Best Michigan Road Trips
Traverse City, Mackinac Island, the Upper Peninsula and the beach towns of southwest Michigan are just some of the great destinations to visit in Michigan on road trips for a weekend, a week or more.
Southwest Michigan Shore
With more than 140 miles of soft sand, almost every beach is the right beach along Michigan's southwest shore. Explore towns like St. Joseph, South Haven, Saugatuck, Holland (pictured), Grand Haven, Muskegon and Ludington for activity-filled state parks, family-friendly attractions and lighthouses all along the way.
To be clear, you can't actually drive here—that's one of the charms of this famously car-free island. But you can drive to nearby Mackinaw City or St. Ignace to catch a short ferry ride over. Take carriage tours, explore by bike, visit historic Fort Mackinac and relax on the porch of the Grand Hotel. You can make it a day trip by returning to your ferry stop, or stay in one of the island's many luxury accommodations.
You could base a stay in the UP at one of the area's larger towns like Marquette, Sault Ste. Marie or Munising, or plan a road trip that hopscotches across from east to west (the area is about 320 miles wide at a maximum). Expect active adventures at sites like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (shown in photo) or Tahquamenon Falls State Park. But you'll find plenty of art, culture and history throughout the UP as well.
Lake Huron Shore
Start your getaway in Alpena or Bay City to explore shipwrecks, lighthouses and Lake Huron beaches on the Sunrise Side of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. In Alpena, see the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Museum and peer at shipwrecks in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary; in Bay City, sail on vintage-looking schooners and relax in the sand at Bay City State Park.
A town of about 16,000, Traverse City sits at the base of Old Mission Peninsula, a long finger that points north into Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay. The lake insulates the land and softens the seasons' rough edges, making this a prime destination for vacationers—as well as fishermen and farmers. Enjoy the bounty of the land at wineries, restaurants and roadside stands; get out on the lake via kayak or sailboat; or head to nearby destinations such as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore for adventures along sand dunes and bluffs.
Harbor Springs, Charlevoix and Petoskey
These three nearby towns—it's 27 miles from Harbor Springs to Charlevoix, with Petoskey in the middle—each have welcoming downtowns full of boutiques and galleries, plus stunning scenery along Little Traverse Bay, northeast of Traverse City.
The state's second-largest city, developed around the Grand River, has built a big reputation for culture, cuisine and craft beverages. It's a worthwhile destination on its own, but also less than an hour's drive from southwest Michigan if you're vacationing on the beaches there. See attractions like the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Grand Rapids Art Museum and John Ball Zoo—plus any of dozens of breweries in a town that brands itself Beer City U.S.A.
The University of Michigan campus boasts gems such as Matthaei Botanical Gardens and the new University of Michigan Museum of Natural History (as well as the University of Michigan stadium, the largest in college football). Explore the city's culinary scene on a food tour or just drop in for a meal at restaurants like MANI Osteria and Bar (artisanal pizza) or one of the legendary Zingerman's family of eateries. The 204-room Graduate Ann Arbor captures Wolverine pride in its decor.
Just over two hours' drive from Detroit and an hour from the beaches of Lake Michigan, Kalamazoo has plenty to entertain the family on a road trip. The Smithsonian Institute-affiliated Air Zoo displays more than 50 aircraft; the Kalamazoo Valley Museum is part science, part history and part children's museum; and at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, 16 trails cover 10 miles of habitats.
Visitors see clues to why it's known as Little Bavaria in the town's architecture and dancing wooden figures in the glockenspiel at the Bavarian Inn Restaurant and its Castle Shops. Shoppers will also find plenty to like at Frankenmuth River Place Shops and megasize Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland. Toast a day well spent at Frankenmuth Brewery, then settle in at Zehnder's Splash Village Hotel and Water Park or the Bavarian Inn Lodge.