10 Scenic Michigan Lower Peninsula Road Trip Routes (2024)

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Looking for some of the best Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip routes?  

I've got you covered with Michigan road trip ideas throughout the Lower Peninsula! Whether you only have time for a weekend road trip in Michigan or a 7-day Michigan itinerary, there are a lot of scenic drives in Michigan to explore!

As a lifelong resident of the Mitten State, I've traversed its highways, discovered hidden gems, and indulged in the wonders of Pure Michigan. This blog post guides you to unlocking the best Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip routes.

If you want to explore road trips in the Upper Peninsula, I've got you covered there, too.

I'm here to be your virtual tour guide with a deep-rooted love for Michigan and extensive firsthand knowledge from exploring its roads.

From the charming small towns to the stunning national lakeshores, I'll lead you through the scenic routes, reveal top attractions, and share insider tips that only a true Michigander can provide. 

Be sure to have your vehicle prepped before adventuring out!

M-25, The Thumb

Route Overview:

M-25 follows a scenic loop that spans approximately 200 miles along the Lake Huron Shore, encircling the Thumb Peninsula from Port Huron to Bay City.

Along this captivating route, you'll encounter coastal towns, historic lighthouses, and opportunities for beach relaxation and outdoor adventures like hiking and putt-putt golf.

Plan to spend 2-3 days to explore this route! There are plenty of small hotels and campgrounds along this route. You will find the best chain hotel options in Port Huron or Bay City.

Port Huron

Beginning your adventure in Port Huron, a vibrant city at the southern entry to the Thumb, you'll have the chance to explore a bustling waterfront and historical sites.

Visit the iconic Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, Michigan's oldest surviving lighthouse, and learn about its maritime history. Consider visiting during the Annual Sandfest to check out some fantastic sand sculptures!

Fort Gratiot Lighthouse in Port Huron. White lighthouse with red roof. Person standing on railing looking down.  A great stop along your Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip route!

Lexington

Continuing along M-25, you'll arrive in Lexington, which has lots of stuff to do, a charming coastal village with a welcoming small-town atmosphere. Explore the quaint downtown area with unique shops and cozy cafes.

Enjoy a leisurely walk along the Lexington Harbor and the scenic beachfront, or head to one of Lexington's beaches to explore Lake Huron's crystal-clear waters.

Port Sanilac

As you venture northward on M-25, you'll reach Port Sanilac, a picturesque village known for its marina, sandy beaches, and maritime heritage. Visit the Port Sanilac Lighthouse (tours during summer hours only), stand proudly on the shoreline, and enjoy panoramic views of Lake Huron.

Tip: Are you an Ice Cream lover? If so, plan a stop at the Chill Zone in Port Hope! Large services at low prices.

Caseville

Continuing along the Thumb's coast, you'll arrive in Caseville, a popular beach town renowned for its annual Cheeseburger Fest, inspired by Jimmy Buffett's “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

Enjoy the relaxed beach atmosphere, swim in the clear waters, or partake in water sports such as kayaking or paddleboarding. Visit Caseville County Park and take a leisurely stroll along the pier, capturing stunning views of Saginaw Bay. 

Bay City

As you complete the loop of M-25, you'll reach Bay City, a vibrant waterfront city on the Saginaw River. Explore the historic downtown district with unique shops, antique shops, and delicious dining options.

Take a riverboat cruise along the Saginaw River and learn about the city's maritime history. Enjoy a leisurely walk along the Riverwalk Pier or visit the Bay City State Park, which offers beautiful beaches, nature trails, and birdwatching opportunities.

A family enjoying the beach at Bay City State Park.

Best Time to Visit:

June to August is the best time to embark on a road trip along M-25. Michigan's warm summer weather allows for beach activities, water sports, and outdoor exploration along the coast. The area comes alive with festivals and events during this time.

Tip: Bay City has one of the best July 4th fireworks displays in the state!

US-23, Sunrise Coast

Route Overview: Stretching from the southern end of Lake Huron in the city of Standish to the picturesque town of Mackinaw City, US-23 offers approximately 200 miles of scenic beauty.

Along the way, you'll pass through several beach towns, historic lighthouses, and numerous recreational opportunities.

