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A Perfect Northern Michigan Road Trip

A Perfect Northern Michigan Road Trip

Join me on an unforgettable Northern Michigan road trip that will convert you into a die-hard Michigan fan. Our journey will take us to the Cherry Capital of the World, a secluded haven steeped in American history, charming Mushroom houses, thrilling ghost encounters, and breathtaking vistas.

I’m excited to share my adventures with you, providing a detailed itinerary you can follow in my footsteps and discover the wonders of this enchanting region for yourself. Get ready to be captivated by Northern Michigan’s beauty and charm!


Day 1: Arrive in Northern Michigan and See Mackinac Island

Are you ready for an adventure in Northern Michigan? Let’s start by flying into Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport, the closest and most affordable airport option. From there, hop in your car and drive 2 1/2 hours to Mackinaw City. Don’t worry about parking; head over to Shepler’s Ferry where you can bring your luggage with you for the ride.

If you haven’t experienced ferrying across with your car and luggage, it’s a breeze. The friendly ferry attendants will direct you to the right spot to park your car and tag your bags if you’re heading to a hotel on Mackinac Island. They’ll take care of delivering your bags to your indicated hotel while you buy your ferry ticket and wait for your boarding time.

Sit back and enjoy the spectacular scenery during the twenty-minute ride. Then, it’s time to do some retail therapy by browsing the charming boutiques along Mackinac Island’s front street, sample world-renowned fudge from Ryba, and capture beautiful photos.

Mackinac is the fudge capital of the world!


The only modes of transportation on the island are walking, biking, or taking a horse-drawn carriage. It’s a different way of life here, and one you have to experience to understand.

Don’t miss visiting the iconic Doud’s Market, a family-owned grocery store that has been a staple since 1884.


While you’re on Mackinac Island, treat yourself to a private island tour provided by Jack’s Livery Stable, where you can learn about the island’s fascinating history and hear local stories. By the way, both Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island are pronounced as Mac-kin-aw.

Where to Stay on Mackinac Island

Discover two exceptional places to stay on Mackinac Island, perfect for a luxurious getaway. The famous Grand Hotel has hosted five US Presidents, been featured in movies, and boasts a picturesque porch — the longest in the nation. It reminds me a lot of the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, but not as many amenities.


For an equally stunning experience, stay at Mission Point Resort. This elegant property offers breathtaking waterfront views, elegant restaurants, and a rich history.

I stayed at Mission Point Resort, so I know a lot more about it. The rooms were spacious and luxurious, and the entire resort was laid out in a nice fashion. Views of the waterfront from my room were exceptional. I especially loved the spa and restaurants.


Have a memorable dining experience at Mission Point Resort’s Chianti restaurant. Delight in the antipasti, Fettuccine a la Carbonara, and baby gem lettuce salad, all of which receive a 10/10 for food quality, taste, and service.

If you’re still not ready to conclude your evening in North Michigan, head to the Pink Pony for cocktails and music. It’s a local favorite and the perfect way to end a day in paradise.


Day 2: Sightseeing Mackinac Island and Heading to Petoskey

Don’t miss out on an unforgettable visit to historic Fort Mackinac during your travels in Mackinac! This military outpost served as barracks for soldiers for many years and is the oldest building in Michigan. Costumed interpreters will transport you back to life at Fort Mackinac circa 1780, which was the first National Park in the National Park System and is now a state park.


Fort Mackinac’s charming cottages, bungalows, and New England style town make for the perfect photo backdrop to remember your trip here.


I highly recommend enjoying lunch at the delightful Fort Mackinac Tea Room, located on the Terrace of Fort Mackinac. Although it is managed and owned by The Grand Hotel, the amazing views and delicious food make it well worth a visit.

When it’s time to leave, catch the 1 PM ferry off the island, which gives you plenty of time to see all the incredible artwork, galleries, outdoor paintings, and sculptures that Mackinac has to offer.

Don’t forget to take in the breathtaking blooms from Mackinac’s incredible flower scene!


Exploring Adorable Petoskey

The Terrace Inn is a 100+ year-old hotel boasting 38 cozy cottage rooms with private baths and a delicious complimentary breakfast. Plus, its bay views, interesting nooks, and crannies, and lovely onsite restaurant make it the perfect place for your next getaway.

