15 Amazing Scenic Drives in Michigan 2022
There’s no better way to experience gorgeous landscapes, lakeside views, and historic charm than taking scenic drives in Michigan.
With schools out for summer, days lasting longer, and temperatures getting higher, there’s no better time to embark on a pure Michigan road trip. Turn the music up and cruise down miles of Great Lakes coastline with the wind in your hair.
With amazing Michigan roadside parks located throughout the state (including the backroads in Michigan), there are tons of Michigan scenic drives offering beautiful views in the summer and fall, winter and spring.
If you’re looking for some travel ideas to take in panoramic views of the awesome mitten state, you’re in the right place. No matter where you are in the state, a peaceful drive along a scenic byway or coastal road is always just a short drive away.
Here are some of our favorite scenic drives in Michigan.
M-119 Tunnel of Trees: Best Michigan Scenic Drive
One of Michigan’s most popular scenic routes is found in northwest Michigan, running from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. Affectionately nicknamed the Tunnel of Trees, M-119 feels like something from a fairy tale.
Start in Harbor Springs and cruise along the coastline of Lake Michigan. Drive beneath a canopy of lush green foliage that casts shadows over the road keeping your summer drive cool, or be awestruck by the reds and oranges of the trees all around you during the height of fall. Keep an eye to the west to catch glimpses of amazing Lake Michigan views from atop the bluffs.
RATING: 10/10 for some of the prettiest fall foliage around.
PRO-TIP: Plan some extra time to explore Petoskey Michigan, one of the top northern Michigan travel spots. Petoskey State Park is a Michigan summer favorite, with a wide, sandy beach right on Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay.
M-37 Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City
Famous for its vineyards, Old Mission Peninsula juts out into Grand Traverse Bay and M-37 is its main route. Meander through northern Michigan’s stunning wine country with the water and the vineyards or orchards on either side of your path. Flowing hills will grant magnificent views of the Lake Michigan shoreline for the entire drive from Traverse City up until Mission Point, the northernmost tip of the peninsula.
RATING: 10/10 for the mix of stunning Lake Michigan views and fun markets and wineries to visit along the drive.
PRO-TIP: Some of the greatest wineries in Michigan call Old Mission Peninsula home, so be sure to stop by for a visit and take some wine home to try.
US-23 Sunrise Coast
It’s called the Sunrise Coast for a reason, waking up before the sun does makes for an unforgettable experience chasing dawn along Michigan’s “Sunrise Coast.”
For early birds, US-23 along Lake Huron may just be the perfect route. Cruise along the shores of Lake Huron all the way from Standish near Saginaw Bay to Mackinaw City, where Lake Huron meets Lake Michigan, passing through wonderful Lake Huron beach towns along the way.
Make your first stop at Tawas City and East Tawas, where you can take in beautful views of Tawas Bay and catch a glimpse of the popular Tawas Point Lighthouse in the distance. Spend some time exploring charming downtown East Tawas, and stop in for handmade chocolates at the Village Chocolatier.
Thhe next stop is Oscoda, home of Oscoda Beach Park, one of the best beaches in Michigan. Plan some extra time to expore this spot and walk out onto the ADA-accessible pier that juts into Lake Huron. Just outside of Oscoda, you’ll find roadside parks, where you can pull in for beach access.
Greenbush and Harrisville have some beautiful views along the lake as you head north to Alpena on Thunder Bay. All of these towns sit comfortably on US-23 and are worth a stop for a snack, some shopping, or even just sightseeing along this underrated Great Lake.
RATING: 10/10 for the variety of sights you’ll see along this long drive.
PRO-TIP: Between Harrisville and Alpena is Black River, home to Negwegon State Park. You’ll travel down a sandy, one-lane path to get to the parking lot. Once there, choose from many hiking trails or take the path to Lake Huron for some amazing beachfront.
River Road Scenic Byway
Not all scenic drives in Michigan are found on the lakes; some are found riverside. The River Road Scenic Byway branches away from US-23 in Oscoda and runs inland through the Huron National Forest alongside the Au Sable River.
Travelers on this route can expect more than just pretty views with plenty of open areas to stop for a picnic, take a walk, or camp out under the trees. There’s lots of hiking trails, too, with plenty of scenic bluffs overlooking the river.
The River Road Scenic Byway is situated high over the AuSable River, access to the waterfront means following hiking rails and plenty of stairs, so wear appropriate footwear.
RATING: 9/10 for the long stretches of beautiful hardwood forest linig the road on both sides.
PRO-TIP: Follow River Road along the AuSable to Lumbermen’s Monument. Lumbermen’s Monument visitor center explains the important role that lumbering played in Michigan’s history. You’ll find a beautiful park, a giant bronze statue, exhibits and a cabin showing the the way the lumbermen moved.
