Lansing Mom’s Guide to the Manistee River Area

A few weeks ago my husband and I left our kids with their grandparents for the first time and headed Northwest toward the Manistee River. Granted, a weekend without the kids in our own house would probably have felt like a fabulous vacation. But our time in Manistee was a dream! Rustic forest camping, charming downtown shopping, rivers and lakes — the Manistee River area has it all. Read on to learn my favorite things, and some spots you don’t want to miss.

What To Do in Manistee

suspension bridge over Manistee River

My husband loves camping, and I love indoor plumbing. We compromised with a small cabin in the woods with many creature comforts and zero cell phone service. Across the Manistee area you can find accommodations and activities for every preference.

  • Love hiking? Head to the Manistee River Trail for an 8.8 or 23-mile loop with gorgeous views of the winding river and wetlands. There is a very cool suspension bridge (the largest wooden bridge of its kind in lower Michigan), and campsites along the way. Take note: you will have to pee in the woods if the need arises!
  • Fishing is a huge deal in the Manistee area with world-class fishing all year round. You can find out more on the Manistee County website.
  • With Manistee’s excellent location right on Lake Michigan, there is no shortage of water activities. Try canoeing, kayaking, or paddle-boarding on the river or the big lake.
  • We didn’t have time for this, but I thought a scenic flight over Lake Michigan would be a beautiful and unique date night or gift. Check out Orchard Beach Aviation’s site for more details and to reserve tickets! 
  • Had enough time being outdoorsy? Head to downtown Manistee! You can take an afternoon to stroll along the Manistee Riverwalk, get delicious coffee at The Outpost, and check out used books at Anne’s Book Store.
  • After all the adventures and the downtown shopping, you’ll need to unwind. There’s no better place to do that than the beautiful Vogue Theater. This historic building has been through a total revitalization project, supported by Manistee businesses and citizen volunteers. It’s a great story and a great place to catch a movie before heading back to your cabin or hotel.

Things to Keep in Mind

While downtown Manistee has all the amenities you could need in a small city, the surrounding areas may not. If you’re staying a ways out from Manistee, you may not have cell phone service and you will want to bring groceries, toiletries, and other necessities with you.

This is a great opportunity to branch out and try bars or restaurants in the small towns nearby, like Irons or Baldwin. Everyone we met across the Manistee River area was so friendly and we wished we had more time to frequent more local spots. I guess we’ll have to get them next time!

Looking for more small town Michigan destinations? Check out Lansing Mom’s guide to Pentwater and beyond.

Joy Shantz
Joy is a wife, mom, friend and neighbor who lives in the City of Lansing and loves it! She gets excited about the outdoors, cold brew coffee, international cuisine and meeting new people. You can follow her Lansing area adventures at her personal blog @hometownfound on Instagram.


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