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. 

15 Incredible Photos of Michigan Lighthouses

Copper Harbor Lighthouse by Steve Nowakowski

Over 115 lighthouses dot the Michigan coastline. Some of them still guide boats to safety, some welcome visitors to spend the night in unforgettable surroundings, and all of them are stunning sites to behold, at any time of year.

We sorted through over 700 photos in our Flickr archives to unearth some truly stunning images of lighthouses across the state.  Have a photo of your own to share? Post it on our Facebook page or send us a Tweet!

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our lighthouse images in our special Flickr photoset. Continue reading

Affordable Family Vacations: Upper Peninsula

Tina Lassen, Michigan Travel Ideas contributing writer, gives insiders tips on affordable one-day trips in the UP. For more affordable family vacations ideas, see the article in the 2010 issue of Michigan Travel Ideas.

A good place to base yourself is in Paradise at either Harmon’s Birchwood Lodge cabins ($66-$130/night, three-night minimum in summer) along Whitefish Bay or at the Shipwreck Museum ($150/night, includes museum admission) in the restored 1923 Coast Guard lifeboat station crew quarters.

Platforms provide great views of the 200-foot-wide wall of frothing water in Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Photographer: Jason Lindsey

Then, head to Tahquamenon Falls State Park (state park vehicle permit required, $6 residents, $8 nonresidents). For a better experience, bypass the entrance to the Lower Falls and continue to the Upper Falls. This is the river’s marquee cascade, a 200-foot-wide wall of frothing amber fury. It’s even more majestic when you have the viewing platform to yourself, so it pays to get there early.

Then, backtrack to the Lower Falls. Better yet, try to talk someone in your group to shuttling the car and hike the four-mile River Trail to the Lower Falls and enjoy surprisingly quiet trails that lead to century-old white pines and wilderness lakes.

Enjoying the serenity of the four-mile River Trail from the Upper Falls to the Lower Falls. Photographer: Dennis Cox

When you leave continue southwest on M-123, then west on H-37 to Oswald’s Bear Ranch where wild bears (none are bred or purchased) roam to and fro. Oswald’s provides a lifelong home for young bears whose mothers have been killed or mature bears who, for a variety of reasons, can’t be released in the wild. Admission fees ($15 per vehicle) help fund the bears’ diet of fruit and meat purchased by the ton.

Total cost for the whole family? Less than $30.

Trip Guide:

1)      Tahquamenon Falls State Park: Hiking, fishing, nature programs and camping centered around the Tahquamenon River and its waterfalls. Vehicle permit required. Rent rowboats or canoes in the Lower Falls concession area.

2)      Oswald’s Bear Ranch: Open Memorial Day weekend through late September. Admission $15/vehicle.  

3)      The Tahquamenon Logging Museum: Chronicles the region’s 19th-century lumbering era, with displays on life in the logging camps, the evolution of logging equipment, and fun old photos and newspaper clippings from the region. Small admission fee.

4)      The Toonerville Trolley: This classic UP attraction combines a narrow-gauge, open-air railroad ride with a boat tour to the Upper Falls. Train/Boat tour runs six or more hours; train-only trip is two hours.

5)      Tahquamenon Falls Brewery and Pub: Homemade pasties, wild rice soup, whitefish sandwiches and other local flavors round out a comprehensive menu for lunch or dinner. Nice timber-frame building with deck in Upper Falls. Entrees $6-$24.


When Tina Lassen was 8 years old, she watched wide-eyed as a moose trundled out of the woods on Isle Royale and into a wild Lake Superior bay. She’s been enamored with Michigan ever since. Tina has written extensively about the state for magazines like Midwest Living and National Geographic Adventure, and for guidebooks including Moon Michigan, National Geographic’s Guide to America’s Outdoors: Great Lakes, and 1,000 Places to See Before You Die: US and Canada.