8 best scenic routes for Michigan road trips

8 best scenic routes for Michigan road trips

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

By Britteny Dee

July 9, 2024

We might be biased, but Michigan road trips are unmatched. Explore the Great Lakes State and all its beauty on one of these eight scenic routes.

With its beautiful beaches, gorgeous Great Lakes, quaint small towns, and lush forests, Michigan is practically made for road-tripping. No matter where you are in the state, there are plenty of scenic routes to traverse and sights to see. 

Whether you want to journey along Lake Michigan, cruise through the quiet countryside, or explore the Upper Peninsula, there’s a road trip to suit you here in the Great Lakes State. Pack some snacks, put your playlist together, and get ready to embark on a memorable road trip throughout Michigan. 

1. The Gold Coast

8 best scenic routes for Michigan road trips

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. (Source: csterken/Canva)

With 300 miles of shoreline and golden beaches, Michigan’s Gold Coast is the ideal road trip destination. Start your journey in Saugatuck, dubbed the Art Coast of Michigan thanks to the dozens of fine art galleries in the area. From there, head north all the way to Mackinaw City, traveling along US-31 and M-22 (more on this highway later) for the majority of the trip. 

There’s plenty to do and see along the way, so plan to make plenty of stops. From historic, Victorian-era homes and Sleeping Bear Dunes to cherry orchards and vineyards, there’s no shortage of sights to enjoy. A few pit-stop-worthy places include Silver Lake, Empire, Traverse City, Charlevoix, and Petoskey. 

2. M-22

If meandering along the entire Gold Coast seems like too much of a time commitment, take an abbreviated — but equally beautiful — trip on M-22. This scenic highway also runs along Michigan’s west coast but starts in Manistee County and spans about 116 miles, wrapping around the Leelanau Peninsula and ending in Traverse City. 

Stop by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, sip wine at one of the many wineries in the Leelanau Peninsula, or stand on the 45th parallel (the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole). 

3. Tunnel of Trees

8 best scenic routes for Michigan road trips

Tunnel of Trees in Michigan. (Source: Gary Ennis/Canva)

We can’t talk about Western Michigan road trips without mentioning the Tunnel of Trees. This picturesque M-119 route, named for the evergreens and hardwoods that form a “ceiling” over the road, begins in Harbor Springs and travels along a breathtaking bluff that overlooks Lake Michigan. While the route, which ends in Cross Village, is only about 20 miles and can be completed within an hour without stops, we highly recommend going slow and taking breaks to indulge at some of the local shops and restaurants along the way, such as Legs Inn, one of Michigan’s most iconic dining destinations. 

A gorgeous landscape and natural surroundings makes the Tunnel of Trees one of the most scenic roads in the country, and as such, the journey really is the destination. 

4. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Named one of the top road trips in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is another western Michigan gem. At just more than seven miles long, this is a short but sweet drive full of attractions and natural wonders. Located within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, this loop route boasts picturesque panoramas of Lake Michigan, the dunes, and Glen Lake. 

There are several spots to stop along this highly Instagrammable drive, including a charming covered bridge, the Glen Lake Overlook, Cottonwood Trail (great for hiking), and the Lake Michigan Overlook.

5. Harbor Country

8 best scenic routes for Michigan road trips

New Buffalo BEach. (Source: MattStansfield/Canva)

While the northern portion of western Michigan tends to get most of the attention, the southern section, specifically Harbor Country, is deserving of praise and exploration too. Harbor Country, also known as Michigan’s Sunset Coast, is comprised of several charming communities known for their beautiful beaches, orchards, vineyards, breweries, exceptional dining, and lively art scenes.

Start your adventure in Michiana, located near the Indiana border, and head north through towns including New Buffalo, a resort community with a large harbor, Union Pier, a charming beach town, Three Oaks, the cultural center of Harbor Country, and many others. You can traverse Harbor Country in mere minutes — it spans just 15 miles after all — but as we mentioned, there’s tons to do in each community, so take it slow, enjoy a craft beer or two and some good food, or climb the dunes at Warren Dunes State Park and enjoy a postcard-worthy sunset. 

6. Heritage Route 23

Moving to the east side of the state, known as Michigan’s Sunrise Coast, the next road-trip-worthy route on our list is the Heritage Route 23. Beginning in Au Gres, you’ll travel almost 200 miles along the Lake Huron shoreline on US-23 until you reach Mackinaw City.  

You can, as the name implies, catch plenty of speculator sunrises while traveling along the Sunrise Coast, but that’s not all. Break up the long — but lovely — drive with stops at Tawas Point State Park, home to one of the best beaches in eastern Michigan, Charity Island Lighthouse, Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary (home to approximately 100 historic shipwrecks), and the many wineries and breweries in Cheboygan. 

7. River Road National Scenic Byway

Unlike most of the other routes on this list that hug the shoreline of one of the Great Lakes, the River Road National Scenic Byway explores inland Michigan. You’ll start in Oscoda and head west through the Huron–Manistee National Forests until you reach Hale. 

The 22-mile road runs parallel to the Au Sable River and takes travelers past plenty of hiking trails, campgrounds, scenic outlooks, and more. 

8. Upper Peninsula lighthouse tour

A list of scenic drives in Michigan wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Upper Peninsula. Michigan is home to more lighthouses than any other state, and about one-third of them are located in the Upper Peninsula. 

Start your lighthouse tour at Munising Range Lighthouses, make your way through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and continue traveling east along the peninsula’s edge until you reach Whitefish Point Lighthouse. Along the way, you’ll pass by the Au Sable Light Station and Crisp Point Lighthouse (among many others) and have fantastic views of Lake Superior. If you want to take things a bit further, head south to Point Iroquois Lighthouse in Brimley. 

This article first appeared on Good Info News Wire and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.8 best scenic routes for Michigan road trips8 best scenic routes for Michigan road trips


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