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Northern Michigan

Northern Lower Michigan
Northern Michigan is highlighted in light green.
Northern Michigan is highlighted in light green.
Country United States
State Michigan
 • Total 506,658
Time zone Eastern: UTC −5/−4

Northern Michigan, also known as Northern Lower Michigan (known colloquially to residents of more southerly parts of the state and summer residents from cities such as Detroit as "up north"), is a region of the U.S. state of Michigan. A popular tourist destination, it is home to several small- to medium-sized cities, extensive state and national forests, lakes and rivers, and a large portion of Great Lakes shoreline. The region has a significant seasonal population much like other regions that depend on tourism as their main industry. Northern Lower Michigan is distinct from the more northerly Upper Peninsula and Isle Royale, which, obviously, are also located in "northern" Michigan. In the northernmost 21 counties in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the total population of the region is 506,658 people.



Boundary description

Michigan Lower Peninsula Regions
Northern Michigan is at the northern tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

The southern boundary of the region is not precisely defined. Some residents in the southern part of the state consider its southern limit to be just north of Flint, Port Huron, and Grand Rapids, but more northern residents restrict it to the area north of Mount Pleasant: the "fingers" of the mitten-like shape of the Lower Peninsula. The 45th parallel runs across Northern Michigan. Signs in the Lower Peninsula that mark that line are at Mission Point Light. (just north of Traverse City), Suttons Bay, Cairn Highway in Kewadin, Alba, Michigan on U.S. 131 Highway (approximately 2 miles North of county road 42, signs on both sides of the highway), Gaylord, Atlanta and Alpena. These are six of 29 places in the U.S.A. where such signs or monuments are known to exist. One other such sign is in Menominee, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.

Definition excludes the Upper Peninsula

Across the Straits of Mackinac, to the north, west and northeast, lies the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (the "U.P."). Despite its geographic location as the most northerly part of Michigan, the Upper Peninsula is not usually included in the definition of Northern Michigan (although Northern Michigan University is located in the U.P. city of Marquette), and is instead regarded by Michigan residents as a distinct region of the state. Although, residents of the Upper Peninsula often say that "Northern Michigan" is not in the Lower Peninsula. They insist the region must only be referred to as "Northern Lower Michigan" and this can sometimes become a topic of contention between friends who are from different Peninsulas. The two regions are connected by the 5 mile long Mackinac Bridge.

Other definitions of Northern Michigan

All of the northern Lower Peninsula – north of a line from Manistee County on the west to Iosco County on the east (the second orange tier up on the map) – is considered to be part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gaylord.

Topography, climate and soil

The geographical theme of this region is shaped by rolling hills, Great Lakes shorelines including coastal dunes on the west coast, large inland lakes, numerous rivers and large forests. A tension zone is identified running from Muskegon to Saginaw Bay marked by a change in soil type and common tree species. North of the line the historic presettlement forests were beech and sugar maple, mixed with hemlock, white pine, and yellow birch which only grew on moist soils further south. Southern Michigan forests were primarily deciduous with oaks, red maple, shagbark hickory, basswood and cottonwood which are uncommon further north. Northern Michigan soils tend to be coarser, and the growing season is shorter with a cooler climate. Lake effect weather brings significant snowfalls to snow belt areas of Northern Michigan.

Glaciers shaped the area, creating a unique regional ecosystem. A large portion of the area is the so-called Grayling outwash plain, which consists of broad outwash plain including sandy ice-disintegration ridges; jack pine barrens, some white pine-red pine forest, and northern hardwood forest. Large lakes were created by glacial action.


The region has the four seasons in their extremes, with sometimes hot and humid summer days (although, mild in comparison to some parts of the south) to subzero days in winter. With the expansive hardwood forest in Northern Michigan, "fall color" tourist are found throughout the area in early to mid-autumn. When the spring rains come, many roads and bridges become impassable due to flooding or muddy to the point a four-wheel drive cannot pass. Snow fall totals can vary throughout the region due to lake-effect snow from the prevailing westerly winds off of Lake Michigan, with average yearly snow fall of 141.4" (359.2 cm) in Gaylord to 52.4" (133.1 cm) in Harrisville. Both the high and low temperature records for all of Michigan are held by communities in Northern Lower Michigan. The high is 112 °F (44 °C) set in Mio on July 13, 1936 and the low is -51 °F (-46 °C) set in Vanderbilt on February 9, 1934.


In the northern-most 21 counties in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, the total population of the region is 506,658 people.

The area was populated by many different ethnicities, including groups from New England (Maine, Vermont, New York), Ireland, Germany, and Poland. The Odawa nation is located in Emmet County.(Little Traverse Band of Odawa Indians)Native American reservations exist at Mount Pleasant and on the Leelanau Peninsula.


21 counties in Northern Michigan.
21 counties in Northern Michigan.

There are 21 counties traditionally associated with Northern Michigan:


Cities, villages, and unincorporated communities

Below is a list of cities, villages, and unincorporated communities in northern Michigan:



Summer destinations

Boating, golf, and camping are leading activities. Sailing, kayaking, canoeing, birding, bicycling, horse back riding, motorcycling, and 'off roading' are important avocations. The forest activities are available everywhere. There are a great many Michigan state parks and other protected areas which make these truly a 'pleasant peninsula.' These would include the Huron National Forest and the Manistee National Forest, plus the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (a 35-mile stretch of eastern Lake Michigan dunes) and the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness.

  • Many city dwellers from "downstate" and nearby areas (notably Chicago) have summer vacation homes in Northern Michigan. The largest resort cities in Northern Michigan are in the west on Lake Michigan, with its sandy beaches and warm bays. Popular tourist towns in Northern Michigan include Northport, Traverse City, Elk Rapids, Charlevoix, Boyne City, Petoskey, Manistee, Ludington, Bear Lake, Empire, Frankfort, Harbor Springs, and Leland. It should also be noted that there is a large wine district in the area along the Lake Michigan Shore.
  • At the top of the lower peninsula are Mackinaw City, and Mackinac Island (which lies between the Lower and Upper Peninsulas in the Straits of Mackinac).
  • Less well known and less developed is the northeastern lower peninsula along the Lake Huron shore. It offers many great vacation spots, particularly along the coast. These are, in order from south-to-north, Standish, Omer, Au Gres, Tawas City, East Tawas, Oscoda, Greenbush, Harrisville, Alpena, Presque Isle, Rogers City, Cheboygan, and points in between. Some consider these to be more 'up north' than the relatively congested west coast. Indeed, the Detroit Free Press noted that the area between Oscoda and Ossineke included beaches that are "overlooked" and among the "top ten in Michigan." This would include the area around Harrisville (and two state parks). It was noted that: "Old-fashioned lake vacations abound on this pretty stretch of Lake Huron."
  • In between the two (or three, depending on how you count) coasts, there are a large number of inland cities and lakes (Michigan has 11,037 lakes), and a varied landscape that has many rivers. Such places as Cadillac, Kalkaska, Grayling, West Branch and Gaylord are also prized summer destinations for Michiganders and visitors from other states. Among many others, Houghton Lake, Higgins Lake, Torch Lake, called Grand Lake (there are at least two in Northern Michigan) and Hubbard Lake are massive inland lake resorts that are worth exploring.
  • The Michigan Shore to Shore Riding & Hiking Trail runs from Empire to Oscoda, and points north and south. It is a 240-mile (390 km) interconnected system of trails.
  • The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a designated scenic road system connecting all of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

Non-summer destinations

Some of the downhill and Nordic skiing resorts located in the Northern Lower include Boyne Mountain, Boyne Highlands, Otsego Club & Resort (since 1939), Crystal Mountain Resort, Snow Snake Ski and Golf, Nub's Nob, Caberfae Peaks and Schuss Mountain. Some of these also serve as summer golf resorts. Frederic, Michigan is a particularly noteworthy center for cross country skiing.

