Welcome to America’s heartland, home to the Great Lakes, a rich Native American culture and dinosaur fossils alike. Whether you’re in the mood for metro or you’re looking to get away from it all, these itineraries are packed with something for every member of your road crew. Click through the gallery to find your new favorite journey.
Somewhere in Time: Saugatuck to Mackinac Island, Michigan—277 miles
A Grand Ol’ Time
Start your adventure in the charming town of Saugatuck Michigan. Located right on the shores of Lake Michigan, you can’t miss Oval Beach—consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the U.S. If you want to extend your time in here, check out the BaySide Inn, a historic boat house converted into a B&B. Once you’ve soaked in the sunshine and lake breeze, head to Grand Rapids (about 40 miles) and bring the kiddos to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. Here they’ll find building areas stocked with nuts, bolts, Lincoln Logs, LEGO bricks and more along with a Kidstruction Zone, a music exhibit and even an entire play area dedicated to bubbles. Don’t miss the gorgeous Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which includes an entire greenhouse dedicated to carnivorous plants as well as the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, designed for kids to engage in garden and nature sensory play. Try the JW Marriot for accommodations: they offer a breakfast package good for two adults and two kids. And, yes, there is an indoor pool. Fuel your adventures in Grand Rapids on the Food Trail: you can download a map that will take you on a tour of the many Grand Rapids foodie spots, including farmer’s markets; farm-to-table style, local farms you can visit along with juice bars, burger joints and even cooking classes. Oh, and did we mention Grand Rapids is known as Beer City, USA? Before you hit the road, make a trip over to Oval Beach—consistently rated as one of the best beaches in the U.S.
Speaking of Rapids
About an hour north on 131 you’ll find the small town of Big Rapids. Named after the largest set of rapids on the Muskegon River, it’s well worth a stop. If you’re up for an adventure, try arranging a tubing trip with Sawmill Canoe Livery. Stretch your legs along the peaceful Riverwalk, great for little kids and strollers, too. Grab some lunch at Schuberg’s Bar & Grill before walking around the shops and then hitting the road north again.
Tip: At the geographical center of Michigan you’ll find the town of Cadillac, another great stop for shopping (there’s an awesome toy store) hikes, a visit to Cadillac Java and Ice Cream to power up, and more. It’s about halfway on your trip (just under 100 miles from Grand Rapids) and there’s no shortage of lodging and eateries.
A Unique Experience
Whether you stick to 131 or cut over to I-75, you can count on a great place to eat in the town of Gaylord. Summer brings numerous festivals and there’s plenty of hotels. The real draw here is elk viewing at Pigeon River State Forest. This 105,000-acre park is home to the only free-range elk herd in the entire Midwest. The elk live there year-round, but the best times to view are April through early May and in the month of September. Bring your binoculars and view from your car.
One of the jewels of the Great Lakes area is the quaint Mackinac Island, where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet. Consider the entire island a giant park, with pristine beaches, horse-drawn carriages, and Victorian architecture. To get there, take I-75 to Mackinac City where you can take a ferry or cross the famous Mackinac Bridge (not for the faint of heart) to St. Ignace and take the ferry from there. The island itself does not allow any cars, so if you’re bringing bikes on your trip you’ll be able to take them on the ferry. You can also rent bikes on the island, including tandems! For a serious splurge, book your family into the Grand Hotel, the expansive, Victorian-era hotel that is the signature for the island itself. Made famous in the movie Somewhere in Time (Christopher Reeve’s post-Superman hit) this hotel is of another era. Voted one of the best resorts for families, be warned that rooms here are upwards of $300 a night (and can get over $800 in peak season) so you might just want to pay the fee to sit on the massive porch and enjoy the view instead. There are plenty of other lodging options, including hotels, B&Bs and rental homes. Try the Murray Hotel for a more budget-friendly but ever-so-charming option, or the Mission Point Resort where kids eat free.
Grab an ice cream at Sadies and hop on bikes to Fort Mackinac, where you can fire a cannon (13 and up) from a bluff 150 above the 1780-established military outpost. We also love the unique historic candlelight tour of downtown. And don't forget to try some of the famous Mackinac Island Fudge.There are multiple places to get it and they even have a fudge festival every year (Aug. 19-20).
photo: Brook Ward via flickr
What’s your favorite Midwestern road trip? Tell us about it in the comments section below!