Michigan Scenic Byways: 23 Amazing Drives
A great way to see some of the best scenery in Michigan is to take a drive on one of the state’s scenic byways. Our collection of 23 Michigan Scenic Byways includes three National Scenic Byways/All American Roads, two National Forest Scenic Byways, five State Scenic Byways (Pure Michigan Byways), eight State Recreation Byways, and five State Historic Byways. In this post we’ll take a look at each route, noting their category, location, length, and our favorite attractions. Hop in your car, truck, van, SUV, RV, or on your motorcycle and get out and explore these amazing routes full of Michigan history, scenery, and fun!
Woodward Avenue (National Scenic Byway/All American Road) – There likely isn’t a better drive through Detroit’s history than M-1/Woodward Ave. This 27-mile route starts at Hart Plaza near the Joe Louis fist and the Spirit of Detroit, heading northwest. Early highlights include the Guardian Building, Campus Martius Park, and Grand Circus Park. Soon the bright lights of the Fox Theatre come into view, with Comerica Park (home of the Detroit Tigers) and Ford Field (home of the Detroit Lions) across the street. Midtown stops include the Detroit Institute of the Arts, Wayne State University, and the Fisher Building. The automotive industry then takes center stage as you pass the Ford Piquette Plant (birthplace of the Model T), homes once lived in by the Ford family, and the Highland Park Ford Plant (home of the first assembly line). North of 8 Mile Rd. is the home of the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, as well as the Detroit Zoo.
Copper Country Trail (National Scenic Byway/All American Road) – This 47-mile byway follows US-41 from Hancock north to Copper Harbor, passing many sites of great importance to Michigan’s 19th century copper boom. The route starts at the Portage Lake Lift Bridge and runs through Hancock’s historic downtown (passing the old town hall/fire hall and Finlandia University) before heading up a hill as one of the highlights of this route – the Quincy Mine – comes into view. Quincy Mine was one of the Keweenaw Peninsula’s most consistently profitable mines and home to the world’s largest steam hoist. It is now open for tours. The route next runs through Calumet, home to the headquarters for the Keweenaw National Historic Park and historic buildings like the U.P. Firefighters Museum, Coppertown USA Mining Museum, the Calumet Theatre, and a memorial to the Italian Hall disaster. US-41 continues north past the mining towns of Centennial, Mohawk, Cliff, Central (self-guided historic tours), and Delaware (underground mine tours). The last few miles into Copper Harbor is a ‘tunnel of trees’ that can be absolutely stunning in the fall. Check out our list of 12 Things to See and Do in Copper Harbor post for more idea. On the return trip consider taking the M-26 Lakeshore Drive loop, which passes Brockway Mountain, the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, Great Sand Bay, Eagle River Falls, and a monument to Douglass Houghton.
River Road (National Scenic Byway/All American Road) – This 22-mile byway starts in Oscoda (home to one of Michigan’s Paul Bunyan monuments) and follows the Au Sable River inland. This was a major route for getting lumber from forest to sawmills near Lake Huron. Be sure to stop by the Lumberman’s Monument and Visitor Center. Hiking trails, ATV trails, snowmobile trails and campgrounds offer outdoor recreation opportunities. The scenic views here are even better in the fall.
Whitefish Bay National Forest (National Forest Scenic Byway) – Also known as the Curley Lewis Memorial Highway, this 33-mile route follows the Lake Superior shoreline from Brimley State Park west to M-123. From there you’ll pass through the Bay Mills Indian Community, which is home to a casino and hotel, campground, and a golf course. The Mission Hill Overlook provides one of the best views on the entire route. Monocle Lake is a great spot for fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing. The Point Iroquois Lighthouse is open for tours; climbing the tower provides views of passing freighters and the Canadian shoreline. The Pendills Creek National Fish Hatchery offers tours and stocks lake trout in the Great Lakes each year. Other great stops include the Big Pines Picnic Area, Naomikong Overlook, Bay View Campground (rustic), and popular cross-country skiing and hiking (North Country Trail) trails.
Black River National Forest (National Forest Scenic Byway) – This is one of the shortest byways in the state, yet it is also one of the most scenic. The top highlight of the Black River Byway is its collection of five waterfalls: Great Conglomerate Falls, Potawatomi Falls, Gorge Falls, Sandstone Falls and Rainbow Falls. Trails to the waterfalls range between 1/4 mile and 3/4 mile. The North Country Trail runs parallel to the byway, and crosses the river on a suspension bridge at Black River Harbor. Be sure to check out Copper Peak ski flying hill and take in the Adventure Ride view, where “at the top, visitors can enjoy the highest, most awe-inspiring, unobstructed vista in the Midwest overlooking over 2500 square miles, 3 states and even Canada on a clear day.”
