10 Must-Visit Michigan Locations on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour
Lake Michigan has the distinction of being the only one of the five Great Lakes surrounded entirely by the United States. Wisconsin, Indian, Illinois and Michigan all share this lake, which is the third largest of the five by surface area and second largest by volume. We’ve already shared our choices for 10 Must-Visit Michigan Locations on the Lake Superior Circle Tour, and today we present our choices for 10 Must-Visit Michigan Locations on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. Of the 1,661 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, Michigan accounts for 1,058 miles. The driving portion of the LMCT covers roughly 900 miles, and would take close to 15 hours to drive with no stops.This amazing trip around the lake will show visitors everything America’s “third coast” has to offer, from stunning sandy beaches to vibrant cities. While Chicago, Indian Dunes, Wisconsin’s Door County and other attractions are top draws for the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, we’re pretty confident that Michigan offers some of the best sites to visit.
Fayette Historic State Park – Visitors to this state park on Big Bay de Noc can step back in time while visiting a 19th century museum town. There are more than 20 buildings open to walk through, and informational plaques that tell the story of what life was like once in this community centered around an iron smelter. The towering dolomite cliffs make a great backdrop against the blue water and wooden dock ruins, and the park boasts five miles of hiking trails. A small campground features more than 60 sem-modern sites.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – In 2012, Good Morning America named Sleeping Bear Dunes and its 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline (plus North and South Manitou Islands) the “Most Beautiful Place in America.” If you’ve ever visited, you understand why the lakeshore won this honor, and if you’ve never been it won’t take long into your visit to see what keeps visitors coming back in greater numbers each year. Camping options range from modern at Platte River to rustic at D. H. Day and backcountry on the Manitou Islands. The “dune climb,” Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Empire Bluffs, Glen Haven Village and Port Oneida Farm District are among the top attractions to check out when you visit.
Saugatuck – Recently named Readers’ Choice for America’s Best Coastal Small Town by USA TODAY/10best, Saugatuck continues to be an all-season destination with a vibrant and historic downtown, access to Lake Michigan dunes at Saugatuck Dunes State Park, more than a handful of bed-and-breakfast resorts, and the only remaining hand-crank chain ferry in the country (Saugatuck Chain Ferry). Art galleries, shops and restaurants provide plenty to see in town, while Oval Beach, Saugatuck Brewing Company and Mt. Baldhead are worth checking out too. Mayor Bill Hess joined us in March and shared his 5 Favorite Places in Michigan.
Escanaba – The third-largest city in the Upper Peninsula and the largest U.P. city on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, Escanaba is the county seat of Delta County and home to historic attractions, recreational opportunities and more. Restaurants like Hereford & Hops and Rosy’s Diner are local gems, and history buffs will enjoy stops at the Sand Point Lighthouse and the House of Ludington Hotel. There are plenty of trails for hiking and biking, and lots of opportunities for water recreation on Little Bay de Noc.
Ludington – AAA rates Ludington as one of Michigan’s Top 5 tourist cities, thanks to its location on Lake Michigan and countless things to do. Walking the north pierhead to the lighthouse and watching the S.S. Badger leave or return to port is a favorite activity, and can be done via a short walk from downtown. Beer enthusiasts will enjoy a stop at The Mitten Bar or Jamesport Brewing Company, and there are also plenty of family restaurants and shopping opportunities. Ludington State Park is one of Michigan’s most beautiful, with forests, dunes, a dam, a river and a historic lighthouse (Big Sable Point Lighthouse). There are more than 20 miles of hiking trails, more than 350 campsites and opportunities for canoeing and bicycling in the summer or cross-country skiing in the winter.
Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi, Palms Book State Park – One of Michigan’s most unique natural attractions can be found a few miles west of Manistique in the Upper Peninsula. The Big Spring Kitch-iti-kipi is a 300 x 175 x 40 pool that maintains a constant temperature of 45 degrees thanks to the 10,000 gallons per minute of water coming up from the fissures below. A self-propelled raft takes visitors out to the center of the pool, where they can gaze down and see fish swimming next to constantly-moving clouds of sand. Mineral-encrusted branches line the outside of the pool, and a handful of Native American legends are centered around this location.
Traverse City – One of the biggest Michigan cities on the LMCT, Traverse City is known for its cherry production and highly-regarded wines as well as for being a top tourist destination. Visitors will find numerous state parks, historic lighthouses, sandy beaches, restaurants, outdoor recreation areas and ski resorts. The area is also home to some of Northern Michigan’s best breweries, including Right Brain Brewery, The Filling Station, Brewery Terra Firma, North Peak, Jolly Pumpkin and Rare Bird. Trips north on the Old Mission Peninsula or Leelanau Peninsula offer stunning views in any season, and Traverse City State Park offers camping and recreation opportunities right in the city.
Warren Dunes State Park – Located in the Southwest corner of Michigan, this beautiful state park sees almost a million visitors annually thanks to its towering dunes and scenic shoreline. Tower Hill sits 240 feet above the lake, and is a popular spot for visitors to climb before racing back down. Six miles of hiking trails and chances to watch wildlife are also popular draws, and 200 modern campsites fill up quickly in the summer months.
Grand Haven/Holland – One thing these cities have in common is great state parks on Lake Michigan with large campgrounds and sunny, sandy beaches. Each park features a historic red lighthouse, and Grand Haven’s pier is one of the best-known walks on the west side of the state. Holland is well known for its Dutch heritage – the Tulip Time festival, Nelis’ Dutch Village and Windmill Gardens (featuring the de Zwaan windmill) all pay tribute to the city’s heritage. Downtown Holland features something for everyone – shops, restaurants and breweries (New Holland, Our Brewing) and more. Grand Haven is known for the annual Coast Guard Festival, as well as a musical fountain that was once the world’s largest.
Petoskey – A town that is incredibly accessible for walkers and bicyclists, Petoskey features a historic downtown shopping district, a casino, several wineries and breweries, and plenty of frontage on Little Traverse Bay. Petoskey State Park is a favorite for campers with its spacious sites, large beach and hiking trails. Golfers will find plenty of courses to play in the area, while families with kids may want to focus their attention on one of the mini-golf/adventure park options.