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Michigan’s hottest destinations offer something for everyone

Spectacular scenery, family-friendly activities, and diversions to entice even the most avid sports enthusiast: That’s just the start of a Michigan vacation. The Great Lakes State has historically been celebrated for its breathtaking nature and a devotion to preserving its rich heritage. But in recent years a new energy has surged throughout “the Mitten State,” creating a buzzy scene of culinary options, winery and microbrew tours, and a downtown renaissance that’s made Detroit one of the most talked-about cities in the U.S. There’s never been a better time to visit Michigan. Keep scrolling for a roundup of the most popular destinations in the state, with choices to satisfy everyone’s taste and budget.

1. Mackinac Island

Small town charm defines Mackinac Island

Small town charm defines Mackinac Island   (Photo: Pure Michigan)

At least one summer vacation on Mackinac Island is required if you live in Michigan, with good reason—it’s a perfect mix of gorgeous scenery and Victorian charm. Located in Lake Huron between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, the family-friendly island is famed for not allowing cars; you arrive via ferry (service is readily available from St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula or Mackinaw City on the Lower Peninsula). Peruse the 3.8-square-mile island on foot or by bicycle—rent a tandem bike for fun or a single cycle for a quality workout riding the hilly perimeter. And because not much has changed since Mackinac Island became a popular summer destination in the late 19th century, you also can rent a horse and buggy for a true throwback moment. Indeed, go all-in for a true Mackinac Island experience: Take a carriage tour to view the must-see spots, buy the fudge at Murdick’s or Ryba’s on Main Street, and enjoy tea in the parlor of the Grand Hotel. Don’t miss the legendary Grand Hotel, but for a stay that’s more low-key and just as beautiful, consider the 46-room Hotel Iroquois , built in 1900.

2. Sleeping Bear Dunes

The sun shines over Sleeping Bear Dunes

The sun shines over Sleeping Bear Dunes   (Photo: Pure Michigan)

Why climb a StairMaster in a hotel gym when you can hike a 110-foot wall of sparkling sand, and be rewarded at the top with an unforgettable view of Lake Michigan? At almost 72,000 acres, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, located on the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, is widely considered one of the most picturesque spots in the U.S. In 2011, Good Morning America viewers voted it “Most Beautiful Place in America,” while this past January, National Geographic placed its 35-mile coastline among the 21 best beaches in the world. You can camp and kayak or stay at a nearby resort and enjoy leisurely walks and golf; whatever your pleasure, Sleeping Bear Dunes is sure to quickly fill your Instagram feed with stunning photos. Roughly an hour south of Sleeping Bear Dunes, golfers love Arcadia Bluffs , a 265-acre public course offering panoramic views of Lake Michigan.

3. Best of Detroit

Fireworks illuminate the sky over Detroit

Fireworks illuminate

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Road trip essentials for your next long trip

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Best travel loyalty program offers for July 2017

Ramsey Qubein, Special for USA TODAY Published 5:00 a.m. ET July 13, 2017 | Updated 5:00 a.m. ET July 13, 2017

 

Best travel loyalty program offers for July 2017

Travelers can enter Sonesta’s online sweepstakes for 1 million Sonesta Travel Pass points and two first-class tickets to any Sonesta property in the U.S. and the Caribbean.   (Photo: Sonseta Resorts)

 

It’s the height of summer, and many airline and hotel companies are keen on luring eager travelers with big bonuses. Here are some highlights.

Become a Star Alliance mileage millionaire . To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Star Alliance, travelers are invited to participate in a competition to win a million miles. One member from each of the alliance’s frequent-flier programs will be chosen. Upload a photo and enter by July 31 for a chance to win.

IHG offers double points and opens new Waikiki property . Hawaii-bound travelers will be pleased to know there’s a surprising, new hotel name on Waikiki: Holiday Inn Express. The hotel features the brand’s newest design concept and is its largest in North America (second largest in the world). Road warriors that rack up points traveling for business now have a new option for free hotel stays in Honolulu with the family. It joins the Holiday Inn, the only other IHG property on Waikiki, which is offering double points for stays this summer. Travelers can also bid on travel prizes in IHG’s Share Summer travel auctions.

Best Western continues summer gift card promo . Guests at any participating Best Western hotel can earn a $10 gift card for every night of an eligible stay between now and Sept. 4. This will include the brand’s newest hotels, the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel and Tower and the Aquarius Casino Resort in Las Vegas, which are joining Best Western’s BW Premier Collection and Best Western Rewards eligibility effective July 31. Be sure to register for this offer before any stay.

United MileagePlus changing award chart this fall . United is giving its fliers plenty of notice of upcoming changes to its MileagePlus award chart, which go into effect Nov. 1. Its standard awards are being rebranded “Everyday” awards, and they will have variable pricing . Luckily, United has chosen to still publish an award chart (unlike Delta SkyMiles), which guides travelers as to how many miles they may need for a desired award. Other changes include raising the cost of “saver” award tickets on many premium cabin redemptions and adding a “no-show” fee for travelers that don’t board a reserved flight, but still want their miles back. The cost of domestic round-trip “saver” tickets within the continental U.S. thankfully remains the same at 25,000 miles. Any reservation made between now and Nov. 1 (even for later travel) will use the current award chart so plan ahead!