Fall activities include harvest festivals, seasonal beer and wine events, and fall color tours. Hunting in Northern Michigan is a popular fall pastime. There are seasons for bow hunting and a muzzle-loader season as well as for using modern rifle season. The opening day of deer season (November 15) is a major day for some residents. Some schools close November 15, due to low attendance as a result of the opening day of deer season.

In winter, a variety of sports are enjoyed by the locals which also draw visitors to Northern Michigan. Snowmobiling, also called sledding, is popular, and with hundreds of miles of interconnected groomed trails cross the region. Ice fishing is also popular. Tip-up Town on Houghton Lake is a major ice-fishing, snowmobiling and winter sports festival, and is unique in that it is a village that assembles out on the frozen lake surface. Higgins Lake also offers good ice fishing and has many snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing trails at the North Higgins Lake State Park. Grayling and Gaylord and their environs are recognized for Nordic skiing. Cadillac is reputed to be even more popular during the winter than it is in the summer.

Other tourist attractions

The Lumberman's Monument honors lumberjacks that shaped the area, exploiting the natural resource. It is located on the River Road National Scenic Byway, which runs parallel with the Au Sable River, and is a designated National Scenic Byway for the 23 miles (37 km) that go into Oscoda. The State of Michigan has designated Oscoda as the official home of Paul Bunyan due to the earliest documented publications in the Oscoda Press, August 10, 1906, by James MacGillivray (later revised and published in The Detroit News in 1910).

Hartwick Pines State Park is a 9,672-acre (39.14 km2) state park and logging museum located in Crawford County near Grayling and I-75. It is the third largest state park on Michigan's Lower Peninsula and the state's fifth-biggest park overall. The park contains an old growth forest of white pines and red pines that resembles the appearance of all of Northern Michigan prior to the logging era. Also to be noted is Interlochen State Park, which is the oldest state park and the other remaining stand of virgin Eastern White Pine in the Lower Peninsula.

There were more than 150 past and present lighthouses around Michigan's Great Lakes coasts, including several in Northern Michigan. They serve as functioning warnings to mariners, but are also integral to the region's culture and history. See the list of Michigan lighthouses for more information on individual lighthouses.


A number of annual festivals occur in Northern Michigan including:

Festival Name Festival Location Remarks and Sources
AlpenFest and Alpenfest run/walk Gaylord gaylord chamber of commerce website otsego county parks and rec website
Art On The Beach Oscoda oscoda chamber of commerce website
Arts and Crafts shows around the state VARIOUS ]
Weyerhauser Au Sable River Canoe Marathon Grayling to Oscoda one leg of the "Triple Crown of Canoe Racing". This is one of the few pro-am canoeing events in the U.S., and winning times may be as long as 21 hours.
Bass Festival Mancelona event website
Blissfest (folk festival) Bliss Township event website
Michigan Brown Trout Festival Alpena event website
Cedar Polka Festival Cedar
Cadillac Chestnut Harvest Festival Cadillac Chestnut Harvest Festival Chestnut Harvest Festival is held every year, on the second Saturday of October
Celebration Days at Tawas Point State Park East Tawas, Michigan Michigan DNR site
Charlevoix Waterfront Art Fair Charlevoix event website 2nd weekend in August
Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac Lake Michigan [http:// SITE DESCRIPTION]
National Coho Salmon Festival Honor event website.
Dulcimer FunFest Evart event website.
Petoskey Festival on the Bay Petoskey event website.
Firemen's Memorial Festival Roscommon event website.
Freedom Festival East Jordan East Jordan Chamber website landing page
Great Lakes Bioneers Conference  ??? event website
Great Lakes Lighthouse Festival Alpena event website According to Tim Harrison, Editor in Chief & Publisher of Lighthouse Digest Magazine and President of American Lighthouse Foundation states "There is no other festival like it in the United States. . ."
Harrisville Arts & Crafts Show aka "Harmony Weekend" Harrisville Labor Day weekend
Hoxeyville Music Festival South Branch Township, Wexford County, Michigan event website
Kirtland Warbler Festival Roscommon County, Michigan Kirtland Community College event website
Leeland Wine & Food Festival Northport event website
Mackinac Island Fudge Festival Mackinac Island event website
Mackinac Island Lilac Festival Mackinac Island event website
Mackinac Island Music Festival Mackinac Island event website
Mushroom Festival Mesick event website
National Cherry Festival Traverse City
Traverse Bay Farms Salsa Bar Festival Elk Rapids/Bellaire
National Forest Festival Manistee Manistee County Chamber of Commerce website
National Morel Mushroom Festival Boyne City event website
National Trout Festival Kalkaska event website end of April
Nautical Festival Rogers City event website
North American Snowmobile Festival Cadillac
Northport's Harbor Day (and July 4 Celebration) Northport
Paul Bunyan Festival & Great Lakes Chainsaw Carving Competition Oscoda Oscoda Chamber of Commerce
Polish Festival Boyne Falls event website
Port Huron to Mackinac Boat Race Lake Huron ends on Mackinac Island
Posen Potato Festival Posen Posen Chamber of Commerce
Salmon Slam Northport, Michigan
Scottville Harvest Festival Scottville
Timberfest Lewiston Lewiston Area Chamber of Commerce
Tip-Up Town (ice fishing festival) Houghton Lake event website
Traverse City Film Festival Traverse City
Venetian Festival Charlevoix event website
WinterFest and Kalkaska Includes a sled dog race
World Famous Labor Day Fish Boil Northport, Michigan

History of Northern Michigan

Pre-colonial era: itinerant Native American tribes

Map showing the approximate location of major tribes and settlements around 1648.
Map showing the approximate location of major tribes and settlements around 1648.
Map of Iroquois expansion during Beaver Wars 1638-1711. The fur trade allowed the Iroquois to purchase dominant European weapons and take over lands of many tribes in the Great Lakes.
Map of Iroquois expansion during Beaver Wars 1638-1711. The fur trade allowed the Iroquois to purchase dominant European weapons and take over lands of many tribes in the Great Lakes.

For years before French and English governments arrived, Northern Michigan was seasonally inhabited by itinerant Native American tribes. Northern Michigan was the southern extent of the area thought to belong to prehistoric inhabitants known as the Laurel Complex. This area was used by the Hopewell Indian exchange system which is named after a tribe that existed in the Great Lakes region. Menominee tradition indicates its original homeland was farther north near Sault Ste. Marie and Michilimackinac. At some period before European contact (probably around 1400), they were forced southwest to the Menominee River by arrival of the Ojibwe and Potawatomi from the east. Ottawa history written by Andrew Blackbird records that Emmet County was thickly populated by a race of Indians that they called the Mush-co-desh, which means "the prairie tribe". The Mush-co-desh had an agrarian society and were said to have "shaped the land by making the woodland into prairie as they abandoned their old worn out gardens which formed grassy plains". Ottawa tradition claims that they slaughtered from forty to fifty thousand Mush-co-desh and drove the rest from the land after the Mush-co-desh insulted an Ottawa war party. Most recently, Anishinaabe/Algonquian(Ojibwa, Potawatomi and Odawa), calling themselves the Council of Three Fires, inhabited areas surrounding the straits in the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan as well as in Canada along Lake Huron.