Leelanau (State Scenic Byway) – Running from Traverse City and up the east side of the Leelanau Peninsula then through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the west side of the peninsula, this 68-mile route features unforgettable views, a historic lighthouse, endless outdoor recreation opportunities, and plenty of places to grab a Michigan beer, wine (check out the Leelanau Wine Trail), or cider. In Suttons Bay you will find Hop Lot Brewing Company, Suttons Bay Ciders, and L. Mawby Vineyards. Northport has a artsy, picturesque downtown and is known for its sport fishing history and opportunities. Leelanau State Park offers a rustic campground, miles of hiking trails, and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse. On the Lake Michigan shoreline sits Leland’s Fishtown Historic District and the gateway to the Manitou Islands. Glen Arbor is home to Cherry Republic, the M-22 Store, and more. The Port Oneida Rural Historic District and Glen Haven Historic District provide a look into the past. Sleeping Bear Dunes highlights include the Empire Bluff Trail, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, the Dune Climb, Pyramid Point Trail and the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire. Swing by Empire’s Village Park for a swimming beach and the Robert Manning Memorial Lighthouse.
Old Mission Peninsula (State Scenic Byway) – This route follows M-37 north from Traverse City, exploring 18 miles of scenic views, vineyards, and history. The land here at the 45th Parallel (halfway between the Equator and the North Pole) proved incredible fertile for fruit growing, and the peninsula is now known for nationwide for its wineries. On this byway you can visit Black Star Farms, Mari Vineyards, Bonobo Winery, Chateau Grand Traverse, Chateau Chantal Winery, and more. At the tip of the peninsula sits the Old Mission Point Lighthouse, which is now open for tours during the summer months. On the way back down, be sure to visit Bowers Harbor Vineyards and the Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant and Brewery. There are 13 “quilt barns” on the peninsula, which make for great photo backdrops in any season.
Tunnel of Trees (State Scenic Byway) – One of the state’s most loved fall color drives, the Tunnel of Trees is a winding, narrow, 20.5 mile byway stretching from Harbor Springs to Cross Village. The road travels close to the lakeshore here while trees form a canopy above, leading to the feeling that you’re in a tunnel. Look for the many historical markers along the route that detail the area’s history and how places like “Devil’s Elbow” got their names. In Middle Village you’ll find St. Ignatius Church, a historic cemetery, and a path to a popular swimming beach on Lake Michigan. Up next is Good Hart, home to a general store and two nature preserves. At Cross Village the must-see attraction is Legs Inn, a uniquely decorated restaurant that has “the best Polish fare west of Warsaw.”
Tahquamenon (State Scenic Byway) – There’s no shortage of things to see and do on the 63-mile drive through Michigan’s moose country called the Tahquamenon Scenic Byway. From Newberry and heading northeast you’ll pass the Luce County Historical Museum, Tahquamenon Logging Museum, and Oswald’s Bear Ranch (and the road to Muskallonge Lake State Park) before reaching Tahquamenon Falls State Park. The park is home to two campgrounds, Michigan’s largest waterfall, miles of hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, and even a restaurant and brewery. Upper Tahquamenon Falls is 200 feet wide and 50 feet tall, and you can rent a rowboat and take it over to the island that Lower Tahquamenon Falls surrounds. Consider a side trip to the north to visit the Crisp Point Lighthouse and the Two Hearted River. East of the park is Whitefish Point, home to the oldest operating Lake Superior lighthouse, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, and a bird observatory.
US-2 Top of the Lake Scenic Byway (State Scenic Byway) – One of Michigan’s newest byways starts in St. Ignace and covers 92 miles of scenic Lake Michigan shoreline on its way to Manistique. Check out our list of 10 Things to See and Do in St. Ignace to enhance your visit to the Upper Peninsula’s second-oldest city. As US-2 heads away from the city there are multiple scenic overlooks, then an area called “the dunes” that is excellent for swimming and relaxing. You’ll soon cross the Heath Robinson Memorial Cut River Bridge, which carries US-2 over the canyon (147 feet below) – this is a popular spot during fall color season. Naubinway is home to the Top of the Lake Snowmobile Museum, and in Gulliver you can tour the 1895 Seul Choix Point Lighthouse. Manistique offers dining, shopping, lodging, a Paul Bunyan statue and a boardwalk along Lake Michigan that leads to the East Breakwater Light. Side trips from here can take you Indian Lake State Park, Palms Book State Park and the Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi, and Fayette Historic State Park.
