Favorite Birding Destinations in Michigan – Free & Paid Options 2022

October 22, 2021 // 21 minute read

Birding Locations » US » Birding In Michigan

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The best thing about birding in the state of Michigan is the Great Lakes coastline.

Did you know that this coastline encompasses more than 3000 miles of beautiful land?

Guess what else?

Birds of a wide variety of species love to visit these coastal waters along the Great Lakes.

Most people think of big cities like Detroit when they think about Michigan, but even though it’s the 10th most populous state, the urban areas are much further south, so the Great Lakes region is relatively untouched and it’s a great place to visit when getting back to nature.

Whether you live here or plan to visit at some point this year, you’ll appreciate the wonderful avian habitats that populate the land in the Upper Peninsula. Plus, there are a number of great free and paid birding hotspots that I’ll gladly tell you about in greater detail below.

By the way, did you know that the Robin is Michigan’s state bird?

Red Robin eating
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photo credit: Sam Theosmy on Unsplash

Before you go, please consider joining one of the many bird-watching clubs in the Wolverine State. I’ll tell you about a few of my favorites and provide contact information, information about how to join their club, and share links to their website, social media pages, and much more.

Also, check out our birding resources for Michigan’s neighboring states of Indiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Bird Watching Destinations in Michigan: Free Destinations

Are you on the prowl for the best and most exciting free bird-watching hotspots to visit in Michigan? You may be unaware of this, but there are many national parks and national wildlife refuges in the Great Lakes state. Even more importantly, there are more than 5 million acres of important bird areas, which means these birds are being protected and their habitats are being cared for and that’s certainly a good thing.

Would you like to learn more about these free places to go bird watching? Continue reading to learn more about the best free places to visit now or in the future.

Whitefish Point Bird Observatory – Free Admission

Visitors will truly appreciate spending time at the Bird Observatory at Whitefish Point because the Peninsula stretches all the way to Lake Superior, which makes it a perfect natural corridor for bird migration, so there are plenty of wonderful birds to visit in the area.

Since the Peninsula has water on both sides, thousands of birds visit here during fall and spring migrations, which creates a concentration zone for migrating birds. This is an important bird area and it’s home to several endangered bird species.

Location:

16914 N. Whitefish Point Rd.
Paradise, MI 49768
Phone: 517-580-7364

GPS: 46.7659° N, 84.9654° W

Hours Of Operation:

The outdoor spaces at Whitefish Point Bird Observatory are open all year round, 24 hours a day, to the viewing public. Certain places like the gift shop are currently closed in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please check this page periodically to find out when the gift shop reopens.

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

Hiking Trails:

The beautiful thing about the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory is that it’s located in Paradise, MI. Even better, there are a number of excellent hiking trails in Tahquamenon Falls State Park and Lake Superior State Forest. 

Today, I’d like to tell you about my top 5 favorite hiking trails in the area. Please pay attention and consider the hiking and birdwatching possibilities. The important details about these trails include the following:

  • Whitefish Point Lighthouse and Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum Walk – in all honesty, there isn’t very much to this hiking trail since it’s relatively short, but it does take you along the edge of Lake Michigan, so it’s a beautiful sight to behold nonetheless. The trail itself is 0.2 miles long, which should only take the average person about five minutes to finish from beginning to end.
  • North Country Trail: Lower Falls to Old Stove – this trail is definitely on the more difficult side since it is considered moderately difficult. The trail itself, although clearly defined, it definitely has overgrown foliage, old and dead tree branches and leaves built up along the path, and other potential obstacles that could get in your way and slow you down a little bit. Overall, the whole trail is 5.2 miles long, which the average hiker can finish in two hours and 15 minutes.
  • Tahquamenon River Trail – located in the state park bearing the same name, this is a fun filled trail with plenty of opportunities to see many beautiful migratory birds and other local birds and wildlife in one pristine location. This trail is easy to navigate, which is always nice to know, but it’s definitely on the longer side since the entire trail is 5.4 miles long. The average hiker should complete this trail in two hours and 10 minutes without much difficulty.
  • Paradise Pathway: South M-123 Loop – the great thing about this particular trail is that it’s very easy to travel along and the path is clearly defined, so there aren’t any difficult areas to come across as you walk along the path. It’s 1.7 miles long, which isn’t too difficult to tackle. And from beginning to end, you should have no problem finishing this trail in 45 minutes flat.
  • North Country Trail: Two Hearted River Campground – this trail is definitely a lot harder to navigate than any of the previous trails because it has a moderate difficulty rating. Even more important to know is the length of the trail. Believe it or not, the entire trail is 13.3 miles long, which is quite challenging indeed. The average person will have to walk for five hours and 35 minutes to complete this trail from beginning to end.

