4 Must-visit stops on a Michigan road trip

By: Emily Hopcian + Save to a List

When considering “The Great American Road Trip” or noteworthy road trips in North America, Michigan is often overlooked, as is also often the case for the Midwest as a whole. However, with thousands of miles of pristine freshwater coastline—the longest coastline of any state, with the exception of Alaska—lined with sand dunes, forests and more, Michigan is not to be missed. The Great Lakes State has big cities and small towns worth visiting, each with their own history and character, and plenty of ways to get out and appreciate its diverse natural landscapes.

Come spring, summer and fall, Michigan’s natural environments offer the opportunity to hike, bike and enjoy just about every water-based activity you can think of. The state is home to hiking trails, mountain biking trails, rivers, lakes, campgrounds—including those of our friends at Kampgrounds of America—and many state parks, national forests and national parks.

As you plan your next road trip, give these five locations in Michigan some serious thought.

Ann Arbor (traditional territory of the Meškwahki•aša•hina, Peoria, Anishinabewaki & Bodwéwadmi peoples)
Home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is the quintessential college town and a city that has something for just about everyone. There are a number of notable restaurants, local markets and various festivals and cultural events throughout the year, including the Ann Arbor Art Fair in July. The Huron River runs through the city, and Ann Arbor contains numerous parks and green spaces.

Stay at the Detroit / Ann Arbor KOA Holiday in nearby Ypsilanti. Spend your days paddling the Argo Cascades, hiking the Nichols Arboretum Loop Trail and exploring the campus at the University of Michigan. On a rainy day, check out the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. Zingerman’s Delicatessen and Sava’s are worth a visit for meals, though the city has many noteworthy eateries.

Photo: Travis Smith

Ludington (traditional territory of the Odawa people)
From Ann Arbor, drive west across the state to Ludington, a harbor town located on Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River. In Ludington, you can start to enjoy the vastness of the Great Lakes—Lake Michigan, in this case. Ludington and the areas that surround it contain many opportunities for outdoor exploration.

Base yourself at Ludington East / Pere Marquette River KOA Holiday. Nearby, you can hike to Big Sable Point Lighthouse along the Lighthouse Trail, hike Island Trail in Free Soil and venture further north to backpack the Manistee River Trail (or canoe, kayak or SUP the Manistee River).

Photo: Shalee Blackmer

From Ludington, drive up US-31 and M-22 through Frankfort and Empire before continuing to Traverse City. In Frankfort, we recommend checking out Stormcloud Brewing Company and Point Betsie Lighthouse as well as Five Shores Brewing Company in nearby Beulah, and you can’t pass through Empire without hiking the Empire Bluff Trail and visiting Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate and Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak.

Traverse City (traditional territory of the Odawa people)
In many ways, Traverse City is the heart or hub of Northern (Lower Peninsula) Michigan. Throughout the summer and into the fall, the city hosts festivals (most notably the National Cherry Festival) and many events. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the region’s biggest attractions, and you can spend a day (or a few) in the park hiking and enjoying the views of Lake Michigan, South & North Manitou Islands and more.

Before you go, search the area for hotels, short-term rentals and campgrounds to meet your needs. The Traverse City KOA Holiday in Buckley is located roughly 30 minutes (driving) south of Traverse City.

Similar to Ann Arbor, Traverse City contains a number of great spots to grab a delicious bite to eat—and a good drink, as there are a several craft breweries and wineries in the area. To start, check out The Workshop Brewing Company, The Filling Station Microbrewery, Farm Club and The Little Fleet. On a rainy day, visit ELEV8 Climbing and Fitness.

Photo: Robin Pfeifer

From Traverse City, continue traveling north on US-31. You’ll follow the Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan and pass through more notable towns in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula before reaching Mackinaw City and the Mackinac Bridge.

Mackinaw City & Mackinac Island (traditional territory of the Anishinabewaki & Odawa peoples)
Just south of the Mackinac Bridge, base yourself at Mackinaw City / Mackinac Island KOA Journey. From there, you can explore the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula—including Fort Michilimackinac and Headlands International Dark Sky Park—and photograph the Mackinac Bridge.

No visit to Mackinaw City is complete without taking the ferry to Mackinac Island, where you can hike the Tranquil Bluff Trail and bike around the island.

Within this area, we also encourage you to familiarize yourself with the history and culture of the Anishinabewaki & Odawa peoples, who were the first to call this land home.

Photo: Jon Mattrisch

More: KOA campgrounds in Michigan (including Michigan’s Upper Peninsula)

Feature image by Payton Bartlett.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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