Plan to spend two to three days exploring this route.

Oscoda

As you begin your journey in Standish, heading north towards Oscoda, be prepared to witness some of the most spectacular sunrises over Lake Huron.

Oscoda, a quaint town known for its pristine beaches, is the perfect spot for a refreshing morning swim or a leisurely walk along the shoreline.

Take advantage of the opportunity to explore the Huron-Manistee National Forest, which surrounds the area and offers excellent hiking and camping opportunities.

The Wurtsmith Air Museum in Oscoda (open end of May to October) is a must-visit for history buffs, showcasing the region's rich aviation heritage.

Beach with wood plank boards out to Lake Huron.

Alpena 

Continuing north, you will find Alpena at the heart of Thunder Bay. It was formerly a logging town but has grown in tourism as people are starting to discover it as a great place to plan a trip.

Alpena beckons with its rich maritime history and natural wonders. Take a detour to visit Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, a diver's paradise boasting a collection of shipwrecks from the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Explore the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, where you can learn about the fascinating tales of shipwrecks and maritime exploration.

For outdoor enthusiasts, Alpena also offers fantastic fishing, kayaking, and hiking opportunities along the shores of Lake Huron. There are also many lighthouses in the area, like the Alpena Light, also known as “Little Red.”

Rogers City

Heading further north, you'll arrive in Rogers City, a charming waterfront community famous for its limestone quarries. Visit the Great Lakes Lore Maritime Museum to learn about the Great Lakes shipping industry.

The picturesque harbor and waterfront parks provide a serene setting for a picnic or leisurely stroll. History enthusiasts can explore the Presque Isle County Historical Museum, showcasing the area's rich heritage.

Mackinaw City 

As you reach the end of the US-23 route, you'll find yourself in the enchanting town of Mackinaw City. This vibrant destination is the gateway to Mackinac Island and offers many attractions.

Take a ferry across the idyllic Mackinac Island, where time stands still, and explore its charming Victorian architecture, breathtaking scenery, and famous fudge shops.

Back in Mackinaw City, visit Colonial Michilimackinac, a reconstructed 18th-century fort that provides a glimpse into Michigan's early history.

If you want a unique perspective, consider parasailing in Mackinaw City!

Inside Colonial Michilimackinac with people watching two men dressed in period time clothing preparing to fire guns.  A great stop along your Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip route!

Best Time to Visit: The best time to embark on the US-23 Sunrise Coast road trip is during the summer and early fall.

You'll enjoy pleasant weather, longer days, and a bustling atmosphere in the beach towns along the route from June to September.

The fall season, particularly September and October, blesses the region with vibrant foliage, creating a picturesque backdrop for your journey.

River Road Scenic Byway

Route Overview:

The River Road Scenic Byway starts near Oscoda, Michigan, and winds alongside the Au Sable River for approximately 22 miles, ending near McKinley. 

Plan to spend half a day to explore this route! Consider including this with the Sunrise Coast road trip! Consider taking a canoe trip down the AuSable River for a full-day adventure!

Oscoda

As you begin your journey, the town of Oscoda is the gateway to the River Road Scenic Byway. Nestled on the shores of Lake Huron, Oscoda is renowned for its stunning beaches and water recreation opportunities.

Spend some time basking in the sun or take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Huron.

Outdoor enthusiasts can explore the Huron National Forest, which envelops the area and offers hiking trails, fishing spots, and picturesque picnic areas.

Lumbermans Monument

Pay homage to Michigan's rich lumbering history at Lumberman's Monument, a towering tribute to the men who shaped the region's timber industry.

Nestled within the scenic beauty of the Huron-Manistee National Forests, this impressive Monument is a testament to the grit and determination of the lumberjacks who logged the towering forests of the past. 

Explore the visitor center to learn about the hardships and triumphs of the lumbering era, hike along the picturesque Au Sable River, and witness the Monument's grandeur as it overlooks the majestic landscape.

The lumberman's Monument: three lumbermen standing with a log and logging tools.

Westgate Overlook

Take in the awe-inspiring beauty of Westgate Overlook, nestled along the picturesque banks of the Au Sable River. From this vantage point, you'll be treated to river views and enjoy a peaceful picnic.

