M-22 Highway in Michigan Offers Great Fall Color, Needs Your Vote in National Contest

M-22 Highway in Michigan Offers Great Fall Color, Needs Your Vote in National Contest

Leland Fishtown M22 Michigan

Leland (Fishtown) Historic District


Most Michigan residents are familiar with the stretch of highway known as M-22 found in Michigan’s northwest portion of the Lower Peninsula. Out of state residents may even know the popular tourist highway thanks to a merchandise campaign and popular window decal stickers. The 116 mile road is one of the most beautiful in the entire state and is currently in the lead in a national poll.

The website 10best.com, a unit of USA Today, is currently polling users to determine the “Best Scenic Autumn Drive”. It comes as no surprise that M-22 made the list. The sole Michigan representative is also currently in 1st place out of 20 locations across the country. The slogan for M-22 is extremely fitting as “It’s more than just a road, it’s a way of life”.

Fall Color M22

Photo of M-22 used by 10Best. (Photo courtesy of Lindspetrol / Flickr)


10Best describes M-22 as:

  • The M-22 route along Lake Michigan is one of America’s most beautiful tours, and it gets even better in the fall. This 116-mile road brings visitors through the peaceful countryside and along the shore, past small businesses, wineries, galleries and, of course, countless colorful trees. Visitors can stop and visit points of interest along the way and meet some locals, making this fall leaves trip a little bit wildlife and a little bit small town, all in one.

The stretch of M-22 covers 116.651 miles and passes through the counties of Benzie, Leelanau, and Grand Traverse. The stretch of highway might be best known for passing through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and also making up a large chunk of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour.

Sleeping Bear Lake Michigan

The whole Lake Michigan Circle Tour is more than 900 miles long. As you can see, M-22 offers a good chunk of it. We offered several exciting stops you can take while doing the Circle Tour, including visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

If you haven’t been on this stretch of road yet, put it on your must visit places in Michigan list. The U-shaped road wraps around Crystal Lake, passes through Sleeping Bear Dunes, and provides awesome views of Lake Michigan. There are lots of things to do along the route, including numerous lighthouses, breweries, restaurants, and shops.

Point Betsie Lighthouse (located just off M-22)

Point Betsie Lighthouse (located just off M-22)

In the fall, the road offers some of the best views of Fall Color in the state. I was just on this road last week and already leaves were starting to change and offer hints of the natural beauty along M-22. I’d love to share more pictures of the road from our recent visit, but we were too busy enjoying the views ourselves. Fall is a great time to visit the region, as it comes just after the peak of tourist season.

Sunset at Point Betsie Lighthouse

Sunset at Point Betsie Lighthouse

Visitors to the region of Sleeping Bear Dunes have soared thank to Good Morning America calling it the most beautiful place on Earth. In 2013, more than 1.5 million visitors traveled to the region. That was an increase of 300,000 from the prior year. Attendance continues to increase and a visit to the region in summer shows just how popular the tourist destination has become.

The road is a Pure Michigan Byway offering. To get this designation, which began in 1993, a road must be “scenic, recreational, or historic route that is representative of Michigan’s natural and cultural heritage”. In Michigan there are currently 5 historic, 6 recreational, and 5 scenic designated roads in the Pure Michigan Byway program.

Empire Anchor at Park M22 Michigan

Village Park, Empire


In 2002, M-22 also became a Leelanau Scenic Heritage Route. This designation was given to 66.956 miles of the M-22 highway and also a portion of M-109 (6.831 miles).

M-22 became popular with a line of clothes and stickers, and also the huge controversy that followed. Broneah Kiteboarding in Traverse City began selling M-22 merchandise and filed a copyright for the brand. According to the Wall Street Journal, the M-22 brand had sales of $2 million in 2012, more than double the 2011 total. No sales figures have been reported for the most recent years.

The controversy over M-22 came in many forms. First off, some questioned whether a road could in fact become a brand that no others could uses. That proved to be wrong, as the brothers behind Broneah own the rights to merchandise with the M-22 street logo. The other main uproar came when the brothers started sending cease and desist letters to anyone trying to make products using any Michigan road sign. The attorney general at the time ruled against the brothers’ claim that they had the rights to all Michigan road signs.

All controversy aside, M-22 is true to its motto and is more than a road. The region is one of the best in the state in my opinion. Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of my five favorite places in Michigan and a region I try to travel to once a year with my family.

If you haven’t been to the region recently, consider going this year or next. The storm damage left by a tornado has hurt the region. During the busy summer month of August, many businesses closed their doors for days due to a loss of power and non-operational roads to get into towns.

Do your part and support this great region of Michigan. Plan a trip and spend some money in the region. Vote and help M-22 win this designation to get additional tourist there for 2016.