Boasting a thriving and diverse landscape, a storied past, and, of course, one of the USA’s most exciting cities, Detroit, Michigan is the perfect road trip destination no matter who you are or where your interests lie, and I’m going to prove it!
Whether your idea of heaven is drinking in some nature while fishing one of the four great lakes this state borders or drinking a cold one at the Old Tavern Inn, one of the oldest bars in the U.S., you’re set for the time of your life.
There’s plenty to keep history buffs busy, sports fans screaming, and nature lovers gasping at the sheer splendor of Michigan’s dreamy scenery (see also ‘15 Amazing Things To Do In Ann Arbor During Your Vacation‘).
In this article, I’m going to be listing the 15 best Michigan road trips guaranteed to be the highlight of your year and the genesis of some cherished memories. So, are you ready to explore this amazing state? Excellent; let’s hit the road!
Michigan may be famous for its pivotal role in the automobile industry, but that doesn’t mean lovers of the simple life won’t find anything to do. Allow me to welcome you to Mackinac Island, a car-free, historic area with tons of interesting and exciting things to do.
Now, when I said it’s a car-free zone, I really meant it, so your road trip will be cut short in either St. Ignace or Mackinaw City where you’ll jump on a ferry that will take you the rest of the way.
Once you set foot on the island, why not take in the sites on a horse-drawn carriage ride, go on a lovely long hike, or explore Fort Mackinac?
It’s a fantastic area for cycling, so, if to you, it’s not a road trip until you’re on two wheels instead of four, this historic island is the perfect Michigan destination for you!
Mackinac Island makes for an amazing day trip, but to be frank, there’s no way you can enjoy everything this wonderful place has to offer in 24 hours. I’d suggest booking a room in one of the many luxury accommodations, taking it slow, and savoring every aspect of this wonderful location.
New Buffalo to St. Joseph along Red Arrow Highway
Okay, so being as my first suggestion kind of cut the car from the equation, I’m making it up to you with my second pick, a no holds barred, no-nonsense, honest to goodness road trip.
Heading north from New Buffalo, this majestic route skirts Lake Michigan, providing epic views for all the lucky so-and-sos in the passenger and back seats of the vehicle.
The sign of a good road trip is a plentiful list of things to do before you reach your destination, which is exactly what we have going on here. Between New Buffalo and St. Joseph, you can enjoy the charmingly quaint coastal towns of Lakeside, Harbert, and Union Pier.
You should also feel free to treat yourselves to some pit stops in order to explore some of the many glorious Michigan beaches you’ll be passing. Better yet, why not book a tour of one of the orchards or vineyards strewn across the landscape, and grab a few bottles of the good stuff before pressing on?
Once you reach St. Joseph, it’s all about art and antiques, so if it’s not just vintage wines you’re into, but vintage, well…everything, I hope you have space in your car to bring a few choice picks home with you.
You may not think of traveling around a city as a road trip, but Detroit is huge, and you’ll be putting in some serious hours behind the wheel if you want to see all the main attractions.
I’d start with Belle Isle Island, then pick up some lunch in The Old Tavern Inn, Michigan’s oldest bar and restaurant, dating back to 1835.
After you’ve filled your belly, you might fancy a funky trip to the Motown Museum on Grand Boulevard, or if you’ve got a bookworm in your party, the Detroit Public Library and Institute of Arts might be your next stops.
As I’m sure any sports fans are already aware, just west of Lake Erie is Little Caesars Arena, home of the Red Wings and the Pistons.
Grab yourself some tickets to your preferred sporting event, enjoy the game, then round the evening up with some drinks at Detroit’s infamous Candy bar or Ghost bar.
Arcadia to Frankfurt via the M-22
If you’re looking to kick back and take in some gorgeous vistas on your Michigan road trip, then this is the route for you!
The M-22 chases the Lake Michigan Shoreline along the Leelanau Peninsula, making it one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the USA (see also our article about San Juan). While there’s plenty to do and see along the Northern end of this infamous road, this route focuses on its underrated southern reach.
Before you set off, be sure to take a dip in the “Big Lake” and warm your toes on the golden beach of the village of Arcadia. Once sufficiently sunned, hit the road and head North on the M-22.
Prepare yourself for breathtaking views of expansive littoral vistas and densely wooded hilltops. Then, once you reach Frankfurt, why not sip on a cold craft beer from the infamous Stormcloud Brewing company before exploring the port town’s fabled lighthouse?
Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
The biggest downside of sticking to the southern stretch of the M-22 as we did in my last suggestion is that we completely miss Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — a crime to be sure! So, let’s make things right by bringing the car around, and heading northwards for my 5th pick.
These dunes are a hiker’s dream, so make sure to pack some solid walking boots. However, if exercise is your idea of hell rather than a holiday, no worries! Take the Pierce Stocking Scenic drive that runs within the dues, and you can explore this natural beauty from behind the wheel.
Oh, and before you hit the headlands of Lake Michigan’s islands, you won’t regret spending at least a couple of hours in the Lake Michigan Maritime Museum.
Tawas City to Alpena via the US-23
Hugging the shoreline of Lake Huron, the U-23 leads you through some amazing villages dotted along the Michigan coastline, including Oscoda and Harrisville.
Before leaving the former, I recommend checking out the AuSable-Oscoda Historical Society and Museum, and picking up some mouthwatering BBQ snacks at the locally renowned Office Lounge and Grill.
