I’m sure you’ve noticed – it’s summer!! Grand Rapids is the place to be when the weather warms up. Summer in the city is jam packed with festivals, concerts, parties, and your pick of fun outdoor patios to chill with a cold drink in hand. But, summer is also the time to plan road trips, top off your gas tank, and hit the open road in search of fun, adventure, and relaxation.
These are our top picks when it comes to road trips that will excite, entice, and help you enjoy summer to the fullest!
Traverse City, MI
Photo courtesy of @thejamilynhall | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 143 miles north; 2 hour and 15-minute drive
Why we love it: TC is chock full of scenic beachy get-aways on Lake Michigan, cherry flavored everything, delicious cuisines – oh, and wine! Enjoy a round of amazing golf, get rustic in the Traverse City State Park, or indulge in the finer things in life at the lovely Traverse City Resort and Spa. About 55 percent of Michigan’s wine grapes are grown near Traverse City, the Leelanau Peninsula, and Old Mission Point Peninsula; and they have the wineries to prove it. When in Rome….
TIP: Wineries, while awesome, can have erratic schedules and unexpected tasting fees. Know before you plan your road trip here. Or even better, book a guided wine tour with friends – don’t taste and drive.
Three Oaks/New Buffalo, MI
Photo courtesy of @chanmanstagram | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 105 miles SW; 1 hour and 40-minute drive
Why we love it: The go-to destination for avid cyclists and sun bathers alike, when you plan a weekend in Three Oaks or New Buffalo, set aside time to hit the beach. Part of Michigan’s Harbor Country and located just over the Indiana border on Lake Michigan, this location has it all: sand, sun, bike trails, and Hello Donuts(the best donut place ever). If you’re looking for a legit hike, Warren Dunes have six miles of trails and a dune that’s 260 feet high and begging to be climbed.
TIP: Plan your packing, some hotels offer complimentary beach towers and sand chairs at the front desk. The New Buffalo Lakefront Park fills up fast on the weekend, so also consider checking out Warren State Park that boasts three miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
Upper Peninsula Waterfall Tour, MI
Photo courtesy of @beti_shahollari | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 319 miles to Upper Falls, McMillan Township; about 5-hour drive
Why we love it:
There is nothing more majestic than a natural waterfall. Appealing to all ages, hit the road and head north to explore these treasures in the Upper Peninsula. On this roughly 8-hour waterfall tour map, you can hit up 9 waterfalls in a single swoop! Start in Ironwood Township to enjoy Potawatomi Falls, ogle at Gabbro Falls, and continue along the path enjoying Munising Falls , Miners Falls, and more! The scenic tour ends at the big daddy of them all, Tahquamenon Falls.
TIP: While the actual waterfall road trip tour is 8-hours, the drive up to the start in Ironwood is pretty far – make sure you book accommodations in advance.
Sleeping Bear Dunes Tour, MI
Photo courtesy of @t_stael | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 160 miles NW; 2 hour and 45-minute drive
Why we love it: Dunes are so crazy fun. A favorite destination in northern Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshorewas named “the Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC’s Good Morning America. After exploring lighthouses, museums, and wineries, try your hat at the Dune Climbat least once. And bring your bike along – there are many paths to explore on your road trip, especially Pyramid Point!
TIP: Hit up the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive: a 7-mile scenic route that takes you to the spectacular overlooks of Lake Michigan, Glen Lake, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. There are two picnic stops along the way as well.
Indiana Dunes State Park, IN
Photo courtesy of @_plate | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 132 miles SW; 2-hour drive
Why we love it: Located along the southern tip of Lake Michigan, the Indiana Duneshave world class beaches, biking, hiking, and more. With 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, enjoy the sun and surf, scale a 200-foot high dune, or visit a “tree graveyard” (places where forests have been buried by sand and then are re-exposed by wind erosion). There are camping options, hotels, motels, cabins, cottages, and adorable bed & breakfasts to choose from. Make your reservations early and hit the open road.
TIP: Bring your workout gear along and try any of these 10 fitness findsat the Indiana Dunes – like the 3 dune challenge!
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, MI
Photo courtesy of @t_stael | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 355 miles north; 5 hour and 30-minute drive
Why we love it: The natural beauty of Pictured Rocks is simply breathtaking, and not too far away! The stretch of coast from Munising to Paradise provides you with unparalleled vistas and true serenity. Some must-sees include Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum & Whitefish Point Lighthouse, Munising Falls and Miners Falls. Kick back on a Pictured Rocks Boat Tourwhere all ages can enjoy the beauty of this national lakeshore; seek out views of Miner’s Castle and other stunning rock formations along the way.
TIP:The best way to get up close and personal with the Pictured Rocks is by kayak. Stop by Paddler’s Villageand sign up for their six hour sunset paddle for a truly glorious view.
Mackinac Island, MI
Photo courtesy of @ohwhatasighttosee | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 240 miles north; 3.5 hour drive– Ferry transit required
Why we love it: While Mackinac Island holds a special place in the heart of many Michigan-born children (horses + fudge + bikes = joy), it’s also the perfect place for a reunion of friends, bachelorette party, and or date weekend. Sign up for a guided Legends and Lore Trekand explore some lesser known part of the island or check out the Observation Tower at Mission Point. Bike around the island (of course!) or tour the exterior of the island by kayak. Get the full experience out of your road trip by booking an overnight stay on the island – and what’s more – no cars are allowed. So go ahead, have another glass of wine!
