Top Road Trip Destinations in Michigan

Published on June 02, 2022 - Updated on June 02, 2022

Can I let you in on a little secret? You don’t have to buy expensive plane tickets and stay in pricey Caribbean resorts to experience crystal blue waters and perfect sand beaches this summer.

Just head to Michigan.

Summertime in the Great Lakes State is full of wonder. From sand-bottomed lakes and sweeping sand dunes, to historic lighthouses and beautiful waterfalls, Michigan is a sight to behold.

Nature- and adventure-loving families will be hard-pressed to decide which activities should make their summer bucket lists. To help, here are seven of my favorite Michigan summer destinations.

Fun facts

  • With 3,200 miles of freshwater shoreline, Michigan is home to more lighthouses than any other state in the country.
  • Michigan is made up of two peninsulas (the Upper and Lower) with a five-mile suspension bridge, the Mackinac Bridge, connecting the peninsulas.
  • Michigan is home to the only floating post office in the country. The J.W. Westcott II in Detroit delivers mail to crew members stationed on nearby ships.

Mackinaw Island

Mackinaw Island

Growing up, summer wasn’t complete without a trip to Mackinaw Island. This national landmark is entirely unique and stunningly beautiful. Mackinaw Island is reachable only by ferry and it is completely car-free. Visitors can park their cars in Mackinaw City and catch a 20-minute ferry ride to Mackinaw Island.

We’ve always visited Mackinaw Island for a day trip, although there are bed and breakfasts and the famous Grand Hotel (very pricey) on the island.

One of the most popular activities on the island is to rent bikes (you can get tag-along trailers for little kids) and ride the leisurely 8.2-mile loop around the island. It takes about an hour and has lots of picturesque views along the way.

Another must-see is Fort Mackinac, a military fort founded during the American Revolution. The fort hosts historical reenactments and demonstrations daily.

The island is also known for a sugary treat: Mackinaw Island Fudge. The downtown fudge shops make 10,000 pounds of fudge each day during the busy season.

Mackinaw Island Reenactment

Sleeping Bear Dunes

sleeping bear dunes.jpeg

In 2011, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore won the title of Good Morning America’s “Most Beautiful Place in America.” I have to say, I agree!

The massive sand dunes along Lake Michigan’s shoreline were formed by glaciers thousands of years ago.

There are lots of little beach towns near the dunes with lodging, and one of my favorites is Glen Arbor. Make sure to visit the original Cherry Republic store while you’re there and have lunch at the adjacent Cherry Public House. This is one of my favorite spots in all of Michigan.

A great way to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes is to take the 7.4-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive via car, which has pullouts along the way with stunning panoramas of the dunes and Lake Michigan. If you really want to wear your kids out, head to the Dune Climb, where you can climb up the sand dunes and run back down.

Downtown Leland and Fishtown

Fishtown Michigan

Leland, a beautiful town on Lake Michigan and popular summer destination, is home to the very unique Fishtown.

At Fishtown, you’ll find yourself in the heart of a commercial fishing village, with weathered fishing shanties, smokehouses, docks, and charter boats galore.

Many of the former fishing shanties have been converted into shops and restaurants, including the popular Village Cheese Shanty. At the Village Cheese, you can order massive made-to-order sandwiches, more than 60 kinds of cheeses, and local wines.

From the Fishtown docks, you can walk through downtown Leland and explore the cute shops and restaurants.

Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak is a wonderful family destination. The zoo is home to more than 125 acres of habitats housing more than 2,000 animals.

One of the coolest attractions is the Polk Penguin Conservation Center, which is billed as the world’s largest penguin center. Here, you can watch more than 80 penguins play and swim right before your eyes.

The zoo also has a polar bear exhibit, where polar bears swim right over your head in a 70-foot-long Polar Passage. Other zoo attractions include a 4D theater, a carousel, a train, and playgrounds.

Ann Arbor

Michigan Stadium

Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan (my alma matter!), makes for a wonderful family destination.

There are plenty of hotels and Airbnb rentals in and around the downtown area, and I would recommend staying somewhere walkable so you can immerse yourself in the downtown community.

Here are some of my favorite things to do in the area:

  • Eat at the famous Zingerman’s Deli
  • Visit the Ann Arbor Farmers Market
  • Hike along the Huron River at the Barton Nature Area
  • Visit the Domino’s Farms Petting Farm
  • Explore the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum
  • Hike in Nichols Arboretum, AKA “The Arb”
  • Enjoy a drink at Bill’s Beer Garden, a family-friend outdoor beer garden
  • Visit Michigan Stadium, AKA "The Big House"

Huron River

Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village

Ford Museum

Detroit is the car capital of the world and there’s no better place to learn about all things vehicles than the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation.

The history museum in Dearborn recounts the story of American innovation with the help of millions of artifacts. Features include a parade of historic automobiles, the bus where Rosa Parks made history, President John F. Kennedy’s presidential limousine, and vintage Model T rides.

The adjacent Greenfield Village is an outdoor living history museum, where you can ride a Model T, jump on a steam-powered locomotive, watch 1867 baseball, eat from an 1830s menu and so much more.

There is so much to see and do on this compound. Growing up, it was our elementary school’s favorite field trip destination.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Grand Marais/Pictured Rocks Lakeshore.jpeg

This popular tourist destination in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is all about natural beauty. People flock to the south shore of Lake Superior to view the towering, multicolored Pictured Rocks cliffs and unusual sandstone formations.

In addition to the Pictured Rocks, the area boasts almost 100 miles of trail hiking, waterfalls, clear inland lakes, kayaking, boating, and more.

An ideal way to experience Pictured Rocks is to take a boat tour so you can view the rocks from the water. Kayaking is also a good option if you have older kids.

Within the national lakeshore, lodging is limited to drive-in campgrounds and backcountry campgrounds. But there are plenty of cabin rentals and motels in the surrounding area.

What are your favorite spots in Michigan? Have any great local knowledge that you would love to share with us? Let us know in the comments below, or tag us in your photos @gethappyly

Want to learn about more great local activities in other states? We have a whole state-by-state series, and would love to have you along for the journey! Check out our past state-by-state articles on Florida, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia!

And if you want even more great content at your fingertips, then download the happyly app and enjoy access to the best ambassador-recommended destinations right at your fingertips! It's the country's only mobile-first family activity planning app for fast access to all of our blog content, favorite activities, and expertly curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.

Thoughtfully captured by:
Lizzy Alfs
Lizzy is a Michigan transplant living in the always bustling Nashville, Tenn. After graduating from the University of Michigan, she spent a decade working as a business journalist in Ann Arbor, Mich. and then Music City. She recently transitioned her journalism career to freelance writing so she could stay home with her two little boys, Milo and Jude. Lizzy grew up in the summers on a lake in beautiful Northern Michigan and she spent the winters making the most of the state's endless snow and slush. She lives by the motto "There's no such thing as bad weather" and you'll find her outside rain or shine. These days, Lizzy and the boys like to adventure around Nashville, looking for toddler-friendly hikes, parks and swimming holes.
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