Exploring Michigan: Road Trips in the Great Lake State

By Kimberly Graf. Published on February 13, 2020

There's a reason that Michigan is called the Great Lake State. It borders no less than four of the Great Lakes, and the culture is uniquely built around this fact. There are lighthouses, waterfalls, and charming small towns (some that even still offer horse and buggy rides). It's a charming place with plenty of opportunities for long road trips. The two trips below are just a sampling of what Michigan offers.

The Shores of Lake Huron

We're going to start with a lakeside drive along the shores of Lake Huron. It's the third largest lake in the world by surface area, and the waters are gorgeous at any time or year or in any weather. We'll start in Standish, Michigan. There's not much to do in Standish; it's a quaint little town with friendly people. There's a railroad depot and a casino if that strikes your fancy, but there are also lovely views of the lake just outside of town.

From Standish, it is 15 miles up the road to Au Gres, Michigan. If you brought your boat with you, this is the largest access point for Lake Huron. Enjoy some fun on the water and outdoor recreation here. Our next stop is Oscoda Township. Its 43 minutes down the road, across shoreline highways and forests with beautiful views of the Lake.

Michigan Lake Huron

When you reach Oscoda, make sure you take in some of the downtown culture there. There's a riverboat museum you can visit, where you can get educated about river systems while taking an easy ride on the water. There's also the Oscoda Beach Park, for family fun on the shoreline.

When you're finished there, head down to Harrisville. It's about 20 minutes away. Here, there is a historical park as well as a lighthouse you can drive out to. Usually the museum is open and offers tour through Sturgeon Point Light, but it depends on the time of year you decide to go.

Harrisville is the gateway to another great destination on our way. Alpena, Michigan is about 40 minutes from Harrisville. It's a big city with many things to do, including the Great Lakes Maritime Museum, which explores the history of the region and its waterways. There's so much to explore and do here in Alpena. We encourage you to take some time to check it out!

Lake in Alpena, Michigan

But when you're done there, we're headed to Rogers City, Michigan. Prepare for another 45 minutes of back roads, forests, and intermittent views of the lake. When you arrive in Rogers City, there is plenty to explore as well. There is a lot of lakeside recreation here, including multiple state parks to get your outdoor fix. Rogers City also has a conservation area with plenty of education available.

Our last stop is Cheboygan, Michigan. In the area there are the Cheboygan Crib Light and Cheboygan Front Range Light lighthouses, which of course offer tours and plenty of scenic grounds to explore. There's much more to do in Cheboygan, including crossing the Bascule Bridge, a double-leaf construction built just before the onset of World War II.

This trip is a total of 180 miles or 3 hours and 30 minutes without stopping. It's a beautiful drive through beaches, forests, and unique towns with plenty of attractions and food to keep you occupied!

Michigan's Small Towns

If there's one thing that Michigan has plenty of, it's picturesque small towns. This list isn't comprehensive at all, and it's safe to say that you'll be able to extend it either way if you want to see more. Buckle up and take a weekend to explore some of Michigan's best small town experiences!

We'll start in Chelsea, Michigan. It's a small town with plenty of history and cultural flare. The historic downtown district looks just like a street straight out of the year 1905. This includes a clock tower, which was actually built in 1907 and remains authentic. It's charming, really. The whole downtown district is filled with hometown businesses and thriving art galleries and studios. Chelsea is a small town that's proud of its heritage!

south haven lighthouse

Buckle up, because our next drive is a long one! About two hours away is South Haven. This town is different for its unique seaside feel. There's a lakefront area on the North Beach, and a Pier on South Beach. There are also lighthouses and historical parks to explore, so take your time! You're sure to be able to find some amazing seafood in this town!

Saugatuck is less than half an hour down the road. This town is brimming with art! There's the Water Street Art Gallery to take a look at some of the local talent, and the Douglas History Museum. This is the most-visited small-town museum in Michigan, and for good reason! It's built in an old pump house and there's a lot of education about the local culture and history.

The town of Grand Haven is about 33 miles along the way. You're going to want to stop in here just for the musical fountain water and light show! It's free to watch right off of downtown, and there are multiple showings a night. But before you head there, check out the Pere Marguette 1223. It's a steam engine on display here, and one of two remaining models that still exist.

Frankfort lighthouse - Frankfort Michigan Sunset

The last stop on our trip is Frankfort, another classic coastal Michigan town. There are two different lighthouses to explore and sightsee at (Point Betsie Light and Frankfort Light) as well as beaches and plenty of natural attractions. This is a great place to camp for the night if you're getting tired!

This could easily be considered the middle part of a small-town Michigan tour. There are plenty of cute towns before and after this section. You could easily make this a 3-day drive! As it is, this section of the trip last 4 hours, 34 minutes and 351 miles without any stops or detours.

Of course, this is just a small taste of what the state of Michigan has to offer! Take the time to look into your own adventures, make detours and stops, and travel off the beaten path! There's so much instore for you in this beautiful state!

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