French and English Colonial eras: fur trade and exploration based at the Straits

Much of New France's "Pays d'en Haut" (Upper Country) remained unexplored in the mid-1600s; Nicolas Sanson d'Abbbeville's 1650 map was the first to show all five Great Lakes
Much of New France's "Pays d'en Haut" (Upper Country) remained unexplored in the mid-1600s; Nicolas Sanson d'Abbbeville's 1650 map was the first to show all five Great Lakes

Initial colonial influence on Natives: French exploration and Beaver Wars

In 1608, Samuel de Champlain established Quebec as part of New France, and sent coureur des bois such as Étienne Brûlé into the woods to establish relations with the Indians. Around 1615 or 1616, Champlain traveled to Georgian Bay via the French River and met Ottowa and Huron Indians near Manitoulin Island. The French established the North American fur trade with Indian tribes. In the decades that followed, French explorers and missionaries continued to explore the "Upper Country" of New France that included the Upper Great Lakes. In 1634, Jean Nicolet passed through the straits of Mackinac on the way to Wisconsin. While France colonized the interior lands along the St. Lawrence River, Dutch and English began colonizing the East Coast, setting up fur trade and thereby arming the Iroquois to the east. This led to the brutal Beaver Wars, as the Iroquois pushed west into the Great Lakes and displaced the tribes who had settled there before. As a result of an Iroquois attack and dispersal of the Hurons from Southern Ontario in 1649, the Hurons settled in Michilimackinac. in 1651. In 1668 the French established a mission at Sault Ste. Marie. When the Beaver Wars concluded in the 1660s and 1670s, the Potawatami had fled from northern Michigan and Anishinaabe/Algonquian(Ojibwa, Potawatomi and Odawa), calling themselves the Council of Three Fires, were the main tribal authority in the area.

Jesuit Mission at St. Ignace (1671-1696)

After taking refuge at Michilimackinac during the Beaver Wars, many Wyandot (Hurons) migrated to Detroit, Windsor, and northern Ohio in the early 18th century.

Jesuit Father Marquette set up a mission in St. Ignace in 1671. While the Beaver Wars raged on, Marquette evangelized the Indians, planted a large cross in Cross Village and established a mission in L'Arbre Croche ("Crooked Tree," now known as Harbor Springs). From May 17, 1673 until Marquette's death near Ludington May 18, 1675, Father Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored and mapped Lake Michigan and the northern portion of the Mississippi River. In 1679, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle and Father Louis Hennepin set out on Le Griffon to find the Northwest Passage, making Le Griffon the first known sailing ship to sail in Northern Michigan, They sailed across Lake Erie, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan through uncharted waters that only canoes had previously explored. After Marquette's death, the mission was taken over by Father Phillip Pierson, and then Father Nouvel. Father Henri Nouvel was "superior of the Ottowa mission", a position he would hold from 1672 to 1680 (with a two-year break in 1678-1679), and again from 1688 to 1695. Under Nouvel, a new chapel was built in approximately 1674, and by 1683 the mission was so successful and prosperous that three priests, Fathers Nicholas Potier, Enjalran, and Pierre Bailloquet, were assigned there. The establishment of a French garrison at St. Ignace in 1679 wound up souring relations between the French and the local population.

1680s: Fortification (Fort de Buade) at St. Ignace

In 1683, Governor Joseph-Antoine de La Barre ordered Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut and Olivier Morel de La Durantaye to establish a strategic presence on the north shore of the Straits of Mackinac, connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron of the Great Lakes. They fortified the Jesuit mission at St. Ignace and La Durantaye settled in as overall commander of the French forts in the northwest: Fort Saint Louis des Illinois (Utica, Illinois); Fort Kaministigoya (Thunder Bay, Ontario); and Fort la Tourette (Lake Nipigon, Ontario). He was also responsible for the region around Green Bay in present-day Wisconsin. In the spring of 1684, La Durantaye led a relief expedition from Saint Ignace to Fort Saint Louis des Illinois, which had been besieged by the Seneca as part of the Beaver Wars as they sought to gain more hunting ground to control the lucrative fur trade. That summer and again in 1687, La Durantaye led coureurs de bois and Indians from the Straits against the Seneca homeland in upper state New York. During these years, English traders from New York penetrated the Great Lakes and traded at Michilimackinac. This, and the outbreak of war between England and France in 1689, led to the construction of Fort de Buade in 1690 by the new commandant Louis de La Porte de Louvigny.

1690s: Cadillac at Fort de Buade; St. Ignace Fort and Mission later abandoned

In the 1690s, Fort de Buade commander Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac used Fort de Buade as a base of operations to explore and map the Great Lakes. Cadillac left St. Ignace in 1697 and the Jesuits vacated their residence and church by 1705

The Beaver Wars ended when the Great Peace of Montreal was signed in 1701 in Montreal by the French and 39 Indian chiefs including Kondiaronk (the chief of the Mackinaw-area Hurons).When Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac left the area to found Detroit in 1701, bringing many of the St. Ignace residents with him, the importance of the mission declined dramatically.

Early 1700s: Fort Michilemackinac established as a New France outpost

Map of French and British North American possessions in the early 18th century. After ceding Hudson's Bay to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht, France built forts like Fort Michilimackinac to protect New France fur trade from the British Hudson's Bay Company.
Map of French and British North American possessions in the early 18th century. After ceding Hudson's Bay to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht, France built forts like Fort Michilimackinac to protect New France fur trade from the British Hudson's Bay Company.
Northern Michigan as shown on a 1755 Map of New France showing various islands, land features, rivers, and settlements. (In French, "I. du Castor" means Beaver Island, "L'ours qui dort" means The Bear That Sleeps, and "ance au tonnerre" means Thunder Bay). The map also shows several rivers that exist today with similar names: Rue Aux Buscies, and Rue d'Oulamanittie, Rue du Pierre Marquet.
Northern Michigan as shown on a 1755 Map of New France showing various islands, land features, rivers, and settlements. (In French, "I. du Castor" means Beaver Island, "L'ours qui dort" means The Bear That Sleeps, and "ance au tonnerre" means Thunder Bay). The map also shows several rivers that exist today with similar names: Rue Aux Buscies, and Rue d'Oulamanittie, Rue du Pierre Marquet.

The St. Ignace mission remained open until 1705, when it was abandoned and burned by Father Étienne de Carheil. It was reopened in 1712, and operated on the north shore of the Straits until 1741, when it was relocated to the south shore. With the relocation of the mission, the exact location of Marquette's chapel was lost.

In 1712, at the beginning of a 25-year war between the French and the Fox tribe, Canadian Governor Philippe de Rigaud de Vaudreuil sent Constant le Marchand de Lignery to reoccupy the former post of Michilimackinac, which had been abandoned by royal orders in 1696.

Around 1715 (during the First Fox War), the French re-established a Northern Michigan military outpost at a new site on the northern tip of the lower peninsula and called it Fort Michilimackinac; this location became the new locus for fur and other trade, and mission work with the natives.

