Heading "Up North?" From Petoskey to Traverse City, Empire to Mackinac Island, Glen Arbor to Leland, if you're heading to Northern Michigan for your family's summer vacation (or fall weekend, or ski vacation), I've rounded up everything you need to pack for days by the beach and cozy evenings around the campfire.
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Wondering what to wear "Up North?"
With both of my parents proudly hailing from Michigan, I'm extremely lucky to have spent almost every summer (and several ski seasons) exploring the various quaint towns in Northern Michigan, and, of course, lounging on the shores of Lake Michigan. It's truly one of my favorite places in the world. And now that we've added our own little one to the family, we've happily kept the tradition going. There's no better place for a relaxing family vacation, without crowds or blaring neon signs. I have yet to find a more quaint town in the Midwest than Glen Arbor.
But, you aren't here to hear me go on about how much I adore Northern Michigan. Apparently, you've already decided to take a trip! Good choice. If it'll put your mind at ease, as far as your packing questions, let's suffice it to say that Northern Michigan is a family-friendly place where you're more likely to spend your vacation on cash on Moose Tracks ice cream than Massimo.
That said, you'll want the right outfits for any outdoor activities, and of course, comfortable walking shoes for any exploring or hiking you'll be undertaking on your trip. Like most of the Midwest, you can expect somewhat unpredictable weather. I'd also anticipate that it'll be significantly colder Up North than you might be expecting. Many a tourist has been caught unaware, with only shorts and t-shirts in June, only to find they actually needed a *sweater.*
With another trip just around the corner, I thought I'd collect my Northern Michigan helpful tips for my fellow travelers!
And while you're here, don't forget to check out all of my resources about exploring Michigan:
FAQ: ...where is Northern Michigan?
Roughly comprised of the area north of Grand Rapids and south of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Northern Michigan is the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. The 'capital' of Northern Michigan is Traverse City, which is one of the best options for a home base for your Up North vacation. When People say they're doing Up North, they generally mean they'll be in the vicinity of Traverse City, M-22 (Glen Arbor/Leland/Suttons Bay), Petoskey, or Harbor Springs.
FAQ: When's the best time to visit Northern Michigan?
There's no bad time to head Up North! From skiing in winter to gorgeous, sunny, humidity-free summers, there's something here in all seasons for everyone in the family. That said, late June through the end of September are 'prime time' for a family vacation in Northern Michigan. Earlier than late June, you may find yourself having a very chilly 'summer' vacation.
FAQ: What's the weather like in Northern Michigan?
The weather Up North...is perfect. Need I say more? Something that surprises people from farther south is how chilly it can get, even during the summer. Expect cooler days, and a breeze off of Lake Michigan. In May, it can - and does - snow. In June, expect daytime temperatures 70's, with lows dipping into the low 60's (and high 50's!) at night! Things warm up only slightly for peak season in July and August, but this is *not* a Florida beach vacation! In winter months, it gets *cold* and, at least there used to be, plenty of snow for skiing.
Many a tourist has had to make a first-day run for a sweatshirt upon their Up North arrival.
And humidity? Not going to find it.
A nice breeze off the lake and crisp, cool evenings are the recipe for a perfect vacation. And if you're coming from a virtual swamp like me (sorry, Indianapolis), it'll be heaven!
FAQ: Is Lake Michigan...cold?
Well, let's just say, Lake Michigan is not warm. In the height of summer, Lake Michigan is definitely warm enough to swim in, though lounging around in the Lake simply won't be the main event of your trip. It is generally warm enough to spend the whole day by the beach or pool, without getting extremely hot or sunburned.
To me, it's an absolutely ideal summer day by the Lake.
What to Wear in Northern Michigan: Packing Ideas
Alright! Let's discuss a few specific categories of items you'll want to be sure to include in your suitcase for your trip Up North.
Up North Packing List: Sweaters and Sweatshirts
First things first. Sweaters and sweatshirts. While you'll likely want t-shirts for daytime, don't forget to bring light sweaters and sweatshirts for those cooler evenings. While they're not something I *ever* wear in the summer in Indianapolis (hello, 95 degrees and suffocating humidity!), comfy outer layers are simply a must Up North!
