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Are you planning a Michigan road trip – but aren’t sure what to do while you’re there? Then this post is for you! We just spent 11 days on the ultimate Michigan road trip in our 1985 Toyota Coachmen motorhome!
When we started our road trip last month, the only plans we had were to drive up along the great lakes, and to be in Virginia for LOCKN’ festival at the end of August. We started with Niagara falls, and then were broken down in Ohio for a week – so by the time we made it to Michigan (after 3 failed attempts), we were SO. FREAKING. EXCITED.
Why were we so excited? Well, after being stuck in Ohio – to be literally anywhere else felt like a gift. To be honest, I’d never even given the state of Michigan much thought, other than my desire to attend Electric Forest in Rothbury and my disinterest in visiting Detroit.
So imagine my surprise when we got to Michigan and it was absolutely beautiful. We arrived with no expectations and a plan to drive to the upper peninsula… but ended up being in such awe that we ended up staying for 11 days.
Being absolutely blindsided by the coolness of a state was something that we’d been hoping for. Having lived on the east coast for all of our lives, it was easy to write off all of the states as looking the same. But, as usual, we were wrong.
The Ultimate Michigan Road Trip: Grand Rapids – Founders Brewing
All Day IPA is Tim’s favorite beer, so visiting Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids was kind of a no-brainer for us. When we got to the city, we drove around for a little bit to get a feel for the area. The town had a really cool vibe, and was surprisingly easy to get around in the RV.
Once we got to Founders and saw that they had both a sweet outdoor seating area, and a gated parking lot that we could fit the RV in – we were sold. Inside, they had two different bars and a food counter to order from, as well as pool tables and a variety of indoor and patio seating. The crowd was chill, young, and very hip (meaning mostly hipsters, but some hippies too – think jean shorts, heady pendants and messenger bags)
Dinner was great, Tim loved the beer (he recommends Mosaic Promise and obviously All Day IPA) – and to top it off, they were having a free concert that night. So we best utilized our house on wheels to take a nap in the parking lot, and returned to see the band Sophistafunk play later at night.
One of the employees, who also had a bad ass van in the parking lot, told us that we could park there overnight. So, after the show, we had a sleepover at Founders Brewing to finish up our day in Grand Rapids. (I would not recommend doing it though – it was very loud and probably not actually legal. But we made it out just fine.)
The Ultimate Michigan Road Trip: Driving up the West Coast
For the next few nights, we drove up the western “coast” of Michigan. (Is it called the coast if it’s not the ocean?) This drive is where things started to get really beautiful! We couldn’t believe the vastness of Lake Michigan, or how adorable all of the costal towns were. We were also surprised to find that every single campground we called was booked for the weekend.
If you’re planning a RV road trip to Michigan during the summer, I’d advise making campground reservations! We typically don’t stay in campgrounds unless we need to use their amenities (showers, electric, ect.), so we hadn’t considered booking sites ahead of time. This was a minor inconvenience to us, but really stressful for our friends (that we met while stuck in Ohio) who are traveling with a travel trailer.
A beautiful highlight of our drive was Silver Lake Sand Dunes. The sand dunes, which are seemingly in the middle of nowhere, were huge! It was so surprising to be driving down a road and to drive up to a wall of sand in the middle of nowhere.
Another gem along the way was our stop in Petoskey, Michigan. It was a cute town on Lake Michigan, complete with an affordable city campground on the water called Magnus Park. We paid $30/night and saw some incredible sunsets!
*ROUTE TIP: If you’re taking Route 31 going north, just past the Manistee Blacker Airport, get on M-22 and drive that route instead. We followed this all the way to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. The drive was BEAUTIFUL. So many cute towns and beautiful lake views.
The Ultimate Michigan Road Trip: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of four National Lakeshores in the United States – and after seeing it, I understand why it’s a protected area. During our whole trip along the great lakes, we’ve been surprised at the ocean like qualities that we’ve noticed. When we first saw the silver lake sand dunes, we were amazed. Once we got to Sleeping Bear Dunes – we were completely in awe.
The park features a scenic drive with pull off points. All of the stops were worthwhile and provided a lot of information on how the dunes formed, but the Lake Michigan Overlook was like nothing I’d ever seen before in my life. This overlook is a 450 ft high sand dune above Lake Michigan, and when stepping close to the edge it felt like we were on the edge of the world. I haven’t traveled many places or seen many things that were truly breathtaking, but this one really got me. I’d 100% recommend coming to Michigan for this park alone.
*CAMPING TIP: Still a weekend, we weren’t able to find a campsite – so we stayed in a casino parking lot. (If you’re unfamiliar with casino camping, check out this blog post written by my friend Brittany of The Rolling Pack!)
*FOOD RECOMMENDATION: Empire Village Inn is a cool little restaurant just outside of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. They offer dine in or take out and had great pizza! (Also, they didn’t give us straws – which is a gold star in my book. Save the earth!!)
The Ultimate Michigan Road Trip: The Upper Peninsula
The upper peninsula of Michigan is one of the few places we were excited to see in the eastern half of the country. Everyone we’d talked to promised that it was otherworldly and would not disappoint.