Lignery returned to the command of Michilimackinac in 1722 after an absence of about three years fighting the Fox in Illinois and carried out the wishes of governor acting Governor Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil and (starting in 1726) New France governor Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois.

From 1720 to 1722, Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix stopped at Michilimackinac and other points in Northern Michigan while seeking a Pacific Ocean passage. In 1728, fur trader Augustin Langlade obtained a fur trading license at Michilimackinac in 1728. He and his half-Ottawa son Charles Michel de Langlade (born at the fort in 1729) would go on to heavily influence the Northern Michigan fur trade as well as French relations with Great Lakes tribes during the 1712 to 1733 Fox Wars and the 1754–1763 French and Indian War.

By 1745, Odawa had created settlements down the coast of Lake Michigan into the Grand Traverse Bay area, with an approximate population between 1,550 and 3,000. This population varied with the seasons, as the tradition was to migrate inland to different camps (sometimes as far as to Illinois) depending upon the season. Some Ojiubwe bands also shared the Grand Traverse Bay region with the Odawa.

In 1751, a Jesuit Mission to the Odawa was established in Manistee.

1760s: Beginning of the British era

In the 1760s after the French and Indian War, the British took control of the Straits of Mackinac, but not without some resistance from the Natives. A majority of white residents at Fort Michilimackinac were killed by Ojibwe and Sauks on June 2, 1763 as a part of the Pontiac's War (1763–1766). Alexander Henry the elder, one of the survivors, was kidnapped to Beaver Island but rescued by the Odawa Wawatam. A more substantial British fort was built (Fort Mackinac) in 1780.

Although Fort Mackinac at Mackinac Island was ceded by Britain to the newly independent United States in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the British Army refused to evacuate the posts on the Great Lakes until 1796, when the forts at Detroit, Mackinac, and Niagara were handed over to the Americans. British and American forces contested the area throughout the War of 1812, and the boundary was not settled until 1828, when Fort Drummond, a British post on nearby Drummond Island, was evacuated.

1780s to 1830s: United States territorial acquisition, continued fur trade, and territorial disputes

The entire Straits area was officially acquired by the United States from the British through the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and settlement permitted by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. However, much of the British forces did not leave the Great Lakes area until after 1794, when Jay's Treaty established U.S. sovereignty over the Northwest Territory with Northern Michigan part of "Knox County". Between 1795 and 1815 a system of Métis (descendants of indigenous women who married French (and later Scottish) fur trappers and traders) settlements and trading posts was established throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, and to a lesser extent in Illinois and Indiana. As late as 1829 the Métis were dominant in the economy of Wisconsin and influential in Northern Michigan in part because they were able to work as intermediaries between natives and white fur traders. US settlement of the Michigan Territory (established in 1805) was punctuated by misunderstandings with Native Americans over land ownership. Meanwhile, in 1804, Mackinac Island was the center of the American fur trade. Gurdon Saltonstall Hubbard was one of many of John Jacob Astor's trappers and voyageurs who plied the waters of the Great Lakes in Mackinaw boats and collected pelts to be sold in Europe. As US Congress passed trade and intercourse acts to regulate trade with the natives, the Office of Indian Trade established a US Trading Post "factory" at Mackinaw that was in place until the War of 1812. One of the first engagements of the War of 1812, the Siege of Fort Mackinac was conducted by British and Native American. They captured the island soon after the outbreak of war between Britain and the United States. Encouraged by the easy British victory, more Native Americans subsequently rallied to their support. Native American cooperation was an important factor in several British victories during the remainder of the war. For the rest of 1812 and 1813, the British hold on Mackinac was secure since they also held Detroit, the territorial capital, which the Americans would have to recapture before attacking Mackinac. After the September 1813 Battle of Lake Erie, the British abandoned Detroit leaving an opportunity for the Americans try to retake the waters of Northern Michigan. In July 1814, as Commander of Fort Mackinaw Robert McDouall was struggling to supply war efforts Siege of Prairie du Chien, Americans attacked Mackinaw in July 1814 during the Battle of Mackinac Island. The Americans failed to take over the post, and the British held Mackinac Island until the peace in 1815, after which it was re-occupied by the US.

Mackinaw Island continued to be a locus of trade for the American Fur Company and was the site where Army doctor William Beaumont became Post surgeon in 1820 and began conducting his famous digestion experiments on 19-year-old Alexis St. Martin between 1822 and 1833. Mackinaw Island was also the site where Henry Schoolcraft located his US Indian Agent headquarters starting in 1833. Following the 1830 Indian Removal Act, Schoolcraft negotiated the 1836 Treaty of Washington which opened up the land north of Grand Rapids for unequivocal legal ownership and settlement of lands in Northern Michigan, with provision that land sales would provide some monetary means to fund skills training for the Natives to assimilate to "civlized" life.

Despite the presence of fur trade, US military and Indian offices, and various tradesmen, the settled population of Michilimackinac (defined as all the settlements from Saginaw to Green Bay) was between 800 and 1000 for the time period between 1820 and 1840.

Early coastal settlements in the 1830s through 1850s

Tourist's Pocket Map Of Michigan (Samuel Augustus Mitchell, 1835)
The 1835 Tourist's Pocket Map Of Michigan by S. Augustus Mitchell shows the relatively undeveloped Northern Michigan even as a steamboat route operated between Detroit and Chicago via Michilimackinac.
2016 0208 Tourist Pocket Map inset1
This inset image from the 1835 Tourist's Pocket Map Of Michigan lists the stops taken along the 980-mile steamboat route between Detroit and Chicago via Michilimackinac. Northern Michigan stops (between miles 197 and 519) included Thunder Bay Isles, Sandy Bay Islands, Presqu' Isle, Bois Blanc Island, Mackinac Island, and Beaver Island.
Northern Michigan islands, rivers, and shore landmarks featured prominently on this 1835 Tourist's Pocket Map Of Michigan.
Northern Michigan islands, rivers, and shore landmarks featured prominently on this 1835 Tourist's Pocket Map Of Michigan.
In the 1836 Treaty of Washington, Michigan tribes ceded claims to lands in the yellow (Royce No. 205) area above -- covering eastern Upper Peninsula and the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the United States-- and opened it to settlement.
In the 1836 Treaty of Washington, Michigan tribes ceded claims to lands in the yellow (Royce No. 205) area above -- covering eastern Upper Peninsula and the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the United States-- and opened it to settlement.
As settlers arrived between 1840 and 1853, the state broke up the single Michilimackinac County and established platted counties across Northern Michigan. This 1853 map by S. A. Mitchell shows an improved understanding of the contours and inland lakes and streams of Northern Michigan based on recent land surveys.
As settlers arrived between 1840 and 1853, the state broke up the single Michilimackinac County and established platted counties across Northern Michigan. This 1853 map by S. A. Mitchell shows an improved understanding of the contours and inland lakes and streams of Northern Michigan based on recent land surveys.

Decline of Mackinaw and fur trade

By the 1840s, the American Fur Company was in steep decline as silk hats replaced beaver hats in European fashion. The straits of Mackinaw declined in influence as government offices moved towards the capital at Detroit. While fishing slightly increased, the loss of the fur industry dealt a blow to the Michilemackinac's economic significance.

