The Ultimate Michigan Road Trip: a Stop-by-Stop Guide

The Ultimate Michigan Road Trip: a Stop-by-Stop Guide

If you like road trips, beautiful scenery, and memorable landmarks, Michigan is the perfect place for the ultimate in-state road trip. If you’re not from Michigan, you may think Detroit: cars and lakes. But Michiganders know that their state is one of the most beautiful states with tons of lush scenery and opportunity for recreational outdoor activity.

From the Gold Coast along the shores of Lake Michigan to the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, there’s no state better for a road trip than Michigan.

Use this stop-by-stop guide through the beautiful state of Michigan, home of Red Arrow Highway and Weko Beach. From Sleeping Bear Dunes to the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse, you’ll never turn back after your once-in-a-lifetime tour of the great state of Michigan.

Road Trips 101: What Do You Need?

Besides cold drinks and crunchy snacks, a full tank of gas, and plenty of battery life in your camera, what else do you need? Well, that depends. If you’re traveling further than 100 miles (which you will be on this trip!) purchasing travel insurance may be something to consider.

While most may think of travel insurance as something you get to protect yourself from losing money on flight tickets or expensive hotels, it can cover a variety of trip interruptions. Maybe you rented an RV to traverse Michigan, or you opted for one of the (very expensive) hotels on Mackinac Island or a Petoskey AirBnB, which is a vacation rental found on Airbnb platform - a platform with more than 54 million active bookers annually. 

If you want to compare prices of Airbnb, hotels and other vacation rentals in the area, then use CozyCozy - the only accommodation search engine listing Airbnb offers.

The Ultimate Michigan Trip

Now that you’ve loaded up on sodas and snacks, now that your camera is ready to go and the tank is full, it’s time to begin your ultimate road trip through the beautiful state of Michigan.

Stop 1: Detroit

Now that the rubber has met the road and you’re on your way, let’s make your first stop a big one: Detroit, Michigan. Detroit, the Motor City, is home to the GM Renaissance Center. Located in beautiful downtown Detroit, the iconic collection of 7 connected buildings is known all over the world. Shown in many Hollywood movies, it is the headquarters of one of the world’s largest auto manufacturers: General Motors.

Four 39-story office towers surround and seemingly support the 73-story hotel rising in the center, a unique look known as the worldover. Inside, enjoy shopping, dining, and great views. You can even stay here if you’d like. Completed in 1981, the seven towers are the crown jewel of downtown Detroit.

Also while on your road trip through Detroit, you’ve got to stop at the famous Motown Museum, home of the Motown sound. Also known as Hitsville, U.S.A., this is the actual building where Motown mogul Berry Gordy discovered and recorded musical royalty like Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson.

Located at 2648 W. Grand Boulevard, the Motown Museum is open for tours Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. See the actual place where all those great Motown hits were created so many years ago. It’s the stuff of legend.

So many great things to see and do in Detroit, but now we must move on. Next on our road trip through beautiful Michigan: Ann Arbor.

Before you leave Detroit, just a quick note to remind you: make sure you have car rental insurance. You can get a policy from the car rental company, or even from your own insurance provider. Shop around.

Stop 2: Ann Arbor

Next stop on our Michigan road trip: Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan. Founded in 1825, Ann Arbor is known throughout the state as a university town and an artist’s community.

First stop on the list: the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan is the flagship university of the state. Home of the Wolverines. It is also the top-rated public school in all of the United States for the sixth year running. On top of the great educational opportunities, there is also lots to see and do at the university.

The Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor is a beautiful 300-acre preserve complete with 10,000+ square-foot conservatory, natural areas, and walking trails. The gardens are a great place to spend the day for all visitors and are frequented by:

  • Hikers
  • Birders
  • Scientists
  • Volunteers
  • University of Michigan faculty, staff, and students

Ann Arbor is also home to the University of Michigan Museum of Art. At 94,000 sq. feet, it is one of the largest and finest university museums of art in the whole country. Make sure you make this one of your stops on your Michigan road trip.

Collections include works by:

  • James McNeill Whistler
  • Franz Kline
  • Helen Frankenthaler
  • Pablo Picasso
  • Claude Monet

Stop 3: Petoskey/Little Traverse Bay Area

The next stop on our Michigan road trip is Little Traverse Bay. In particular, the city of Petoskey. Little Traverse Bay is a small body of water just off Lake Michigan in the northern part of the state. The parklands here are perfect for camping, especially in Petoskey State Park, a 300-acre recreational area right on Lake Michigan.

The beauty and serenity of the area is one thing, but the drive there is just as beautiful. Michigan State Highway 131 to Petoskey and Harbor Springs makes the drive just as much fun as getting there, very reminiscent of Route 389 in Canada.

Stop 4: Mackinac Island

The next stop on our Michigan road trip, Mackinac Island, right in between the lower peninsula and the upper peninsula, might require a swim, or at least a ferry to get to it. But it’s well worth the drive.

Home to the Grand Hotel and Mackinac State Park, the island is one of the most beautiful places in America. Blue-green clear waters and limestone Arch Rock formations make up the island, founded in 1780.

The Grand Hotel, which boasts of the largest porch in the entire world, has played host to 5 U.S. presidents, as well as Mark Twain and Thomas Edison. It’s open all summer to guests from all over the world and makes a beautiful addition to your Michigan road trip.

Stop 5: Tahquamenon Falls/Paradise area

Did you know that little sliver of land on top of Wisconsin that looks like a ponytail is not part of Wisconsin at all, but Michigan? That’s right. It’s called the Upper Peninsula, U.P. for short, and it’s as beautiful and rugged as it is pristine. A hunter’s paradise, it’s the home to the next stop on our Michigan road trip: Tahquamenon Falls.

Tahquamenon Falls are in fact two different waterfalls located on the Tahquamenon River in the eastern part of the U.P. near Lake Superior. The falls are as substantial as they are spectacular, measuring 200 feet across and 48 feet high. They are located within Tahquamenon Falls State Park near Paradise, Michigan, and are a favorite summertime tourist attraction.

Stop 6: Munising

Moving farther across the U.P., going west, the next destination on our Michigan road trip is the town of Munising. Nestled on the north shore of the U.P., Munising is also home to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Warning: Take your time and drive carefully because roads here are quite off the beaten path.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located on the south shore of Lake Superior and is known for its dramatic multicolored Pictured Rocks cliffs. It’s a  beautiful destination and a great place to wind up your Michigan road trip.

How Long Does a Michigan Road Trip Take?

If you were to start in Detroit and wind up in Munising, just as we have charted, moving at a snail’s pace and enjoying yourself all along the way, I’d say you should give yourself at least a week. Take your time. The total distance of the trip, as the crow flies, is just over 400 miles.

Are Road Trips Expensive?

That depends. If you like camping out in state parks, you’re likely to get by on a student’s budget. Of course, if money is no object, check into the Grand Hotel. Be aware: you may find yourself spending more than a thousand dollars a night. It’s up to you, frugalness or lavishness. Either way, you’re going to have a great time along the way.

You should also make sure to factor the cost of road trip tolls into your budget. Plan ahead to see how much you can expect to spend on tolls throughout your drive.

A Michigan Road Trip to Remember

Wherever you decide to take your road trip in Michigan, you’re going to love it. Michigan is a beautiful, diverse state with something for everyone.

From great music concerts at the Fox Theater in Detroit to bird watching in Mackinac State Park, you’re going to have a time to remember. And speaking of remembering: don’t forget to get car rental insurance on your road trip through Michigan. The last thing you want is for the unexpected to come and ruin your vacation.

By Philip Loyd, Benzinga contributor

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