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Distance: 148 miles
Time: 3 hours, 24 minutes
Stop #1: Find a Petoskey Stone: Make your way to Orchard Beach State Park in historic Manistee for some beach combing (and follow these tips to find a Petoskey stone). Other popular beaches nearby where there are Petoskey stones aplenty include Empire Beach and Leelanau State Park in Leelanau County and Pt. Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort. Basically, if you have access to Lake Michigan, chances are you’ll find one of these delightful stones – and you’ll be able to say you found it yourself instead of buying it as a souvenir.
Stop #2: See the baby bears: It’s a sad legend that all Michigan children know, that in trying to escape a wildfire in Wisconsin, a mother lost her two cubs as they swam across Lake Michigan. She waited and waited until she was covered with sand, known today as Sleeping Bear Dunes. The great spirits felt her sorrow and created two islands in remembrance of her baby bears. These are within eyesight of the loving mama bear. They are South and North Manitou Island. You can see South Manitou on a clear day from the Empire Bluff Overlook. The trail head is off Wilco Road just south of the junction of M-22 and M-72 in Empire.
Stop #3: Walk or drive over a covered bridge: Pierce Stocking Drive in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is only seven miles long but full of treasures. One of these is a covered wooden bridge that was built in the 1960s. The bridge is one of the first “attractions” on this scenic drive, so keep on going. You won’t regret it.
Stop #4: Visit the largest tree: A black willow on the grounds of Grand Traverse Commons, the former Traverse City State Hospital grounds, is known to be the largest tree in the state: a 402 inch girth (that’s 33 feet around!). It’s more than a 100 years old, Black willows are known for their twisted and ornamental appearance. Try to wrap your arms around the trunk before getting back in the vehicle to drive to your next stop.
Stop #5: Eat superman ice cream: The rainbow colored treat is a kid’s dream and something you might imagine seeing in Willy Wonka. Every kid in Michigan knows Superman ice cream. In Traverse City, stop by Moomers for their version, Super Moo.
Stop #6: Take a photo next to a sign for the 45th Parallel: Prove that you were halfway between the equator and the North Pole. There’s a sign located near Torch Lake, between Elk Rapids and Charlevoix on U.S. 31. You’ll pass several farm stands and orchards as you make your way north, so make sure to stop in for some homemade goods and fresh Michigan produce.
Stop #7: Visit a Hobbit House: Charlevoix is home to a miniature community of mushroom or hobbit houses, designed by architect Earl Young. These enchanting buildings do remind you a bit of toadstools, as well as the fabled town of Hobbiton. Walk around and admire the gardens as well as the sloped roof lines of the stone cottages. They will transport you into your favorite fairy tale.
Stop #8: Legs Inn tee-pee: Legs Inn in Cross Village is a Polish establishment with quite a reputation. A good one: great food and a unique yet homey atmosphere. Outside of Legs Inn is a wooden tee-pee and totem pole, which is always ready to greet travelers. To get to Legs Inn, you need to drive through the Tunnel of Trees, one of the most scenic drives in Michigan.
Bonus: As you drive around, look for these uniquely Michigan license plates that have an image of the Mackinac Bridge, Michigan’s two peninsulas, or the standard “Pure Michigan” blue and white plate. Standard license plates changed from a blue background and white lettering to a white background and blue lettering because of, you guessed it, snow. You may still see some of those old-style standard license plates around.