Welcome to the land that glaciers carved. What remains is a natural landscape of forests, lakes, the highest freshwater-adjacent sand bluffs in America, vast coastal beaches, historic lighthouses, expansive bays, and a collection of charming small towns. The central urban area for the region is Traverse City, MI, located at the south end of Grand Traverse Bay.
Heading north from Traverse City, this route hugs the western shore of the bay, where sail and engine-powered watercraft dance across the deep blue expanse. While Michigan isn’t known for its purple mountain majesty, the high bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan provide a feast for the eyes.
After a touring break at Orchard Beach State Park, continue east into Manistee National Forest. Densely wooded, the forest has a mix of hardwood, red and white pine, and aspen. Because local fauna can appear suddenly on the roadway, keep your speed in check. Several of the Lower Peninsula’s interior routes lead back north through a relatively flat agricultural landscape to Traverse City.
Birch & Maple Restaurant is a form of “scratch kitchen.” The menu includes soups, salads, sandwiches, side dishes, and the restaurant’s specialty entrees. Call ahead for reservations during the high season. Find it at 727 Main St, Frankfort, MI, (231) 399-0399.
Points of Interest
Grand Traverse Lighthouse
Located at the northern tip of the Leelanau Peninsula, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses (built in 1858) on the five Great Lakes. The climb up the 50-foot-tall tower rewards visitors with spectacular panoramic views of Lake Michigan. There’s a small entrance fee.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Some of the 65 miles of sandy bluffs, stretching along the shores of Lake Michigan, rise to over 400 feet above water’s edge. Other prominent features of Sleeping Bear Dunes are the park’s numerous glacier-carved crystalline lakes and hiking trails.
Orchard Beach State Park
This state park lies on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. It has several self-guided hiking trails and 166 RV campsites. Visitors can follow the stairway down to the beach. Entrance to the park requires a Michigan Recreation Passport.