Best Time to Visit:

The best time to embark on a road trip along the River Road Scenic Byway is summer and early fall.

From June to September, you'll enjoy pleasant weather for outdoor activities and the opportunity to indulge in water recreation along the Au Sable River.

Additionally, the autumn months of September and October bring a captivating display of fall colors, enhancing the scenic beauty of the route.

M-15, Pathway to Family Fun Recreational Byway

Route Overview:

Michigan's M-15 is known as the Pathway to Family Fun Recreational Byway, which stretches approximately 90 miles from Clarkston to Bay City, M-15 takes you through several noteworthy towns and attractions.

This scenic route offers a perfect blend of recreational opportunities, family-friendly attractions, and charming villages. 

Plan to spend two days exploring this Michigan Lower Peninsula Road Trip Route!

Clarkston

As you begin your adventure in Clarkston, prepare to be captivated by the town's small-town charm and natural beauty.

Visit Independence Oaks County Park, where the whole family can enjoy hiking, picnicking, and exploring the park's serene lakes and trails. 

For a touch of history, head to the Clarkston Heritage Museum, which showcases artifacts and exhibits that tell the story of the region's past.

Ortonville

Continuing north along M-15, you'll arrive in the charming village of Ortonville. A visit to Ortonville State Recreation Area is a must for outdoor enthusiasts.

The park offers opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking, and even a shooting range, providing endless entertainment for the whole family.

Stroll through the village, browse the quaint shops, and enjoy a delicious meal at one of the local eateries.

Davison

As you journey, Davison welcomes you with its blend of history and recreational attractions.

Davison's active community parks offer playgrounds, sports fields, and walking trails, making it an excellent stop for families to stretch their legs and enjoy outdoor activities.

For history and culture, visit the Davison Area Historical Society Museum, which preserves and showcases the area's heritage.

Bay City

At the end of the M-15 route, you'll reach the vibrant city of Bay City, situated on the banks of the Saginaw River. Bay City provides a plethora of family-friendly attractions and recreational opportunities.

Explore the Bay City State Recreation Area, where you can swim, sunbathe, hike, and enjoy nature trails along the shores of Lake Huron.

The Delta College Planetarium and Learning Center offers educational and entertaining shows about astronomy, making it a fantastic stop for young learners.

We camped at the Bay City State Rec Area on a rainy weekend, and the planetarium was a perfect rainy-day activity! We were able to get tickets hours before the show.

The Delta College Planetarium sign, with the red building behind it, with scooters lined up against it.

Best Time to Visit:

The best time to embark on a road trip along M-15, the Pathway to Family Fun Recreational Byway, is June to August.

Michigan's pleasant summer weather allows for outdoor activities and exploration of the parks and attractions along the route.

Additionally, the summer brings various festivals and events in Bay City, offering additional entertainment options for families. The Fourth of July fireworks in Bay City are top-notch!

I-75/US-10, Great Lakes Bay Region

Route Overview:

The I-75/US-10 road trip through the Great Lakes Bay Region takes you through this dynamic area's major cities and highlights.

Located in the heart of Michigan, this vibrant region is home to cities like Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland, offering diverse experiences for all travelers.

Get ready and immerse yourself in a tapestry of history, natural beauty, and warm hospitality as you journey along I-75/US-10.

This route is about 36 miles long and will take a day or two to explore!

Saginaw

Your journey begins in Saginaw, a city rich in history and culture. Explore the vibrant downtown area with its unique shops, art galleries, and historic architecture.

Visit the Saginaw Art Museum to admire its impressive collection of artworks, and stroll through the Japanese Cultural Center and Tea House for a tranquil experience at one of the few authentic Japanese teahouses in the US.

Enjoy the opportunity to explore the Saginaw Riverfront and enjoy activities such as riverboat cruises, kayaking, or simply scenic views.

Bay City

Continuing north on I-75, you'll reach Bay City, a charming waterfront community nestled on the banks of the Saginaw River.

Explore the historic districts, such as the Bay City Historic District and the Center Avenue Historic District, showcasing beautiful Victorian-era architecture.

Visit the Saginaw Valley Navel Ship Museum for a unique experience aboard the USS EDSON.

