5 Ideas for Creating Your Michigan Road Trip Adventure

Thinking about a road trip? Planning one is exciting!

In the Great Lakes region, there are almost always opportunities for fun and meaningful stops on the way to your destination. When embarking on a road trip, the destination is usually top of mind… but the journey is too often an unappreciated part of the experience. When I travel, I use a handful of techniques to help create my road trip itinerary. Vacation preferences are different for each of us, but with the methods below, you can customize the adventure to fit your style. Whether you plan to embark on a one-day trip or a week-long Great Lakes tour, these ideas are sure to shift your road trip ideas into gear. 

Visit a Lighthouse

Lighthouses are iconic landmarks with rich maritime history, and they’re also a great stop along a road trip. Lighthouses are often close to nature trails, beaches, and charming coastal towns. Let lighthouses guide your road-trip journey and you’ll soon be stretching your legs with a variety of meaningful add-on experiences. Here are a few of my favorites.

    • Marquette Harbor Lighthouse is located in one of Michigan’s most ‘adventurous’ cities. Hiking, mountain biking, paddling, rock climbing, and more… all at your fingertips.
    • Big Sable Light in Ludington State Park is a little off the main roadways, but it’s worth it! There are lots of hiking and paddling opportunities. One of my favorites is the Lost Lake Trail, with boardwalks that connect small islands in Hamlin Lake.
    • South Manitou Island Light is hardly a ‘quick stop’, but if you save a day for island hopping, you’ll be able to enjoy Sleeping Bear Dunes beaches without the crowds.

Choose a Coastal Scenic Drive

Help elevate your drive by taking a coastal scenic drive. Seeing the big lake peeking through the trees is sure to lift your spirits and get you in the vacation mood. Plus, the scenic route will often take you through the small towns and cool destinations that make a road trip great. Here are a few of my favorite coastal scenic highways.

    • M22: Connecting Manistee and Traverse City, highway M22 passes through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Leelanau Peninsula, and more. It has been named America’s Most Scenic Road by countless publications, and it’s a title that holds up!

    • US23: US Route 23 goes as far south as Florida, but the northernmost section traverses along Michigan’s “sunrise coast”. Tawas, Alpena, Cheboygan and Mackinaw City are great places along US23 to visit.

    • M26: Stretching to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, this highway passes some of my favorite coastline in the entire state of Michigan.

Stop at a U.P. Waterfall

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is home to more than 300 waterfalls. My daughter and I often enjoy picnic lunches by a waterfall in the woods. Some are in remote places without cell service, so remember to download offline maps so you can find your way back! Here are a few of my favorites.

    • Canyon Falls has a lovely hike from the parking lot to the falls. It’s the perfect distance to stretch your legs and get some fresh air. The North Country Trails crosses here, so you can easily make the short visit much longer.

    • The Black River in the western UP features a cluster of awesome falls, including Gorge, Potawatomi, Sandstone, and Rainbow falls. 

    • Tahquamenon Falls: The state’s largest waterfall, and third largest in the country by volume, Tahquamenon’s upper and lower falls have trails, overlooks, and even a restaurant, brewery and gift shop at the top.

Taste the Local Flavor

Dare to dine at a place you’ve never been! Food chains are reliable and consistent, but the local cuisine is where the authentic experiences are found. I especially enjoy getting coffee and pastries at a local cafe. There are SO many great options for local cafes that it’s impossible to only list a few. I encourage you to find a new one on your next trip! Pictured is Jamsens’s Fish Market and Bakery in Copper Harbor (try the thimbleberry donuts!).

Keep the Trip Open Ended 

It’s okay to have gaps in your plan. It’s okay to take your time. If you’re going to a familiar destination, try a new route. Drive through a town you’ve never visited. Slowly cruise down Main Street to see if a shop inspires you. Get some fresh air at a local riverside park. Be spontaneous, and have fun! 

Here are a few things to look out for…

    • Fresh Produce: Depending on the time of year, you might find yourself driving through peak harvest of blueberries, apples, asparagus, cherries and more. [Cherry picking photo] [Strawberry picking photo]

    • Festivals and Events: You might be surprised how much you’ll find from a Google search “events today in (insert small town).” 

    • Unique Parks and Attractions: Locals tend to know these best. While you’re getting coffee at the corner cafe, ask for tips on the local favorites!

I hope these tips are as useful to you as they are to me. Enjoy the road, and safe travels!

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