Sunrise Coast (State Recreation Byway) – Lake Huron is the focal point of this 200-mile scenic byway. The journey begins in Standish, then follows US-23 as it runs parallel to the lake. The first can’t-miss top is Tawas Point, the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” Tawas Point State Park has a lighthouse, beach, large campground, opportunities for wildlife viewing, and more. North of Tawas is Oscoda, home to a Paul Bunyan statue, the gateway to the River Road Scenic Byway, sandy beaches, and more. In Harrisville you’ll find the Sturgeon Point Lighthouse complex (open for tours) and Harrisville State Park. The largest city on this route is Alpena – check out our list of 10 Things to See and Do. North of Alpena you can tour one of our oldest lighthouses (Old Presque Isle Lighthouse) and one of its tallest (New Presque Isle Lighthouse). Rogers City is home to the world’s largest limestone quarry, the Calcite freighter viewing area, Ocqueoc Falls, 40 Mile Point Lighthouse, P.H. Hoeft State Park, and a downtown with restaurants, shops, and parks. Cheboygan is where you’ll find a state park with a large campground and miles of trails, Cheboygan Brewing Company, the Cheboygan Crib Light and Cheboygan River Range Light, as well as the ferry to Bois Blanc Island. US-23 continues on towards Mackinaw City, passing Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park before the Mackinac Bridge comes into view. Check out our list of 19 Things To See and Do in Mackinaw City, including the historical woodcarvings, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Fort Michilimackinac, and more in Northern Michigan’s tourist mecca. Biere De Mac Brew Works is a new addition to our state’s beer scene, and west of town you’ll find Wilderness State Park and McGulpin Point Lighthouse.
I-69 Recreational (State Recreational Byway) – Year-round opportunities for outdoor recreation and some of the state’s best fishing spots are highlights of this 80-mile scenic byway that runs from the Michigan/Indiana border to Eaton County. Check out the great fishing opportunities at Coldwater Lake State Park, then head into town to check out Coldwater’s historic districts. The I-69 Recreational Byway intersects with two other Michigan scenic byways – the US-12 Heritage Trail (in Coldwater) and the Marshall Territorial Road (in Marshall). Marshall offers a riverwalk, Dark Horse Brewing Co., the Brooks Memorial Fountain, one of the largest collections of historic homes and buildings in the state, and Cornwell’s Turkeyville just north of town. This 80-mile byway can be driven in an hour and a half, but you’ll need to exit I-69 to truly soak in the scenery.
Pathway to Family Fun (State Recreational Byway) – Those looking for a more leisurely drive that parallels I-75 between Clarkston and Bay City will enjoy the “Pathway to Family Fun.” This 74-mile drive starts in Clarkston, home to DTE Energy Music Theatre, historic walking tours of downtown, as well as golf and skiing opportunities depending on the season. As this byway moves north it passes through Ortonville, home to Ortonville State Recreation Area and its miles of equestrian trail, rustic campground, and swimming area. M-15 moves into Genesee County, where the state’s largest county park system offers opportunities for nearly every type of outdoor recreation imaginable. Consider a side trip to Frankenmuth, home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the Bavarian Belle Riverboat, a historic downtown, and other attractions with a Bavarian theme.
Hidden Coast (State Recreational Byway) – An often-overlooked stretch of scenic Upper Peninsula highway runs from Menominee to Escanaba. M-35 takes drivers through Menominee’s historic downtown and close to parks, a marina, and a lighthouse. As the route continues north it follows the Lake Michigan shoreline, passing by attractions like the Bailey Park/West Shore Fishing Museum, J.W. Wells State Park, Hannahville Indian Reservation, DeYoung Family Zoo, and Portage Marsh. In Escanaba there are plenty of options for food (Hereford & Hops), craft beer (Upper Hand Brewery), outdoor recreation, shopping and more. Be sure to check out the historic Sand Point Lighthouse. The U.P. State Fair is held in Escanaba each August. The Hidden Coast State Recreational Byway covers 64 miles.