If you're a nature enthusiast, head to the Bay City State Park, where you can relax on the sandy beaches, hike through nature trails, or go birdwatching.

Downtown Bay City street view -shops on either side of the road. Cars parked along the roadway.Flags attached to lightpoles.

Midland

As you venture west on US-10, you'll arrive in Midland, a city known for its rich cultural offerings and natural beauty.

Explore the world-renowned Dow Gardens, featuring stunning botanical displays, walking paths, and a beautiful conservatory.

Visit the Midland Center for the Arts, which hosts a variety of performances, exhibits, and educational programs. The Alden B. Dow Museum of Science & Art is a must-visit if you're interested in history and science.

Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the Chippewa Nature Center, offering miles of hiking trails, wildlife observation, and interactive exhibits.

Best Time to Visit:

The Great Lakes Bay Region can be enjoyed year-round, with each season offering its unique charm.

Summer is ideal for outdoor activities and festivals, while fall brings vibrant foliage and harvest events.

Winter offers opportunities for ice skating, skiing, and other winter sports, while spring brings blooming gardens and renewed natural beauty.

US-12, Heritage Trail

Route Overview:

Embarking on a road trip along Michigan's US-12 Heritage Trail is an immersive journey through time, showcasing the state's rich history, diverse cultures, and charming communities.

The US-12 Heritage Trail covers approximately 210 miles from Detroit in the east to New Buffalo in the west.  To fully explore the vast sites in the area allow at least three to five days!

Detroit

Beginning your journey in Detroit, you'll discover the vibrant spirit of a city renowned for its rich history, diverse culture, and revitalized urban landscape. 

Visit the Detroit Institute of Arts for a diverse collection of masterpieces. Plan at least half a day to explore the massive collection!

Experience the music legacy at the Motown Museum and join your tour group to perform at this historic venue. We weren't good singers, but it was a memorable experience.

Indulge in Detroit's culinary scene, from soul food to innovative cuisine. A favorite place of ours is Bucharest Grill – it is quick and has multiple locations!

Explore downtown markets, shops, and the Detroit Riverwalk. Embrace the resilience and cultural heritage of Detroit, a city that continues to captivate and reinvent itself.

For a curated experience, join a Detroit Architectural Walking Tour. We loved having a personal guide that could take you to areas you might have overlooked!

If you are in the area on a Saturday, explore Eastern Market!

A white sculpture with gold framed are on either side with the people looking at the sculpture at the Detroit Institute of Art.  A great stop to visit all year round making it an ideal stop on your Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip route!

Dearborn

Heading out of Detroit, you will soon be in Dearborn, a city where history, culture, and innovation converge. Explore The Henry Ford Complex, including the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. 

Man standing next to an orange color model T car with the top down. Car and man standing in front of the red brick Smith Creek Building.

Ypsilanti

Next on your journey, stop in Ypsilanti, where you'll discover a town brimming with history and vibrant energy.

Visit the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, which celebrates the region's automotive legacy with a collection of classic cars and exhibits. 

Explore the Michigan Firehouse Museum, housed in a beautifully restored fire station, to learn about the history of firefighting in the area.

Don't miss the historic Depot Town district, offering unique shops, restaurants, and a glimpse into Ypsilanti's past.

Ann Arbor

Continuing west along US-12, you'll arrive in Ann Arbor, a dynamic city known for its cultural offerings and a world-class university.

Stroll through the vibrant downtown area, filled with eclectic shops, art galleries, and delectable dining options.

Explore the University of Michigan campus, home to renowned museums like the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology.

Nature enthusiasts can visit Nichols Arboretum, a serene oasis offering picturesque gardens and scenic trails.

Chelsea

As you venture west, you'll reach Chelsea, a small town with a rich artistic and literary heritage.

Explore the Chelsea Historic District, which features beautifully preserved buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Visit the Purple Rose Theatre Company, founded by actor Jeff Daniels, for a captivating performance.

Nature lovers can immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Waterloo Recreation Area, offering hiking trails, fishing spots, and serene picnic areas.

When we camp at Waterloo, we often head to Jackson for ice cream at The Parlour, large portions, a fun challenge, and in a building over 100 years old! What more could you ask for?

