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. 

Along Lake Michigan

How much can you discover in one day? Joshua Nowicki, a St. Joseph local, recently found out as he explored the coast of Lake Michigan earlier this fall. Today, Joshua shares his experience with us.

Read about it below and let us know where your favorite place to take a day trip in Michigan is!

Kite surfer near Muskegon, Michigan

Michigan’s Great Lakes feature an astounding number of parks and nature preserves.  Equally amazing is how few of them I have had the opportunity to visit despite being a lifelong Michigander.

So often when I travel, I concern myself with the amount of time that it is going to take for me to get from Point A to Point B.  I have stubbornly ignored dozens of billboards and Pure Michigan signs encouraging me to “Stop, slow down, and enjoy Michigan’s beauty along the way.”

This has been a folly of mine, and this is a wrong that I intend to right.  I recently decided to start taking day trips that do not have set destinations and let the sun determine how far I travel.  I want to focus on all of the ‘places in between’ that I have overlooked in the past and gain a deeper appreciation for my home state.

Holland, Michigan

For my first trip, I wanted to find out how many parks and nature preserves I could visit along the coast of Lake Michigan in one day.  Between busy work days, I planned an adventure, part personal challenge and part scavenger hunt.  How many different locations along Lake Michigan could I photograph? 

I started in the early morning at the City Beach in New Buffalo and completed my journey with a beautiful sunset at Pioneer County Park in Muskegon.  Along the way I visited 24 additional locations, many of which I had never even heard of before.

A few highlights:

  • Enjoyed watching deer walk across foggy dunes at Warren Dunes State Park
  • Talked with fishermen on the pier at Silver Beach County Park while standing under the monumental sculpture ‘And You, Seas’ by Richard Hunt
  • Delighted at seeing the Friends Good Will Tall Ship in South Haven.  
  • Waded in the water and rested on the beach at Pier Cove Park.
  • Watched sailboats near Saugatuck.
  • Stood amazed by the breathtaking view of Lake Michigan from Tunnel Park.
  • Felt exhausted and accomplished after walking the trails at Rosy Mound Natural Area.
  • Marveled at the patterns in the windblown sands of P.J. Hoffmaster State Park.
  • Enjoyed the view of the autumn leaves and Lake Michigan from Muskegon State Park Blockhouse.
  • Stood in awe of the paddle and kite surfers at multiple locations throughout my trip.
  • Relaxed on the beach at the end of the day and enjoyed the sunset from Pioneer County Park.

    Pioneer County Park, Muskegon, Michigan

My trip was fun, beautiful and tiring.  I hiked miles through woodland trails, over sand dunes and climbed thousands of steps on boardwalks.  I intend to return to and spend more time hiking the trails, wading in the water and appreciating all of the new destinations I have newly ‘discovered’ close to home. 

I look forward to my next road trip along the Great Lakes in Pure Michigan… See you there!

Joshua Nowicki is the Director of Community Relations at the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph, Michigan and is a member of the board of directors of the Michigan Museums Association where he serves as the Vice President for Marketing.  Joshua’s interest in photography began while working for a museum in the Metro Detroit area, photographing artifacts, exhibits and events.  After moving to St. Joseph, Michigan in 2011, he started taking nature photographs to encourage his friends and relatives to visit and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the area.  Joshua’s inspirations range from Lake Michigan and wildlife to sculpture and architecture.

Tweetable Facts About the Great Lakes

Photo by Chris Arace

Michigan is known for its five Great Lakes, and there are plenty of fun facts to share about Lakes Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Posted below are ten facts that are short enough to Tweet out to your followers on Twitter. Be sure to follow Pure Michigan on Twitter as well for news and updates about our great state!

Did you know the Great Lakes in @PureMichigan have 6 quadrillion gallons of fresh water? http://bit.ly/IvQOHW
Fun fact: The Great Lakes contain one-fifth of our fresh surface water supply @PureMichigan http://bit.ly/IvQOHW
The Great Lakes contain more than 94,000 square miles of water @PureMichigan http://bit.ly/IvQOHW
Fun fact: one inch of surface water of Lake Superior is equal to 553 billion gallons @PureMichigan http://bit.ly/IvQOHW
Lake Superior: the largest freshwater lake in the world @PureMichigan http://bit.ly/IvQOHW
Fun fact: Lake Michigan covers over 23,000 miles @PureMichigan http://bit.ly/IvQOHW
Fun fact: Lake Huron was 1st of Great Lakes to be discovered by European explorers @PureMichigan http://bit.ly/IvQOHW
Fun fact: Lake Huron is the fifth largest freshwater lake in the world @PureMichigan http://bit.ly/IvQOHW
Of the five Great Lakes, Lake Erie is the warmest and most biologically productive @PureMichigan http://bit.ly/IvQOHW
Lake Ontario: 4th among Great Lakes in maximum depth, but 2nd to Lake Superior in average depth @PureMichigan http://bit.ly/IvQOHW