Seney National Wildlife Refuge – Free Admission to the Park

This 95,000-acre refuge is located in the Upper Peninsula, which is very rewarding when you visit the area. There are many different types of land, which means there is a wide range of different bird species to see and experience while here. You’ll visit marshland, forest, Boggs, northern habitats, and more. And even more important, you have an opportunity to view many notable birds when you visit this region.

Location:

1674 Refuge Entrance Rd.
Seney, MI 49883
Phone: 906-586-9851

GPS: 46.2888° N, 85.9447° W

Hours Of Operation:

At the time of this writing in October 2021, certain areas of the national wildlife refuge are open to visitors, but other areas are still closed to the public for various reasons including the pandemic. The important information to note is as follows:

  • The refuge is open each day from dusk until dawn
  • The visitor center is currently closed due to renovations
  • Marshland Wildlife Drive is opened during daylight hours on May 15 and closes on October 20
  • Fishing Loop Is opened during daylight hours from May 15 to September 30
  • Headquarters is closed to the public at this time 

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Sharp-Tailed Grouse
  • Purple Finch
  • Sedge Wren
  • Northern Harrier
  • American Woodcock
  • Bald Eagle
  • Olive-Sided Flycatcher
  • Sandhill Crane

Hiking Trails:

We’ve struck gold once again because we discovered another place with great hiking trails for birdwatchers and hikers to travel upon. There are only three to choose from, so you should basically make your pick according to your skill level, time commitment, and whether or not you believe you can handle the trail.

With that said, we will now take a look at the crucial details and names of the 3 hiking trails in question. They include:

  • Seney National Wildlife Refuge Trail – this particular trail is certainly the toughest of the bunch because it’s long, it’s moderately difficult, and you will come across some minor obstacles that will get in your way like fallen branches, piles of leaves, overgrown grass, and other potential difficulties. The real challenge in my opinion is the length of this trail. It’s 8.1 miles long and if you aren’t used to hiking, this can be a serious challenge. Regardless, the average person should finish walking this trail in three hours and 20 minutes, but it could take longer if you aren’t used to walking this great length.
  • Whitefish Point Beach Trail – this particular trail is a lot easier to handle because it isn’t that difficult compared to the other trail, and even better, it’s a heck of a lot shorter since it is only 0.6 miles long. You can complete this trail if you barely walk in your regular day-to-day life, because the average person should be able to finish it in 15 minutes without much difficulty. If you have some type of injury or other condition that might hold you back, please keep this in mind if it takes you longer to finish the trail.
  • Pine Ridge Nature Trail Loop – the last looping trail on our list is an easy hiking trail that isn’t very long either, since it’s only 1.5 miles in a total distance from beginning to end. Walking at a moderate pace, the average hiker or walker should have no problem walking the entire loop from beginning to and in 40 minutes flat. As I said, this is an easy trail and the terrain is clear, it’s relatively flat, and the path is in pristine condition so you’ll have no trouble navigating it.

Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve – Free to Enter

This nature preserve is absolutely stunning and it encompasses 313 acres of marshland. The property is protected and owned by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. This area is particularly special because it’s a great place to view your favorite shorebirds and marsh birds and it runs on Highway 22 directly through the marsh and into the wetlands. Many beautiful bird species migrate here, and you’ll even have an opportunity to see the very uncommon trumpeter swan in this gorgeous natural space.