Before departing the latter, I recommend a brief adventure through the dense, shady pine forests of Harrisville State Park, heading northwards for a glimpse of the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse.
Reaching your destination of Alpena, you’ll be met with jaw-dropping panoramic views from Thunder Bay. After setting your jaw firmly back in place, it’s time to hit up the Thunder Bay Arts Council Gallery and the Besser Museum, followed by boozy adventures to Thunder Bay winery and Austin Brothers Beer Company.
If you stay long enough, you may even witness the aurora-esque display as the sun sets behind the Thunder Bay Lighthouse — perfect!
Pictured Rocks National Seashore
Situated on the southern shore of Lake Superior (how’s that for some sibilance?), the Pictured Rocks National Seashore is a sight to behold. It’s the manganese oxide, copper, and iron content that gives the rocks their unique coloring.
Combine these gorgeous rock formations with the surrounding crystal clear waters, and you’ve got yourself the ultimate kayaking expedition, so if you’re handy with an oar, this trip is a must!
Not a boat person? Not to worry. A hike through the luscious forestry is the perfect way to take the edge off and reconnect with nature.
River Road Scenic Byway
The River Road Scenic Byway skirts the AuSable river and leads you high up on the periphery of the AuSable valley, giving you a fantastic vantage point to take in this body of water’s sinuous beauty.
With the river’s banks completely covered by forest, it doesn’t take long to glean why it was such an essential part of the Michigan timber industry, a topic you can learn more about at the Lumberman’s Monument Visitor’s Center in Oscoda.
The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford refers to three separate attractions in Greenfield Village, Dearborn. They each celebrate not just the life and work of the man who brought the motorized vehicle to the general public, but American ingenuity in general.
Even if you’re not that interested in cars, factories, and engineering, you can enjoy exploring the historic Greenfield Village where life hasn’t changed since the 19th century. From steam locomotives to a restaurant that serves up the common grub of the 1830s, the authenticity of this site is second to none.
St. Ignace to Manistique via the US-2
This route leads you across the mighty Mackinac Bridge, so epic panoramas are a given. You’ll drive west from St. Ignace, but before you really start burning some rubber, I recommend making a pit stop at “The Mystery Spot” famed for its bizarre atmosphere and even weirder happenings.
From there, the highway meets the shoreline of Lake Michigan, giving you an ample choice of gorgeous picnic spots with truly insane views, as well as a range of popular surfing hot spots.
One last thing before we move on…do yourself a favor and purchase an authentic upper peninsula treat from Hiawatha Pasties in Naubinway, which is just short of an hour west of St. Ignace.
If you’re looking for a jam-packed weekend getaway, then you should absolutely set a course for Grand Rapids. Teeming with culture, it’s a wonderful road trip destination for lovers of art and music, but the real draw for most visitors will be the booze.
The second-largest Michigan city after Detroit, Grand Rapids is home to over 80 craft breweries, so if you’re something of a beer connoisseur, it’s a no-brainer.
To kill time ‘till sweet, sweet 5 O’clock comes around, why not head to the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, or perhaps the Grand Rapids Art Museum. You may also enjoy a southwestern detour to some of the best beaches you’ll ever lay your eyes on.
When it’s finally drinking time, prepare yourself for a magical evening in Beer City USA.
Hessel to Drummond Island via the M-134
North of St. Ignace, take the 1-75 until you can head east on the M-134, revealing stunning views of Lake Huron as well as the picturesque Les Cheneaux Islands, a sight that often flies under many a visitor’s radar.
If you can, plan this trip for August, so you can attend the Antique Wooden Boat Show held annually in Hessel. It’ll be the perfect starting point for your interstate adventure!
Isle Royale National Park
Here’s another road trip that becomes a boat trip midway through. To reach this 432-square mile island famed for its “untouched” landscape and diverse wildlife, you’ll have to park up in Copper Harbor and jump aboard a ferry.
Pack your binoculars because you’ll want to get a good view of the natives — moose, foxes, wolves, ospreys, otters, herring gulls, and even falcons.
Bay City to Au Gres via the 1-75 and US-23
Bay City is infamous for its summer festivals, but once the parties die down, don’t head home. Instead, hit the road and head north on the 1-75 to enjoy views of Saginaw bay.
Within minutes, you’ll arrive at Standish, where you can charter a “Catch and Cook” fishing expedition. You’ll enjoy a lovely few hours out on the water catching anything from walleye, to salmon, to trout, and once you’re back on dry land, participating restaurants will cook your choice catch and serve it to you for lunch — awesome, right?
After your insanely fresh food has settled, carry on northwards to Au Gres, and explore the popular downtown district lined with lovely shops and restaurants. There’s also a wonderfully peaceful historical structure to visit known as The Chapel in the Park.
Located in Holland, Michigan, Windmill park is home to DeZwaan, the only working, authentic Dutch windmill in the whole of the United States — it’s 251 years old!
DeZwaan is found in a 36-acre heritage park teeming with beautiful, ever-changing flower displays as well as some pretty astounding Dutch architecture.
Once you’ve had your fill of windmills, I suggest booking a wildlife tour with the Outdoor Discovery Center of Wildlife Unlimited, an organization that has rewilded abandoned agricultural lands, creating 130 thriving ecosystems in the process.