10 BEST Michigan Road Trips
Michigan’s motto is Pure Michigan for a reason – and the best way to discover that reason is to embark on some amazing Michigan road trips.
Road trips in Michigan are known for being spectacular year-round. Whether you’re going through the Tunnel of Trees during the fall color tour, or searching for a winter wonderland, or just taking a summer road trip to the beach, Michigan has something for everyone in every season. The road trip itneraries that we’ve put together are perfect for outdoor adventurers and people who enjoy scenery from the comforts of their cars.
Embrace that feeling of wanderlust within you and check out this list of Michigan road trips to plan your trip itinerary around the awesome mitten.
Brockway Mountain Dr. is an 8.8 mile scenic highway stretching along the Keweenaw Peninsula, and is also part of the Copper Country Trail National Scenic Byway.
When you visit this area, I suggest taking an afternoon to slowly travel along the Brockway Mountain Trail before heading toward the rest of the byway so you can fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The scenic overlooks offer panoramic views of the Michigan coast, and the forests and landscape give you that feeling of awe that only happens in nature. Check out our list of Scenic Hiking Trails in Michigan to find the best spots in Copper Harbor to stretch your legs during your road trip.
PRO-TIP: If you take US-41 from the Houghton-Hancock area, check out the historic Quincy Mines. The Quincy Mines were once the most successful copper mines in the entire world for almost 100 years. Now part of the U.S. National Parks system, you can tour the mine area and learn about the role the area played in the development of the country.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Truly one of the most beautiful places in the world, Pictured Rocks Lakeshore is a must-see destination. You’ll find almost 50 miles of stunning scenery: colorful sandstone clifs towering up to 200 feet high. You’ll also find a thick forest full of pristine rivers, cascading waterfalls and towering pines. It’s one of the most-visited national parks in Michigan, and you’ll quickly understand why.
Things to do here include hiking, swimming, kayaking and camping. Here are a few of the top priority sites at Pictured Rocks: Sable Beach & Falls, Hurricane River, Miner’s Beach Area, Chapel Rock & Beach Area, Spray Falls, and Sand Point Beach.
When you’re mapping out your drive, you’ll want to drive along Au Sable Point Trail so you hit all of the spots before reaching Pictured Rocks: Grand Marais, Grand Sable Lake, Log Slide Overlook, and the Au Sable lighthouse.
If you are making this trek during the warmer months, you’ll even be able to access the part of Au Sable Point Trail that is closed to vehicles during the winter. But, if you prefer winter scenery to summer, then Lake Superior frozen over and the ice caves along the coast are amazing sites to see.
When people think of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, many immediately think of Tahquamenon Falls. People come from all over the country to see this destination of natural beauty and magnificent falls. You can take a river boat tour to get up close and personal with the falls if that’s your style, or you can trek up and down the stairs along the river’s edge.
If you have a week to set aside, then make the UP one big road trip. Start in the western U.P., by Porcupine Mountains and Lake of the Clouds. Or, you could start in the stunning Keweenaw Peninsula by Copper Harbor, and travel east along Lake Superior through Marquette to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Find your way to Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and end this beautiful trip with a tour of the Upper and Lower Falls here on the Tahquamenon River. The largest waterfall east of the Mississippi, the Upper Falls have a drop of nearly 50 feet and are more than 200 feet across.
The east side of the state is known as the “Sunrise Side” because of the breathtaking views on Lake Huron in the early morning, but the views don’t stop there. Alpena also has Dark Sky Preserve Parks for stargazing, and even opportunities to see the Northern Lights. Alpena has so much to see and experience, including the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
This is a premiere destination for divers from all over the world because of the famous Shipwreck Alley that has more than 100 shipwrecks. This is actually part of a system of 15 marine sanctuaries, but this one is my personal favorite. After you’ve seen the shipwreck sanctuary in Thunder Bay, take the rest of the day to discover all of the secret treasurers Alpena has to offer.
Alpena is on the Lake Huron shore heritage route, and has deep routes in Michigan’s lumbering and shipping industry. Exploring the charming downtown area, with its shops and restaurants set in historic brick buildings is an exception way to spend a Michigan summer afternoon.