Chief Noonday (State Recreational Byway) – M-179 is a 17-mile long highway, and its entire length makes up the Chief Noonday Byway. This route boasts great outdoor recreation opportunities and several historic attractions. The route starts just east of US-131, where the Gun Lake Casino is located. A short drive brings travelers to Yankee Springs Recreation Area, home to nine lakes and opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming, and more. There are modern and rustic campgrounds, equestrian trails, unique geological formations, hiking trails, mountain biking trails, and cross-country skiing trails. Keep an eye out for wildlife, including turkeys and whitetail deer. The nearby Barry State Game Area is a popular spot for bird watching. Just north of the byway is Historic Bowens Mills, a 19-acre historic park and working museum that features a grist mill from the 1860s. Just east of the byway on M-79 you’ll find Charlton Park Village and Museum, a collection of historic residences and buildings. Charlton Park also offers swimming, sports, boating, hiking trails, and family-friendly events.
North Huron Recreational Trail (State Recreational Byway) – This 50-mile route follows the Lake shoreline from just north of St. Ignace to Drummond Island. The small towns of Hessel and Cedarville are the gateway to the Les Cheneaux Islands, a collection of 36 islands that are a paradise for boaters, kayakers, and birdwatchers. Cedarville is home to a Historical Museum and a Maritime Museum, and hosts the Antique Wooden Boat Show each August. The DeTour State Forest Campground has hiking trails perfect for viewing rare plants and birds and a rustic 21-site campground. DeTour Village offers great outdoor recreation opportunities and the chance to see Great Lakes freighters up close. Take the car ferry over to the all-seasons paradise that is Drummond Island, home to golf courses, more than 100 miles of ORV trails, kayaking opportunities, excellent fishing, hiking trails, scenic vistas, and more.
West Michigan Pike (State Recreational Byway) – When it comes to byways in Michigan, this is one of the most popular, and for good reason. The West Michigan Pike follows a route that was developed for tourism and this drive from the Indiana border to Ludington is credited with creating interest in “auto tourism” in our great state. This 184-mile route parallels Lake Michigan, and is known for its beautiful beaches, stunning sunsets, historic lighthouses, welcoming communities, and restaurants. After visiting Warren Dunes State Park, head to St. Joseph and check out the lighthouse and beach park. There’s something for everyone downtown with unique dining and shopping options. Ride the Silver Beach Carousel (which dates back to 1910), or check out the beers at Watermark Brewing Company or Silver Harbor Brewing Company. Next up is South Haven, which is home to beaches, a historic lighthouse, a maritime museum, wineries, restaurants, and outdoor recreation opportunities (like the multi-use Kal-Haven Trail). From South Haven it is a 20 mile drive to Saugatuck, where dining, the arts, and the outdoors take center stage. Grab a beer at Saugatuck Brewing Co., then visit downtown’s galleries, shops, and restaurants. Go for a swim at Oval Beach Park, climb to the top of Mt. Baldhead, then visit Saugatuck Dunes State Park and the historic Felt Mansion.
From Saugatuck it is less than a 20 minute drive to Holland, a city that celebrates its Dutch heritage with the annual Tulip Time Festival and attractions like Windmill Gardens and Nelis’ Dutch Village. The downtown is a hub of activity with shopping, dining, breweries, frequent public activities, and more. Be sure to visit Holland State Park for an amazing beach on Lake Michigan and the historic “Big Red” Holland Harbor Lighthouse. Great hiking can be found at Rosy Mound Natural Area, Mt. Pisgah, Pigeon Creek Park, and Olive Shores. From here it is a half hour drive north to reach Grand Haven, home to the summer Coast Guard Festival and the world’s largest musical fountain. Walking the pier and visiting Grand Haven Lighthouse is a popular summer activity, and neighboring Grand Haven State Park offers a large, sandy beach. A waterfront trail runs from the lake to downtown, where you’ll find Odd Side Ales, Grand Armory Brewing Company, Pronto Pups, and more.
US-31 continues north from Grand Haven and in about 20 minutes brings travelers to Muskegon. You can check out our list of 16 Things to See and Do in Muskegon; highlights include Muskegon State Park and the Muskegon South Pier Lighthouse, the USS Silversides Museum, and a downtown that features art, history, restaurants, and two breweries. North of Muskegon you’ll find Duck Lake State Park, Michigan’s Adventure Amusement Park, and the neighboring cities of Whitehall and Montague (home to the world’s largest weathervane, Fetch Brewing Co., and the White River Light Station). The final highlight of this route is a stop at Silver Lake State Park, home to 2,000 acres of sand dunes, an ATV area on the dunes, miles of hiking trails and beach, and the historic Little Sable Point Lighthouse.