The drive to get there will take you about 45 minutes.


FYI: The Terrace Inn has a ghost, which touched my foot as I laid across the bed. If that sort of thing freaks you out, this may not be the property for you. 


In Petosky, you’ll find an array of local shops, the Crooked Tree Arts Center, and plenty of tastings to tickle your fancy. Sip a beer flight at Beards Brewery, enjoy a cup of coffee at North Perk Coffee, or indulge in a tasting at Gypsy Vodka.

If wine is more your thing, check out Petoskey Farms Vineyards. Or, like me, try something unique with a handcrafted soda flight at Roast & Toast.


While in Petoskey, be sure to stop by the many charming shops to pick up souvenirs and gourmet foods. Grandpa Shorter’s Gifts, North Goods, and Threads are all great options. And don’t forget to look out for native Petoskey stones!

These flat, smooth stones with circle-like designs (easier to spot when wet) can be found at Magnus Park, Bayfront Park, and Petoskey State Park. Brave the chilly waters for a chance to find your own, or purchase one as a reminder of your trip.

Fun Fact: Ernest Hemingway loved this area and featured it and North Michigan in many of his books.


Dinner and Evening Activity in Petoskey

Discover the best dinner spot in Petoskey! Indulge in oak-planked whitefish, a local Northern Michigan favorite, at Stafford’s Pier Restaurant. It’s a light and beautifully presented dish that will satisfy your taste buds. And don’t forget to leave room for their irresistible Cherry Praline Profiteroles for dessert.


After dinner, explore the wealth and luxury of Petoskey’s waterfront homes with a pontoon boat tour from Pointer Boat. It’s a unique and fun way to see the breathtaking sights. And before you end your night, enjoy a soothing nightcap at the Terrace Inn.

Depending on the time of year, remember to bundle up, as Petoskey is in the snow belt and gets tons of snow!


Day 3: Arriving in Charlevoix and Scenic Driving 

Looking for a fun adventure on your Northern Michigan road trip? On day three, kick off your day with a delicious buffet-style breakfast (the potato casserole is the bomb!) at the Terrace Inn before heading out to explore the darling towns of Charlevoix and Traverse City.

Charlevoix (char-la-voy) is a charming seaside French-sounding town just 30 minutes away from Petoskey. Take a break along the way at the Horton Bay General Store for antiques, a tavern, and a tempting restaurant.

Across the street, the Red Fox Inn bookstore offers souvenirs, clothing, and other unique items.


The real highlight of Charlevoix, for me anyway, is the Earl Young Mushroom House Tour. Book a tour at Elements Gallery and hop into a GEM car to explore the whimsical mushroom houses designed by local artist Earl Young.


These quirky gnome-like houses, 26 in total, will catch your eye with their stonemasonry walls featuring wavy eaves and unmistakable chimneys and roofs. Some of these distinctive houses are available to rent, and the hour-long tour is sure to be a favorite memory of your trip. Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind experience!


Charlevoix: A Beautiful Small Town

You’ll discover Charlevoix, a picturesque waterfront town situated on not one, not two, but four stunning bodies of water – Lake Michigan, Round River, Charlevoix River, and Pine River. This idyllic destination is a paradise for boating, fishing, and water sports enthusiasts.


Stroll through the town’s charming streets and you’ll encounter cute cafes, souvenir shops, clothing stores, art galleries, and even a killer taffy shop (I sampled way too many flavors!). The hanging flower baskets add a lovely touch to the already captivating scenery.

Deciding how to spend your afternoon in Charlevoix can be a delightful dilemma. You might want to explore more of the downtown area’s shopping and attractions or take a drive to a fantastic waterfront dining spot across town.

At The Cantina: Tacos & Tequila, indulge in incredible Queso Dip and Tacos complemented by a cold margarita.


Alternatively, make your way to The Landing for mouth-watering burgers, fish & chips, and PB&J Sweet Potato Fries. This cool spot boasts excellent waterfront seating and fantastic service.

Either way, your time in Charlevoix promises to be unforgettable.


