FOUR ROAD TRIP ROUTES IN MICHIGAN YOU NEED TO TAKE THIS SUMMER

The entire population of Michigan is emerging from their winter habitats, eyes squinting beneath a forgotten sun. Unlike the newly released season of Game of Thrones, winter is not here. Or at least they hope.

With the final snowbanks fading, the crumpled bucket lists of summer emerge from forgotten journals and sock drawers. There's never enough time to do it all, but each year they're determined. On almost every one of those lists: a Michigan road trip.

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It's about as classic as it gets. A true American cliche. We pack up our cars with friends, beer, smores, and swimsuits and head out to the beaches and forests. The windows are rolled down, there's probably a strange mix of music blasting from a stereo, and we've already come to terms we're counting a dive in Lake Michigan as the weekend shower.

Things probably on the docket: a beach, a brewery, and a sunset.

We might never be able to know how to fix roads, but we sure know how to ride them. In fact, this blog was born on the dusty two-track adventures leading to who-knows-where near the shores of Lake Michigan. I've traveled just about every aspect of this state, and with it, compiled a list of favorite Michigan road trip routes and the absolute best things to hit along the way.

Ludington → Traverse City

road trip michigan

A trip of endless soft-sanded beaches, lighthouses, and breweries. Start in Ludington and make your way up to Manistee to the start of M22, one of America's most scenic highway drives. Stop along one of the many beach towns dotting the shoreline and cover yourself in sand head-to-toe. Don't forget to enjoy a couple of days around Sleeping Bear Dunes, featuring landscapes straight from the Sahara—except with Caribbean blue water dotting the background.

Things to see/do

  • House of Flavors Ice Cream
  • Big Sable Lighthouse (3.6-mile RT hike)
  • 5th Avenue Beach
  • Arcadia Dunes
  • Stormcloud Brewing Company
  • Frankfort North Pier Lighthouse
  • Point Betsie Lighthouse
  • Empire Bluff Train (2-mile RT hike)
  • Empire Beach
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
  • Dune Climb
  • Glen Arbor
  • Pyramid Point (2-mile RT hike)
  • Fishtown Leland
  • South Manitou Island
  • Van’s Beach
  • Leelanau State Park & Lighthouse
  • Sutton’s Bay
  • 7 Monks Taproom
  • Low Bar
  • Front Street, Traverse City

Places to stay

  • Ludington State Park Campground ($) **
  • The Inn at Ludington ($$)
  • Dempsey Manor Bed & Breakfast ($$)
  • Harbor Lights Resort ($$$)
  • Betsie River Campsite ($) **
  • The Homestead Resort ($$$) **
  • Grand Traverse Resort ($$) **

** Indicates writer's choice

Michigan road trip

Mackinaw City → Copper Harbor

michigan road trip route

To Midwest newbies, a Michigan road trip through the Upper Peninsula may appear to be nothing more than a backwoods banjo bargain with year-round yeti's. Yoopers do love banjo's (and they're damn good at it), but this road trip route takes the cake as the best in Michigan. Why? Because it offers a little bit of everything.

Start in the south along Lake Michigan's sandy beaches. Relax as you drive along US-2 and read a book by the beach. Stop and see Kitch-iti-kipi before heading north, where you'll quickly swap relaxation for adventure along the north's dramatic coastline. You'll then spend your days visiting waterfalls, coast cliffs, and mountains.

Things to see/do

  • Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
  • Audie’s Diner
  • Mackinac Bridge
  • Sand Dunes Beach
  • Epoufette Bayview Restaurant (Breakfast)
  • Kitch-iti-kipi
  • Grand Sable Dunes
  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
  • Miners Falls
  • Wagner Falls
  • Grand Island
  • AuTrain Beach
  • Black Rocks Brewing
  • Presque Isle Park
  • Sugarloaf Mountain
  • Trestle Falls
  • Lower Canyon Falls
  • Keweenaw Brewing Company
  • 5th and Elm Coffee House
  • The Library
  • The Jampot
  • Brockway Mountain
  • Brickside Brewery
  • Eagle Harbor

Places to stay

  • Rivera Motel of Mackinaw ($$) **
  • Dune Shores Resort ($)
  • Epoufette Motel ($) **
  • Hog Island Campground ($) **
  • Scotty’s Motel ($)
  • Holiday Inn Express Munising ($$$) **
  • Tourist Park Campground ($)
  • Hampton Inn Marquette ($$$)
  • The Vault Hotel Houghton ($$)
  • Bella Vista Motel ($) **
  • Trails End Campground
  • Shoreline Resort

** Indicates writer's choice

michigan road trip

Detroit → Bay City

road trip michigan route

Unless from Metro-Detroit, a trip around "The Thumb" probably isn't on your radar. However, if you're a fan of extra-large (and cheap) ice cream cones, lighthouses, cheeseburgers, and kayaking, it's time to add it to your list. Start off by exploring Detroit's revitalized downtown. From there you'll leave the up-and-coming artists hub for endless miles along Lake Huron's coastline. Clear your head with long walks on vast beaches, kayak to the famed Turnip Rock, and leave ample time for breakfast at a local hub. You won't regret it.

