With Michigan's sprawling two peninsulas, we use the term "day trip" somewhat liberally here — it would take roughly 10 hours to drive from the bottom of the Lower Peninsula all the way to the northernmost peak of the Upper Peninsula, and some 40 hours of nonstop driving to circle both. That said, Michigan vacationers should consider filling up their gas tank and carving out the time to road trip to some of these locations.
Escanaba, Upper Peninsula
Many Lower Peninsula "trolls" might know nothing about this town other than its depiction as hunting-crazy in Jeff Daniels' film Escanaba in da Moonlight. While many tourists do flock to Escanaba for deer hunting and fishing, the city is also known for its two-mile historic downtown, the William Bonifas Fine Arts Center, and the Upper Peninsula State Fair, which for a time was Michigan's only state fair.
Frankenmuth, Lower Peninsula
Michigan's Little Bavaria has long been the home of the great Bavarian Inn versus Zehnder's debate as far as who does the best traditional chicken dinner. Other draws include the Splash Village Hotel and Waterpark; Bronner's, the Christmas store that's open year-round; and a yearly Oktoberfest. Nearby Birch Run has retail outlets that draw shoppers from around the region and Tony's I-75 restaurant, known for its comical portions.
Grand Rapids, Lower Peninsula
A great drinking and dining scene and a walkable downtown make Grand Rapids a great vacation spot. Did we mention the beer? More than a dozen local breweries, like Founder's Brewing Co. and Brewery Vivant, have helped make this city a favorite for fans of craft beer. Aside from great art museums (see our museum guide in this issue for more), Grand Rapids has further cemented its name as a city of the arts with its annual ArtPrize spectacle.
Holland, Lower Peninsula
Grand Rapids' neighbor draws nearly one million visitors to its annual Tulip Time festival in May, a tradition that goes back to 1929 that honors the city's Dutch heritage. Visitors also love Holland for its beautiful beaches; Nelis' Dutch Village, a recreation of 1890s Netherlands, and Windmill Island, home of the only working Dutch windmill in the U.S.
Kalamazoo, Lower Peninsula
Kalamazoo also has a strong reputation for great craft beer, as evidenced by breweries like Arcadia Brewing Company, the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, and Bell's Brewery, whose Oberon should be our official state beer.
You can road trip to Mackinac Island, but you'll have to leave your car behind once you get there — the island has famously banned cars. A quick ferry ride across the strait and you'll have to do any travelling by walking, renting a bike, or catching a horse-drawn carriage.
Muskegon, Lower Peninsula
Forget Cedar Point — many Michiganders have no qualms with foregoing Ohio's flashier park for Michigan's Adventure Amusement & Water Park. Other draws include the Hackley & Hume Historic sites, home of the city's 19th century lumber barons; the U.S.S. Silversides, a World War II-era submarine; and 26 miles of beaches along Lake Michigan.
Pictured Rocks, Upper Peninsula
Pictured Rocks is the home of many of Michigan's waterfalls and other unique rock formations carved out of the 500-million-year-old sandstone cliffs. The rocks get their multicolored from ground water depositing minerals as it pours out of the stone. Aside from the sightseeing, tourists love Pictured Rocks for camping, kayaking, hiking, hunting, and for the seasoned vets, ice climbing in the winter.
Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Peninsula
"The Soo" is famous for its locks, which draw visitors who want to observe one of the world's busiest canals, with thousands of ships passing through each year. Despite the boat traffic, the Soo is one of Michigan's most isolated towns, notable for having a Canadian twin city of the same name located across the St. Marys river.
Saugatuck, Lower Peninsula
Saugatuck is a favorite Lake Michigan resort town for visitors from both Michigan and beyond, praised for its walkability and its low-key atmosphere. Many come for a taste of the great outdoors, but Saugatuck has plenty of the amenities of civilization, with culinary highlights that include Uncommon Coffee Roasters, Everyday People Cafe, and Marro's Italian Restaurant.
Traverse City, Lower Peninsula
One of the top tourist destinations in Michigan, Traverse City is a favorite for its cherry farming industry and wineries. The Sleeping bear Dunes offer a gorgeous view, and dining favorites include the Grand Traverse Pie Co. The Michael Moore-founded Traverse City Film Festival screens an expertly curated selection of independent cinema.
Detroit, Lower Peninsula
So it's not technically a road trip if you live in the metro area, but it is a day trip if you want to do it right. Spend the day at Motor City Casino and its world-class casino, award-winning restaurants, and exquisite 400-room hotel and spa. MT's readers vote it among their favorites in Best of Detroit every year, and spend a day or two there and you'll see why.