Ah, the days of sweet summer sunshine mixed with endless backyard barbecues and children laughing while running through sprinklers are finally upon us. After a long winter like the one we just had, I’m extra itchy for some sort of epic family adventure – a “Mother-of-all-trips.”
Something to be savored at a relaxing pace and that will be reminisced about to grandchildren and great-grandchildren alike.
No, this isn’t some mythical unicorn of a trip that only happens in my head during those rare moments alone on the couch. It is real, and here is how you can make it happen this summer.
Imagine a road trip that took you through a bustling major U.S. city, scuba diving for shipwrecks, camping in the woods, lounging on the beach, fishing, boating, hiking, visiting an island without cars, exploring local vineyards, falling in love with art AND seeing four of the five great lakes.
It’s real folks, and you’ll need about 10 days in Michigan to do it.
But What’s So Great About Michigan?
When in Michigan, you are never more than six miles from an inland lake or 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes. That is kind of crazy if you think about it.
There are over 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan that are five acres in size or larger, and the mitten has 3,288 miles of shoreline, which is the second most shoreline after Alaska.
If you have never been to the Great Lakes state you might not understand why these lakes are such an attraction. As some of the largest freshwater lakes on earth, and the Great Lakes have long been a major asset to the state from transportation to tourism.
10-Day Michigan Lakes Road Trip Itinerary
From Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. 10 days and 1044 miles of new adventures.
Touring the Lakes of Michigan 10 days / 1044 miles / 18 hours 16 minutes
Starting at the Detroit airport, I take you on a 10-day trip starting in the city and escaping to the Upper Peninsula and back. We will exploring 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, and get a chance to enjoy the many beach towns along the way.
Fun fact: World Book Encyclopedia (v. 13, p. 500 of the 2000 edition) says that Michigan has more shoreline than any other state (except Alaska) at 3,288 miles.
Lake St Clair
This freshwater lake connects Lake Huron to the north with Lake Erie to the south, through the St Clair River and Detroit River, respectively. It is short drive from the airport, and the perfect place to spend a day relaxing before embarking on your road trip.
Head over to Lake St Clair Metropark, which has more to do than just hang out on the beach. There is a paved trail along the shore for biking and skating, boat access, a squirt zone playground, and an Olympic sized pool with waterslides.
Visitors also like to frequent Belle Isle, just south along the Detroit River, with its free access to an aquarium, museums, an arboretum and playgrounds with plenty of space to play.
Be sure to check out the River Rat Restaurant for dinner, but don’t let the name fool you. They serve up delicious Italian-American dishes and offer a great atmosphere for families.
- Day 1 – Lake St Clair
- Drive Time: 45 minutes from Detroit Metro Airport
- Recommended Stay: 1 Day
- Where to Stay: Holiday Inn Express Chesterfield, MI
- What to do: Lake St Clair Metropark and Belle Isle
- Where to eat: River Rat Restaurant
This lake is the second largest of the Great Lakes, and along its shores are numerous beach towns that offer recreation and beautiful lakefront places to vacation.
Lake Huron is known as the “Sunrise Side” with 23,00 square miles of surface area that stretches all the way to the eastern side of Upper Peninsula.
This Lake is also known for over 1,000 shipwrecks that rest at the bottom of its depths, thus attracting scuba divers, snorkelers as well as kayakers that want to catch a glimpse of the mysterious ships.
While there are plenty of towns to see along the shores of Lake Huron, the city of Oscoda is a quiet beach town a little over three hours from Metro Detroit, and it is a great road trip destination especially if you have about a week to explore.
The shoreline has a wide selection of places to stay from cabins to motels there is beautiful lakefront lodging. The La Mer Douce Family Beach Resort has cabins right on the beach, and it is a cozy place to stay with views of Lake Huron. There are also plenty of campsites in the wooded forests just a short drive away from Lake.
Visitors have plenty of activities to choose including hiking and fishing and golfing (the course at Lakewood Shores was ranked #1 Best New Resort Course in the US by Golf Digest). There are also memorial monuments in remembrance of Oscoda’s long history, museums, canoeing and kayaking, hiking at Iargo Springs and you can take a ride on the paddle wheel boat known as the AuSable River Queen.
The neighboring Tawas Point State Park also has a beach as well as a lighthouse and museum where visitors can camp or just spend the day exploring the area.
Grab great food at G’s Pizzeria which has amazing pizza, burgers and more. There are also plenty of restaurants right in Oscoda from full sit down meals to just dessert, like ice cream.
- Day 2 – Lake Huron
- Drive Time: About 3 and 1/2 hours from Lake St Clair
- Recommended Stay: 2 Days
- Where to Stay: La Mer Douce Family Beach Resort
- What to do: Hike, Golf, Tawas Point State Park and AuSable River Queen
- Where to eat: G’s Pizzeria
In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is Lake Superior, and if you want a true outdoor vacation, the UP is the place to go.
You will cross the Mackinac Bridge, the fifth largest suspension bridge in the world, connecting the upper and lower peninsulas. It takes over four hours from Oscoda to get to the Upper Peninsula, but the UP is where you will find plenty of open space for unlimited adventures like hiking, hunting, fishing and boating.
On the way to the UP, you can stop for a break in Mackinaw City just before you reach the bridge. It is a great place to do some shopping, get Mackinac fudge and even take a short ferry ride and spend the day exploring Mackinac Island, which sits in the Straits of Mackinac.
The island is known for its complete lack of automobiles, and visitors can rent bikes, hike, explore fort Mackinac and enjoy some delicious Mackinac fudge. Stop at the Pink Pony for amazing drinks and a variety of food. It is a great day trip before you continue over the bridge into the upper peninsula where you will be able to see Lake Superior.
