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. 

Scenic Byway Diversions

Follow the gentle curves of the Au Sable River through forests along the River Road National Scenic Byway. The 22-mile drive from Oscoda is lovely, but make sure to get out of your car to really experience it. There are plenty of sightseeing options: pullover for a picnic, hike along the river with views of Huron-Manistee National Forest, fish the rushing waters. Grab your binoculars and camera and come along as the editors of Michigan Travel Ideas® share some of their favorite stops.

Lower Au Sable Scenic Overlook (less than 5 miles west of Oscoda): A wide wooden staircase adjacent to the parking lot leads anglers and those who want a close look at the river waterside. Fish for steelhead here or trout above the dam. But know that this section of the river can be dangerous, so even when it looks calm, wading is not advised.

Foote Pond Scenic Overlook (5 miles west of Oscoda): A sand dune cascades below a stone overlook less than 100 yards from the parking lot. Enjoy a picnic lunch while perched on the ledge soaking in panoramic views of the river and bald eagles reeling overhead.

Au Sable River Queen (6 miles west of Oscoda): The red, white and blue paddleboat makes daily two-hour trips on the river late May through early September. It’s especially popular for seeing fall color. Not far from the dock, children love to play in the nearby sandy beach; picnic tables are perfect for relaxing and spotting wildlife.

Lumberman’s Monument Historic Site (15 miles west of Oscoda): The star of the site may be the 14-foot-tall bronze monument of three lumbermen, but there’s much more to see—and do. Allow at least one hour, a half-hour more if you plan to hike the Forest Discovery Interpretive Trail. The Sand Dune Trail, an easy 10-minute walk, leads to incredible views of the river. For a closer look of the river, descend 272 steps to Cooke Dam Pond. The reward? A peek at a replica wanigan: A floating cook shack that supported men working on the river.

Iargo Springs Interpretive Site (18 miles west of Oscoda): Get inspired by panoramic vistas from the 200-foot high overlook, then brave a long staircase down to a system of boardwalks winding through forest and past gurgling springs that flow into the river. Benches make the trek back up to the overlook manageable. Once there, hikers can access the Highbanks Trail and the two points of interest along its 6-plus miles: Canoer’s Memorial (1.75 miles) and Lumberman’s Monument (3.5 miles).

A Pure Michigan Dream Vacation

Scott Endres of Louisville, Kentucky and his wife will soon experience Pure Michigan as the winners of the Pure Michigan Dream Vacation contest that was held on the Pure Michigan Facebook page. Thanks to Buick, Delta and the North American International Auto Show the Endres’ will enjoy free roundtrip airfare, lodging and rental car as they travel to Tawas, Oscoda, Alpena, Hillman and Mackinac Island. In case you’ve never been to Michigan’s Sunrise Coast and have been meaning to do so here are a few things you can check out at these Pure Michigan locales.

Tawas sits on Tawas Bay, which overlooks Lake Huron. It’s bordered by the Huron National Forest and AuSable River,  which offer a variety of outdoor activities year-round like fishing, boating, swimming and biking.  Also nearby is Tawas Point State Park. Among the several lodgings available is the Tawas Bay Beach Resort, situated near several golf courses and a marina. Like many cities in Michigan, Tawas features a quaint Downtown with restaurants and shops for any taste.

Oscoda is an outdoorsman’s dream. Located on the northern side of the AuSable River where it empties into Lake Huron. The city is also near the Huron National Forest, which offers outdoor recreational opportunities such as hunting, swimming, cross-country skiing and fishing. The forest contains 330 miles of hiking trails. If you’re an avid hiker, Oscoda may be perfect for your next hike.  It’s part of the Michigan Shore to Shore Riding & Hiking Trail, which runs from Empire to Oscoda. It’s a 500-mile interconnected system of trails. Oscoda is also home to the Melvin Motorcycle Museum, Michigan’s only motorcycle museum with an extensive collection of antique motorcycles and memorabilia.

Located on the scenic Thunder Bay, Alpena is home to Michigan’s Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The 448-square-mile sanctuary and underwater preserve protects an estimated 116 historically significant shipwrecks ranging from nineteenth century wooden side-wheelers to twentieth century steel-hulled steamers. In fact, you can even take a tour of many of the wrecks on the Thunder Bay Shipwreck Tour. Historic Downtown Alpena’s 200 businesses also provide old-fashioned service and quality. Blooming gardens, planters adorning lightposts, a farmers market, and music carried on the breeze from Bay View Park greet summer visitors.

Hillman is located on the northeastern border of Montmorency County and the Thunder Bay River, complete with dam and park on the pond. Thunder Bay Golf Resort is unique in offering an intimate look at wild elk. The resort has its own large herd on the property and has been ranching elk for years. While there, you can enjoy an elk viewing sleigh/carriage gourmet dinner ride.

Suspended in a forgotten, more innocent time, Mackinac Island is unlike any other place in Michigan. Relive the simple pleasures of life: A leisurely carriage ride on silent, uncrowded streets, slowly dancing face-to-face with your loved one on the romantic floors of the Grand Hotel, or sampling some world-famous Mackinac Island fudge while biking around the island. Visitors can also travel back in time and relive some of Michigan’s rich history at Fort Mackinac, which allows you to relive what military life was like in the 1880’s.

Check out a quick clip of Scott learning that he was selected as the winner of the Pure Michigan Dream Vacation. Thanks to all that entered!