On our last visit, my husband commented on how ubiquitous the Up North/Great Lakes sweatshirts are - likely because of surprised, freezing tourists grabbing the nearest piece of warm clothing! Leave the tank tops at home and always plan for an extra layer.
Whether it's before, during, or after your visit, of course, you must become the proud owner of an Up North sweatshirt. If you buy nothing else during your trip, make it this. If you aren't ready to take the dive into Up North gear, I'd suggest checking out Old Navy's sweatshirts. They're my go-to.
Interested in exploring Glen Arbor, Michigan?
Up North Packing List: A Light Jacket
Expect cool evenings, even in the height of summer. For rainy days and cozy nights by the fire, be sure to include a jean jacket or light jacket/rain jacket. We have unfortunately been Up North for a few really rainy weeks. Thankfully, there are enough cute shops and restaurants to keep you entertained, but you'll want to be comfortable and try when you're trekking around.
Up North Packing List: Shorts & Jeans
Northern Michigan vacations are..."relaxed active?" Mornings walking the beach, afternoons climbing the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and evenings spent around the campfire. You'll want comfortable, wearable shorts, for day, night, and everything in between.
I personally love J McLaughlin and J Crew Factory's shorts. More recently, I've also started including Old Navy bike shorts.
Similarly, for everyday wear, and nights by the campfire, a trusty pair of basic jeans is a must-pack.
Planning your summer vacation? Check out my top 8 Midwest road trips and 20+ Road Trips Within 5 Hours of Indianapolis.
Unless you're visiting in winter, you'll want to plan on hitting either the gorgeous beaches of Lake Michigan, or the pool at your resort. In fact, even if you are visiting in winter, you'll likely want to explore the hot tub after a day spent skiing.
Days 'Up North' aren't particularly hot, so in addition to your bathing suit, you'll also want a good cover-up, in the event that you're not wanting to dive in.
You may even see a fair number of people enjoying the beach in shorts and a t-shirt - like I said, this isn't Florida! The mid-70s don't require a bathing suit, if you aren't taking a dip.
Up North Packing List: Lake Attire & Vacation Essentials
Up North Packing List: Evening Attire
Don't get me wrong - this is not Downton Abbey or the land of dress codes! Our evenings 'Up North' are generally spent looking for the Northern Lights or strolling with an ice cream cone from the Pine Cone. But, in the event it's not a sweatshirt campfire night, I pack a few *very casual* summer dresses for dinners either at home or in town, particularly if I'm in one of the regions cities.
Up North Packing List: The Right Shoes
When it comes to shoes, which always deserve their own category in my packing articles, I'd recommend bringing:
Of course, it's the era of the sneaker - though that's always the case Up North. You can't go wrong with a basic white pair of sneakers for exploring Northern Michigan
Shoes for the beach
Michigan's beaches can be sandy or rocky (depending on where you'll be), so a pair of flip-flops that could get wet won't go amiss.
Shoes that kayak
Whether it's climbing the dunes - who wants sand in their shoes? - or kayaking through Northern Michigan's gorgeous lakes and creeks, bring one pair of shoes that it's afraid of the outdoors. An easy, classic pair of top siders will do the trick, whether for outdoor activities or a rainy day.
And finally, if you're staying at a nice resort or in one of the larger cities, read: Petoskey or Harbor Springs, or somewhere with a dress code read: The Grand Hotel, bring some nicer shoes for dinners and drinks
Learn everything you need to know about a visit to charming Leland, Michigan!
Up North Packing List: Winter Essentials
Heading up north for a skiing adventure? Include all of your cozy winter favorites: Your heaviest ski coat, hat, mittens, wool socks, etc. You can expect a lot of temperatures in the high 20s F and (hopefully) a good deal of snow.
Northern Michigan Wedding Outfit General Tips
Deciding what to wear to an Up North wedding can be a little tricky. As gorgeous as Northern Michigan is, the weather can be unpredictable, and perhaps significantly colder than your average summer wedding.
Northern Michigan Summer Packing List (1 week)
Thanks for stopping by!
I know you'll enjoy your trip to Northern Michigan as much as we always do. Whether it's a weekend trip or a summer road trip, I promise you'll be glad you made the trek Up North. And don't forget to leave your comments below and sign-up for the blog newsletter, while you're here.
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