Six Scenic Drives for Pure Michigan Summer Road Trips

As school and work schedules slow down and temperatures heat up, summer is the perfect time for a road trip in Pure Michigan! Nick Nerbonne of The Awesome Mitten has rounded up a list of some great road trips around the state.

Summer is meant for road trips with the windows down, music up, and good times on the horizon. Fortunately for Michiganders, and for those who visit us here in the Mitten, there are plenty of options for beautiful drives that showcase the beauty of the Great Lakes State.

I’ve had the pleasure of exploring quite a bit of Michigan’s pleasant peninsulas, and when I hop in the car and hit the road from my home in Traverse City, I often find myself heading toward the miles of Great Lakes coastline that are always just a  short drive away, no matter where you are in the state. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Red Arrow Highway from New Buffalo to St. Joseph

Head north from New Buffalo on Red Arrow Highway along Lake Michigan to explore the quaint coastal villages of Union Pier, Lakeside and Harbert on your way to St. Joseph. Known for its art galleries and antiques, this popular summer cruise also features numerous Lake Michigan beaches.

The region’s climate is heavily influenced by Lake Michigan, and orchards and vineyards checker the landscape. Sample wines at tasting rooms for over a dozen wineries along the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, and bring a few bottles home to open while sharing the memories.

Don’t miss: Weko Beach

Follow the signs from Red Arrow Highway in Bridgman to this beautiful stretch of Lake Michigan beach. Day passes are available, or reserve a campsite and catch one of Weko Beach’s famous sunsets.

2. M-22 from Arcadia to Frankfort

M-22 receives much of its well-deserved notoriety for the many scenic destinations along its northern reaches in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. While these are among my favorite day trips in Michigan, I often look further south along this scenic coastal highway, beginning in the village of Arcadia.

On a hot summer day, the beach at Arcadia is the perfect place for a refreshing swim along the sandy shore. After cooling off in the “Big Lake,” head north along M-22 for scenic vistas from the tops of the wooded hills to the Lake Michigan port city of Frankfort. Grab a Michigan craft beer at newly-opened Stormcloud Brewing Company and stroll along Frankfort’s pier to the very photogenic lighthouse.

Don’t miss: Lake Michigan overlook just north of Arcadia

Head north along M-22 from Arcadia and stop at the scenic turnout just outside of town. Climb the steps for a spectacular view from atop the bluff.

3. M-23 from Tawas City to Alpena

Often overlooked by travelers heading north, Michigan’s “Sunrise Coast” offers a Great Lakes setting with a beauty all its own. From M-55 in Tawas City, M-23 skirts the Lake Huron shoreline through the coastal villages of Oscoda and Harrisville on its way north to Alpena. Pack a picnic and enjoy the scenery at Alpena’s waterfront park adjacent to the marina on the shores of Thunder Bay.

Harrisville State Park offers campsites directly on Lake Huron. Make your reservation early to get the best view of the beach.

Don’t miss: Sturgeon Point Lighthouse

Constructed in 1870, this classic Lake Huron beacon is a must-stop when traveling along M-23.

4. River Road Scenic Byway

The River Road Scenic Byway leads visitors west along the AuSable River from Oscoda. The drive lives up to its name, with several viewpoints high above the AuSable Valley along the way, but also provides a glimpse into the area’s past as a major hub in Michigan’s timber industry. Hiking trails and elaborate staircases provide access to the water’s edge, so bring your hiking shoes.

Don’t Miss: Lumberman’s Monument

Dedicated in 1932, Lumberman’s Monument recognizes the hard-working lumbermen of Michigan’s early logging industry. Follow the trail northeast from the

Lumberman’s Monument Visitor Center for a panoramic view of the AuSable River and surrounding area.

5. US-2 from St. Ignace to Manistique

A trip across the “Mighty Mac” always involves breathtaking scenery, and the drive west from St. Ignace on U.S. 2 doesn’t disappoint. After passing the famed Mystery Spot just outside of town, the highway re-joins the Lake Michigan shoreline for several miles. Locals and visitors alike stop along the way for picnics among the dunes and swimming in the Lake Michigan surf.

