Venetian-style canals in Detroit?

They're a thing — and state tourism officials are trying to spread the word. 

While many Michiganians will head to popular destinations like Mackinac Island and Traverse City this summer, Travel Michigan is encouraging tourists to check out some of the state's more obscure vacation spots.

As part of its "Meanwhile in Michigan" campaign, Travel Michigan has released a list of "10 Amazing Hidden Gems in Michigan Worth the Trek," featuring lesser-known locations such as Old Town Lansing and the Gilmore Car Museum near Battle Creek.

Included in the list is Detroit's "Little Venice," the Detroit River canals that cut through the city's eastern neighborhoods. 

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The quiet area is primarily residential, but the waterfront is dotted with a handful of notable landmarks, including the Charles T. Fisher Mansion. Tourists can enjoy the surprisingly extensive system of canals by paddle boat or kayak and take in a full view of the Detroit skyline. 

The Meanwhile in Michigan campaign will highlight the abundant outdoor activities available in Detroit, said Tiffany VanDeHey, owner of Riverside Kayak Connection, a kayak rental company that also offers historical tours of the canals.

"People have this vision that you have to go up North to experience more outdoor activities," VanDeHey said. "It's really cool when you can be inside the city and experience that kind of up-north feel."

The "Meanwhile in Michigan" campaign is intended to increase travel to the state, while also encouraging tourists to venture off the beaten path, said Otie McKinley, spokesman for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and its Pure Michigan/Travel Michigan campaign initiative.

McKinley said travel around the state increases dramatically through June, July and August every year. In August 2018, occupancy rates for lodging in Michigan stood at 75.54%, beating out the national average of 71.43% for the same time period, according to the MEDC. 

The Meanwhile in Michigan campaign includes radio spots touting the offbeat locations featuring the voice of actor Tim Allen, the longtime voice of the Pure Michigan campaign.

Bob Eames, coordinator at the Meyer May House in Grand Rapids, said he is glad his destination was featured in the campaign and believes it will help with visibility. The Meyer May House is a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in the Heritage Hill Historic District of Grand Rapids. Tours are free.

"We're kind of tucked away in downtown here, hidden in plain sight so to speak," Eames said. "We have a few brochures here and there, and we're of course listed on some of the guides for Frank Lloyd Wright sites across the country.

"Of course, Detroit is Detroit, and Traverse City and Mackinac are pretty well-known," Eames said. "But when they come over here, and they see all the restaurants, the breweries, all of the historic homes and the heritage built here around the Grand River and Lake Michigan, people love it."

In addition to "Little Venice" and the Meyer May house, here's a look at the list of Travel Michigan's other hidden gems:

Chapel Rock and Beach Trail

Located along the coast of Lake Superior in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Castle Rock was carved from millions of years of erosion. There was once an archway that connected the rock to the mainland, but after it collapsed in the 1940s; visitors must now admire it from afar. In addition to the natural beauty of the rock, visitors can check out miles of beaches along Lake Superior. 

Old Town Lansing

While many may not consider Lansing one of the state's primary cities for tourism, the Old Town Commercial Association has worked hard to attract businesses and tourists to the state's capital. Check out niche shopping and dining at spots like Cravings Gourmet Popcorn or Ozone's Brewhouse. 

Ocqueoc Falls State Forest Campground

This Northern Michigan campground in Presque Isle County is home to the only publicly accessible waterfall in the Lower Peninsula. Visitors staying at any of the park's 15 campsites can access the falls from the Ocqueoc Falls Bicentennial Pathway, which provides six miles of green scenery for hiking and biking. 

Arcadia Dunes

In addition to the rolling hills of sand, the diverse landscapes of Arcadia Dunes -- on Lake Michigan in Manistee County, south of Sleeping Bear Dunes -- provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities, including mountain biking, hiking and bird watching. The primarily untouched lakeshore provides great views and plenty to explore off of the water. 


Sometimes referred to as The Big Spring, Kitch-iti-kipi -- in the Upper Peninsula town of Manistique -- is Michigan's largest freshwater reserve. A self-operated raft takes visitors across the crystal clear spring pool, and viewing windows in the bottom of the boat allow visitors to see the constantly flowing waters of the spring and the abundance of trout that inhabit it. 

Gilmore Car Museum

The museum originally got its start as a simple hobby of Kalamazoo businessman Donald Gilmore in 1963. As his collection continued to grow, Gilmore moved it to the small town of Hickory Corners, north of Battle Creek. Today, the museum is North America's largest auto museum, with more than 400 vehicles on display and over 190,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Motawi Tileworks

In 1992, Natal Motawi started making tiles in her garage to sell at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. Now, she and a team of 30 produce skillfully crafted tile at a 12,900-square-foot studio off of Interstate 94. Motawi Tileworks offers tours every Tuesday and Thursday to take a look at the tile-making process firsthand. 

Les Cheneaux Islands

The 36 small islands that make up Les Cheneaux run along the southern shore of Lake Huron in the Upper Peninsula. The abundance of quiet coves and channels makes the islands a perfect spot for relaxed sailing and boating, and the nearby communities of Hessel and Cedarville offer quaint lodging and activities.

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