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 Frozen Forest

Guest blogger Joshua Nowicki, a Saint Joseph local, shows us how beautiful a Pure Michigan winter can be.

I have fallen in love with living in Saint Joseph along the sunset coast of Lake Michigan.  Every season, every day, and every hour looks different, is absolutely beautiful and is truly inspiring.  The winter is especially amazing; snow and ice make the lakeshore sparkle in the day light; and when the moon is full, it appears to glow at night.

Last year, though very little ice accumulated on the lake, the spray from the waves coated the rocks, trees, and plants in layers of ice.  The first time I saw the frozen forest below the bluff, I was awestruck by the shimmering beauty of it.  It was as if every branch, bush, and blade of grass had been individually dipped in water and frozen like layers of wax on a handmade candle.  Trees were transformed into fascinating sculptures and individual branches into unique works of art. 

The photos shown here were taken last winter.  Both the gorgeous sunny days and pounding winter storms provided stunning examples of the wondrous power and beauty of nature.

From the North Pier to the sculptures on Silver Beach to the breakwalls south of the city, it is simply an amazing experience to get out during the winter to enjoy the snow and ice along the lake.

Of course, after a walk along the lake in the cold and wind, there is nothing as refreshing as a cup of hot coffee and a pastry from one of the local bakeries or cafes.  Caffe Tosi (Saint Joseph), Bit of Swiss (Stevensville), and the Phoenix (Benton Harbor) are a few of my favorites. 

If you are in southwest Michigan on February 8, 2013, be sure to visit the Magical Ice Carving Festival in downtown Saint Joseph.  It’s a great opportunity to watch professional ice sculptors turn blocks of ice into beautiful and fantastical creations.

A word of caution: Walking along the lake in the winter is very cold and can be wet and extremely slippery. It is never safe to walk out onto the ice on Lake Michigan. But when viewed from a safe vantage point, it is a breathtaking experience! Please take caution in your explorations!

For more information about Saint Joseph and southwestern Michigan, visit St. Joseph Today www.stjoetoday.com and the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council www.swmichigan.org.

Joshua Nowicki is a freelance photographer and graphic designer in Saint 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 the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, 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. You can see more of Joshua’s photos at http://www.facebook.com/startvisiting.

How Did Michigan Cities Get Their Names? Part 11

In our ongoing series of how cities in Michigan got their names, we’ve been able to share with you the history of cities from around our state. In case you missed them, here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8 , Part 9 and Part 10.

Today, we bring you Part 11. Let us know in the comments section below which cities you’d like to see featured next!

Lake Odessa
Lake Odessa was developed by Humphrey R. Wager in 1887. Before it came to be “Lake Odessa”, the biggest settlement in the area was Bonanza. When the railway system was established farther south, the established Bonanza community moved to be closer to the railroad tracks. Abandoned Bonanza became cornfields and the new settlement near the railroad became Lake Odessa. Lake Odessa’s name was derived from two lakes, Tupper Lake and Jordan Lake, which are located in Odessa Township. In 1846, the Township was named by a committee in honor of one of Russia’s cities. 

Grand Haven
Grand Haven was first named Gabagouache by the Pottawattamie Indians. Once French settlers inhabited the area and made it a fur-outpost, they continued to call the location Gabagouache.  In 1835, Gabagouache was renamed Grand Haven due to its close proximity to the mouth of the Grand River and to honor the beautiful setting the river provided.  In 1837, the Grand Haven community grew to become a city.

Grand Haven's peaceful city boardwalk

St. Joseph
In 1669, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle was the first European to settle in what is present day St. Joseph. La Salle and his crew named the river that was located in the area “River Miami” and built a fort, Fort Miami, on its shores. In 1679 the fort was destroyed, and it wasn’t until 1780 that the area became established again. In 1829, Calvin Britain created a plat map for the settlement, which was then called Newburyport, and the village thrived. In 1834, the village was renamed St. Joseph after the river, which had been renamed prior.

Mount Clemens
In 1795, the area that is present day Mount Clemens was surveyed by Christian Clemens. Four years later, Clemens settled the area.  During that time, Clements and a friend, John Brooks, built a distillery and platted the land, which started the expansion of the settlement.  The town was named after Clemens in 1818, and was incorporated into a town in 1851.  In 1879, the town was incorporated into a city.  Christian Clemens lived in Mount Clemens the rest of his life, and upon his death was buried in Clemens Park, located north of downtown.  

Imlay City
Eastern capitalist William H. Imlay moved to the area that is present day Imlay City in 1828. On April 1, 1850, the township came into existence and was named after Imlay.  During this time, Charles Palmer, the chief engineer of the railroad, selected Imlay as a potential produce market and purchased a tract of two hundred and forty acres of land, in which he surveyed and platted.  Because the area had already been named Imlay, Palmer decided to call his location Imlay City. It wasn’t until 1870 that the village began to take off due to the construction of the Port Huron and Lake Michigan Railway.