There’s a long stairway down to the riverbank, where you can walk through a replica of a floating “logger’s kitchen,” which was used to feed the lumberman that worked on the surrounding riverbanks. This is a truly beautiful spot in Michigan, and you’ll walk away with a whole new appreciation for Michigan’s logging industry.
US-2 Top of the Lake Scenic Byway
As the name suggests, the Top of the Lake Scenic Byway runs atop Lake Michigan through the western Upper Peninsula. Head up north and cross the Mighty Mac into St. Ignace to follow US-2 west towards Escanaba on Michigan’s Green Bay coast.
Don’t forget to wave “Hi” to Mackinac Island as you pass by on the bridge. This area of the UP is known as the “banana belt” for its moderate temperature, but it’s the picturesque northern shoreline of Lake Michigan that will truly wow you.
It’s one of the most popular day trips for folks visiting St. Ignace. If you’re heading north though the Great Lakes State from Mackinaw City, cross the Mackinac Bridge and head west. The Lake Scenic Byway US-2 is another long route, stretching across multiple states, including Wisconsin and North Dakota.
Keep your eyes open for the Cut River Bridge, a cantilevered steel deck bridge over the Cut River.
RATING: 9/10 for the stunning views of this underrated Lake Michigan coast.
PRO TIP: Northeast of the Mackinac Bridge, you’ll find the Les Cheneaux Islands. A group of 36 islands, and French for “the channels”, Les Cheneaux’s Islands are a Michigan island experience you don’t want to miss out on. Some islands are inhabited and offer top-rated vacation rentals for a perfect island getaway, while others are specific nature reserves. Farther west, you’ll find the ferry to Drummond Isialnd, another Michigan summer island retreat.
Woodward Avenue is not what some might think of when they imagine a scenic drive, but don’t be fooled by its uban location. It partly follows the Native American Saginaw Trail, which extends from Detroit to Pontiac and has been considered “Detroit’s Main Street,” for ages, making it full of historical significance and charm. Be sure and make a stop at world-famous Buddy’s Pizzeria for some authentic, Detroit-style pizza.
RATING: 8/10 for the iconic buildings that are part of Detroit’s vibrant history.
PRO-TIP: Car enthusiasts will love Woodward in August when the Woodward Dream Cruise takes place. The road is filled with classic and antique cars from Detroit all the way to Pontiac.
M-22 Circle Tours
This gem of the Leelanau Peninsula is one of Michigan’s most famous scenic routes and has been around for over 100 years. M-22 stretches along miles and miles of Lake Michigan coastline, starting from Manistee County, it goes up and around the Leelanau Peninsula before ending in Traverse City. Stop by some of Michigan’s most famous sites or just enjoy the drive with its rural atmosphere and scenic views for all seasons.
RATING: 10/10 for being hand-down the most scenic area in all of Michigan.
PRO-TIP: M-22 will take you right past Sleeping Bear Dunes, one Michigan’s national parks. You’ll drive right through Glen Arbor; be sure to make it a stop on your road trip. Charming Glen Arbor is home to a vibrant artist’s colony, as well as some of the most spectacular beaches in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Red Arrow Highway
Down in southwest Michigan, Red Arrow Highway branches out of New Buffalo, through Union Pier, Lakeside, and Harbert before ending in St. Joseph. Take this route to explore these underrated beach towns on the southernmost shores of Lake Michigan. Along the way, stop by the art galleries and antiques that make this route such a popular summer cruise destination.
RATING: 8/10 The historic Red Arrow Highway is right up there, nostalgically-speaking, with Route 66 for Michigan travelers.
PRO-TIP: Take some time to tour the nearby Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail to sample wines or purchase a bottle or two.
US-31 West Michigan Pike
The ultimate drive for Lake Michigan fans, US-31 will take you up the whole west coast of the state, from St. Joe in the southwest, to Traverse City up north. Along this route, you can find everything that the Lake Michigan shore has to offer, from sugar sand beaches to cozy coastal communities. Travel the “Pike” for the ultimate Michigan road trip experience filled with plenty of festivals, events, historic charm, and Michigan-made food, art, and more.
RATING: 9/10 for the fabulous communities and pretty Michigan scenery you’ll pass as you head “Up North.”
PRO-TIP: This is one of the longest routes on the list, so be sure to pack up all your favorite road trip snacks if you intend to traverse its entire 184 miles.
Whitefish Bay National Forest Scenic Byway
If you’re in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a drive along the Whitefish Bay National Forest Byway is a must-do if you have a free hour. Travel through historic sites with stunning views that span the shores of Lake Superior. Shrouded in hardwood trees, conifers, and wetlands of the Hiawatha National Forest, this drive is one you won’t soon forget.
