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Must-visit stops along the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

Any season can be road trip season! Are you feeling lost or craving something fun to do with friends, but don’t quite know where or how to start planning? We’ve got you. The Lake Michigan Circle Tour is a ~1,100-mile loop that passes through Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana following the shorelines of Lake Michigan. 

Lake Michigan is the fifth largest lake in the world! Among the five Great Lakes, it’s the second largest in volume and the third largest in surface area. Don’t underestimate the beauty and magnetism of this Midwestern body of water. Along the drive, you'll experience beaches, forests, dunes, local breweries, delicious food joints, National Parks and National Lakeshores.

Since the route is a loop, you can start anywhere you want (Chicago is popular)! Below are some places you should check out in each state you’ll pass through! Download the Outbound Collective app to find even more popular and hidden adventures along your route. 

Illinois

Lou Malnati's PizzeriaChicago, IL

Satisfy your hunger by indulging in deep dish pizza for a true Chicago experience. Lou Malnoti's is run by the oldest family name in Chicago pizza history! The 9-inch-deep 'zas are made fresh and are the perfect easy meal to share among friends while getting a taste of Chicago.

Starbucks Reserve RoasteryChicago, IL

Coffee lovers will enjoy the opportunity to visit the largest Starbucks in the world! Built in 2019, this Starbucks Reserve is four-stories-high – definitely not your average coffee shop! Right in the heart of Michigan Avenue, you can order any of your favorite classic Starbucks drinks, and can also choose from a selection of gourmet coffee, food, and alcoholic beverages. Grab a latte before hitting the road or stay for a while to fully experience the roastery.

Ice Skate at Maggie Daley ParkChicago, IL

As winter is approaching, what better way to get into a festive spirit than to go ice skating? Chicago is home to the longest ice skating ribbon in the U.S. at a total distance of a quarter-mile. This year, the skating ribbon opens November 18, 2022. If you take this road trip during the warmer months, the ribbon is used for rollerblading instead! Admission is free, and rental skates are available. Not only will you have fun doing something active outdoors in a major city, but you’ll also bask in incredible views of the city skyline and lights.

Wisconsin

Mars Cheese Castle – Kenosha, WI

When you think of Wisconsin, what comes to mind? …. CHEESE! Wisconsin is the #1 cheese-producing state in the country and it wouldn’t be right to pass through the state without having a cheese-related experience! Stop by this unique castle stocked with all the cheese you can imagine, plus baked goods, meats, and popcorn! It’s about an hour drive north of Chicago.

Milwaukee Public MarketMilwaukee, WI

Photo: Jake Leonard

Not sure what to eat for lunch? People in the car arguing over what they’re in the mood for? The Milwaukee Public Market is sure to have something that will satisfy everyone! Get inspired by a plethora of food vendors from seafood to Thai to Middle Eastern and plant-based options! Then, take your food up to the Palm Garden seating area on the second floor. If you have the time or are stopping for the night, try out one of the hands-on or demonstration classes  and learn how to make coffee toffee and hot cinnamon peanut brittle, curate your own bottle of gin, etc. Reserve your spot ahead of time - class tickets sell out!

Point Beach State Forest– near Two Rivers, WI

This state forest boasts roughly 3000-acres of land and 6 miles of beach along the Lake Michigan coast. It’s a great spot to stop to go swimming in the hot summer months. Hike along the Ice Age Trail, visit the Rawley Point Lighthouse, or stay overnight at one of the family campsites.

Michigan

Grand Traverse Pie CompanyTraverse City, MI

Transport yourself to grandma’s kitchen with a trip to this pie-lovers destination! Inhale the fresh baked smells wafting your way and delight in the joy of sharing a pie with your traveling companions. The Grand Traverse Pie Company is committed to using Michigan products and suppliers whenever possible, which you can taste with each rich and flaky bite. Choose from a wide selection of options like the blueberry lemon silk pie, vernors cherry pie, and lakeshore berry crumb. They also make sandwiches, salads, quiches, and pot pies!

Great Wolf LodgeTraverse City, MI

You can enjoy summer fun activities even in the cold weather right here at the Great Wolf Lodge’s 37,000-foot indoor water park! Stay overnight or purchase a full or half-day pass to dip your toes in the warm waters and scream your way down waterslides. 

Sleeping Bear DunesGlen Arbor, MI

Photo: Jon Mattrisch

Located in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, this National Lakeshore features truly stunning sandy dunes and forests. Hike the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore or Drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive to get a taste of this beautiful area.

Michigan Ice FestMunising, MI



Photo: Johannes Andersson

Anyone who interested in ice climbing, whether you’re someone who has no experience, some experience, or an expert, should definitely check out this renowned ice climbing event! It’ll be held from February 8-12, 2023. The south shore of Lake Superior has some of the country’s best ice climbing. Learn more advanced skills and receive instructions during courses, clinics, and socials to connect with people in the climbing community! Some of the world’s best alpinists and ice climbers will be there. How often will you have the opportunity to grab a drink after a day of activity with a professional athlete?!Even if you aren’t a climber, the event is fun to spectate or attend for climbing photography experience. Online registration is $65 and $85 at the door.

Veldheer Tulip GardensHolland, MI

Photo: Evan Wise

Did you know you can have a very European experience right in the state of Michigan? Holland is an extremely charming town featuring European-style architecture, tulip fields, and windmills that could easily be mistaken for a village in the Netherlands. The tulips are at their most vibrant in May while lilies flourish through the spring and summer. The town is still a unique and cute stopping point even in the winter months.

Mackinac Island

Photo: Jess Curren

You’ll need to take a ferry from Mackinaw City, MI to arrive at the beautiful and serene Mackinac Island. There are no cars or chain hotels here, just charming and family-owned accommodations. Biking (rent a rig on the island) and walking are the best ways to get around. Mackinac Island State Park, which features trails and woods, covers most of the island. Hike to Arch Rock to check out a distinct geologic natural limestone arch formation.

Other Michigan Adventures:

Winter Hike Empire Bluff TrailsHonor, MI

This popular and relatively short hike will reward you with an overlook of Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, South Bar Lake, and Lake Michigan.

Winter Hike Pyramid Point TrailMaple City, MI

This adventure offers panoramic views of Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, North and South Manitou Islands, Lake Michigan, and Leland, MI. If you plan to hike in the winter, it’s recommended that you bring crampons or microspikes since conditions can be icy.

Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Park

Photo: Elyse Clark

Explore 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan featuring a unique ecosystem with native birds and plants. Kick back and relax on one of the 8 beaches or hike through dunes, forests, and wetlands. Kayaking and canoeing are also great ways to explore the lake. Camp overnight to extend your time enjoying all this place has to offer like: Hike the Cowles Bog Trail, Photograph the Chicago Skyline, Hike the Dune Succession Trail.

Shoreline BreweryMichigan City, IN

After a long day of driving and adventuring, stopping for a cold one and some contemporary American food can really hit the spot!

Road trips are the perfect time to take it easy, be present, and enjoy the ride. There are plenty of places, like the ones on this list, that are worth stopping to check out along the way. But, don’t forget that the best parts of road trips are often the spontaneous stops and unexpected treasures that you just so happen to stumble upon. Keep your eyes open!

Need more suggestions for your route? Download the Outbound app and input your starting point and ending point. It'll suggest a route and include some awesome adventures along the way like hiking, biking, and paddling!

Cover photo: Aaron Burden





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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