Increased ship traffic along Northern Michigan coasts

The Erie Canal opened in 1825, allowing settlers from New England and New York to reach Michigan by water through Albany and Buffalo. This route opening and the incorporation of Chicago in 1837, increased Great Lakes steamboat traffic from Detroit through the straits of Mackinaw to Chicago. While the coastal areas were travelled, practically nothing was known about the interior parts of Northern Michigan. When Michigan became a state in 1837, one of its first acts was to name Douglass Houghton as the lead of the Michigan Geological Survey, an effort to understand the geological and mineralogical, zoological, botanical, and topographical aspects of the lesser known parts of Michigan. Early settlers came to the coasts along Northern Michigan, including fishermen, missionaries to the Native Americans, and participants in early Great Lakes maritime industries such as fishing, lighthouses, and cutting cordwood for passing ships. In 1835, Lieutenant Benjamin Poole of the 3rd U.S. Artillery. surveyed a former Indian path between Saginaw and Mackinac that would become known as the Mackinac Trail.

Indian missions

Missions to Native Americans included Rev. Peter Dougherty and Rev. John Fleming's 1839 Presbyterian mission on the Old Mission Peninsula, William Montague Ferry's Presbyterian-affiliated 1825 Mission House / Mission Church on Mackinaw Island, Magdelaine Laframboise and Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli's Catholic Sainte Anne Church on Mackinaw Island in 1830, Frederic Baraga Francis Xavier Pierz and Ignatius Mrak's Catholic mission to the people of the Chippewa and Ottawa at L'Arbre Croche and Peshawbestown (on the Leelanau Peninsula), Peter Greensky's Methodist Greensky Hill church founded near the Little Traverse Bay in 1844, and an 1848 congregationalist mission founded by Chief Peter Waukazoo and Reverend George Smith in Northport (on the Leelanau Peninsula). The Strangite Mormon community move to Beaver Island in 1848 brought additional conflicts as the Mormon leaders sought to enforce laws and restrict use of alcohol on the Beaver Archipelago.

Fishing settlements

Key fishing settlements included "Fishtown" in Leland, Michigan and the Beaver Island Archipelago.


Early Northern Michigan lighthouses included Thunder Bay Island Light (1831), Old Presque Isle Light (1840), South Manitou Island Lighthouse (1840), DeTour Reef Light (1847), Waugoshance Light (1851), Grand Traverse Light (1852), Tawas Point Light (1853), Beaver Island Harbor Light (1856), Beaver Island Head Light (1858), and Point Betsie Light (1858).

While the United States Lifesaving Service did not establish a system of Great Lakes Lifeboat stations on the Great Lakes until the 1870s, some volunteer stations, such as the North Manitou Island Lifesaving Station were created as early as 1854.

Tension between White settlement and Native American land claims

In the 1836 Treaty of Washington, Michigan tribes ceded claims to land in Northern Michigan—and opened it to settlement. In the 1840s, Odawa villages lined the Lake Michigan shore, especially from present-day Harbor Springs to Cross Village. The area on the tip of the peninsula was mostly reserved for native tribes by treaty provisions with the U.S. federal government until 1875. Early government had been centered around Mackinaw Island and St. Ignace, but between 1840 and 1853, the state broke up this single large Michilimackinac County and established names and boundaries of ~21 counties across Northern Michigan. This naming and surveying allowed platted lands to be sold at the Land Office. Increased white immigration and homesteading in Northern Michigan brought difficulties in dispatching of Native American land claims stemming from the treaty of 1836. Bands of Chippewa and Odawa Indians sought redress through the Treaty of 1855; by this 1855 treaty agreement, lands and payments would be set aside for individual Native American families relateed to the 1836 treaty, but after this treaty, the US would cease to owe anything ("land, money or other thing guaranteed to them") to Indians or their tribes.

1860s to 1890s: Homestead Act settlements and industrial developments

Starting in the 1870s, railroads connected Northern Michigan to lower cities.
Starting in the 1870s, railroads connected Northern Michigan to lower cities.

Increased settlement and establishment of port cities

Now that the land was surveyed and outstanding native land claims eliminated, Northern Michigan settlement increased even further. The Homestead Act of 1862 brought many Civil War veterans and speculators to Northern Michigan, by making 160 acre tracts of land available for $1.25 an acre. The cutting of wood for passing ships morphed into a full-fledged lumber industry, contributing to the rise of port cities like Manistee, Traverse City, Charlevoix, and Ludington.

From 1836-1848, much of the Manistee River Valley, including Manistee itself, was an Ottawa Reservation. During the lumbering era of the late 1800s, Manistee became a significant site for lumber mills. Huge numbers of white pine logs were floated down the river to the port at Manistee and eventually on to the lumber markets of Grand Rapids, Milwaukee and Chicago.

1870s: Arrival of rail infrastructure, rampant lumbering and fishing, and economic slowdown

Starting in the 1870s, railroad were built connecting Northern Michigan to larger industrial areas to the south. The Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad reached Traverse City in December 1872 (via Walton Junction and Traverse City Rail Road Company) and reached Petoskey (known up to that point as "Bear River") in 1873. The Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad completed its terminal at Ludington in 1874. While the Michigan Central Railroad reached Otsego County in the fall of 1872, rail investments slowed for several years due to the financial panic of 1873 and the ensuing five year economic slowdown. Cheboygan and Mackinaw City did not have rail service until the early 1880s.

Despite setbacks from the Great Michigan Fire in 1871 in Manistee and other lumbering ports, lumbering in Northern Michigan greatly increased. New mechanical tools such as steam-powered (versus water-powered) sawmills and circular saws expanded the ability to process high volumes of lumber quickly. Narrow-gauge moveable rails made it possible to harvest timber year round, in previously inaccessible places away from rivers. The Michigan lumber market experienced a crash in July 1877 that coincided with the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. By 1880 the Great Lakes region would dominate logging, with Michigan producing more lumber than any other state.

The commercial fishing industry also flourished in the 1880s. By 1881, the rich fishing areas around the Beaver Archipelago led to Beaver Island becoming the largest supplier of fresh-water fish in the United States. By 1886, there was a drastic reduction in the amount of fishing produced, due to overfishing. In 1893, the Michigan Fish Commission commissioned the University of Nebraska Zoologist Henry Ward to study the sources of food for Traverse Bay area fish.

Alabama bird day book (1915) (14751712302)
Passenger Pigeons were hunted to extinction sometime after the 1870s, with the last large nesting in Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878.

The passenger pigeon was hunted in Northern Michigan as a source of food, but by the 1870s, a combination of increased population and economic scarcity led to over-hunting and eventual extinction. The massive flocks of passenger pigeons stopped darkening the skies of Northern Michigan, especially after the last large scale nestings and subsequent slaughters of millions of birds in 1874 and 1878. By this time, large nestings only took place in the north, around the Great Lakes. The last large nesting was in Petoskey, Michigan, in 1878 (following one in Pennsylvania a few days earlier), where 50,000 birds were killed each day for nearly five months. The surviving adults attempted a second nesting at new sites, but were killed by professional hunters before they had a chance to raise any young. Scattered nestings were reported into the 1880s, but the birds were now weary, and commonly abandoned their nests if persecuted.

1880s: Emergence of resort and vacation industry

Rail connections to the large midwestern cities through rail centers like Kalamazoo led to settlers immigrating and wealthy resorters establishing summer home associations in Bay View Association near Petoskey, the Belvedere Club in Charlevoix, and other lakeside getaways. Starting in 1875 (until 1895) the 1,044-acre (422 ha) Mackinac National Park became the second National Park in the United States after Yellowstone National Park in the Rocky Mountains.

