7 Stops for a One Tank Road Trip in West Central Michigan

Follow I-96 and US-31 for a one-tank road trip through rolling sand dunes and fruit orchards, from big city charms to a relaxing day at the beach, all highlights of West Central Michigan.

Big Sable Point Lighthouse
Big Sable Point Lighthouse in Ludington | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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1. Grand Rapids 

The largest Michigan city outside of Metro Detroit, Grand Rapids has garnered a reputation for first-rate cultural attractions…and some crazy good beer, too. Downtown, check out the contemporary art on display at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and learn about the city’s unique history at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Within walking distance of these two museums is the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, which focuses on the life and career of America’s 38th President.
Just 15 minutes northeast of downtown is the 30-acre Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Explore a dozen indoor and outdoor gardens, check out 300 sculptures and, if you arrive in summer, consider an evening concert in the outdoor amphitheater. Thirsty from your walk? Grand Rapids proudly bears the title Beer City USA with more than 30 craft breweries in the area. 

2. Muskegon 

Continue on I-96 west to Muskegon. Michigan’s Adventure amusement park ranks as a perennial favorite with families. Enjoy dozens of amusement park rides, including Shivering Timbers, Michigan’s longest, fastest wooden roller coaster. Then visit the park’s WildWater Adventure, a waterpark with dozens of waterslides and pools.
The fabulously ornate Hackley & Hume Historic Site sheds light on Muskegon’s beginnings. The imposing mansions were once owned by Michigan’s foremost lumber barons, who were responsible for much of the city’s early success. The USS Silversides Submarine was credited with sinking 23 major Japanese ships during World War II. Visitors can tour the submarine-turned-museum, now docked permanently in Muskegon.
Don’t leave this beautiful beach town before you’ve spent time at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park or Muskegon State Parks. You’ll discover spectacular sand dunes, shaded hiking trails, and miles of sparkling Lake Michigan beach.

3. Silver Lake State Park 

Follow US-31 north to Silver Lake State Park. Like a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia, Silver Lake State Park encompasses some 3,000 acres of rolling, sugar-sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Take a spin over the dunes with Mac Wood’s Dune Rides, a thrilling ride that also weaves in facts about the geography of this unique area. Or bring your own ORV. Silver Lake is the only state park where you can run your vehicle through its paces over Michigan’s pristine sand dunes. Looking for a little retail therapy? Take a 15-mile detour to Pentwater for boutique shopping and quaint lakeside restaurants.

4. Ludington 

Continue US-31 north to Ludington. Even Michiganders, who are accustomed to fabulous beaches, find themselves awestruck by Ludington’s Lake Michigan shore. The 8-mile stretch along M-116 from downtown Ludington to Ludington State Park winds its way through wild dunes, whipped by golden-green dune grass, bordered to the east by white pine forests and to the west by unbroken sandy beaches. Once you’ve reached the state park, walk the beach to the iconic, black-and-white-striped Big Sable Point Lighthouse. The sweeping views from atop the tower are unforgettable.

5. Side Trip: Grand Haven 

Take US-31 south to Grand Haven. Life in Grand Haven revolves around the beach. Whether you dream of camping on the sand at Grand Haven State Park, walking the Grand Haven South Pier to the Lighthouse, watching the 50 year-old Grand Haven Musical Fountain perform a sound and light show or simply catching a raspberry-sherbet sunset, Grand Haven is worth a detour. A pleasant boardwalk leads from the beach to shops and dining downtown.

6. Side Trip: Holland 

Take US-31 to Holland. Holland may be best-known for its spring flower festival, Tulip Time. More than one million tulips announce this city’s Dutch roots, as do local attractions like the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delftware Factory and Windmill Island Gardens, where DeZwaan, America’s only authentic Dutch windmill, still mills grain into flour as it has for more than 250 years. Head to downtown 8th Street for boutique shopping, fine dining and a half dozen craft beer options.

7. Side Trip: Saugatuck

Take US-31 to Saugatuck. Voted #1 by USA Today for “Best Summer Weekend Escape,” Saugatuck melds art, fine food and beaches. Art lovers browse galleries like Amazwi Contemporary Art, Armstrong-De Graaf International Fine Art and James Brandess Studio & Gallery for locally-created ceramics, art glass and acrylics inspired by Lake Michigan. Mount Baldhead and Oval Beach Recreation Area is the place to go for family fun, people watching and a climb up Mount Baldhead, all within a short drive of downtown. Just north of town, Saugatuck Dunes State Park offers uncrowded sandy beaches and miles of peaceful, wooded hiking trails.