If you’re up for a quick detour, taking a trip up to Whitefish Point is well worth it. Here you can see the Whitefish Point lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.
RATING: 9/10 for amazing views of the Lake Superior shoreline and the thick forests of the U.P.
PRO-TIP: Tahquamenon Falls, the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi, are located about 15 minutes east of the the Whitefish Bay National Forest Scenic Byway. there are two sets of falls: the lower Tahquamenon Falls and the Upper Tahquamenon Falls. More than more than 50,000 gallons of water per second spill over the Upper Falls; it’s a remarkable thing to see up close from the observation deck. Don’t miss an opportunity to see this popular tourist attraction in the eastern Upper Peninsula.
M-43 to South Haven
M-43 is the lifeline which connects Kalamazoo to the Lake Michigan coast at South Haven. Start in Kalamazoo and coast westward along this rural route with plenty of greenery to admire. You’ll pass through Glendale and Bangor before reaching South Haven on the shores of Lake Michigan. Chill on the beach all day or explore the town ‘s many restaurants and shops.
RATING: 9/10 for the unique small-towns that you’ll encounter on your way to South Haven.
M-125 Monroe Street
Named for its home city, M-125, or “Monroe Street” will take you right through downtown Monroe. With a good variety of structures, from residential, to religious, and even commercial landmarks, you won’t be bored with a trip down M-125. You’ll even cross the historic River Raisin, bringing you closer to nature than you may have thought you’d be in a downtown setting.
RATING: 7/10 for the beautiful views of the historic River Raisin.
PRO-TIP: M-125 goes for miles and there’s so much more to explore even past Monroe. But be careful, because you eventually may just end up in Toledo.
M-15 Ortonville Road
Taking I-75 to travel between Clarkson and Bay City is chaotic, so try the alternative along M-15. This scenic road winds through southeast Michigan’s quaint towns and parks with plenty of recreation to enjoy. Campsites line the route heading north towards Saginaw Bay, meaning you can set up camp somewhere along the way if you feel like staying along M-15 for a little while longer.
RATING: 7/10 for the pretty parks and small, inland lakes you’ll encounter.
PRO-TIP: Use M-15 as a less congested alternative to I-75 during busy holidays.
US-41 Copper Country Trail
On US-41 in the Upper Peninsula, explore the rich mining history of northern Michigan along the Copper Country Trail National Byway. Deep underground below this route sits a copper vein which fueled the copper mining boom in the region. Embrace northern Michigan’s rugged wilderness and forested landscapes along the Keweenaw Peninsula.
If you want to expand your tour of scenic Copper Country, take the Eagle River Drive to M-26 and the Brockway Mountain Drive. If the day is clear, you’ll be able to take in views of Isle Royale, some 50 miles out in Lake Superior.
RATING: 10/10 for some of the most spectacular U.P. scenery this side of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
PRO-TIP: While traveling along US-41, take a ferry from Copper Harbor to Michigan’s only National Park, Isle Royale.
US-12 Heritage Trail
Take a journey all the way across Michigan along US-12 from Detroit to New Buffalo and beyond. The US-12 Heritage Trail follows the same route as the ancient Native American Sauk Trail and is rich in historic character and charm.
Follow this winding road across the state through historic small towns like Clinton, Coldwater, and Sturgis. You can make your cross-Michigan tour a whole Great Lakes tour if you want, since US-12 crosses through several states, including Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
RATING: 8/10 for the quiet, winding trail that cuts through historic, small towns.
PRO-TIP: New Buffalo, Michigan is one of the top Michigan beachtowns, swelling with visitors from the Chicago are who flock to the town’s stunning beaches and fun vibe. Be sure and plan some extra time to explore the New Buffalo beaches at the end of your journey.
Bonus Scenic Drive in Michigan: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
We saved the best for last. We all know about the beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, voted one of the best vacation destinations in the United States. Here, you’ll find towering sand dunes, sparkling Lake Michigan bays and aqua-blue inland lakes.
But, did you know that there’s a special spot in where you can take it all in as you travel along a 7.5 mile drive? It’s true: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive has 12 stops which share the history of the dunes, as well as offering breathtaking views. Don’t miss it.
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About the Author-
Bella DiMascio is a Content Editor for mymichiganbeach.com. She grew up in the Detroit suburb of Westland and later attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo where she majored in Communication Studies and minored in English: Writing. Creative writing has been a hobby and interest of Bella’s since she was in elementary school and she is thrilled to be using her talents to highlight the Great Lakes State. Outside of writing, Bella enjoys getting outside with her two Australian Shepherds, playing video games, and binging shows on Netflix.