Any visit to “The Yoop” would not be complete without an authentic Upper Peninsula pasty. Hiawatha Pasties in Naubinway, about 45 minutes west of St. Ignace, is a favorite of locals and visitors alike.

Don’t miss: Cut River Bridge Overlook

Park at the scenic turnout about 25 miles west of St. Ignace for a view of Lake Michigan and the Cut River 150 feet below; a trail and staircase lead to the valley floor for those looking for a mid-drive adventure.

6. M-134 from Hessel to Drummond Island

Head east on M-134 from I-75 north of St. Ignace for views of Lake Huron and the Les Cheneaux Islands that go undiscovered by many. The classic boathouses of the early-1900s cottages and rocky shorelines of Les Cheneaux’s 36 islands are seen by many as reminiscent of east-coast hideaways found along the coast of Maine. If you’re lucky enough to make the drive early in the morning, keep your camera ready for a photo of a sailboat moored among the morning mist in one of the many natural harbors.

Don’t miss: Antique Wooden Boat Show in Hessel

Held each August in the Les Cheneaux Islands, the Antique Wooden Boat show is one of the largest gatherings in the country of classic vessels dating back to the early 1900s.

Nick Nerbonne is an online marketing specialist, outdoor adventurer, craft beer drinker, wine enthusiast, and aspiring photographer from Traverse City. 

  • Jane Lynch

    Hey! What about the drive from Hancock to Copper Harbor, especially through Eagle River and Eagle Harbor? And up Brockway Mountain? Absolutely breathtaking!

  • Ron Machleit

    drove the M-22 west route years ago when I worked in Iron Mountain, now I want to ride the same route by motorcycle plus maybe go further west. It’s a great scenic trip, too bad I was on my way to work lolo

  • Jon Price

    So happy to see two of my favorite drives on the list. US-23 from Tawas City to Alpena, and the the drive along the Au Sable river from Oscoda.

    Lumberman’s Monument is a must, so is Iargo Springs (mintues from the monument). Also, check out Tuttle Marsh while you are in the area.

    I have grown up going to that part of the state. So many great memories!

  • http://www.davieshouseinn.com Jan Davies McDermott

    Don’t forget the spectacular views along the Lake Michigan shoreline between Harbor Springs and Wilderness State Park. Include time for a stop at the old fashioned General Store in Goodhart and of course stop in Cross Village at Leggs Inn for some good Polish food served on the patio overlooking Lake Michigan. If you time it right, you can sit on the dunes, with a great bottle of Michigan wine and watch the sunset on the south end of Wilderness State Park. Pure Michigan. (Need a place to stay nearby? Check out Davies Cottage on Parrott’s Pointe: http://www.davieshouseinn.com)

  • Karen

    Though not as picturesque as the drive from Tawas to Alpena if you go a bit north on US-23 you can visit both Presque Isle Lighthouses. Beautiful along Lake Huron. Then if you go north of Rogers City you experience some fantastic scenery. I will say that people in the Rogers City area like it quiet and a non-resort atmosphere.

  • Gretchen

    It would have been nice to have maps included with these. That way we could get an idea of exactly where the drives go!

  • Todd Greenhoe

    “THE THUMB” M-25 anywhere from Bay City to Prt Huron. You can easily drive 250 miles, with tons of sites, for an all day drive!

  • Marti

    Another “Dont Miss” along US 2 is a stop along the road for some beach time and a dip in Lake Michigan or a walk along the beach.

  • Reader

    Correction: The scenic route from Tawas City to Alpena is US-23, not M-23.

  • Mark

    I agree with Jane, M-26 from Eagle River to Copper Harbor has to be some of the most spectacular drives in Michigan. Don’t forget to stop at Jacobs Falls, Sliver River Falls, the Jam Pot, and oh, lunch or diiner at Fitzgeralds Restaurant (part of the Eagle River Inn in Eagle River)! It’s a must! Great hosts, great view, and GREAT FOOD!!

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