There’s a part of central Michigan known as the Irish Hills. According to the website, area encompasses parts of two counties (Jackson and Lenawee), as well as Onsted, Tipton, Somerset Center, Napoleon, Norvell, Cement City, Clarklake, and more. The name originated from the Irish immigrants who settled the area in the mid-1800s. Truly an honor indeed if the authentic Irish considered their new home to be reminiscent of their beloved Emerald Isle.
That beauty is most evident in summer, and the area is also known for its chain of lakes. It’s an easy drive from metropolitan Detroit – it was a popular area to stop in the 1920s for travelers – with this particular driving tour easy to cover in a leisurely day.
Driving time: 27 minutes
Distance: 17.8 miles
1. McCortie Park, the Bridge Park
Begin your driving tour by visiting some of the most unique and unusual works of infrastructure in the state. McCortie Park is a 42-acre historical site near Somerset Center. There are 17 intricately designed cement bridges in mock-wood grandeur. It’s a pleasant spot to enjoy an early and quiet breakfast as well as an ideal scene to take photographs (if you’re a budding photographer).
2. Walker Tavern Historic Site
This site is comprised of three buildings, the Walker Tavern, a 1840s barn, and a visitor’s center. The tavern is furnished as well as has period reproductions of what you’d find at a 1840s stagecoach stop (aren’t we glad to have our RVs?). Entrance to the Cambridge Junction Historic State Park, where this historic site is located, requires a recreational passport. Once a month during the summer, the state park hosts a summer evening in the Irish Hills with a Picnic on the Lawn concert series. Just bring your picnic and something to sit on.
Do you have a need for speed? Then visit the Michigan International Speedway for one of their summer races. Ticket prices to the grandstand vary by the event. There are several Race Day extras you can purchase in addition. Outpost and infield camping options are also available.
4. Irish Hills Towers
This historical landmark of twin observation towers was almost lost to demolition until the Irish Hills Historical Society stepped in. After falling into ruin, the towers got a much-needed restoration in 2016 and 2017. Historically, the wooden observation towers were popular lookout points for tourists in the 1920s. Back then, each tower had a different owner. The rivalry between the owners resulted in a bit of a war over whose tower would be the tallest. Climbing the towers is not yet open to the public, but you can get a great view regardless, just not from the highest point in southeast Michigan.
Love a good party? Rockin’ the Hills Craft Beer Festival takes place in July and is a rockin’ good time. Try to plan your drive to coincide with the festivities. More information can be found on the event’s website. If you’re more into trying a little of this and a little of that, you can attend the Taste of the Irish Hills celebration March 9 and 10, 2019, which features many of the area’s restaurant cuisine. Tickets are $25.
Where’s the nearest pint? You can’t be in the Irish Hills of Michigan without stopping in to a pub or two for a refreshing pint of local craft beer. Here are some of the joints around your route Blue Skies Brewery, Cherry Creek Winery, and Shady’s Tap Room are all within easy reach of U.S. 12. Head north to Jackson and east to Ann Arbor for many more brewery and winery options.