Flying Blue announces new promo awards . Air France and KLM are well-known for the monthly frequent-flier discounts they make available on select routes. Reservations booked in July for travel this fall from New York and several Canadian

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Scottsdale, Ariz.'s secret spot for cheap chicken

Larry Olmsted, Special for USA TODAY Published 6:05 a.m. ET July 13, 2017 | Updated 6:05 a.m. ET July 13, 2017

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The scene: Serious road food junkies crave true “hole in the wall” places that offer a sense of discovery, and while a few of these great spots end up on shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives  or otherwise get publicity, some require digging a little deeper. Few hidden gems this column has visited in the past six years have been as well hidden as grilled chicken specialist Mercado y Carniceria Cuernavaca in a residential area of South Scottsdale, Ariz., close enough to touristy Old Town to be very convenient, but just far enough away to make it impossible for visitors to simply stumble across. Instead, I found out about it the old-fashioned way — on a tip from the bartender at an Old Town hipster bar, who made it sound too intriguing (and cheap) to pass up, and it is.

Cuernavaca is the capital of the Mexican state of Morales, south of Mexico City, and in English, the rest of the name means market and butcher shop, and that’s exactly what this is, a small freestanding grocery store with its own parking lot, cement walls and metal security grates over the front doors. You might stop in to buy paper towels or a pound of oxtails, but at first glance you could easily never guess ready to eat food is served, and lots of it. The front counter does double duty as a cash register and deli, with a menu board overhead offering all sorts of Mexican and American dishes, from fried shrimp plates to gorditos. Most of the actual cooking is done in the back corner, in which a small but fully outfitted commercial restaurant-style kitchen is jammed in. Continuing down the length of the store, this same front counter becomes a full-blown butcher shop glass display case full of steaks, chops and casts of every conceivable ilk. The rest of the aisles are packed with staples and Mexican specialties like imported and exotically flavored chips, fruit sodas (tamarind, mandarin orange, lime) and snack cakes. Oddly, beer ads and posters proliferate and cover much of the available flat space, but no beer is sold on the premises.

The heart and soul of the dining operation happens mostly out of view. The front of the building has a small outdoor addition hidden from view by fence-topped walls. Inside this enclosed patio is a large wood burning grill of the style you’d see in Argentina, with a heavy metal wheel to raise and lower the grate. This is where the house specialty, pollo asado (grilled chicken) , is perfected, and while you have to make an effort to actually see it cooking, it’s easy to eat and enjoy.

Reason to visit: Pollo asado

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Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan on Denali National Park

Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns, Special for USA TODAY Published 7:48 a.m. ET July 13, 2017 | Updated 7:48 a.m. ET July 13, 2017

Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan on Denali National Park
CLOSE Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan on Denali National Park

Award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns celebrates national treasures like the Everglades and Yellowstone National Park and offers a grim view of what their fates might have been without the parks system. USA TODAY NETWORK

Last year, as the National Park Service celebrated its 100th birthday, Americans were encouraged to “Find Your Park.”

Park visitors did just that 331 million times, up 8% from the previous year and setting a new record. Those visitors, we’re sure, went home with millions of imperishable memories of connecting with our country’s most magnificent landscapes, its wildlife and its history. They also contributed an estimated $32 billion to the nation’s economy (a $10 return on every dollar Congress appropriated for parks) and supported 295,000 jobs. As birthday parties go, that’s quite a success.

This year, another centennial is underway. Up in Alaska, Denali National Park and Preserve turns 100 years old. If it’s stunning scenery and fascinating wildlife you’re looking for, Denali’s got more of both than any other park you’re likely to visit.

At its heart, rising 20,310 spectacular feet above sea level, is the highest mountain in North America, which the local Athabaskan Indians reverently call Denali, “The High One.” Words aren’t adequate to describe Denali’s dramatic immensity, looming over the Alaska Range. An early visitor likened the experience of seeing it for the first time to looking into the yawning abyss of the Grand Canyon. “At such times,” he said, “man feels his atomic insignificance in this universe.”

One of our own favorite memories in making our PBS documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea , was an August afternoon spent near Wonder Lake in the center of the park. Denali was enshrouded in clouds (as it often is) and we were anxious about whether we would ever capture the mountain’s majesty on film. We made a key decision by recognizing our own atomic insignificance in Denali’s conception of time. We aimed our camera where we believed the mountain was behind the clouds, set it to shoot one frame every four seconds to create a time lapse ... and simply waited.

We swatted mosquitoes. Ate the sandwiches we had packed. Picked a few tundra blueberries for dessert. Decompressed to the rhythms of the breeze and the clouds and occasional sounds of sandhill cranes high overhead, beginning their long migration southward. And waited some more. An hour or two passed.

Then slowly, as if it was pulling back a curtain to reward our patience, Denali revealed itself. We knew we had a “signature” shot for our documentary, and for the next several years in the editing room — and anytime we watch the finished film

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