9 Great Road Trips

Sure, gas is hovering around $3 a gallon. But hey, it’s summer, this is the Motor City and driving is a tradition. Time to take a road trip. Hop in the car and just go. Beat it out of town on the interstates — you have only a weekend — but eventually switch to the red or gray roads on your official MDOT map or, better yet, roads not even on there


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Chesaning steamboat
Chesaning steamboat

4. Cruising Cherry Country_438 miles

You have to endure a few hours of I-75 to get within striking distance of this prized drive, but a stop at SPIKE’S KEG O’ NAILS (989-348-7113) in Grayling makes it worth it. This classic northern Michigan tavern opened the day after Prohibition ended in 1933, and they’ve been refueling tourists with burgers and beer since.

When you’re good and ready to keep rolling, head west on M-72 to US-31, which takes you on a 43-mile journey north through cherry country to Charlevoix. Within 10 miles you pass through Elk Rapids, which was founded in 1848 and once rivaled Traverse City in size. Today its beach at VETERANS MEMORIAL PARK is nicer than any sand in Traverse City and never as crowded. For a meal, there’s RIVERWALK GRILL (231-264-9121), where you can grab a table on its outdoor deck and watch a parade of boaters cruise Elk River. 

For the next 30 miles, US-31 is cherry trees and farm stands. At FRISKE ORCHARDS (231-599-2604; friske.com) you can purchase a quart of sweet black cherries or pick your own. A little farther north is BIER ART GALLERY (231-547-2288; biergallery.com) with an interesting mix of art, jewelry and pottery on display in a red century-old schoolhouse. The peaceful rural landscape ends when you reach Charlevoix, a bustling resort town squeezed in between Round Lake and Lake Michigan. There’s a wide range of accommodations here, including BRIDGE STREET INN (231-547-6606; bridgestreetinn-chx.com), a three-story Colonial Revival bed-and-breakfast built in 1895.

From Charlevoix, follow scenic Boyne City Road along Lake Charlevoix, stopping at the HORTON BAY GENERAL STORE (231-582-7827). Writer Ernest Hemingway idled away his youthful summers on the large front porch of this classic country store and later used it in his short story “Up in Michigan.” In Boyne City, refuel on barbecue ribs or Bayou peel-and-eat shrimp at LESTER’S (231-582-4500), housed in the town’s historic train depot, and then head home. Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce (231-547-2101; charlevoix.org).

5. Beaches & More Beaches_529 miles

Pack the swimsuit, beach umbrella and the suntan lotion and hightail it out of town by heading north on I-75 and then northwest on US-10 all the way to Ludington.

If you have kids in tow, they’ll be thrilled if you stop first at FORT DAUL (231-843-2890), a sprawling gift shop that looks like a stockade and is packed with every souvenir imaginable. A good bet too before hitting the sand is a quick stop at BORTELL’S FISHERIES (231-843-3337). Since 1937, this out-of-the-way shop has been dishing up fresh salmon, trout, walleye and other delicacies from the Great Lakes. Order take-out and eat across the street at SUMMIT PARK overlooking Lake Michigan. It’s a picnic-table lunch with a five-star view.

When it’s time to kick back, you have plenty of options. First, you can roll north on M-107 to LUDINGTON STATE PARK (231-843-8671) to find your own stretch of sand along the park’s 5.5 miles of Lake Michigan beach. If the water is too cold, the park also has a beach along much warmer HAMLIN LAKE. Your next option is to meander north from there on Quarterline Road to Lake Michigan Road, where the LAKE MICHIGAN RECREATION AREA offers a wide, golden beach sandwiched between two towering dunes. And then there’s Manistee. The softest sand is downtown at 1st STREET BEACH; the most unique lodging is RAMSDELL INN (888-823-8310; ramsdellinn.net), a boutique hotel built in 1891 as a bank; and the best dining is the BLUE SLIPPER BISTRO (231-889-4045), six miles north of the city in Onekama.

To get back to I-96, head south on M-37 and top off your trip with a stop in the town of Grant. Its wooden water tower looks as if it belongs on the set of Petticoat Junction. And train enthusiasts will love the GRANT DEPOT RESTAURANT (231-834-7361), where they can savor its Mile-High Lemon Meringue Pie while studying all the memorabilia. Ludington Visitors Bureau (877-420-6618; ludingtoncvb.com) or Manistee Visitors Bureau (877-626-4783; manistee-cvb.com).

6. Railroading Road Trip_168 miles

For train lovers, there’s no better starting point than Pinckney, northwest of Ann Arbor, easily reached by taking M-36 west from US-23. The first stop is the town’s historic depot, where you can pick up the LAKELANDS TRAIL. Trains rumbled through there as late as 1978. Today, it’s a rail-trail best enjoyed on two wheels; rent a bicycle at VILLAGE CYCLERY (734-878-0117) for the scenic 10-mile ride to Gregory and back.

From Pinckney, make tracks north on M-52 to Owosso and the STEAM RAILROADING INSTITUTE (989-725-9464; mstrp.com). The seven-acre museum is packed with railroad memorabilia and exhibits, but its star attraction is Pere Marquette No. 1225, the steam locomotive that was built in 1941 and used to develop the train images for the movie Polar Express. On weekends, you can take a 45-minute ride.

More railroading lore is reached by heading east on M-71 to Durand, home of UNION STATION (989-288-3561; durandstation.org). Bring your camera, because this impressive Chateau Romanesque-style depot has been called the “most photographed depot in the country.” Built in 1905, Union Station has been designated the Michigan Railroad History Museum. Inside you’ll find an exhibit gallery, gift shop and a huge model railroad, along with the furnishings of a 1900-era depot. (989-723-5149; shiawassee.org).

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