Lake Michigan Tour: Explore the Riviera of the Midwest

Point Betsie LighthouseVito PalmisanoPoint Betsie Lighthouse warns lake mariners clear of the coast.

Route Details

Length: About 320 miles plus side trips.

When to go: Popular year-round.

Not to be missed: The National Cherry Festival, Traverse City.

Nearby attractions: Colonial Michilimackinac, a reconstructed fur-trading village and exhibits, Mackinaw City. Mackinac Island, “the Bermuda of the North,” accessible by ferry from St. Ignace and Mackinaw City.

Further information: West Michigan Tourist Association, 950 28th St., Suite E-200, Grand Rapids, MI 49508; tel. 800-442-2084,

Print a map of this route.

Once the province of Chippewa, Huron, and Ottawa Indians, the crystalline waters and densely wooded shores of Lake Michigan (Michigan is an Algonquian word meaning “great lake”) have served as a mecca for explorers, traders, and settlers. Today, however, this is a year-round haven for nature lovers, retirees, and visitors who come from all over to enjoy the only one of the Great Lakes that lies entirely within U.S. borders.

1. Ludington
Anchored on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, the town of Ludington is just a four-hour ferry ride from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. As a result, this quaint fishing port is popular not only with local tourists but also with nearby Wisconsinites, who frequently drop in on their lakeside neighbors for visits. Here you’ll find a trim, neat harbor, open beaches, blue lake water, white sand dunes, and abundant green forest that encompasses the port. For a foreign note, a towering cross overlooks the harbor; it memorializes Pére Marquette, the French explorer and missionary who trekked through the area and is thought to have died nearby in 1675.

From Ludington, head north on Lakeshore Drive to Rte. 116 and follow it to Ludington State Park. Bookended by Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, this 5,300-acre park abounds with waterside campsites. Fishing, boating, and waterskiing can be enjoyed at both lakes, and canoeing is possible not far away on the Big Sable River.

Returning to Ludington, the drive takes Rte. 10/31 east, then continues north on Rte. 31 through a mix of farmland and forest. When you reach Forest Trail Road, follow signs to the Lake Michigan Recreation Area.

2. Lake Michigan Recreation Area
Swimming, picnicking, camping, and trails aplenty make this recreation area one of the most popular in the state. But if you’re seeking a little more peace and quiet, you won’t have to go very far. The adjacent 3,500-acre Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness — a glorious untouched mile of rolling sand dunes and interdunal wetlands — is an oasis of solitude. No motorized vehicles are permitted in this federally designated wilderness area, so the only noise you are likely to hear as you stroll along the beach are the sweet sounds of nature.

3. Manistee
Back on Rte. 31 the drive continues north through a glacier-sculpted landscape where tiny lakes are surrounded by forest. The region’s natural wonders are explained at the U.S. Forest Service ranger station just south of Manistee, an old lumber town named for the Chippewa spirit of the woods.

Like many busted boomtowns, Manistee has undergone a commercial renaissance in the age of tourism. Manistee’s prosperous past is still visible in the grand Victorian-era buildings that make up its downtown (the entire area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places). An 1883 commercial building houses historical exhibits, while several churches reflect the Irish, German, and Scandinavian heritage of the town’s early settlers. Just north of Manistee lies Orchard Beach State Park, which, from its perch atop a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, offers splendid views. Several miles east of the park, switch over to Rte. 22 and follow it north as it hugs the shore.

Become more interesting every week!

Get our Read Up newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.

Funny Jokes

Some people like to travel by train because 
it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of 
an airplane.

Dennis Miller

Funny Jokes

I think my pilot was a little inexperienced. We were sitting on the runway, and he said, “OK, folks, we’re gonna be taking off in a just few—whoa! Here we go.”

Kevin Nealon

Funny Jokes

“I can’t wait until your vacation is over.” 
—Everyone following you on Instagram


Funny Jokes

A man knocked on my door and asked for a donation toward the local swimming pool. So I gave him a glass of water.

Comedian Greg Davies

Funny Jokes

Just found the worst page in the entire dictionary. What I saw was disgraceful, disgusting, dishonest, and disingenuous.


Funny Jokes

Client: We need you to log in to the YouTube and make all our company videos viral.


Funny Jokes

My cat just walked up to the paper shredder and said, “Teach me 
everything you know.”


Funny Jokes

“Just because you can’t dance doesn’t mean you shouldn’t dance.” 

@yoyoha (Josh Hara)

Funny Jokes

My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned 60 and that’s the law.

—Jerry Seinfeld

Funny Jokes

Q: What do you call an Amish guy with his hand in a horse’s mouth?

A: A mechanic.