Location:

16791 Northwood Hwy.
Arcadia, MI 49613
Phone: 231-929-7911

GPS: 44.4891° N, 86.2310° W

Hours Of Operation:

Because hunting is permitted on this land, Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.

There is a boardwalk trail at the preserve, but each year it is closed from April 15 to July 15 to preserve the natural habitat of certain bird species. So please keep this in mind the next time you intend to visit.

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Common Merganser
  • American Black Duck
  • Least Bittern
  • Virginia Rail
  • Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Eastern Meadowlark
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Green Heron
  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Upland Sandpiper
  • Bobolink
  • Marsh Wren

Hiking Trails:

As I alluded to earlier, I definitely wanted you to know that there was a boardwalk trail taking you all the way through Arcadia Marsh. What I didn’t realize at the time was that the boardwalk is the only trail for you to travel upon in the area. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of beautiful lands to walk across, but none of it is particularly designated as a nature trail beside the boardwalk that I’ll tell you about right now.

The name of the boardwalk and other info include:

  • Arcadia Marsh Boardwalk – the beautiful thing about this Boardwalk is that it’s lightly trafficked, meaning you’ll have no problem gaining access to the boardwalk during the specific times of the year that it remains open. Remember, it closes between April 15 to July 15 each year in order to preserve the natural habitat of specific bird species. So you have to steer clear of the boardwalk during this time of the year. But when it’s open, this Boardwalk is very well maintained and it’s obviously clear and easy to navigate. It’s also 1.9 miles long and it has an elevation gain of 13 feet. The average person should have no problem completing the trail in 45 minutes to one hour.

Warren Dunes State Park – Free Admission, Recreation Passport Required

Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, Warren Dunes State Park is an astonishing place to visit because the dunes reach 250 feet above the lake, and they are incredibly large and particularly enticing. This destination is very popular and it’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a fun-filled summer getaway. On top of that, it’s one of the best birding sites in all of Lake Michigan, so you’ll have the opportunity to see many migrating birds during the spring and fall seasons.

Location:

12032 Red Arrow Hwy.
Sawyer, MI 49125
Phone: 269-426-4013

GPS: 41.9162° N, 86.5915° W

Hours Of Operation:

The state park is open all year round from sunrise to sunset.

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

Recreation Passports:

Although you technically aren’t being charged to enter this state Park, you are required to carry a recreation passport that renews yearly. Passport prices include:

  • Vehicle Passport Resident – $12 per year for Michigan registered vehicles
  • Vehicle Passport Nonresident – $17 per year
  • Motorcycle Passport Resident – $6
  • Motorcycle Passport Nonresident – $11
  • Moped Passport – $6

Hiking Trails:

If you’ve never visited here before, really having to find out that there are four hiking trails for you to walk along and enjoy viewing migrating birds and other wildlife in the area. These trails range from 1 1/2 to 5 miles in length and they are all moderately difficult, so you will come across some rocky paths, hilly regions, and wooded areas along your travels. Are you prepared for a wonderful hiking experience?

The names and other important trail info include:

