There is history and culture that can be experienced outdoors across west Michigan. This driving tour stretches from southwest Michigan to the Mackinac Bridge and stops at some of the most popular destinations along the way.
Distance: 332 miles
Time: 6 hours, 1 minute
Windmill Island, Holland
You’ll feel like you’re in the old Dutch country when you step onto Windmill Island Gardens in Holland, located in southwest Michigan and only 30 minutes from artsy Grand Rapids. The original working windmill was brought over from the Netherlands in the 1960s and is the focal point that oversees 36 acres of gardens, canals, and picnic areas. Visitors should plan to spend at least a couple hours visiting this oasis. Kids will enjoy the children’s garden, the antique Dutch carousel, and the playground. Admission fee is $10 adults and $5 for youths ages 3-15. Holland residents are admitted free of charge with their driver’s license.
Don’t miss … visiting in the spring when more than 100,000 tulips are in bloom. Traditionally, the town celebrates Tulip Time in early to mid-May. If you can’t make it in the spring, summer is just as fine, as the gardens were well-planned to be colorful and beautiful across many seasons.
Frederik Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids
If you love art and history and being outdoors, then there’s no better spot than Frederik Meijer Gardens. The campus is 158 acres, so you can easily spend an entire day here. From the sculpture park to the Japanese garden to the children’s garden to the woodland shade garden, you’ll have to narrow down what you’d like to see. There are fountains, ponds, streams, bridges, and picnic areas expertly placed and tucked along the gardens, making for a truly fairy tale experience. There is an entrance fee, which varies by age. Please visit the website for rates as well as hours.
Don’t miss …The American Horse. Famed animaliere, or animal sculptor, Nina Akamu, created this masterpiece modeled after a work fashioned by none other than Leonardo da Vinci. The monument is a majestic 24 feet high. The Gardens has a no-touch policy when it comes to statues; however, The American Horse is one of two exceptions and light touching is permissible.
Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City
As if Old Mission Peninsula couldn’t get any more beautiful – between cherry orchards, vineyards, and views of two pristine bodies of water – the end of the route brings you to Mission Point Lighthouse. A guide for mariners from 1870 to 1933, the lighthouse is now a museum (self-guided tour) and acts as a stunning backdrop for family photos and romantic moments. The park, which has miles of unspoiled trails, is always open until 10 p.m., making it a perfect spot to take in a sunset.
Don’t miss… rock hunting along the shoreline. Plus, you get quite the view out into the open water that leads to Lake Michigan. You feel like you’re at the edge of the world.
Cross in the Woods National Shrine, Indian River
Thousands of visitors visit this national shrine every year. The most prominent feature of the shrine is the large wooden cross (55 feet tall) and bronze sculpture (31 feet tall) of Jesus. It’s the largest crucifix in the world and although it’s large, its presence is unassuming being situated among the tall trees that stretch toward the ceiling of the sky. You’ll also find indoor and outdoor churches, several smaller shrines, the Stations of the Cross, and a nun doll museum. The site was originally a state park, but there was a need to build a church in the area as many Catholic parishioners were traveling great distances to go to Mass. Ground broke on the project in 1946, after “the Commission granted them the land for the price of $1.00 and a box of candy for the secretary.” It was always planned to include an outdoor church and an indoor church.
Don’t miss… visiting Our Lady of the Highway, which is carved from Carrara marble, as she is the patroness of all travelers.
Colonial Michilimackinac, Mackinac City
This reconstructed 18th-century fort and fur trading village – known as the “Castle of the Straits” – located at the Straits of Mackinac will give you a taste and feel of colonial America. According to the website, “you are stepping back in time to 1777, as the British prepared to end the American Revolution with a decisive blow.” There are historical interpreters across the 16 buildings of the fort ready to answer questions and perform demonstrations. There’s short movies worth watching, Michilimackinac: Crossroads of the Great Lakes, and during the summer, you can witness archaeologists continuing the excavation, which has been going on since 1959. Admission rates are $12.50 and $7.50 for children 5-12.
Don’t miss… Michilimackinac State Park, the second state park that was established in 1909. Visit Bridgeview Gazebo in the middle of the park. Maybe even enjoy a picnic lunch with a view of the straits.