Top 10 Scenic Drives in Michigan

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Michigan is one of those states fortunate enough to play host to a variety of beautiful scenes, whether it be on the beaches of one of the Great Lakes or alongside fertile farmlands. Travelers can basically set off in any direction, encounter friendly folk, and discover treasures locals may take for granted, including little-walked trails and roadside produce stands. To start your Michigan adventure, however, consider one of these scenic drives as a point of departure in your own journey of discovery:

No. 10 – Copper Country Trail

Copper Country Trail Michigan
Flickr user: Chad Johnson

Starting Location: Houghton, MI
Ending Location: Copper Harbor, MI
Length: 46 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This drive through Keweenaw County is characterized not only by water views but by dense forests that creep almost to the edge of the pavement on M-26. Stop in Historic Fort Wilkins State Park for fishing, hiking, and other outdoor activities. Once in Copper Harbor, take time to explore the coastline of Lake Superior.

No. 9 – Tunnel of Trees

Tunnel of Trees Michigan
Flickr user: larrysphatpage

Starting Location: Harbor Springs, MI
Ending Location: Cross Village, MI
Length: 22 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This portion of M-119 along the Lake Michigan shoreline is meant to be savored instead of hurried, with all of its scenic views. Along the way, the Beaver Island archipelago is in view, which makes for beautiful photographs. Parts of the route pass through hardwood forests, which are especially colorful in the fall and earn the drive its name.

No. 8 – Pathway to Family Fun Recreational Heritage Route

Pathway to Family Fun Recreational Heritage Route Michigan
Flickr user: gerrybuckel

Starting Location: Clarkston, MI
Ending Location: Bay City, MI
Length: 73 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Running parallel to I-75 on M-15, this drive is designed to be leisurely and fun for the whole family, as its name suggests. In the Murphy Lake State Game Area, stop to enjoy the many lakes, streams, and hiking trails for outdoor adventure. Once in Bay City, check out an educational museum, historic buildings like the restored city hall, or use the local lighthouse as a backdrop for a memorable family photo.

No. 7 – River Road Scenic Byway

River Road Scenic Byway Michigan
Flickr user: yooperann

Starting Location: Hale, MI
Ending Location: Oscoda Township, MI
Length: 30 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Winding along with the AuSable River all the way to Lake Erie, there is no shortage of water views on this route. Travelers are encouraged to stop and fish because the river is known for its bounty of trout, smallmouth bass, and salmon. Birdwatching is also popular in places like Tawas State Park and Tuttle Marsh National Wildlife Area.

No. 6 – Tahquamenon Scenic Byway

Tahquamenon Scenic Byway Michigan
Flickr user: George Thomas

Flickr user: learningtoseeagain

Starting Location: Newberry, MI
Ending Location: Eckerman Corners, MI
Length: 27 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This route in the eastern Upper Peninsula passes through Luce and Chippewa Counties, which provide forest views and periodic peeks at Lake Superior. A must-see for travelers along this way is the Upper Tahquamenon Falls in Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which has been compared to Niagara Falls on occasion for its volume of output.  

No. 5 – US-12 Heritage Trail

US-12 Heritage Trail Michigan
Flickr user: Mike Boening Photography

Starting Location: New Buffalo, MI
Ending Location: Detroit, MI
Length: 209 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This route across the southern part of the state was once a part of the Native American trails and became paved in the 1920s, when the automobile began to grow in popularity. The road is often winding, but it is full of hidden treasures to explore at nearly every bend. The Mottville Bridge over St. Joseph River is a great place to stretch legs, and Ste. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Detroit has exquisite architecture to behold.

No. 4 – Arcadia to Frankfort

Arcadia to Frankfort Michigan
Flickr user: jimflix!

Starting Location: Arcadia, MI
Ending Location: Frankfort, MI
Length: 12 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Although this drive is relatively short, it is the basis of a nice morning or afternoon outing when a few strategic stops are included. In the summer, take a dip in the “Big Lake” in the village of Arcadia, which has a pristine sandy shore. Just north of Arcadia, climb up the steps to Lake Michigan Overlook to take in the view from atop the bluffs, and try a craft beer from Stormcloud Brewing Company in Frankfort.

No. 3 – Lake Michigan Tour

Lake Michigan Tour
Flickr user: Rachel Kramer

Starting Location: New Buffalo, MI
Ending Location: Mackinaw City, MI
Length: 364 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Ideal for a weekend trip or even longer, this drive along the Lake Michigan shore is full of fun things to see and do. Stop just about anywhere to find a place to swim in the summer, and hiking trails at spots like Holland State Park and the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve are plentiful. Sample an adult beverage at one of the wineries in Leelanau County, and photograph at least one lighthouse along the way.

No. 2 – Time in “The Yoop”

Time in “The Yoop” Michigan
Flickr user: Samuel Tristán

Starting Location: St. Ignace, MI
Ending Location: Manistique, MI
Length: 88 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This drive along U.S. Highway 2 in the Upper Peninsula, lovingly called “The Yoop” by residents, has superior photo opportunities at every turn. Don’t miss Cut Ridge Bridge Overlook with its panoramic view of Lake Michigan, and you can hike down to Cut River there as well. In Naubinway, try a local favorite dish – a pasty meat pie – at Hiawatha Pasties.

No. 1 – Les Cheneaux Islands

Les Cheneaux Islands Michigan
Flickr user: George Thomas

Starting Location: Hessel, MI
Ending Location: Drummond Island, MI
Length: 38 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This scenic drive that includes a short ferry ride at De Tour Village to Drummond Island, part of the Les Cheneaux Islands, has spectacular views of Lake Huron. Travelers along this route are treated to the sight of early 1900s cottages full of charm, and the rocky shoreline provides plenty of visual interest. Stop to watch sailboats pass leisurely in one of the many harbors, and check out the antique wooden boat show in Hessel in August.


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