Lake Superior is home to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore which features massive cliff sides and rock formations all in multicolored hues.
The park has three drive in campsites as well as a backcountry campsite that you can hike to and set up your tent. While staying in the park, you can buy tickets for the tour boat that will take you out into Lake Superior and see the gorgeous shoreline cliffs.
If you prefer a hotel, the Pictured Rocks Inn & Suites has all the amenities you want and a close proximity to the National Lakeshore. Throughout the entirety of the UP you will find State Parks and National Forests perfect for camping and secluded outdoor recreation.
Beyond the breathtaking wilderness, there are few towns or indoor attractions. This is the place to go if you want a secluded outdoor vacation with amazing views and peaceful solitude.
- Day 4 – Lake Superior
- Drive Time: About 4 from Oscoda
- Recommended Stay: 3-4 Days
- Where to Stay: Grand Hotel if you stay on Mackinac Island, or Pictured Rocks Inn & Suites in the Upper Peninsula
- What to do: Stop in Mackinaw City and take the ferry to the Island. Explore Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
- Where to eat: Pink Pony Mackinac Island or Dogpatch Restaurant Munising.
This nineteen mile long lake is near the cities of Rapid City, Alden and Bellaire just Northeast of Traverse City, and it is a smaller lake with less congestion than some of the larger lakes.
The lime marl bottom makes the water glitter in beautiful shades of aquamarine that have inspired Kid Rock to sing about it and Michael Moore has even purchased a home on the lake.
There are many houses available for rent along the lake for a quiet getaway. Stay at Northwind Resort for an affordable room and a private beach on Troch Lake.
You can also take a drive to the William K. Good Day Park and spend the day at Torch Lake. The park has a boat launch, pavilion, picnic tables and a place to swim. Grab dinner and drinks at the Torch Lake Café where you can enjoy live entertainment.
- Day 7 – Torch Lake
- Drive Time: About 4 hours from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- Recommended Stay: 1 Day
- Where to Stay: Northwind Resort
- What to do: William K. Good Day Park
- Where to eat: Torch Lake Café
On the west side of the state, Lake Michigan runs the length of the state, and it is known for its lake effect that creates the perfect environment for agricultural growth such as cherries, wine grapes, blueberries and asparagus. It is on the beaches of Lake Michigan that you will also find soft, white sand beaches and over forty lighthouses.
In Traverse City, there are many lakefront hotels available, but book early because they go quickly. The Sugar Beach Resort Hotel sits right on Traverse Bay and has a beautiful private beach. It has a small town feel but with a large city atmosphere. Besides the beach, Traverse has a lot of great shopping, dining, museums and best of all, local wine!
If you are looking for wine or craft beer tours, Traverse city is the best place in Michigan. As the cherry capitol, Traverse City is also known for their annual Cherry Festival with local vendors selling goods, an air show and live entertainment all along the miles of beach.
This city is a major tourist attraction for both Michiganders and out-of-staters. Head to the Red Mesa Grill for exciting Latin American cuisine and amazing drinks.
As you make your way south back to Detroit, if you want to see more of Lake Michigan can follow the shore along US 31 South and check out the many beach towns. Some of the most popular towns are the artsy Saugatuck (called the “Best Coastal Small Town” by USA Today), Holland with its fine dining and sand dunes, Grand Haven known for beautiful beaches and parks, Frankfort famous for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Each town offers their own unique beaches and tourist attractions. When you are ready to head back to Detroit, you can take I-75 back to the city.
- Day 8 – Lake Michigan
- Drive Time: About 40 minutes from Torch Lake
- Recommended Stay: 2 Days
- Where to stay: Sugar Beach Resort Hotel or Cherry Tree Inn and Suites
- What to do: Wine Tours, Shopping
- Where to eat: Red Mesa Grill
Before you head back home, make one last stop in Detroit to see Lake Erie. Not far from Detroit, Sterling State Park has access to Lake Erie, and it is just a 30 minute drive from the airport.
There are 256 modern campsites available with electrical hookup for just $35 a night. The park also has hiking, boat access, fishing and over a mile of beachfront.
As the only State Park on Lake Erie, there are 1,300 acres, and a great place to vacation over a long weekend.
If you prefer a hotel, you can spend the day at Lake Erie before heading back to your room with cable tv and running water. GreekTown Casino-Hotel has great rooms and is located right on the Detroit People Mover transport line.
You might even try to catch a baseball game at Comerica Park. The city has a lot of great restaurants and the Dime Store is an incredible place to eat with carefully made artisan dishes.
- Day 10 – Lake Erie
- Drive Time: About 4 hours from Traverse City
- Recommended Stay: 1-2 Days
- Where to stay: GreekTown Casino
- What to do: Sterling State Park and Comerica Park
- Where to eat: The Dime Store
21 thoughts on “How to Have the Most Epic Summer Road Trip in Michigan”
I would love to go on a road trip to Michigan and visit all these lakes! Are there any other highlights of your road trip except the lakes?
Thanks for the guide! I don’t exactly know much about where to go and what to do in Michigan, I do know that there’s plenty to explore there with the kids!
This must be one of the most awesome road trips anyone can take. I love the scenic views, the activities and other things only Michigan can offer. I have to ask my husband if we can consider this and include it in our travel bucket list this year.
I have been to Michigan only once, to visit my aunt and her family. I haven’t toured the place extensively, but I hope to do that the next time I visit. My mom has been asking me to take her there. She said she hasn’t seen her sister in ages!
I’ve wanted to visit here so many times. It sounds gorgeous. Road trip!!!