  • Sandy Woods Dune Hike – this trail is relatively short because it’s only a mile and a half long and it’s the shortest trail out of the four that I am about to share with you today. But as far as difficulty is concerned, this is definitely one of the more moderately difficult trails because you will walk through a rugged area of the woods as you travel along this path. Regardless of the degree of difficulty, the average hiker can still complete this trail from beginning to end in roughly 45 minutes.
  • Warren Dunes Trail – this is the longest trail of the four that I mentioned earlier, which comes in at 4.9 miles in full distance. This trail is also moderately difficult because the terrain is somewhat rough and rocky, the path is occasionally overgrown at times, the portions of the path that have a sidewalk look cracked on occasion, and the terrain changes are on the five-mile path making it a little difficult. Overall, the average person should be able to walk the whole trail in two hours and 10 minutes.
  • Mount Randall Loop – I personally like this particular path because it goes in a loop, so you can start your journey in one place in and up in the exact same location, even though this trail is also moderately difficult like the others. The total length of the trail is 2.1 miles long, which the average hiker should be able to finish in about an hour and five minutes. Be careful of rocky terrain, overgrown paths, and other minor obstacles that go along with a moderately difficult trail.
  • Warren Dunes Beach Trail – like the other three, this trail is also moderately difficult and it’s somewhat long at 3.6 miles. I personally like this trail a great deal because a large portion of it takes you along the beach right next to beautiful Lake Michigan. Things can get sandy, wet, slippery, and the path is often tough to walk along, so please be prepared for the inevitable. In total, you should have the ability to complete this 3.6-mile trail in an hour and 35 minutes.

Tawas Point State Park – Free Admission, Recreation Passport Required

I think you’re really going to like Tawas Point State Park because it’s situated on Lake Huron on a narrow peninsula and it’s 183 acres of land, so there are plenty of great opportunities to see all kinds of amazing bird species. Plus, like many other burning areas near the Great Lakes, this is a wonderful place to visit during the spring and fall for migration season, because there are so many stunning birds in the area at this time.

Location:

686 Tawas Beach Rd.
East Tawas, MI 48730
Phone: 989-362-5041

GPS: 44.2544° N, 83.4480° W

Hours Of Operation:

This state park is open seven days a week and it’s open on nights and weekends. You are allowed to enter the park at 8 AM and it closes at 10 PM. Please plan your trip accordingly.

Popular Birds Found At This Destination:

  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Bald Eagle
  • Caspian Tern
  • Piping Plover
  • Golden-Winged Warbler
  • White-Crowned Sparrow
  • Ruby-Crowned King Light
  • Kirtland’s Warbler
  • Greater White-Fronted Goose
  • American Pipit
  • Red-Breasted Merganser
  • Lesser Scaup

Hiking Trails:

At Tawas Point State Park, there really is only one main trail to speak about and it’s a boardwalk trail that I will tell you all about below.

The name of the trail and more are as follows:

  • Tawas Point Via Sandy Hook Nature Trail – there’s a lot to like about this particular trail that I know you are going to truly appreciate. For starters, it’s a very easy trail because a large portion of it has you walking along the boardwalk. Although the boardwalk doesn’t make up the entirety of the trail, it does cover a wide swath of it. The trail is easy to navigate because it’s a very clear path and they do a good job maintaining the trail. It’s 1.6 miles long, which the average person should finish in about 45 minutes.

Bird Watching Destinations in Michigan: Paid Destinations

Indigo Birding Nature Tours – Northern Michigan Birding & Kayaking Tour

Although this event is already over, I wanted to mention that the Indigo Birding Nature Tours company regularly hosts a multi-day tour in northern Michigan each year.

This year, the event was held from July 4-July 9 and the entire trip cost $800 per person and you stayed in a double occupancy room. You can find out more about the northern Michigan birding tour by visiting this page.

Contact Info:

Indigo Birding Nature Tours
933 South Meadowbrook Dr.
Bloomington, IN 47401
Phone: 812-679-8978
Email: [email protected]

About Indigo Birding

This company was founded by a man named David Rupp in south-central Indiana. He hosts nature Tours all over the world, in places like Lake Monroe, Yellowwood State Forest, and many other wonderful locations around the country and world including different parks, preserves, and local forests.

Michigan Birdwatching Clubs

Joining various bird-watching clubs in Michigan is a great way to get involved in environmental causes, activism, community outreach, and habitat preservation. It’s also a wonderful way to meet like-minded people in your community. These are people that you’ll enjoy spending time with because you share your love of birdwatching and there is no doubt you will have many other things in common with these delightful people.

