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. 

Take A Summer Lighthouse Tour in Pure Michigan

Did you know that Michigan is home to more lighthouses than any other state? With the official start of summer just days away, it’s the perfect time to plan a Michigan lighthouse tour. More than 115 lighthouses are scattered up and down the coasts of Pure Michigan, guiding sailors and capturing imaginations. Some still shine for ships, others share their stories with us first-hand as museums, as bed and breakfasts and as Michigan history in the making.

Take a look at the listing below for a sampling of what you can discover while touring Michigan’s lighthouses, and learn more in the following video from the Pure Michigan summer video series.

A complete listing of Michigan’s lighthouses can be found on michigan.org.

Au Sable Light Station
Grand Marais
The AuSable Light Station is listed on the national register of historic places. It was built in 1874 to warn mariners of a dangerous reef off of the AuSable Point. Now automated, the light station is being restored to its 1910 appearance. Guided tours are offered July and August. The grounds are always open, but access is limited by snow from November – April. Visit the website to learn more.

Big Bay Point Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast
Big Bay
One of the few surviving resident lighthouses in the country, guests enjoy a half-mile of Lake Superior shore, viewing tower, sauna, library and fireplaces. Enjoy biking, waterfalls, skiing and snowmobiling nearby. Summer lighthouse tours  and booking information are available here.

Point Betsie Lighthouse
Frankfort
The Point Betsie Lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in Benzie County. The lighthouse was built in 1858, and marks the all-important entrance to the southern end of the Manitou Passage, a once-vital maritime shipping channel. Learn more on the Point Betsie website.

South Haven Lighthouse
South Haven
An image of maritime heritage, South Haven’s Lighthouse on the south pier still stands today as a vision of seemingly magical qualities. Built in 1903, this distinguished landmark has welcomed travelers for more than 100 years. Start planning your trip here

Sturgeon Point Lighthouse
Harrisville
Sturgeon Point Lighthouse is located five miles north of Harrisville on Lake Huron and was completed in November 1870. The tower is 70 feet, 9 inches tall and is 16 feet in diameter at its base. The light is 3.5 order Fresnel lens made in Paris, France. The light is still maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. The keeper’s house is now a maritime museum which is open to the public from Memorial Day to mid-September. The lighthouse tower and the grounds are also open to the public. Visit the website for more information.

Fort Gratiot Lighthouse
Port Huron
The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes. It was established in 1825 and rebuilt in 1829 and 1861, at the time it was also the first lighthouse on Lake Huron and is the oldest surviving lighthouse in Michigan. It helps keep watch over Lake Huron at the entrance to the St. Clair River. The 86 ft. light stands above the lake level in a conical stone tower, overlaid with red brick that has been painted white. The keeper’s cottage and fog whistle house are red. Tower climbs and tours are available during business hours, weather permitting. See the Port Huron Museum website for information on tours and group overnights in the restored Duplex building for 20+ people.

How many Michigan lighthouses have you visited? Share with us below!

The Forgotten Coast: A Lighthouse Tour of Michigan’s Thumb

Today on our blog, Jerry Roach, published photographer, historian, lecturer, preservationist, tour guide, and author of three books on the lighthouse of Michigan, takes us on our tour of some of Michigan’s many lighthouses. For more on lighthouses in Michigan, visit michigan.org.

When you think about all the lighthouses in Michigan, where is the first region you think of that has the most lights? Probably the Upper Peninsula, maybe the Lake Michigan shoreline comes in a close second right? The Upper Peninsula does have the most lighthouses coming in at an amazing 57, but truth be told, the sunrise side of the Lower Peninsula comes in second with 34 lights. If you remember your history this all makes sense, because most of Michigan was developed by pioneers and explorers that arrived by ship, thus they arrived at the east coast first.

We will begin our tour in Port Huron. As a matter of fact, the first lighthouse built in Michigan was the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse. With the expansion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the early 1800’s, larger ships could now begin to explore and ply the waters of the Great Lakes. That increase in ship traffic directly led to the need for navigational aids, which gave birth to hundreds of lighthouses which dot Michigan’s shoreline. The lighthouse arrived at Fort Gratiot in 1825, eleven years after construction on the Fort had concluded. There were two different towers that served this light and all of them stood at different heights. After decades of this light being closed to the public, the Port Huron Museum has assumed control of the operations and it can now be visited on a daily basis. While you are in Port Huron don’t forget to allow some time to explore the Huron Lightship just south of Fort Gratiot. Lightship 103 was built in 1920 at a cost of $147,428. This National Historic Landmark is dry docked in Pine Grove Park. The expertly restored lightship is open daily throughout the summer for tours. By the way, you may find this interesting; the Huron Lightship was the only lightship that remained on post during World War II.

Heading north on M-25 you will come to the city of Port Sanilac. The lighthouse here became operational on October 20, 1886. While the lighthouse is privately owned, there are excellent views of the light from the road. As we continue on our journey we arrive in Harbor Beach. Tours are available of the light by registering on the Harbor Beach Lighthouse website. You can also get great views from many of the parks in town. This area was developed as a harbor of refuge; an area where ships could escape the wrath from storms on Lake Huron. The Harbor Beach Lighthouse was built in 1885.

About 13 miles north of Harbor Beach, near the town of Port Hope is the Pt. Aux Barques Lighthouse. Loosely translated, Pt. Aux Barques means, point of boats. It is in this area where the lighthouse is located that the boats would begin their turns to either head south towards the St. Clair River or navigate the tip of the thumb to continue the voyage through Lake Huron. This very important lighthouse became operational in 1848. A very active preservation society has done a remarkable job restoring this light. Tours are available.

The remaining lights of the Thumb can only be viewed via public venues. The Port Austin Reef Light was built in 1878, and one of Michigan’s newest lights, the Caseville Harbor Light was constructed on July 25, 2001. Both are along M-25.

Why not plan your visit to these lighthouses during some fantastic summer celebrations? During July there is the Offshore Powerboat Races and the start of the Port Huron to Mackinac Yacht Race in the Port Huron area, and a Civil War Re-enactment near Port Austin. When August rolls around don’t forget to spend some time at the Huron County Fair near Harbor Beach, the Maritime Festival at Pt. Aux Barques, and who can forget the Cheeseburger Festival near Caseville. 

So the next time you’re looking for something to do on the weekend, or a couple of days during the week, take a nice relaxing trip along M-25 and explore Michigan’s forgotten coast and the lighthouses of the Thumb.

Jerry Roach is a published photographer, historian, lecturer, preservationist, tour guide, and the author of three books on the lighthouse of Michigan. His books called the “Ultimate Guide” series include the The Ultimate Guide To West Michigan Lighthouses, The Ultimate Guide To East Michigan Lighthouses, and The Ultimate Guide To Upper Michigan Lighthouses. You can explore lighthouses of the world and especially the Great Lakes by visiting his website, view thousands of photos at his gallery, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.