Sport fishing

After being used for floating logs in previous decades, the Au Sable River in the 1880s became famous for fishing -- first for grayling, and later for brook trout and brown trout
Arctic Grayling Thymallus arcticus arcticus
Lumbering practices destroyed Arctic Grayling breeding grounds in rivers and led to their slow decline, and the sport fishing industry also contributed to the grayling's eventual disappearance from Northern Michigan.

Sport fishing along the Au Sable River became a tourist attraction for wealthy sportsmen from Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Toledo, Indianapolis, and Chicago. After the Jackson, Lansing and Saginaw Railroad reached Grayling in the late 1870s, it began to advertise hunting and fishing trips in Crawford County, home of the arctic grayling. In the same way, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railway published a "Guide to the Health, Pleasure, Game and Fishing Resorts of Northern Michigan reached by the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad" in 1882. In 1880, Ansel Judd Northrup, a lawyer from New York, published a detailed account of his train trip to fish Northern Michigan, and he assessed the Au Sable, Manistee River, Cheboygan River, Pigeon River, and Jordan River for trout and grayling fishing. The state of Michigan, having created a Board of Fish Commissioners in 1873, stocked rivers with whitefish, black bass, and non-native species such as California salmon, California trout, German carp, and brook trout. The Board of Fish Commissioners created its first fish hatchery at Crystal Springs Creek in Pokagon, Cass County, Michigan and shipped rail cars full of small fish to streams across Michigan. As the grayling vanished from the Au Sable, Manistee and other rivers, the state propped up the Northern Michigan fishing industry with non-native brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout(steelhead. Ultimately, the Arctic grayling that had inhabited much of Northern Michigan was eventually wiped out. The logging practice of using river beds to move logs in the springtime destroyed the breeding grounds for these fish. Before they could recover, non-native sport fish such as brook trout took over the grayling's habitat and made them disappear from northern Michigan.

Industrial growth and diversification

Boyne SE RR Map
As the lumber industry declined, rail lines such as the BCG & A Railroad (1915) helped to access remote inland tracts of timber.

The effect of rail connections was ultimately transformative; timber and other goods could be produced in the north and shipped to urban markets to the south. Diverse industries developed, such as iron works, tanneries, mills, cement plants, and agricultural enterprises. By 1885, the intense harvesting and export of pine trees led to visible decline in the lumber industry's ability to produce white pine. Logging in Michigan peaked in 1889. Where available, hardwoods and hemlock were harvested, temporarily extending the life of lumbering in the area, especially around East Jordan, the Traverse Bay, and near Crawford County. William Howard White's lumber railroad (Boyne City, Gaylord & Alpena Railroad Company), David Ward's Detroit and Charlevoix Railroad, and the East Jordan and Southern Railroad enabled access to remote timber areas. As lumbering declined, rail lines began to promote Northern Michigan as a "fresh air" resort destination, and the logging companies promoted their cut-over, stump-filled tracts for their agricultural potential.

20th century: resort era

Early resorts

The resort era flourished in lakeside areas of Northern Michigan even as the fishing and lumbering industries experienced slow decline. Historian Bruce Catton's memoir Waiting for the Morning Train (1972) documents his personal experiences of early 20th-century life in a small Northern Michigan town as Michigan's logging era was ending. Ernest Hemingway also documented turn-of-the-century life in Northern Michigan through his "Nick Adams" stories; Hemingway's own parents were resorters, wintering in Oak Park, Illinois but summering in the Windemere cottage on Walloon Lake starting in 1899.

State parks

As lumbering died down, many parts of Northern Michigan returned to their forested state through conservation efforts. The Huron National Forest was set aside in 1909. and the Manistee National Forest was set aside in 1938. State parks were established as well, to include:

Ski resorts

Hanson Hills in Grayling was the first down hill ski area in Michigan. It opened in 1929 and was served by rail service.Caberfae Peaks Ski & Golf Resort near Cadillac opened in 1938 and was served by rail service. Boyne Mountain Resort opened in 1948. Crystal Mountain in Benzie County opened in 1956. Nub's Nob opened in 1958 near Harbor Springs.

Decline of rail

As passenger railroad usage ended in the 1960s (due in part to increased automobile travel), aggressive promotion of Northern Michigan by local chambers of commerce led to many of the festivals and attractions that bring visitors north even today.


Transportation by air

Airports serving Northern Michigan include MBS International Airport near Freeland, Pellston Regional Airport, Traverse City Cherry Capital Airport and Alpena County Regional Airport in the Lower peninsula. Depending on one's destination, Chippewa County International Airport in Sault Ste. Marie, in the eastern Upper peninsula might be a viable alternative. Grand Rapids and Bishop airport at Flint (although neither is within the area) also have scheduled service proximate to parts of the region. The Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport is now a public airport which gives 24-hour near-all-weather service for general aviation.

Transportation by water

Several ferries still operate in the region.

The largest bridge in Northern Michigan is the Mackinac Bridge connecting Northern Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. The second largest is the Zilwaukee Bridge.

Transportation by land

On land, Michigan is a unique travel environment. Consequently, drivers should be forewarned: travel distances should not be underestimated. Michigan's overall length is only 456 miles (734 km) and width 386 miles (621 km) – but because of the lakes those distances cannot be traveled directly. The distance from northwest to the southeast corner is 456 miles (734 km) "as the crow flies". However, travelers must go around the Great Lakes. For example, when traveling to the Upper Peninsula, it is well to realize that it is roughly 300 miles (480 km) from Detroit to the Mackinac Bridge, but it is another 300 miles (480 km) from St. Ignace to Ironwood.

Likewise direct routes are few and far between Interstate 75 (I-75) and M-115 do angle from the southeast to the northwest), but most roads are oriented either east–west or north–south (oriented with township lines set up under the Land Ordinance of 1785).

Automobile roads

US Highway 131 map
US-131 (in red), US-23 (in orange), and I-75 (in blue) are three primary highways bringing downstate automobile traffic to Northern Michigan.
The SS Badger connects the Wisconsin and Michigan segments of US 10
Grandview Parkway Traverse City
The Grandview Parkway in Traverse City serves as a bypass of downtown, and, in total, carries four different highways along its length: US-31, M-22, M-37, & M-72

The primary means of transportation in Northern Michigan is by automobile. Northern Michigan is served by one Interstate, and a number of U.S. Highways and Michigan state trunklines.