Three Oaks

Reaching the western end of the US-12 Heritage Trail, you'll discover Three Oaks, a charming village known for its arts scene and historic charm.

Explore the landmark Featherbone Factory, now transformed into Journeyman Distillery, where you can sample artisanal spirits and learn about the site's industrial history. 

Take advantage of the Vickers Theatre, a beloved cultural landmark showcasing independent and foreign films. For a unique experience, visit the Acorn Theater, which hosts live music performances and events.

Best Time to Visit:

The best time to embark on a road trip along the US-12 Heritage Trail is spring, summer, or early fall.

From May to October, you'll enjoy pleasant weather, vibrant foliage (particularly in the fall), and a bustling atmosphere in the towns along the route.

Red Arrow Highway, Michigan's Scenic Coastal Adventure

Route Overview:

The Red Arrow Highway spans approximately 25 miles from New Buffalo to St. Joseph and follows the Lake Michigan Coast. This route is a great Michigan road trip from Chicago!

Plan to spend two to three days exploring this Michigan Lower Peninsula Road Trip Route!

New Buffalo

Beginning your adventure in New Buffalo, a vibrant beach town, you'll be greeted by pristine sandy shores and charming lakeside shops.

Spend time soaking up the sun on the beautiful New Buffalo Beach or explore the quaint downtown area filled with boutique shops, art galleries, and delectable eateries.

Take the chance to visit the New Buffalo Railroad Museum, which showcases the town's rich railroad history and exhibits local heritage.

Union Pier

Continuing along the Red Arrow Highway, you'll reach the delightful town of Union Pier, known for its charming cottages and serene beaches.

Take a leisurely stroll along the Union Pier beachfront and feel the gentle breeze coming off Lake Michigan.

Visit the local antique shops and art galleries to find unique treasures and local artwork. Indulge in a delicious meal at one of the cozy restaurants, savoring the region's flavors.

Lakeside

As you venture further along the highway, you'll arrive in Lakeside, a small community with lush greenery and beautiful homes.

Enjoy the peaceful ambiance of Pier Street Beach, a hidden gem with sandy shores and picturesque dunes.

Take a bike ride through the scenic backroads, admiring the charming cottages and gardens. Lakeside also offers golf opportunities and lovely local parks.

Warren Dunes State Park

Visit the Warren Dunes State Park, a stunning recreational area with towering sand dunes, nature trails, and beach access along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Immerse yourself in the park's beauty as you hike through lush forests, marvel at the expansive sand dunes, and take in panoramic views of the lake. 

Man in black shirt walking down a sand trail through a grassed dune area.  A great place to relax along your Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip route!

St. Joseph

Reaching the end of the Red Arrow Highway, you'll encounter St. Joseph, a picturesque city nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan.

With its stunning sandy beaches, charming downtown district, and lively arts and culture scene, St. Joseph offers a perfect blend of relaxation and entertainment.

Stroll along the scenic Silver Beach, visit the iconic St. Joseph Lighthouse, and indulge in delicious cuisine at the local eateries.

Best Time to Visit:

June to August is the best time to embark on a road trip along the Red Arrow Highway. Michigan's warm summer weather allows for beach activities, outdoor exploration, and leisurely walks along the coastline.

Additionally, the area comes alive with festivals and events during this time, offering a vibrant atmosphere and showcasing the local culture.

US-31, North of St. Joseph

Route Overview:

Stretching 335 miles along the west side of Michigan, the US-31 covers a vast distance, beginning at the southernmost point of Michigan's Lower Peninsula and continuing northward along the eastern coastline.

Driving without stops will take you more than six hours. This would be a great week-long road trip adventure.

While the entire route offers captivating sights, we will highlight some notable stops along the way, showcasing the best of what the Great Lakes region offers.

Tip: Consider continuing down the Red Arrow Route instead of opting for the US-31 South of St. Joseph. 

St. Joseph

Starting your adventure in St. Joseph, a picturesque town nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, you'll be greeted by stunning beaches and a charming downtown district.

Please spend some time strolling along Silver Beach, known for its soft sand and crystal-clear waters.

Visit the Silver Beach Carousel, a beautifully restored carousel that brings joy to visitors of all ages.

Take a leisurely walk along the St. Joseph River and explore the vibrant shops, galleries, and restaurants downtown.

