Michigan: Summer Break

A trip to the northern coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is the perfect antidote to Florida’s heat and humidity.

Longing for cooler climes and the opportunity for adventure? Consider a Michigan road trip. Highway 31 between Traverse City and Mackinaw City (the jumping off point for Mackinac Island) traces the coastlines of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan, with lots of scenic stops along the way.

Most major airlines fly from Orlando International—via Detroit or Chicago—to Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport, the start of your road trip. Pick up your rental car and head north on US-31 to Mackinaw City (a two-and-a-half-hour drive). Arrive in time to catch the ferry to Mackinac Island, which is serviced by Shepler’s and Star Line. Both offer day and overnight parking; cars and other motorized vehicles are not allowed on the island. The 15-minute trip across the Straits of Mackinac is exhilarating, as the ferry passes the five-mile-long suspension bridge that connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.

The first thing you’ll notice on Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) are people walking, pedaling bicycles, and riding in carriages drawn by horses clip-clopping down the street. It’s a slower pace and reminiscent of a bygone time. The second thing you’ll notice—smell, actually—is the sweet aroma of fudge. Candy makers such as Ryba’s Fudge Shop have been producing the sugary treat here for 60 years.

Riders on Mackinac Island’s bike path will find hundreds of stone cairns along the rocky shore (HANCEL DEATON)

Renting a bicycle offers a leisurely way to take in the island. Head out on the eight-mile route that hugs the coastline, and be sure to stop at Arch Rock, a natural limestone bridge standing almost 150 feet above the water. There are more than 200 vertical steps to the top, but it’s worth it for the panoramic views of the blue-green waters of the Straits and Lake Huron. There are also plenty of scenic walking trails.

You can delve into the island’s military history at Fort Mackinac, built by the British in 1780 on a bluff overlooking the water. The outpost has stood through various battles, including the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Today, guides dressed in period costumes lead visitors on tours of the grounds where you can experience historical reenactments as well as a cannon blast.

Back on the mainland, US-31 leads south into the picturesque town of Petoskey, situated on Little Traverse Bay. This area is ideal for outdoor adventure with its wooded hillsides, crystal lakes and a 38-mile inland waterway.

Adventure of a low-key sort will take you to Petoskey State Park Beach or Magnus Park in search of Petoskey stones. These fossilized coral polyps date back millions of years and continue to wash up in the shallows. Just wade ankle-deep into the clear, chilly water and look for the distinctive sunburst shapes on rounded rocks. You’re likely to take home one of Michigan’s state stones as a souvenir.

Petoskey’s downtown streets are lined with art galleries, boutiques and gourmet food shops. At the center of Pennsylvania Park is a bronze statue of novelist Ernest Hemingway as a young man. Hemingway spent many summers at his family’s cottage on nearby Walloon Lake. Local historian Christopher Struble offers historical tours on Hemingway, as well as “ghost walks” of local haunted sites, including several hotels where the past can be quite present.

Less than 20 miles southwest on US-31 is Charlevoix, a charming lakefront town with baskets of colorful flowers hanging from every lamppost. See the city’s artsy, slightly quirky side on a Mushroom House Tour, which departs from Elements Gallery. A century ago, self-taught designer/builder Earl Young created more than 25 homes using mostly found materials, including enormous boulders. His unique creations—with their thatched roofs and sloping lines—look like fantastical hobbit houses or mushrooms. After the tour, check out the massive stone fireplace—another Earl Young design—at Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant.

Locals enjoy a cloudless day in Traverse City. (HANCEL DEATON)

Any sunny summer day in Traverse City will have you making plans to move here. Clinch Park, facing Grand Traverse Bay along Grandview Avenue, is busy with folks enjoying the warmth—swimming, sailing or just relaxing in Adirondack chairs by the beach. A few blocks inland, Kayak, Bike & Brew takes visitors on an urban pedal and paddle, with everyone enjoying refreshments at some of the city’s microbreweries. Another casual gathering spot for food and drink is The Little Fleet, a permanent collection of food trucks open every day throughout the summer.

Thirty miles northwest of Traverse City is Fishtown, the historic fishing village of Leland. Settled by the Europeans in the mid-1800s, this community—with its wooden, weather-beaten shacks and overhanging docks—is still a vibrant working waterfront full of shops and restaurants. Note: Family-owned Carlson’s Fishery is famous for its delectable smoked whitefish pâté.

Out of Leland, head southwest on the M-22 highway toward Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which comprises more than 70,000 acres of lush forests, unspoiled beaches and unique hilly terrain. Rising 450 feet above the sparkling turquoise waters of Lake Michigan, these steep, golden sand mountains are an imposing site, providing breathtaking vistas of Michigan’s natural beauty.


The summer/fall season runs May through October. Many businesses close by October 31 for winter. For more information, go to puremichigan.com

Mission Point Resort on Mackinac Island offers everything you need to embrace Great Lakes living, from kayaking and horseback riding to kite flying and croquet on the Great Lawn. Or simply take a tour of the resort’s beautiful gardens. missionpoint.com

Originally built in 1910, Petoskey’s Terrace Inn is a state historic landmark. It also has a haunted history. Guests and staff have been known to see, hear or feel the presence of spirits (said to be harmless) on the second and third floors. theterraceinn.com

Southeast of Charlevoix, you’ll find Lavender Hill Farm, featuring rolling hills planted with 23 varieties of the fragrant herb. Take a tour of the farm and stop by the gift shop, which sells lavender lotions, sachets, candles—even honey. lavenderhillfarm.com

One of 40 wineries near Traverse City, Mari Vineyards grows as many as 20 grape varietals and is known for its distinctive red wines. Tour the wine caves, which were designed to align with the summer solstice, and stay for a tasting. marivineyards.com

Categories: Destinations