Everyone was right. We loved it.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Michigan geography, the upper peninsula is the part of Michigan “above the mitten” – which is separated from the mainland by the great lakes (Lake Michigan and Lake Huron). Once you cross over the bridge, there’s a lot more wilderness, and a lot less of everything else.
Cell phone service is non-existent, gas stations are pump first – then pay, and most of the roads aren’t even paved. It was like we’d hopped in a time machine instead of just crossed over a bridge.
Our first stop in the Upper Peninsula was Tahquamenon Falls State Park. It’s on the eastern side of the UP and was pretty impressive! There’s two main areas in the park: upper falls and lower falls.
We started with the lower falls, and while there were signs to stay on the trail – there were tons of people swimming in the river above the lower falls. It made me wish we had some floats so we could hang in the water and relax. The park also had boat rentals – to get a better look at the waterfall from the bottom. We had our dog (obviously) so we opted to skip the boat ride.
The upper falls were very impressive! We viewed the waterfall from the top, and it was a lot bigger than expected. There was an area where you could walk down about 100 stairs to the bottom of the falls…. but they were metal steps with holes in them – and Suzy’s paws just weren’t cooperating.
To end the day, we decided to stay at the Portage campground within Tahquamenon Falls State Park. It was $27 for an electric site, and the campground was pretty nice with access to the river and some great hiking trails.
*CAMPING TIP: To use Michigan state parks, you need a Michigan recreation passport. For non-residents in 2018, it is $9/day or $32/year. We bought the year pass and didn’t get our money’s worth. If you’re planning on staying in state parks more than 3 days, buy the year. If not – pay daily! If you live in Michigan, it’s only $16 for the year.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
When asked about the Upper Peninsula – the most commonly recommended place is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s in the northern part of the UP, perched above Lake Superior and was very beautiful!
The national lakeshore itself spans a pretty long distance, but the most impressive point that we saw was Miner’s Castle. We didn’t have GPS to lead us to the National Lakeshore Visitor’s Center, so we completely missed most of the good stuff during our first day in the area!
Highlights of this park were miner’s castle and the multicolored cliffs that are gradually being chipped away at by erosion. The color of the water was a spectacular teal, and the whole place looked like something out of a dream. We visited on a cold, grey day – so we didn’t stay as long as we would have, but I would 100% recommend making the trip.
*NATIONAL PARK SERVICE TIP: When visiting anything run by the National Parks Service – we always start at the visitor’s center for a map and to ask the park rangers where to go. We’ve found that with the RV, our dog, and our lack of national park knowledge – this helps guide our trip so we get to see all the cool stuff in the park. Also, every time we’ve plugged the park name directly into the GPS we’ve ended up lost and confused.
*FREE CAMPING TIP: The UP is covered with national forests which are great for free camping (pull off of the dirt/gravel forest access roads for the night). We found our two campsites through freecampsites.net and went all night without a bother. The first place we camped was a large snowmobile parking lot at the intersection of H58 and Adams Trail (GPS:46.52724, -86.22137). The other, more secluded site was located on 3/4 of a mile down Rhody Creek Truck Trail, just off of H58 (GPS: 46.6279, -86.09573). When we visited in July 2018, the road was in good condition and flagged with an orange marker. It’s located about 1.5 miles past the Au Sable Light in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
The final stop on our tour of Michigan was the Keeweenaw peninsula. A week prior, we’d stopped at Tractor Supply to pick up some dog food… and the cashier happened to be from the town of Houghton and promised us spectacular views all the way to the tip of the peninsula and back. So we took his advice and once again – weren’t disappointed! The town of Houghton was really cool, and we saw some beautiful views.
While driving to the tip of the peninsula, we drove on US-41 North until Phoenix and then took M-26 N. Taking the longer route was totally worth it, and took us through eagle harbor and eagle river on the way up before hitting copper harbor at the tip of the peninsula.
Our last stop was Prospector’s Paradise in Allouez (on our way back down the peninsula, on US-41), which is part rock/fossil warehouse, part metaphysical playground. When we arrived, we were amazed a the quantity of rocks, gems, fossils and other relics from our old earth – and after talking to the owner, we learned that there was an energy vortex behind the store. Lovers of all things woo, we had to check it out. We both “felt” the energy and marveled at the twisted, knotty trees – and then hopped in the car and headed towards Wisconsin
*FOOD RECOMMENDATION: While you’re in the area, try a beef pasty. It’s like a calzone, but filled with beef and potatoes. You can buy them almost anywhere and it was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.
*FREE CAMPING TIP: In Houghton, we stayed at an awesome free campsite right on Lake Superior. It was called North Canal Township Park, and the entrance is located right before the dead end of Houghton Canal Road (GPS: 47.226529, -88.63405). The access road is unmarked, with an open gate – on the left side of the road before the dead end. There’s a bunch of sites, a couple of fire rings, and pit toilets. We stayed for 2 nights and had no issues!
The Ultimate Michigan Road Trip: We Love Michigan!!
Michigan really surprised us! We only had 1 month to tackle the eastern half of the country, and spent more than 1/3 of that time in a state neither of us had given a thought to before this trip.
If we had more time, we would have loved to slow down and explore all of these places a little bit more thoroughly. Someday! (I’d go back just for the pasties!!)
Have you ever been to Michigan? What did you think? And did you find any hidden gems while you where there?