Holland

Further north along US-31 will put you in Holland, a charming city on the shores of Lake Michigan that captures the essence of Dutch heritage and small-town allure.

Enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Michigan at Holland State Park, with sandy beaches, lighthouse views, and scenic hikes.  Consider camping at the park – we loved our stay in the “pines loop”.

Tip: Visit in early May to enjoy the annual Tulip Time Festival, where millions of blooming tulips paint the city with vibrant colors.

The big red boxy lighthouse in Holland. The Holland Harbor sign shown in the foreground next to some trees.  A great stop along your Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip route!

Optional Stop: Consider heading west on I-196 to check out some places in Grand Rapids along the way. The Fred Meijer Gardens are beautiful!

Grand Haven

Continuing north on US-31, you'll arrive in Grand Haven, a bustling coastal city known for its iconic red lighthouse and lively waterfront. Explore the vibrant downtown district with boutiques, eateries, and art galleries.

Relax on Grand Haven State Park‘s sandy shores and witness the spectacle of the musical fountain, a synchronized water and light show that delights visitors during the summer months.

Don't miss the opportunity to visit the historic Grand Haven Lighthouse and enjoy panoramic views of Lake Michigan.

Red light houses at the Grand Haven breakwall.  Waves crashing onto breakwall. Wooden structure with lights along middle of breakwall.

Ludington

A bit further north, you will reach Ludington, a coastal gem along Lake Michigan. Experience the perfect blend of relaxation and adventure as you explore sandy beaches, hike scenic trails, and kayak on Hamlin Lake.

Discover the charm of the historic downtown area with its unique shops and local eateries. 

Visit the iconic Ludington North Breakwater Lighthouse and capture breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. Immerse yourself in the outdoors with excursions to Ludington State Park.

Tip: Continue to follow US-31 north, but when you reach Manistee, consider taking M-22 and enjoy the Sleeping Bear Dunes route to Traverse City.

Traverse City

As you venture farther north, you'll reach Traverse City, a renowned destination famous for its cherry orchards, wineries, and outdoor recreation.

Traverse City offers many activities, from exploring the charming downtown area with its boutique shops and restaurants to tasting locally produced wines and enjoying fresh cherry treats.

Check out Brys Estate Winery to enjoy breathtaking views of the vineyard, indulge in a glass of wine, and savor a cheese plate. It is a perfect setting for a relaxing afternoon.

Clusters of purple grapes ready for harvest on vibrant green grape vines.

Petoskey

Continuing along the shores of Lake Michigan, you will reach Petoskey, a charming town nestled on the shores of Little Traverse Bay.

The downtown area is known for its boutique shops, art galleries, and cozy cafes.

Some activities include searching for Petoskey stones, strolling along the historic Gaslight District, hiking at the Petoskey State Park, or trying your luck at the Odawa Casino.

Catch the sunset at one of these parks: Sunset Park, Bayfront Park, and Petoskey State Park. They are all known for their stunning sunset views.

Six colorful hot air balloons floating over the waters at Petoskey State Park. A view from the top of a dune trail that leads to the beach below.

Mackinaw City

Continuing along US-31, you'll reach Mackinaw City, a gateway to the iconic Mackinac Island and the Mackinac Bridge, connecting the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan.

Explore the historic downtown area, filled with charming shops and eateries.

Enjoy a ferry ride to Mackinac Island and step back as you explore the car-free island's Victorian architecture, horse-drawn carriages, and stunning natural beauty.

Take a walk along the shores of Lake Huron and marvel at the Mighty Mackinac Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.

Mackinac Bridge taken from shore on fluffy cloud day. Grass and beach in foreground.  A great stop along your Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip route!

Best Time to Visit:

The best time to embark on a road trip along US-31 is during the summer months of June to August when the weather is warm and perfect for beach activities and outdoor exploration.

Fall, particularly September and early October, offers the added beauty of vibrant foliage, transforming the landscape into a tapestry of colors.

Winter is a great time to visit if you enjoy winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing. Note that many hotels in Mackinaw City are closed in the winter months.

M-22, Michigan's Coastal Wonderland

Route Overview:

M-22 stretches approximately 120 miles along the western coast of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, taking you from Manistee to Traverse City.