Things to see/do

  • Campus Martius Park
  • The Detroit Riverwalk
  • The Heidelberg Project
  • Belle Isle
  • Fort Gratiot Lighthouse
  • Freighters Eatery & Taproom
  • Lexington State Harbor
  • Lexington Brewing Company
  • Port Sanilac Lighthouse
  • Point Aux Barques Lighthouse
  • Grind Stone City Ice Cream
  • Port Austin Kayak
  • Turnip Rock
  • Port Crescent State Park
  • Caseville County Park
  • Caseville Cheeseburger
  • Thumb Brewery
  • Brew Moon Coffee House
  • Downtown Bay City
  • BaySail Tall Ship Cruise

Places to stay

  • Atheneum Suite Hotel ($$$)
  • Sheboane Bed & Breakfast ($$)
  • DoubleTree Hilton Port Huron ($$) **
  • North Park Campground ($)
  • Lake Vista Motels and Cottages ($) **
  • Windy Hill Campground ($)
  • Sleeper State Park ($) **
  • Caseville County Park ($)

** Indicates writer's choice

michigan road trip - the thumb

Traverse City → Mackinaw City

best road trip michigan

Eat and drink your heart out in Traverse City, then slowly drift up the coastline right before over-indulging into a food coma. Rent a boat for the day on Torch Lake or scout out the chocolate at Kilwin's Chocolate Factory. You'll find a few favorite qualities on this trip: great food, friendly locals, culture-infused towns, and some of Michigan's best beer.

Things to see/do

  • Chateau Chantel
  • Apache Trout Grill
  • North Peak Brewery
  • Brew Coffee
  • The Four Pot Bakery
  • Torch Lake
  • Short's Brewery Production Tour
  • Fisherman’s Island State Park
  • Charlevoix City Marina
  • The Villager Pub
  • Charlevoix South Pier Lighthouse
  • Bear River Valley Recreation Area
  • Petoskey Brewing
  • The Original Kilwins
  • Petoskey State Park
  • Tunnel of Trees
  • Wilderness State Park
  • Headlands International Dark Sky Park
  • Dixie Saloon

Where to stay

  • Cherry Tree Inn & Suites ($$) **
  • Barnes County Park ($)
  • Weathervane Inn ($$$)
  • Edgewater Inn ($$$) **
  • Hotel Walloon ($$)
  • Petoskey State Park ($)
  • Legs Inn ($$)
  • Wilderness State Park ($) **
  • Fairview Beachfront Inn & Waterpark ($$)

** Indicates writer's choice

up north michigan road trip
Which route would you choose?
Outdoor travel blog

Soulful adventurer. Probably lost. Definitely eating ice cream.

In her late-teens, Shalee drove out of her small hometown watching the sunset behind her along the two-lane highway. Her ventures began in Michigan, where she taught herself to travel on a budget. Today, Shalee shares her tips and stories to thousands of readers interested in adventure, budget, and outdoor travel. Learn more about her here.

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10 Comments

  1. Dan on April 22, 2019 at 8:37 PM

    Stacy and I have done 3 out of the 4. No thumb trip, yet. Great read as always!
    Thanks, Dan

    • Shalee Wanders on April 24, 2019 at 10:48 AM

      Thanks for following along, Dan!

  2. Brooke on April 22, 2019 at 8:53 PM

    the post I needed to get me through finals week<3

    • Shalee Wanders on April 24, 2019 at 10:49 AM

      You’re almost there! Then it’s road trip time!

  3. Kim on April 22, 2019 at 9:07 PM

    Great lists! I have only done the last one but love the ideas for the other lists!! Thanks for the suggestions on attractions and lodging!

    • Shalee Wanders on April 24, 2019 at 10:50 AM

      They are all so unique and special in their own way. Thank you!

  4. Bruce on April 23, 2019 at 11:35 AM

    Shalee,
    This post is SOOO awesome!! I’ve done 3 out of the 4, but didn’t take in everything you’ve included. Time for a redo with my son and grandkids. Definitely printing this out as a guide. Thank you very much for making things so easy. Will definitely share on my Facebook page for my friends. Hope to see you at Wheatland.
    Bruce

    • Shalee Wanders on April 24, 2019 at 10:51 AM

      Thanks for sharing, Bruce! Can’t wait to see your pictures when you hit the road with your son and grandkids. Happy travels!

  5. Amanda Carnagie on April 24, 2019 at 9:35 AM

    Sign me up for all 4! You always have the most epic Michigan adventures, so any advice from you about the Mitten State is worth listening to. 🙂
    I think the Detroit > Bay City is a good choice for me since it’s so close to home. Maybe this will be the summer that I FINALLY kayak to Turnip Rock!

    • Shalee Wanders on April 24, 2019 at 10:53 AM

      Next time I’m home: Amanda and Shalee take on Turnip Rock!!

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