  • I-75 runs northwest–southeast through the region between the Flint/Tri-Cities area and Mackinac Bridge at Mackinaw City, which leads on to the Upper Peninsula.
  • US 10 enters Michigan after it crosses Lake Michigan from Manitowoc to Ludington. US 10 runs from Ludington through Baldwin and Reed City before it becomes a freeway west of US 127 near the junction with M-115. US 10 bypasses Midland and terminates at I-75 in Bay City.
  • US 23 runs northward for about 200 miles (320 km) along (or parallel with) the Lake Huron shoreline as the Sunrise Side Coastal Highway from the Flint/Tri-Cities area.
  • US 31 mainly parallels the Lake Michigan shore from the Ludington area north to Mackinaw City; near Traverse City, the highway cuts the base of the Leelanau Peninsula.
  • US 127 ends at Grayling, connecting Northern Michigan with points south
  • US 131 is a primary north–south highway that is a freeway from Manton southwards; north of the freeway terminus, the highway is mostly two lanes, connecting Kalkaska, Mancelona, and ending at US 31 in Petoskey.
  • M-18 runs between Midland County, through Prudenville and Roscommon to M-72 in Crawford County.
  • M-22 follows the Lake Michigan shoreline from Traverse City to Manistee and is a scenic drive along the Leelanau Peninsula and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
  • M-27 runs along the old route of US 27 between Indian River and Cheboygan.
  • M-32 runs between East Jordan and Alpena.
  • M-33 runs between Alger (northwest of Standish) and Cheboygan.
  • M-37 runs from Battle Creek via Grand Rapids to Traverse City and the Old Mission Peninsula.
  • M-42 is a short route between Manton and M-66 north of Lake City.
  • M-55 is a 150-mile (240 km) transpeninsular highway at the southern edge of the region from Manistee to Tawas City.
  • M-65 runs northward from Au Gres (just north of Standish) to Rogers City,.
  • M-66 traverses almost the entire north–south distance of the Lower Peninsula ending at Charlevoix.
  • M-68 is an east–west state highway that runs from Alanson to Rogers City; it passes through Indian River, Afton, Tower, and Onaway.
  • M-72 crosses the Lower Peninsula from Empire via Traverse City to Harrisville.
  • M-75 is a connector between US-131 and Boyne City, and, despite its proximity to the highway, is not related to I-75.
  • M-88 traverses Antrim County from Eastport to Mancelona via a handful of small towns.
  • M-93 is a short highway connecting Camp Grayling, Hartwick Pines, and the city of Grayling in Crawford County.
  • M-109 serves as a scenic loop off M-22 in the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
  • M-113 runs across southern Grand Traverse County connecting M-37, US-131, and the village of Kingsley.
  • M-115 is a "diagonal highway", taking a generally northwest–southeast direction from Clare to Frankfort.
  • M-119 spurs off US-31 near Petoskey through Harbor Springs and along the Lake Michigan Coast as the Tunnel of Trees.
  • M-137 is a short highway running from US-31 to Interlochen Center for the Arts. The highway has become famous among students.
  • M-204 cuts across Leelanau County from Leland to Suttons Bay.
  • M-212 is the shortest signed highway in the state, connecting Aloha State Park to M-33 south of Cheboygan.

Past railroads

The Northern Lower Peninsula was home to many different railroads during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of these lines was the Detroit, Bay City & Alpena Railroad, later known as the Detroit and Mackinac Railway. The railroad had a main line along the Lake Huron shore and branch lines connecting to logging camps and gravel quarries. The railroad was a part owner of the SS Chief Wawatam, a rail car ferry that crossed the Straits of Mackinac. Running down the center of the Northern Lower Peninsula was the Michigan Central Railroad, which connected Mackinaw City with Bay City, Detroit, Lansing, and beyond. This line later became the New York Central and was sold to the Detroit and Mackinac Railway in 1976. Several other railroads have existed in Alpena's history.

On the west side of the peninsula, the Chicago and West Michigan Railway (later the Pere Marquette Railway) and several commercial cruise lines were early in generating traffic to Northern Michigan destinations. The Pere Marquette Railway operated rail car ferries across Lake Michigan out of Ludington. The most known ferry is the SS Badger which is still in use today for automobiles and passengers.

The Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad provided rail service between Cincinnati, Ohio and Mackinaw City. It was later bought out by the Pennsylvania Railroad. It served resort towns such as Traverse City, Petoskey, and Cadillac. In 1975 the line was bought by the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Michigan Northern Railway was contracted to operate. By 1984 much of the railroad was abandoned and operations were handed over to the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway.

The Ann Arbor was a railroad stretching from Toledo, Ohio to Elberta, Michigan where it operated a rail car ferry until 1982. The ferry serviced the cities of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Menominee, Michigan, and Manistique, Michigan. The Ann Arbor became a part of Conrail and then was later divided up between the Michigan Northern Railway and the Michigan Interstate Railway Company. The remaining portions of the line were absorbed into the state owned lines operated by the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway.

Present railroads

Currently, Northern Michigan's railroad system is a skeleton of its former self. After the Chief Wawatam stopped running in 1984, rail lines serving the Straits of Mackinac were soon abandoned. In years past, four different railroads served Mackinaw City and St. Igance, and now none are left.

The remainder of the former Detroit and Mackinac Railway is now the Lake State Railway. It operates a line from Bay City to Pinconning where it then branches northeast to Alpena and northwest to Gaylord.

Portions of the former Pere Marquette Railway, Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad, and the Ann Arbor Railroad became the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway. The main line of this railway runs from Ann Arbor north to Petoskey, with branch lines to Yuma and Traverse City. The railroad was renamed the Great Lakes Central Railroad. There have been discussions of reviving passenger service along this line.

Flora and fauna

Common plants

North Woods
Extent of the Laurentian Mixed Forest nearly coincides with Northern Michigan

Northern Michigan has many tree types including maple, birch, oak, ash, white cedar, aspen, pine, and beech. Ferns, milkweed, Queen Anne's lace, and chicory grow in the open fields and along roadsides. Forest plants include wild leeks, morel mushrooms, and trilliums. Marram grass grows on beaches. Several mosses cover the land.

Common mammals

Common mammals in Northern Michigan include white-tailed deer, fox, raccoons, porcupines, and rabbits. black bear, elk, coyote, bobcat, wolves, and mountain lions are also present. Although not common, the presence of cougars has been persistently reported over many years. Fish include whitefish, yellow perch, trout, bass, northern pike, walleye, muskie, and sunfish.

Common birds

Common birds are ducks, seagulls, wild turkey, great blue herons, northern cardinals, blue jays, black-capped chickadees, hummingbirds, Baltimore oriole, and ruffed grouse. Canada geese may be seen flying over head in spring and fall. Less well known birds that are unique in Michigan to the Northern Lower Peninsula are spruce grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, red-throated loon, Swainson's hawk, and the boreal owl. [1] [2].

The Au Sable State Forest is a state forest in the north-central Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Much of the forest is used for wildlife game management and the fostering of endangered and rare species, such as the Kirtland's warbler – there are regular controlled burns to maintain its habitat. The Kirtland's warbler has its habitat in an increasing part of the area. There is a Kirtland's Warbler Festival, which is sponsored in part by Kirtland Community College.

The American Bird Conservancy and the National Audubon Society have designated several locations as internationally Important Bird Areas.

Common insects

Insect populations are similar to those found elsewhere in the midwestern United States. ladybugs, crickets, dragonflies, mosquitoes, ants, house flies, and grasshoppers are common, as is the Western conifer seed bug, and several kinds of butterflies and moths (for example, monarch butterflies and tomato worm moths). Notable deviations in insect populations are a high population of June bugs during June as well as a scarcity of lightning bugs because of the lower average temperatures year round and especially in the summer.

Northern Michigan is home to Michigan's most endangered species and one of the most endangered species in the world: the Hungerford's crawling water beetle. The species lives in only five locations in the world, four of which are in Northern Michigan (one is in Bruce County, Ontario. Indeed, the only stable population of the rare beetle occurs along a two and a half mile stretch of the East Branch of the Maple River in Emmet County, Michigan.

