Michigan Road Trip Ideas: Enjoy History, Great Food, Scenic Drives and More
Because time off was made for exploring and fulfilling your bucket list.
Road trips have long been a popular option for those inclined to venture out. Here are some Michigan road trip ideas to consider for your next getaway.
Detroit Day Trips
Westin Book Cadillac Detroit
When Detroit’s premier hotel opened its doors in 1924 on the “Fifth Avenue of the Midwest,” Washington Boulevard, the fancy Book-Cadillac Hotel ranked as the world’s tallest at 33 stories. It was the place to see and be seen for visiting politicians and for celebrities such as Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Katharine Hepburn. But time and falling fortunes took their toll, and by the mid-1980s the hotel had closed.
By the early 2000s, small saplings grew from the roof, and rainwater pooled in guest rooms and banquet halls. A major renovation was undertaken in 2007, restoring the grand hotel to its earlier glory.
Today, the AAA Four Diamond Westin Book Cadillac Detroit gleams with crystal chandeliers, marble floors and decor that fuses contemporary luxury with the building’s original Italian Renaissance glamour. It’s a great addition to your Michigan road trip ideas.
Sure, Detroit is known for its automotive heritage, but music comes in a strong second. See the places that make the music happen.
See the studio (a.k.a. Hitsville U.S.A.) where legends such as Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye recorded the Motown sound.
Detroit Historical Museum
Artists with Detroit ties—Bob Seger, Madonna, Eminem and Kid Rock—take center stage among exhibits highlighting the city’s automotive, cultural and musical legacies. Advanced ticket purchases are highly encouraged.
Third Man Records
Pick up souvenir vinyl at this shop founded by The White Stripes’ Jack White.
Saugatuck and Holland
Saugatuck Chain Ferry
Since 1838, residents of Saugatuck have used a chain ferry to cross the Kalamazoo River from the resort community’s downtown to the Lake Michigan shore. Thought to be the only remaining ferry of its kind in the United States, the small wooden boat traverses the river by means of a hand crank that pulls the ferry along a chain that stretches from one bank to the other.
If a ride on Saugatuck’s chain ferry seems like a quaint way to cross the river, the ferry also provides a convenient shortcut to Oval Beach, one of west Michigan’s most popular strands, without the worry of parking. Across the water, it’s a half-mile walk to Lake Michigan via a wooded trail. The chain ferry is open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Holland is just a 20-minute drive from Saugatuck—long enough to catch your breath, short enough to have time for sightseeing.
Holland State Park
Walk the dunes and take photos of the Holland Harbor Lighthouse, aka Big Red.
Holland Peanut Store
Pick up chocolates made in-house or fresh-roasted nuts for a between-meals treat.
Veldheer Tulip Gardens
Visit in mid-April through mid-May to tiptoe through more than 6 million brilliant tulips and other spring blossoms.
Kalamazoo and Marshall
Gilmore Car Museum
No place celebrates car shows quite like the AAA GEM-designated Gilmore Car Museum. One of North America’s largest automobile museums, it occupies 90 acres in Hickory Corners, near Kalamazoo.
More than 500 vehicles, from an 1899 steam-powered pre-Model T to the muscle cars of the 1960s and ’70s, make up a collection that began as the personal hobby of Donald Gilmore, formerly of the Upjohn pharmaceutical company.
While you’re there, check out the authentic 1930s-era Shell gas station and stop for lunch at the museum’s 1941 roadside diner, the Blue Moon, serving up Chicago- and Coney-style dogs, homemade pies and old-fashioned custard.
Marshall is a 40-minute drive from Kalamazoo—heading east on Interstate 94.
See the Honolulu House Museum, the Governor’s Mansion and 850 historic homes and buildings.
Specialty museums include a postal museum, a gasoline museum and the American Museum of Magic.
Six antiques shops line Michigan Avenue. Among the finds: furniture and home decor at Amazing Grace Antiques, and dishes and garden art at The Plaid Herb.
Lake Kitch-iti-kipi, or the Big Spring, gleams a spectacular azure within Palms Book State Park, northwest of Manistique in the Upper Peninsula. A self-operated wooden observation raft carries visitors across the glass-smooth surface of the lake, which was named generations ago by the Chippewa.
An interpretive sign aboard the raft explains the geology of the freshwater spring. This natural wonder is Michigan’s largest and is continually fed through underwater fissures at a rate of 10,000 gallons per minute. But it’s the lake’s crystal-clear water that commands attention: It’s so clear that brook trout and ancient tree trunks are easily seen 40 feet below the surface, and lines of bubbles reveal the streams of incoming water that feed the spring.
In your Michigan road trip ideas, don’t neglect the Upper Peninsula. Switch from the Lake Michigan side of the state to the Lake Superior side in less than two hours with this beautiful forested drive from Lake Kitch-iti-kipi to Marquette.
Iron Ore Heritage Trail
Pedal along one of the most picturesque Great Lakes, Lake Superior, past the Ore Dock and through downtown Marquette.
Marquette is an easy drive from four spectacular cascades: Morgan Falls, Dead River Falls, Yellow Dog Falls and Pinnacle Falls.
Marquette Harbor Lighthouse: A trek up this 1866 lighthouse promises unforgettable Lake Superior views—and there’s a museum to explore.
Ice cream sodas and handmade fudge? Yes, please!