I love that Michigan has a few great birdwatching clubs and national Audubon Society chapters that I can join. You’ll love going on field trips, bird walks, attending monthly meetings, and even learning about birds and educational events. Or if you have the knowledge and ability, you may want to teach some of these educational classes to young children, senior citizens, and everybody in between.

Do not hesitate to sign up for your local birdwatching club in the Wolverine state. You’ll have a great time getting involved with this organization and you’ll have other people to share your bird watching hobby with.

Michigan Audubon

The Michigan Audubon Society has one major goal in mind. They intend to connect birds and people. They do this because it benefits both species, society, and the world as well. They make efforts to connect birds and people through research, education, and conservation. And they do a great job of bringing both of them together.

The Michigan Audubon was originally incorporated in 1904. Today, this group has more than 3000 members and there are 32 local chapters throughout the state. Depending on where you live in Michigan, it’s likely best to join up to the chapter closest to your home so you can participate in many of their fun-filled and educational events.

Contact Info:

Michigan Audubon
2310 Science Pkwy., Suite 200
Okemos, MI 48864
Phone: 517-580-7364
Email: [email protected]

Past and Future Events:

  • Spring Fling – this event is held each year in the spring to celebrate the spring migration. It takes place at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory. It’s a relatively small event that begins on the weekend of the spring season at WPB. This is usually a fun filled birding event that takes place every year around the same time, but because of the Covid-19 virus, the event didn’t happen this year or the prior year either.
  • Tawas Point Birding Festival – this event is typically held in May at the Tawas Bay Beach Resort and the Tawas Point State Park. It’s sponsored by the Michigan Audubon Society and run by the AuSable Valley Audubon chapter. Once again, because of the coronavirus pandemic, this spectacular birding event didn’t happen this year and it didn’t happen in 2020 either. Hopefully things will be back to normal next year and this event will get back on track as usual.
  • Cerulean Warbler Weekend – this multi-day event takes place in Barry County beginning in late May and it ends at some point in early June. These are the best times to view cerulean Warbler’s, so it makes sense to host this event at this time. This experience is usually very fun, engaging, and meaningful for all participants. It takes place each year, so if you’re interested, let them know so you can become a member of a small group or tour during the multi-day event.

Membership Fees:

It’s very easy to become a member of Michigan Audubon. You can follow the directions shared on their membership page. Click the join Michigan Audubon button and follow the on-screen instructions.

Their membership levels are as follows:

  • Student Membership – $15
  • Individual Membership – $30
  • Household Membership – $50
  • Supporting Membership – $100
  • Sustaining Membership – $500
  • Benefactor Membership – $1000 

The organization does not provide a way to pay for your membership by mail, so if you want to join this prestigious group, you’ll have to sign up and pay for your membership on the Internet.

Michigan Loon Preservation Association

This nonprofit organization has a very special mission. Their goal is to preserve the common loon. They want it to maintain its status as a Michigan breeding bird. They help the Michigan loon preserve its status through public education, protection, research, and habitat management.

You’ll really enjoy becoming a member of this group because they get involved with the community and take many field trips and participate in numerous special events throughout the year.

Contact Info:

10181 Sheridan Rd.
Millington, MI 48746
Phone: 989-871-4819
Email: [email protected]

Past and Future Events:

  • 26th Annual Crane Fest – this event is hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Battle Creek. It takes place on October 9 and October 10 of 2021 from 12 PM to dusk. It’s being held at the Kiwanis youth conservation area in Bellevue, Michigan. During the event, you can enjoy birdwatching, guided nature walks, and purchase products from many of the artists and vendors in attendance. Find out more by visiting the Battle Creek Kiwanis Club’s Facebook page.

Membership Fees:

You can join the Michigan Loon Preservation Association by visiting this page here and following the on-screen prompts to become a member. There are various membership levels that I will tell you more about below.

The membership levels include the following:

  • Individual Supporting Membership – $20
  • Individual Contributing Membership – $25
  • Organization Sustaining Membership – $50
  • Membership Award – $100
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