Common reptiles

There are no fatally poisonous snakes native to Northern Michigan. The poisonous Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake lives in Michigan, but it is not common, particularly in Northern Michigan. In any event, its non-fatal bite may make an adult sick, but it should be medically treated without delay.

Snakes present include the eastern hog-nosed snake, brown snake, common garter snake, eastern milk snake and the northern ribbon snake. The only common reptiles and amphibians are various pond frogs, toads, salamanders, and small turtles.

State Forests and conservation areas

The state forests in the U.S. state of Michigan are managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Forest, Mineral and Fire Management unit. It is the largest state forest system in the nation at 3,900,000 acres (16,000 km2). See List of Michigan state forests. The Northern lower peninsula includes three forests:

  • Mackinaw State Forest
    • Atlanta FMU (Alpena, northeast Cheboygan, most of Montmorency, and most of Presque Isle counties)
    • Gaylord FMU (Antrim, Charlevoix, most of Cheboygan, Emmet, and most of Otsego counties)
    • Pigeon River Country FMU (southeast Cheboygan, northwest Montmorency, northeast Otsego, and southwest Presque Isle counties)
  • Pere Marquette State Forest
    • Cadillac FMU (Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Newaygo, Oceana, Osceola, and Wexford counties)
    • Traverse City FMU (Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Kalkaska, Manistee counties)
  • Au Sable State Forest
    • Gladwin FMU (Arenac, Bay, Clare, Gladwin, southern Iosco, Isabella, and Midland counties)
    • Grayling FMU (Alcona, Crawford, Oscoda, and northern Iosco counties)
    • Roscommon FMU (Ogemaw and Roscommon counties)

In addition, large portions of this area are covered by the Manistee National Forest and the Huron National Forest. In the former, a unique environment is present at the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness. This relatively small area of 3,450 acres (14.0 km2), on Lake Michigan's east shore, is one of few wilderness areas in the U.S. with an extensive lake shore dunes ecosystem. The dunes are 3500 to 4000 years old, and rise to nearly 140 feet (43 m) higher than the lake. The Nordhouse Dunes are interspersed with woody vegetation such as jack pine, juniper and hemlock. Many small water holes and marshes dot the landscape, and dune grass covers some of the dunes. The wide and sandy beach is ideal for walks and sunset viewing.

Eight islands off the Lakes Michigan and Huron coasts – Charlevoix and Alpena counties, respectively – are part of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge.


The economy of Northern Michigan is limited by its lower population, few industries and reduced agriculture compared to lower Michigan. Seasonal and tourism related employment is significant. Unemployment rates are generally high. (In June 2007, seven of the ten highest unemployment rates occurred in counties in the Northern Michigan area. Historically, Fur trade, lumbering and commercial fishing were among the most important industries. The fur trade essentially died out in the 1840s. Logging is still important but at a mere fraction of its heyday (1860–1910) output. Commercial fishing is a minor activity.

Vacation and tourism

A major draw to Northern Michigan is tourism. Real estate, especially condominiums and summer homes, is another significant source of income. Because money spent in the real estate and tourism market in Northern Michigan is dependent upon visitors from southern Michigan and the Chicago area, the Northern Michigan economy is sensitive to downswings in the automobile and other industries.


This map of hardiness zones demonstrates Northern Michigan's temperature extremes compared to the southern half of the lower peninsula. Most Michigan fruit sites are in Zone 5 or 6, making the Leelanau Peninsula and Grand Traverse Bay area uniquely conducive to cherries and other fruit trees.

Agriculture is limited by the climate and soil conditions compared to southern regions of the state. However, there are significant potato and dry bean farms in the east. Wine grapes, vegetables and cherries are produced in the west in the protected microclimates around Grand Traverse Bay. The Grand Traverse region has two of Michigan's four federally-recognized wine growing areas. The Grand Traverse Bay area is listed as one of the most endangered agricultural regions in the U.S. as its scenic land is highly sought after for vacation homes.

Heavy industry

Heavy industrial developments are sparse. The northeast corner has an industrial base.

Quarrying and mining

Cement-making and the mining of limestone and gypsum for Portland Cement are major exports of the area. Charlevoix's Medusa Cement Plant was bought by Cemex in the 1990s. Alpena is home to the Lafarge Company's holdings in the world's largest cement plant and is home to Besser Block Co. (Jesse M. Besser invented concrete block in 1904 and founded the Besser Block Co. in Alpena after making the concrete block making machine). USG Corporation, also known as United States Gypsum Corporation, operates several quarries, including one at Alabaster, and one in Rogers City. Rogers City is the locale of the world's largest limestone quarry, which is also used in steel making all along the Great Lakes.

Energy (oil and natural gas)

Antrim Shale reserves in northern Michigan

Northern Michigan has significant natural gas reserves along the Antrim shale formation in northern Michigan. By some estimates it is the 15th largest gas field in the nation. Drilling activity peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, In 2014, Encana, the Canadian company who had been drilling in Northern Michigan, sold their mineral rights to Marathon Oil order to focus on more profitable operations elsewhere. For oil interest, Encana amassed rights for the Collingwood-Utica Shale (Michigan) between 2008 and 2010, mostly in Cheboygan, Kalkaska, Michigan and Missaukee counties. The Collingwood layer is two miles below the surface and would require horizontal drilling.


Alpena has a hardboard manufacturing facility owned by Decorative Panels, International. Nearer to the Lake Michigan shore, Cadillac and Manistee have manufacturing and chemical industries. Morton Salt operates one of the largest salt plants in the world in Manistee. Also, the East Jordan Iron Works corporate offices, as well as the original foundry, are located in East Jordan.


A small number of people work on the Great Lakes freighters. Adjacent to the Traverse City Cherry Capital Airport is a United States Coast Guard air station (CGAS), which is responsible for both maritime and land-based search and rescue operations in the northern Great Lakes region.


Military presence in Northern Michigan is as follows:


Interlochen Center for the Arts is a notable arts center that offers a high-school-level academy and summer camp near Traverse City. There are also several institutions of higher education in Northern Michigan. Community colleges include North Central Michigan College (NCMC, pronounced "nuck-muck" by locals), Alpena Community College, Huron Shores Campus-Alpena Community College, Kirtland Community College, West Shore Community College, and Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) including the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, the only U.S. maritime academy on freshwater. Northern Michigan has arguably only one four-year university (depending on the definition of the southern boundary of the region), Ferris State University in Big Rapids. Other nearby universities are in the Upper Peninsula (Northern Michigan University and Lake Superior State University), as well as Central Michigan University and Ferris State University in the more southern reaches of the state. The University of Michigan runs the University of Michigan Biological Station out of Pellston, MI. Central Michigan University runs the CMU Biological Station on Beaver Island. Hillsdale College runs the biological station in Lake County.

Many four-year universities located downstate offer bachelor's and master's degree programs through Northwestern Michigan College's unique University Center program, located in Traverse City. The University Center, located in Traverse City, is a joint program with Northwestern Michigan College and various universities around the state that allows local students to "attend" universities that offer bachelor's and master's degrees programs not available through NMC, a two-year college, locally without leaving Northern Michigan. NMC supplies the facilities while the senior universities provide the education and endorsement. Universities offering programs here include Michigan State University, Western Michigan University, Central Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, Ferris State University, Spring Arbor University, and others.

Notable people

See the "Notable people" sections in the various settlement articles.

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