This is one of my favorite Michigan road trips and our Ultimate Guide to Alpena will tell you everything you need to know about Alpena and its attractions.
Speaking of the Sunrise Coast, US-23 is known as the highway for the sunrise coast, and it is another one of the Pure Michigan byways that make this state perfect for road trips. Read our Ultimate Guide to Tawas find all there is to do and see in Tawas City and nearby East Tawas.
There is plenty of hiking and biking of course, but there are also a ton of cute boutiques and antique stores to get lost in along Newman Street in East Tawas, plus some A+ chocolate and sweet shops. Go and see why this city is known as the Cape Cod of the Midwest.
PRO-TIP: The Tawas Point Lighthouse is one of the most picturesque Lake Huron lighthouses to explore. Located on the tip of a peninsula, you’ll find spacious grounds and a giftshop. This ligthouse is part of the Lighthouse Keeper’s program, too, if you want to try your hand at running the place for a week.
Located in the uppermost part of the Thumb, Port Austin is a great place to center your road trip around. If you start in Bay City, you can venture up M-25 alongside Saginaw Bay before reaching all of the natural wonders in Port Austin.
Most famously, of course, is Turnip Rock. If you’re like me, you’ll want to grab your kayak and get up close and personal to this famous site. Whether you hike and kayak, or sit in your car and drive by the sites – Port Austin is a beautiful place to spend a day or two embracing your adventurous side.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
The Leelanau Peninsula is a famous destination for tourists from all over the world. The beaches in this part of Michigan mimic the beaches in tropical islands, while the trees surrounding those beaches remind you that you’re right next to a forest reserve. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is known for the views of Lake Michigan as well as the huge sand dunes and plenty of hiking trails.
When you’re planning this road trip, be sure to drive through the covered bridge at the start of the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive and follow that through to see some views that truly can’t be beat. After that, go to M-22 to see all the best sites north of Sleeping Bear Dunes: Glen Arbor, Pyramid Point, The Leelanau Conservatory, and finally ending at Leelanau State Park. M-22 is on sweatshirts and bumper stickers for a reason, so go and see for yourself what all the fuss is about.
Tunnel of Trees
M-119 is known as the “Tunnel of Trees” in Northern Michigan. This not-so-best-kept-secret hugs the Lake Michigan coastline and is one of the most scenic drives in Michigan. The Tunnel of Trees is one of the best sections of the Michigan Color Tour every year, where people can see all of the leaves changing colors and stop by family-owned fruit stands for some homemade apple cider during their fall road trips.
Begin at Petoskey State Park and drive north through Harbor Springs and Cross Village before reaching Sturgeon Bay and Wilderness State Park. All three of these places are great spots for getting out and stretching your legs to break up some of the longer stretches of driving times.
Any part of Lake Michigan shoreline is always a beautiful view, and it’s true for any time of year.
Mackinac Island, Mackinac Bridge, and Mackinaw City are some of the most photographed places in Michigan – and for good reason. Although vehicles aren’t allowed on Mackinac Island, carriage rides and bike rides around the island help to preserve the old-timey, classic feel of the island.
The people who live there year-round are actually fond of tourists, (probably because only 500 people live there year-round) and their hospitality shows. Historic Fort Mackinac offers a unique opportunity to learn the history of the island, too. Don’t miss the chance to see the cannon’s fire; you can check the daily schedule to find out when this takes place.
So, stop by the island for a carriage ride, beautiful views, and genuine Mackinac Island fudge before ferrying back to land and continuing your road trip. The Mackinac Bridge is iconic and breathtaking – because of the views, although some people do get a bit nervous as they approach the bridge. Enjoy the view and ask your passenger to take some pictures as you drive over the Straits of Mackinac, before entering St. Ignace on the other side of the bridge. Here you will find another small, idyllic town with lighthouses, cafes, and more.