You'll encounter charming towns, stunning beaches, and the magnificent Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore along this picturesque route. This is one of my favorite Northern Michigan Road Trips!

There are so many beautiful stops to take in along this route! Plan to spend four-plus days exploring this route!

Manistee

Beginning your adventure in Manistee, a historic port city, you'll have the opportunity to explore a town steeped in rich maritime heritage.

Stroll along the Riverwalk and admire the Victorian-era architecture that lines the streets. Visit the Manistee North Pier Lighthouse and take in panoramic views of Lake Michigan Shore.

For a touch of culture, check out the Ramsdell Theatre, a beautifully restored venue showcasing performing arts and cultural events.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Continuing north on M-22, you'll reach the crown jewel of the route—the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This natural wonderland encompasses towering dunes, pristine beaches, and lush forests. 

Climb the massive dunes and be rewarded with breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding landscape. Don't let the dune climb trick you – it's tough!

Explore the scenic overlooks, embark on some Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking trails that wind through the dunes and forests, or relax on the sandy shores. 

Remember to visit the historic Glen Haven Village, where you can learn about the area's maritime history.

Plan to spend at least a day exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes!

A view down to the blue waters of an inland lake at Sleeping Bear Dunes. Trees surround the view.  A great stop along your Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip route!

Glen Arbor

Just a short drive from Sleeping Bear Dunes, you'll find the charming town of Glen Arbor. Glen Arbor is nestled amidst forests and near the shoreline and offers a blend of outdoor activities and artistic charm.

Browse the local shops and art galleries, and savor the region's flavors at the town's cozy restaurants and cafes.

Take a leisurely stroll along the Crystal River, known for its serene beauty and opportunities for kayaking and fishing.

"Great Hall of the Republic" buildings in Glen Arbor. Rustic buildings with large rock landscape borders with plants and a flag stone path.

Leelanau Peninsula

Continue north to the natural beauty and laid-back charm of the Leelanau Peninsula. This picturesque area is renowned for its breathtaking coastal views, rolling vineyards, and quaint towns.

Explore the charming village of Suttons Bay, where you can wander through art galleries, sample local wines at the wineries, or indulge in fresh farm-to-table cuisine. 

Vineyards in the foreground with the bay in the background.  A great stop along your Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip route!

Traverse City

As you near the end of the M-22 route, you'll arrive in Traverse City, a vibrant city known for its cherry orchards, wineries, and lively downtown scene.

Explore the bustling Front Street, filled with boutique shops, breweries, and eateries serving local delicacies.

Sample award-winning wines along the Old Mission Peninsula Wine Trail or indulge in a cherry-themed treat. Have someone else do the driving – enjoy a multi-stop wine tour!

Traverse City also offers beautiful beaches, water sports on the Grand Traverse Bay, and cultural attractions like the Dennos Museum Center.

Waves rolling onto the sandy beach in the Grand Traverse Bay. Trees and buildings in the background.

Best Time to Visit:

Summer and early fall are the best time to embark on a road trip along M-22 with Sleeping Bear Dunes. You'll experience warm weather in the area from June to September, ideal for beach activities, hiking, and exploring the dunes.

The fall season, particularly September and October, treats visitors to vibrant foliage, enhancing the already stunning landscapes along the route.

M-118, Tunnel of Trees

Route Overview:

The M-119 Tunnel of Trees spans approximately 27 miles from Harbor Springs to Cross Village, offering a stunning drive along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

Along this enchanting route, you'll encounter scenic viewpoints, quaint towns, and opportunities to immerse yourself in nature's splendor.

Plan a day or two to immerse yourself in this route trip option.

Harbor Springs

Beginning your journey in Harbor Springs, you'll be greeted by a picturesque town nestled on the shores of Little Traverse Bay.

Take a leisurely stroll through the charming downtown area with boutiques, art galleries, and delightful cafes.

Explore the beaches and waterfront parks, or embark on a sailing adventure on the crystal-clear waters of Lake Michigan.

Take the chance to visit the historic Little Traverse Lighthouse, where you can learn about the area's maritime heritage.