Day 3: Next Up…Traverse City

After exploring the charming town of Charlevoix, head south to Traverse City, famously known as the Cherry Capital of the World—a mere hour away. Stay at Hotel Indigo for stylish and comfortable accommodations.


Want to experience a taste of Italy? Drive to Mari Vineyards, where you can enjoy a fantastic wine tasting or private tour. Take a picture at the Game-of-Thrones-ish door in the basement and try the Proefectus Red and Scriptorium Riesling.


In Traverse City, Clinch Park is the perfect place for shopping, dining, and water activities like kayaking or paddleboarding. Check out the State Theatre Bijou by the Bay to watch classic and indie films in a stunning historical movie theater. Don’t forget the nearly 20 golf courses, six distilleries, and 20 breweries for more fun.

Before dinner, snap some photos at the Mission Point Lighthouse, and then head to PepeNero Ristorante for a toothsome meal of your favorite Italian dish or Mediterranean delight. My friends in the area absolutely love this one and say the meals never disappoint.

I ate at Mission Table on my perfect road trip to North Michigan, but it is now an event space only.

End your adventure back at Hotel Indigo, where you can rest up for your final day on the road trip.


Day 4: A National Park, Leelanau, and Glen Arbor 

After grabbing a quick breakfast, make your way to the Leelanau Peninsula, one of Michigan’s best-hidden gems. Start at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, Michigan. With 35-miles of shoreline and towering dunes, it’s an incredible sight to see.


Be warned, climbing down the dunes to reach the water and back up can be challenging for even the most avid hikers. Some have to be airlifted at a fee from the 450-foot drop. However, if you’re up for the challenge, the view is truly breathtaking.


Next, head over to Glen Arbor’s Cherry Republic Great Hall mega-store, also known as the Cherry Capital of the World. Here, you’ll find cherry-flavored everything, from salsa to candies to jam and chocolate. Don’t forget to try the cherry wine tasting too.


Before you leave, take a browse through the nearby Cottage Book Shop for souvenirs and grab a delicious coffee from Leelanau Coffee Roasting Company. I found an amazing selection of national park posters and day planners at Cottage Books. This is my kinda independent book store!

Fishtown: Unexpected Find on the Northern Michigan Road Trip

Explore Fishtown, a charming commercial fishing village on Lake Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula that’s been preserved for over 150 years. Known for its historic 19th-century shanties, locals saved Fishtown from destruction 11 years ago.

Today, it’s a must-visit destination for shopping, dining, and snapping stunning photos.


Don’t miss out on the Village Cheese Shanty and their famous sandwiches. You can place your order at their tiny shop’s menu board and enjoy your meal outside once it’s ready- no need to wait indoors!

Try the Third Coast sandwich with chicken breast, German mustard, and Maytag Bleu cheese on a pretzel bun – it’s simply delicious!

Leland and Lake Leelanau boast numerous fun shops, including Leland Gal, Tug Stuff, Two Fish, The Fish Hook, and Leelanau Books. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are several wineries and distilleries in the area ready to be explored.

Don’t miss out on this quaint and historic gem on Michigan’s coast!


Michigan, I Love You!

I fell in love with Northern Michigan during my road trip and I am so excited to share the highlights with you! From the breathtaking landscapes to the one-of-a-kind attractions, this region has it all. If you’re looking for a special trip in the future, I highly recommend adding Northern Michigan to your list.


Thanks to Pure Michigan for hosting my travels. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% mine and unbiased.

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Read more about Michigan here:

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Susan Veness

Saturday 20th of July 2019

Wonderful piece, and a real trip down memory lane for me! Lived in Michigan for 48 glorious summers and bone-chilling winters (summers are easy; winters, you just survive), and your journey took me to all the places I know so well. You hit the real highlights (Mackinaw Island and Petoskey are a must). It also reminded me I've got a bottle of cherry wine in my wine rack that's probably a decade old, so I'm guessing it's cherry vinegar by now. If you ever get the chance to visit Mackinaw Island in the winter (arrival by the world's shortest flight), jump at it. It's a completely different world, and a true winter wonderland.


Saturday 20th of July 2019

The winter wonderland sounds really fun! I heard lots of stories about the extreme temps and those that stay year round. They are troupers. LOL Thanks so much for reading and your sweet comment. I love a good road trip. ;)

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