Mileage: 310 Miles
Driving Time: 5 hours, 35 minutes
A lot of travelers simply use I-75 to move vertically over the state on their way to the Upper Peninsula or to visit Motown – or simply to move across the state as quickly as possible. Although this highway is the main vein, there are dozens of offshoots to the east that can lead to some pretty spectacular places.
The northeast and thumb regions of the state are more lightly visited than their westerly counterparts, which makes them ideal for adventurous RVers who want to see more than just the “big sights.” We call this a driving tour, but you could easily make this into a week-long itinerary (check for places to stay in this area).
1. Go kayaking over a shipwreck, Harbor Beach: harborbeachkayak.com
One of the most beautiful and calm places to kayak on a Great Lake is the Harbor of Refuge that encases the Thumb town of Harbor Beach. Here, you can kayak or even paddleboard in the crystal waters of Lake Huron and glide over the very visible Dorcus Pendall, a schooner built in 1884 and burned in place in July 1914 after running aground. Enjoy other harbor attractions if you have the time.
2. Enjoy a pint at Frankenmuth Brewery: frankenmuthbrewery.com
Next, drive west and slightly north for about 90 minutes to enjoy a draft beer from the state’s oldest brewery. Established in 1862, Frankenmuth Brewery offers American and German fare. Wienerschnitzel, anyone?
3. Take a walk at Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Saginaw: www.fws.gov/refuge/shiawassee
Feel like exploring 10,000 acres of marsh, hardwoods, and grasslands? Then visit Shiawassee near the city of Saginaw and only 16 miles from the brewery. It’s all undeveloped and an important bird area for migratory waterfowl. View wildlife via the Ferguson Bayou Trail and Wildlife Drive offer three wildlife observation decks, two with spotting scopes. Or, if you love photography, you’ll find many opportunities to capture a graceful bird (although “willing” may be questionable).
4. Take in the sights and smells of Dow Gardens, Midland: dowgardens.org
Another hour up the road is the picturesque Dow Gardens, complete with an award-winning children’s garden, water features, annuals, perennials, and towering pines. Admission includes access to Whiting Forest, the longest canopy walk in the U.S and 40 feet in the air. Check the website for hours (the gardens are open year-round but hours change by season) and admission prices (both daily and annual passes are offered).
5. Explore and learn at the Call of the Wild Museum, Gaylord: callofthewildgaylord.com
You’ve been outside a lot, so now it’s time to take it indoors. The Call of the Wild Museum in Gaylord, just off I-75 N, has around 60 displays of North American animals in natural settings, a theater, hands-on discovery room, and a walk-in display were you can touch animals. Many displays have sound effects. So if you have younger ones in tow, then this is the perfect spot to stop and stretch your legs as well as enjoy some family time.
6. Go for a night game of putt-putt, Mackinac Island: www.missionpoint.com
Okay, so you can’t drive here directly, but you can get part of the way there. The ferry will need to take you across the water to beautiful Mackinac Island. There’s nothing more enchanting or reminiscent than to see only bikes and horse-drawn carries along the roadways. Not far from town is Mission Point Resort, which has its very own mini-golf course. You’ll probably need to stay the night, but you can enjoy putt-putt at night with the help of strung lights, glow balls, and glowing jewelry. Then, go into town to one of the eateries for a late night cocktail and listen to a live band. You may never want to leave.