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. 

A Lifetime of Exploration

Michigan Travel Ideas photographer Aaron Peterson might be visiting Isle Royale National Park on assignment, but that doesn’t stop him from soaking up rugged scenery, paddling in the clear blue waters of Superior and hiking the web of trails covering the park’s interior. Aaron explores the park often, but this time, he sees it in a whole new way.

I’m making my fourth trip to Isle Royale National Park, but today is the first time I’ve arrived by plane. My aerial view allows me to watch the lush, green island materialize from foggy Lake Superior. I can’t believe how close this remote slice of Michigan is to Canada! The towering hills of Thunder Bay, Ontario, loom about 15 miles beyond the island.

I’m flying with Royale Air Service; they operate daily seaplane flights between Houghton and Isle Royale. We fly over freighters and the sun-dazzled whitecaps of Superior on our 30-minute flight. The plane banks and descends into the sheltered waters of Tobin Harbor on Isle Royale’s northeast tip. We made it.

All of my previous visits to the park have been by ferry from Copper Harbor. Traveling by ferry is affordable, and you can bring canoes and kayaks, but flying by seaplane? It’s just plain cool! The views are amazing. Plus, you get there in a fraction of the time (30 minutes versus 3 hours.) 

I’m traveling light on the seaplane (max baggage = 50 pounds) with one camera body, two lenses and basic video gear in a camera backpack that also holds a change of clothes and emergency rations (beef jerky!). Friends are bringing a canoe, sea kayak, camping equipment and the rest of my photo gear on the ferry.

We meet up on land to tackle the hiking portion of the shoot. Our focus is the gorgeous Stoll Trail near Rock Harbor Lodge. We finish up quickly, and load up the canoe and kayak. We’re headed through the island maze in Tobin Harbor. Our paddling journey takes us along the shoreline near Blake Point, we see some of the most spectacularly jagged islands and channels on Isle Royale, which I shot for the magazine.

My assignment complete, I pause to reflect. I have yet to find a place—anywhere—that is as good for both paddling and hiking as Isle Royale. Even if you hike every trail in the entire park, you still only see a sliver of what’s there. With so much of the island accessible by water only, Isle Royale offers a lifetime of exploration.

Freelance writer and photographer Aaron Peterson lives and works in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is thankful for this region’s clean air and water, plus the elbow room to raise down-to-earth, outdoorsy kids.

From Our Community: Spring in Pure Michigan

Earlier this week, we asked our Facebook fans to finish the following sentence: My favorite thing about spring in Pure Michigan is …

The overwhelming response proved that spring is a favorite time of year for many Michiganders. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite responses.

“The warm days and the cool nights” – Greg VanWagenen

“LILACS!!!!” – JoAnne Morrison-gonzalez

“The first trip to the beach in Ludington!” – Ashley Jones

“…the green trees and blue sky” – Jonathon Arntson

“Hot dogs at a Tigers game!” – Casey Laney Bahle

“reading a good book outdoors in the park under a tree.” – Jeff A Williams

Fishing! And Michigan is a beautiful state when it’s blooming!!!” – Carolyn Freyburgher

“Everything! To experience the world around you waking up from a long, cold winter is truly incredible!” – Amanda Jankowski

“The clean, fresh air!” – Sondra LaFreniere

“…the start of the many Farmer’s Markets in the State.” – Jim Maslanka

“The sunrise over Lake Superior” – Linda Storms

“Making restaurant reservations at all the amazing places in Traverse City and Suttons Bay!!” – Kirsten Hinshaw

“Morels!!!” – “Marsha Williams Watson

“the smell of fresh cut grass and the smiles on everyone’s faces that you see!” – Debra Tithof

“Walking around downtown Jackson in the sunshine.” – Autumn Rose Wood

“Too much to list. Everything!!!” – Mark Credell