PRO-TIP: End this road trip with a visit to Castle Rock where you’ll find a gift shop with some great tourist t-shirts plus amazing views. If you are apprehensive of heights then I suggest enjoying the gift shops and the photos your road trip partner takes from the top, but the stairs are worth it in my opinion.
Traverse City Area: Best Michigan Road Trip
Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Leelanau, Torch Lake, Elk Lake, Old Mission Peninsula, and Leelanau Peninsula: what do these all have in common?
They are all some of the best views in all of Michigan. Each of these places have ended up on lists of “Most Beautiful Place in US” or “Most Beautiful Beach in the World.” We Michiganders brag quite a bit about these places because they really do make you feel in awe each and every time you visit.
For this trip, the route is simple: start in Traverse City and drive along each body of water in the water, and just appreciate the views. Head up to quaint Suttons Bay to check out the Laughing Fish Art Gallery and have lunch at Martha’s Leelanau Table. Head west to Leland, aka “Fishtown” and visit Verterra winery, one the many amazing wineries in the Traverse City area.
There are endless places to stop for a walk to a picnic, and even more places that you can happen upon by accident that end up being your favorite place.
I highly recommend visiting the beach towns along the way and of course the Grand Traverse Commons Natural Area, for 140 acres of unpaved hiking and biking trails.
Grand Rapids is perhaps the biggest small town in Michigan. It’s a bustling city at times, but somehow always maintains that small town, close-knit community type of feeling. It could be a direct correlation to Art Fest, the world-renowned art festival that Grand Rapids hosts every two years, that has turned Grand Rapids into an art museum.
During this road trip, drive through downtown, the West Side, and East Town to find all of the hidden treasures left by Art Prize. For the rest of your road trip, I recommend stopping at different points along the Grand River.
The Fish Ladder is still in the downtown area, near the iconic Blue Bridge, and after that you can head south to Millennium Park and the surrounding area for some walking trails near the water. Also known as “Beer City,” Grand Rapid’s is the home of famous Founder’s Brewery and Brewery Vivant. Use our guide to the best craft breweries in Michigan to find more.
St. Joseph is known as the “Riviera of the Midwest” for a clear reason: it is a gorgeous, elegant small town with plenty to do and see in southwest Michigan. When planning this trip, be sure to set aside some time to visit the art galleries and boutiques in downtown St. Joseph so you can find a few treasures to take back home with you to remember your trip.
St. Joe also has one of the best farmers markets I’ve ever been to in Michigan – seriously, you have to try the artisan cheese stand, which is usually just a few tables away from the stand with all of the succulents you could ask for.
Finally, make sure you stop by the famous Silver Beach before heading out of town to Grand Mere State Park for some natural scenery.
The Warren Dunes State Park has endless hiking trails to adventure through with fabulous views and scenery. There is also a Captain Mike’s Fun Park right next to the dunes so you can get rid of some excess energy before hopping back in the car for the rest of your road trip.
The Red Arrow Highway is the perfect path for someone wanting to travel along the southwest side of Michigan, right along the lakeshore. Toward the end of the Red Arrow Highway, you’ll find the charming town of Lakeside.
It’s truly a precious and picturesque town, perfect for wandering about and finding your way to Pier Road Beach for some of those famous Lake Michigan sunsets. After Lakeside, you’ll find New Buffalo, which also has plenty to offer and is a well-kept secret (for the most part). Read our Ultimate Guide to find out everything you need to know about New Buffalo.
What’s Your BEST Michigan Road Trip?
What’s your favorite Michigan road trip itinerary? We’d love to hear about it! Do you head north to see fall foliage along the Lake Michigan shore? Do you stay in Michigan’s lower peninsula or head to the U.P.? Use the comment section below to let us know your must-hit spots or best road trip idea.
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About the Author-
Casey Johanson is a Content Writer at My Michigan Beach. A senior at Grand Valley State University, she is passionate about writing and reading. An avid traveler around Michigan, Casey enjoys gardening and running. Her favorite places are typically the hidden beaches and secret scenic overlooks throughout Michigan that most people don’t know about. She loves trying to find places that people haven’t been before and loves writing about those places even more.