M-22 Benzie-Manistee (State Recreational Byway) – This 48-mile scenic route begins in Manistee and follows the Lake Michigan shoreline on M-22 until it meets up with the previously mentioned Leelanau Scenic Byway. Check out the historic Ramsdell Theater and Manistee North Pierhead Light in Manistee, then head north as the route passes through Onekama, Arcadia (home of the Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course), and Elberta before reaching Frankfort. Here you’ll find a vibrant downtown full of shops, restaurants, and outdoor recreation opportunities. Check out Stormcloud Brewing Company, the Frankfort North Breakwater Lighthouse and Lake Michigan beach, Dinghy’s Restaurant, and Crescent Bakery. North of town is a road that leads to the Point Betsie Lighthouse, one of the most photographed landmarks in the state. This route also includes the south part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, including the Platte River Campground and the Old Indian Trail hiking trail.
US-12 Heritage Trail (State Historic Byway) – This route covers more than 200 miles, stretching from Detroit in the east to New Buffalo and the Michigan/Indiana border in the west. In downtown Detroit this route intersects the Woodward Avenue Byway and it passes many historic sites as it moves through the city. In Dearborn you’ll find many historic sites related to the automobile industry, and Greenfield Village/The Henry Ford Museum is one of the most-visited museum complexes in the Midwest. In Washtenaw County US-12 runs through Ypsilanti, home of Eastern Michigan University. Be sure to check out the historic water tower, Depot Town, several museums, and a historic district that has more than 750 notable buildings. In Lenawee County travelers will find Walter J. Hayes State Park as well as Michigan International Speedway. Hillsdale’s McCourtie Park is a unique stop that somehow stays under the radar when it comes to Michigan tourism. In Branch County this byway intersects the I-69 Recreational Byway in Coldwater, before it heads to St. Joseph County. You’ll pass through Sturgis, White Pigeon and Mottville (home of the Mottville Bridge) before entering Cass County. After that the route moves into Berrien County and closer to the Lake Michigan shoreline. Niles boasts many historic sites, Buchanan offers art and historical stops, and New Buffalo is home to a railroad museum and a beautiful waterfront park and beach.
Iron County Heritage Trail (State Historic Byway) – This short route in the Upper Peninsula (36 miles) follows US-2 from Crystal Falls to Iron River. In Crystal Falls a historic courthouse sits at the top of a hill, overlooking downtown. Just west of town is Bewabic State Park, one of our favorite spots to camp. Iron River is home to the Iron County Historical Museum, which features 26 restored buildings. Pentoga Park is one of several stops on this route that explores the history of Native Americans in the area. You’ll also find the first roadside park in Michigan (and possibly the entire U.S.!) on this route.
Marshall’s Territorial Road (State Historic Byway) – You won’t find more Michigan historical markers in such a short drive (except in Detroit) than you will on this route through historic downtown Marshall. Many of the historic homes and buildings here are on the National Register of Historic Places, and are part of either a self-guided walking tour or a yearly Historic Home Tour. Highlights here include the National House Inn, Brooks Memorial Fountain, Honolulu House Museum (shown above), the Grand Army of the Republic Hall, the Governor’s Mansion Museum, the American Museum of Magic, and a U.S. Postal Service Museum. Be sure to check out the food at Schuler’s Restaurant and grab a beer at Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Center Avenue/Bay City (State Historic Byway) – This route only covers 1.5 miles but it includes mansions built by lumber barons, several historic churches, and many homes built right after World War II. Architecture buffs will find examples of Italianate, Romanesque Revival, Neoclassical Revival, and Queen Anne styles.
Monroe Street (State Historic Byway) – Monroe is one of the oldest settlements in the Lower Peninsula, so it should be no surprise that this route is chock full of museums, historic homes, churches, and a monument to General George Armstrong Custer. The Monroe County Historical Museum includes a Custer exhibit, and the Monroe County Labor Museum highlights the industrial revolution and organized labor. The River Raisin National Battlefield Park is a significant site from the War of 1812. Sterling State Park is nearby and features a beach on Lake Erie, and a network of trails are popular with outdoor recreation lovers.