It’s easy to skip around countries in Europe. In Scotland, for example, driving a couple hours or less will get you from one legendary city or village to another – each with its own history, attractions, and culture to explore. You can see a couple spots in one day and stay in a new place every night. This nomadic approach to traveling a single country can be applied to nomadically traveling through the state of Michigan.
This Summer Road Trip is intended to be spread out over the course of 10 days, so that you have enough time to see and do at each stop on the itinerary. You won’t see everything Michigan has to offer, even over all that time. After all, you also want to enjoy yourself and soak in the places you’re visiting. The distance between most towns is two hours or less, an easy jaunt to make each day. There are a couple days with more driving hours.
And if you have an RV, you don’t need to worry about finding a hotel. Your home is already with you, giving you ultimate flexibility. You can choose to dry camp, stay at a state park, or stay at a private campground – or all three – along the way.
Mileage: 885 miles
Driving Time: 15 hours, 26 minutes
(Keep in mind that summer is high construction season in this state, so expect delays.)
Day #1: Tecumseh is where you’ll begin your road trip journey. It’s a small town that makes every “Best Small Town” list. A town with a relaxed vibe, Tecumseh is home to Pentamere Winery, which is open for wine tasting, as well as The Pit. Unlike how it sounds, The Pit is a beautiful waterside park with swimming, fishing, and plenty of space to picnic or relax in a beach chair. If you’re feeling ambitious, then drive 45 minutes north to big town Ann Arbor to take in the downtown, walk the campus of the historic University of Michigan (make sure to visit the Law Quad), and experience the nightlife, as this college town is full of Michigan craft beer. If eating out, visit the Gandy Dancer, a favorite for generations of students and their families over the years.
Day #2: You’ll continue your journey east toward the bustling Motor City, Detroit. Although the downtown area with its historic buildings and museums are well-worth a visit, we’re aiming for more natural space. Belle Isle is an island gem located on the Detroit River. It’s easy to spend a whole day here, walking the riverfront, visiting the conservancy and nature center, making a wish at the James Scott Memorial Fountain, and watching the boat traffic.
Day #3: In the morning, set out for an easy 90-minute drive to Bavarian Frankenmuth. You’ll feel like you’ve wandered into Bavaria itself, what with its charming architecture, clock and chocolate shops, and cheerful hospitality. Walk the Bavarian Inn Holz Covered Bridge (you can drive through, but this may not be possible if you have a tall RV), visit the Chocolate Haus, and stroll through the River Place Shops. There are also a couple museums, the Frankenmuth History Museum and the Michigan Heroes Museum, which honors military personnel from the state of Michigan. Not far away is Bronners, where it’s Christmas every day of the year. The Silent Night Chapel outside is a favorite spot, but you need to look around inside to get the full experience. Be warned, you will leave with something.
Day #4: Situated on the shores of Lake Huron, Tawas City within the Tawas Bay Area is the perfect spot to pull off the road, take in the exquisite scenery, and go for a dip. This coastal community has a walkable pier, an iconic lighthouse within the state park, and is within easy distance of the hiking trails around Lumberman’s Monument. You can relax here today and bask in the beauty of the Sunrise Side. At night, since the northeast portion of the state is less congested, you will be able to take in the expansive night sky with little distraction or interruption.
Day #5: But speaking of the night sky, this day will take you to the International Dark Sky Park. But first, travel two-and-a-half hours to Mackinac City. Although a 15-minute voyage to beautiful Mackinac Island, you won’t want to leave the quaint island. So, best to stay on land for the day. You can walk around the shops in Mackinac City, eat at the park that gives you the best view of the Mackinac Bridge, and visit Fort Michilimackinac. Then, you will travel 15 minutes west to reach the International Dark Sky Park. The park is full of hiking trails and incredible views, so it’s well worth visiting in the daytime. If you can, stay until nightfall or return at night to take in the stars.
Day #6: An easy 45 minutes away is the coastal town of Harbor Springs. Smaller than the neighboring towns of Petoskey and Charlevoix – which you will travel through on the way to your next destination and are worth exploring – Harbor Springs is a good place to slow down. For a scenic drive, take M-119 through the Tunnel of Trees as you head south to this charming town. There are beaches, wineries, and the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve, which has easy trails. The downtown is also worth meandering through, complete with galleries and restaurants.
Day #7: This is your longest travel day, three hours and fifteen minutes. You’ll bypass the counties containing Traverse City, the Leelanau Peninsula, and Sleeping Bear Dunes (gasp!), as you make your way south and west to Ludington. This stunning Lake Michigan town is a favorite for tourists in the summer, as is much of the Lake Michigan coastline. You’ll find a vacationer’s paradise. Beaches are located on Lake Michigan as well as the inland lake, Hamlin Lake. There are also two historic lighthouses, the North Breakwater Light and the Big Sable Point Lighthouse within the state park. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, charter a fishing boat for Lake Michigan; or, cast your line in Hamlin Lake for some delicious panfish. For a bit of history, visit Historic White Pine Village and step back in time, with special events held throughout the summer. Stop in a the Jam Farm for homemade jams, jellies, and marmalades for your camping breakfast before you find a spot to camp for the night.
Day #8: You will continue south along the coastline, which has been a favorite destination for generations. Drive 90 minutes to your next stop: Holland. Home of Tulip Time, this town is reminiscent of a Dutch Village, both in appearance and hospitality. Windmill Island is definitely worth a visit – wooden shoes, anyone? – and visit the most photographed lighthouse in the state, Big Red. The shops that line downtown are unique, and the streets are meticulously kept. After you spend some time there, travel just another hour to South Haven, which has two of the beaches in the state. Frankly, plan to spend the whole afternoon there and watch the sun go down.
Day #9: This day will take you to two picturesque Michigan towns, St. Joseph and New Buffalo. You’ll reach St. Joseph first. There, visit Silver Beach County Park and take a ride on the carousel, walk along the sandy shoreline, and walk the pier out to the pair of lights. The Whirlpool Compass Fountain is an enchanting display, and if you have kids, they will enjoy cooling off in the spray. In New Buffalo, you’ll also find a beautiful beach, but turn your sights inland to Galien River County Park, a mix of upland and wetland habitats that includes a canopy walkway, platforms, and overlooks. It’s a great way to walk off any chocolate you may have picked up from a St. Joseph chocolate shop. Rent a kayak or canoe and explore the Galien River. Finish off the day by picking up some local wine and drinking it back at the campsite.
Day #10: Finish your summer driving tour in another small town: Colon. Flanked by Long Lake and Palmer Lake, Colon is affectionally known as “Magical Capital of the World” because it’s home to the Abbott Magic Company (the largest magic shop in the world), has weekly magic performances, and the MagiCelibration Magic Festival. The high school even gets into the spirit, mascot is a white rabbit with a black top hat. Several magicians, 28 in fact, have made Colon their final resting place, which means a trip to the cemetery might be worth adding to the itinerary.
We wish we could have included every single town and attraction in this list. Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is full of treasures, scenic views, history, and kind people. Use our itinerary as a starting point, but feel free to expand and explore. After all, that’s why we go on road trips anyway, to see and experience new places and things. Have a great summer!