My name is Gina Valente, and I run a brand called Moody Cabin Girl. Through my blog and Instagram account I celebrate and share Midwestern cabin culture, with a heavy emphasis on Michigan. But through my travels, I have visited cabins all around the country and even the world. Hopping from Tennessee to Ohio to as far as Iceland, I’ve stayed in nearly 100 cabins, and it might surprise you to learn that my favorite cabin location is in my home state of Michigan.
Marisssa mentions “Up North” in her explanation. But what exactly is "Up North"? It's a phrase Michiganders throw around when talking about their vacation cabins. I spoke to another cabin host, Marcus Trombetta. Marcus has also lived in various places throughout the country, but recently designed and built a cabin in Glen Arbor, Michigan. Trombetta explained to me “My non-Michigan family likes to ask, ‘where is Up North? Like how far north of Detroit or Lansing or Grand Rapids do you have to be to be considered Up North?’ And it’s a trick question, because it is not actually a location, it’s a state of mind.”
I completely agree with Marcus’ description. But formally, Northern Michigan, or Up North rather, can be used for anything north of Detroit, though the heart of the matter isn’t really that definitive. Up North is the spot where metro-Detroiters have bought property to spend their summers and escape the grind of the 9-to-5 work week. It’s where they spend quality time with loved ones and get outside to enjoy one of the 11,000 lakes of the state, or perhaps hike in one of the forests. Afterall, 53% of the state is covered in trees. And this concept of buying a little piece of land and building a place to call your own to relax has created a special kind of culture.
Trombetta describes this phenomenon: “My family had a cabin when I was growing up, it was more of a little shack on a small lake. We all called it 'the cottage.' So much of my childhood was spent there, and so much of our time away from the cottage was spent in preparation or anticipation of being at the cottage. I think that was true for a lot of other families in the area I grew up (the blue collar suburbs of Detroit). It was rather common for normal middle class families to keep a second home 'Up North.' I’m not sure it is as common in other regions in the county. There are probably many factors that play into it — certainly things like Union wages and property values/property taxes. The place I have now is far from a shack, but looking back at summers at 'the cottage' was a huge influence in wanting to build a cabin Up North.”
While city folks were building cabin communities in northern Michigan, tiny towns were built up around them. These towns still stand today, many of them seasonal for the most part, staying busy in the summers and closing down in the winters. These little cities often have old-fashioned ice cream parlors, kitsch miniature golf courses and mom-and-pop diners. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you visit these spots. Things move a little slower. People are friendly. Personally, these towns are one of the reasons I’m drawn to Michigan as a cabin destination. I love spending time at cabins, but you better believe I’ll be using my afternoons to explore the local businesses, walk the beaches and meet the locals. It’s this small town feeling that I just can’t get enough of.