White buildings along downtown Harbor Springs. Flag flying from second floor porch. Light blue Oil Painting business sign below.

Tunnel of Trees

As you venture northward on M-119, you'll enter the renowned Tunnel of Trees, a stretch of road lined with towering hardwood trees forming a leafy canopy overhead.

This enchanting section of the route showcases the natural beauty of Michigan, with the vibrant colors of the foliage in the fall and the lush greenery in the summer.

Take your time to savor the scenic beauty, and stop at designated viewpoints to capture memorable photographs.

Tunnel of trees - M119. Trees turning color along asphalt road.

Cross Village

Reaching the end of the Tunnel of Trees, you'll arrive in the charming village of Cross Village. As you explore the historic settlement known for its preserved buildings and quaint atmosphere, step back in time.

Visit the famous Legs Inn, a Polish-American restaurant and architectural marvel with its distinctive design and stunning views of Lake Michigan.

Cross Village is also home to the renowned Three Pines Studio, showcasing the work of 40+ local artists and artisans.

The Legs Inn Sign with the building and MI historical sign in the background. A great stop along your Michigan Lower Peninsula road trip route!

Best Time to Visit:

The best time to embark on a road trip along M-119, the Tunnel of Trees, is during the fall months of September and October. The route is adorned with a brilliant display of autumn foliage, creating a truly magical and vibrant atmosphere.

Traveling in the summer offers pleasant weather and the opportunity to enjoy the stunning Lake Michigan views and the lush greenery of the Tunnel of Trees.

Extend your Trip: Continue north along North Lakeshore Drive to Wilderness State Park, where you can visit the unspoiled natural beauty of the glistening shores of Lake Michigan.

Discover a haven of sandy beaches, lush forests, and vibrant dunes as you explore the park's extensive trail network.

Whether camping under a starlit sky, swimming in the refreshing waters or enjoying a peaceful picnic by the shoreline, Wilderness State Park promises a rejuvenating retreat and endless opportunities for adventure.

Pine trees in the background with a blue body of water in front. Light blue sky.

FAQs: Michigan Lower Peninsula Road Trip Routes

What is the most scenic route in Michigan?

The routes along Pictured Rocks or the Tunnel of Trees are often considered the most scenic routes in Michigan.

What is the best Lake Michigan Drive?

US-31 offers the best scenic route filled with the best that the Lake Michigan shore offers, from pristine sugar sand beaches to cozy coastal communities.

When is the best time to take a road trip in Michigan?

The best time for a road trip in Michigan is generally during the summer and early fall (June to September). The weather is pleasant, and you can enjoy outdoor activities, festivals, and vibrant foliage during the fall.

Are there any toll roads in Michigan?

No, there are no toll roads in Michigan. You can travel freely on the state's highways and byways without encountering any toll booths. There is a fee to cross over the Mackinac Bridge.

Are there wine regions or wineries to visit during a Michigan road trip?

Michigan has several wine regions, such as the Traverse Wine Coast and the Leelanau Peninsula, known for their vineyards and wineries. You can visit tasting rooms, take vineyard tours, and sample a variety of wines during your road trip.

Final Thoughts: Michigan Lower Peninsula Road Trips

As we wrap up our journey through the best road trip options in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, it's clear that the Great Lakes State is a treasure trove of adventure, natural beauty, and captivating experiences.

Consider connecting some of these road trips together for an extended journey through the wonders of Michigan. You could start with the hidden beauty of the Sunrise Coast, then make your way down the west side of the state.

Really, the options for a great Michigan Lower Peninsula Road Trip are endless. And depending on whether you only have time for a 3-day road trip in Michigan or a one-week road trip in Michigan, there are plenty of options.

These road trips in Michigan are sure to keep you busy! I hope you enjoyed this list of great places to go on a road trip!

Note: Michigan is said to have two seasons: winter and construction. So be ready for construction…

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Four photos: Wilderness State Park water and trees, Purple Grapes in Traverse City area, Buildings with landscape areas in Glen Arbor, Sand Dune trail SW Michigan
Hot Air Balloons over Petoskey State Park Beach.
Three images: Legs Inn Sign, Big Red Lighthouse, Beach with wooden walk to beach.

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6 Unique Michigan Upper Peninsula Road Trips

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