowbanks for the January plunge, and cannonballed off icebergs for February’s swim, all in effort to complete the calendar year. Once you’ve done them all, you will feel like a badass, but this goal comes with a very serious caveat: Swimming in cold water is incredibly dangerous, and you should NEVER swim alone under these circumstances. Know your limits.
4. Journey to the “Four Corners” of Michigan
It’s the opposite of the Four Corners Monument out west. This goal comes from the expression “scattered to the four corners of the earth,” and it implies setting foot on the northeasternmost, northwesternmost, southeasternmost, and southwesternmost points in the state. Visit all of these places, and you will have truly covered some ground. Unfortunately, the only corner with easy access is the southwest, located on the beach at Michiana. The other three are located on Isle Royale in Lake Superior, Turtle Island in Lake Erie, and Sugar Island in the St. Marys River. But if locating the Four Corners was a walk in the park, it wouldn’t be on the list of Epic Pure Michigan Goals, now would it?
5. Hike or Bike the Iron Belle Trail
The Iron Belle is the longest state-designed trail in the nation, comprised of two separate hiking and biking routes that showcase 2,064 miles of rugged Michigan beauty. Beginning at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park and ending in Ironwood, the Iron Belle is an incredible way to experience a kaleidoscope of Michigan culture. The biking route winds through Motor City’s industrial Dequindre Cut, around the towering bluffs of Mackinac Island, and along the Lake Michigan shoreline beside US-2. The hiking route connects with the North Country National Scenic Trail early on, following its length through the Manistee National Forest, beside Pictured Rocks, and among the copper mine ruins of the Porcupine Mountains. As the Iron Belle gains popularity, tales of its earliest thru-hikers are certain to be highly regarded, so it’s best to start now.
6. Paddle 100 Michigan Rivers
Michigan has over 300 named rivers, and here in the Water-Winter-Wonderland, you have the luxury of never being more than 10 miles away from one. With so many waterways and so many modes to explore them, you can paddle for a lifetime without having the same adventure twice. Weeklong canoe trips down the Manistique or Au Sable will yield a stark contrast from stand-up paddleboarding on the Detroit River. Experience Class IV whitewater rafting on the Menominee, kayak over Dead River waterfalls, shoot the rapids on the Grand, and paddle the marshes of the lower Muskegon. Seek out the ones with the coolest names: Firesteel, Black Mallard, Blind Sucker, Hurricane, Laughing Whitefish. Wait for spring thaw, and kayak the unconventional: the Gun, Little Rabbit, North Branch Macatawa, Styx. Paddling 100 rivers takes time, but a lack of local options won’t be to blame for slow progress.
7. Visit 100 Michigan breweries
Michigan boasts the third most breweries of any state in the nation, and as more pop up each month, the trend continues to be exponential. 100 may sound like a large number, but it’s easier than it sounds. You can check off 22 of them without even leaving the Grand Rapids city limits, and that doesn’t take into account our beer-friendly cities like Royal Oak, Ann Arbor, Lansing, and Kalamazoo. Craft beer sources recently ranked Portland, Maine as the highest brewery-per-capita city in the nation (one brewery for every 4,000 people), which means nobody was keeping an eye on Traverse City, which boasts 13 breweries for its 15,000 residents (one brewery per 1,150 people). As of 2017, there are around 200 breweries in Michigan, but good luck trying to reach them all, as this number is rising faster than ever.
8. Explore every Michigan State Park
Michigan boasts the largest State Park system in the nation, and with a strong recreation culture around the Great Lakes region, this trend continues to grow. There are 103 State Parks in Michigan now, plus a handful of State Scenic Sites. It all began with Mackinac Island State Park in 1895 (in an interesting note of trivia, though, it was downgraded from its previous status as the nation’s second National Park), and continues to expand today with the recent establishments of Lime Island, Piers Gorge, Watkins Lake, and Rockport. The list of potential adventures is long and illustrious: Backpack the Porcupine Mountains. Hear the thunder of Tahquamenon Falls. Mountain bike the Trenches at Fort Custer. Scuba dive for lost shipwrecks at Negwegon. Shred the sand dunes at Silver Lake. Surf the winter waves at Orchard Beach. Chances are you’ve been to several of Michigan’s State Parks already, but true bragging rights are reserved for those who have seen them all.
9. Drive every Michigan state highway
It seems like every 5th car in Michigan has an M-22 sticker on the back bumper, but there are plenty of other state trunklines besides the popular northwest highway. Navigating every road in the state highway system makes for an eclectic stew of fascinating roadside experiences. M-212 runs a mere 0.7 miles through Aloha State Park, while M-28 runs the entire 290-mile length of the Upper Peninsula. M-1, Detroit’s famous Woodward Avenue, epitomizes the Motor City’s automotive culture. M-25 hugs the Lake Huron coast, rarely straying more than a quarter-mile from stunning lake views. M-57 has a brewery named after it. M-119 is haunted. M-185 doesn’t allow vehicles–only bicycle traffic on its 8-mile loop around Mackinac Island. And speaking of 8 Mile, the most famous road in Detroit has an official road code of M-102. Wikipedia has a neat list detailing all 140 Michigan state highways to consult before your next road trip.
10. Visit every Michigan city, town, and village
This is it, the grand-daddy of all Great Lakes goals. The pinnacle of Pure Michigan pride, the apex of exploration. You’ve lost track of how many sunsets you’ve taken in, you’ve bonded with Hemingway in the UP, you’ve drank more craft beer and paddled more rivers than you can count, and you’ve nailed every state park and highway across the Mitten.
You’re still not done. Your journeys have taken you from Houghton to Monroe and from New Buffalo to Sault Ste. Marie, but not quite everywhere in between. Did you drive through Cone, Pompeii, and Cheshire? What about those island communities: St. James, Payment, Sans Souci? Did you hit up all those Detroit suburbs?
Personally, I don’t believe this has ever been done before. An accomplishment of this magnitude requires an intensely deliberate effort; no occupation in the world could possibly take you through every villa in Michigan. I have a hard time believing someone who has passed through the wilderness ghost town of Triangle Ranch has also spent time in obscure hamlets like Freda, Jeddo, Cohoctah, and Barbeau.
The honor of being the first to visit every community in the state could very well be yours for the taking. Don’t settle for ordinary; get outside and be awesome! Make today your first as a legendary Pure Michigander.