From any point in Michigan, at least one of the five Great Lakes (all but Lake Ontario) is never more than 90 miles away. That’s auspicious news for Michigan’s Heartland—also known as Central Michigan—the only region that doesn’t sit astride the coast. Stretching from the southern state line to the middle of the Lower Peninsula, this wide swath of rolling prairies, scenic lakes, weathered barns, and abundant farmland contains some of the state’s finest educational institutions and largest cities, including Grand Rapids , Kalamazoo , Midland , and Lansing , the state capital since 1847.
Travelers often overlook Michigan’s Heartland. Early settlers of the 19th century, however, recognized the appeal of this centralized region. A surge of eager, frontier-bound settlers resulted in the creation of some of Michigan’s most picturesque towns, including Marshall , which has been designated a National Historic Landmark District for its varied 19th-century architecture.
Migrating Easterners were also responsible for the establishment of many of the Heartland’s private colleges, in towns such as Hillsdale, Albion, Alma, and Olivet. A hotbed of academia, the Heartland also has its share of major universities—most notably, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor , with other standouts nearby, including Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo , Michigan State University in East Lansing , and Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant .
Besides strolling through the well-groomed campuses and well-preserved villages that comprise Michigan’s Heartland, travelers will find a myriad of other outdoor and cultural pursuits here as well. Whether exploring the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum , marveling at Kalamazoo’s Air Zoo , hiking through the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, or watching a show at the Purple Rose Theatre Company  (established by Chelsea native and Hollywood actor Jeff Daniels), coast-conscious visitors will be grateful for the inland detour.