TIP: It can cost more to stay on the island, but if you sign up for the hotels’ newsletters and monitor their social media channels, you can find some really great deals.
South Haven, MI
Photo courtesy of @ktmulcahy | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 37 miles west; 45-minute drive
Why we love it: South Haven is one of our very favorite Michigan places. Not only is it super close to Grand Rapids, it’s the epitome of adorable. It’s packed with wonderful restaurants and pubs, great shopping, and of course, the lakeshore. For a taste of nature, drive just three miles south to Van Buren State Park. Climb some legit sand dunes, lounge on the beach, walk through woodland trails, and don’t forget to pack a picnic. Then head back to South Haven and spend the evening pub hopping in and around the downtown area – you’re never going to want to leave, we promise.
TIP: Southwest Michigan rivals Traverse City as the hot spot for Michigan-made wines. Don’t leave this area without exploring the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail.
Nordhouse Dunes, MI
Photo courtesy of @em0c0nn0r | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 115 miles NW; close to a 2-hour drive
Why we love it: Bring a tent and sense of adventure with you to the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness. Located within the Manistee National Forest along an extremely isolated shoreline, camp rustically along the coast of Lake Michigan two nights or even weeks at a time! Backwoods and hammock camping are the norm in this picturesque escape; it’s where you can truly get away from it all.
TIP: All food, water, gear, etc. has to be hiked in and out so pack light and prepare to unplug -there is no cell reception.
Distance from Grand Rapids: 157 miles SE; 2-hour 20-minute drive
Why we love it: Summer is hoppin’ in Detroit! Visit Greektown, explore the Eastern Market, hang out in Greenfield Village, or catch a Tigers game at Comerica Park. What’s more, get a group together and take advantage of the Motor City Bike and Brew Tours. We can’t think of anything better than getting a tour of the city, with a cold beer in hand while excersizing, can you?
TIP: If you’re looking for things to do in the area, check out this article, “Actually Cool Things to do in Detroit When Someone Visits.” It’s full of awesome summer ideas!
Lake Michigan Small Town Tour
Photo courtesy of @northernwayoflife | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 2-6 hour drive, depending on the destination
Why we love it: If you’re looking to get some serious miles under your belt this is the road trip for you. Michigan is peppered with adorable towns you may not even know exist! Start in Saugatuck, then head north to Holland or Muskegon. Travel even further north to hit up Pentwater, Ludington, then take M22 over to Frankfort, Glen Arbor, Traverse City and Leland. Check out Charlevoix and Petoskey on your way home! Spread this out over a weekend or a week on your road trip; you won’t run out of place to eat, explore, and enjoy, that’s for sure.
TIP: While many of these little towns are quaint, they can get busy in the summer, so book your accommodations in advance.
Red Arrow Highway from New Buffalo to St. Joseph
Photo courtesy of @lauradekreek | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 109 miles to New Buffalo; 1 hour and 40-minute drive
Why we love it: A popular summer cruise, head north from New Buffalo on Red Arrow Highway along Lake Michigan to explore the coast villages of Union Pier, Lakeside and Harbert along the way to St. Joseph. This stretch of road is known for its art galleries and awesome antiquing, so brush up on your vintage must-haves and bring your pocket book along for the ride.
TIP: You’ll be passing by Warren Dunes State Park, so budget some time to enjoy the view!
Photo courtesy of @samadhiqu33n | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 120 miles NW; close to a 2-hour drive
Why we love it: Manistee’s downtown is adorable, but have you ever ventured further into the Huron-Manistee National Forest? Make plans to hike the Manistee River Trail, a 23-mile loop or any of the 245 miles of hiking trails within this extensive north country trail network. If hiking isn’t your thing, rent a kayak or canoe and spend the day on the scenic Manistee River or learn about Manistee County’s rich history at the Arcadia Area Historical Museum, then grab a drink at the Iron Fish Distillery to end the day right.
TIP: The beauty of the Manistee River Trail is that it really is a trail for all skill levels. Many parts are flat, and any elevation changes are short in distance. It really is for everyone!
Ann Arbor, MI
Photo courtesy of @carsonhart | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 132 miles SE; close to a 2-hour drive
Why we love it: Foodies unite! Home of the University of Michigan, this incredibly walkable city has an infinite supply of coffee shops, wine bars, and any kind of food you can think of – and it’s all really, really good. Check out this list of essential Ann Arbor restaurantsand wear your stretch pants to this culinary destination. If you’re an outdoorsy type, explore the Bird Hills Nature Area, Island Park, or U of M’s Nichols Arboretum.
TIP: For something truly unique, gather some friends and rent a late-night private karaoke room at Blue Karaokeor check out Whirlyball of Ann Arbor– you have to go to find out what it is!
Photo courtesy of @remo_daut | Instagram
Distance from Grand Rapids: 176 miles SW; close to a 3-hour drive
Why we love it: Oh Chicago, we love you so. Just a few hours outside of Grand Rapids, Chicago takes summer in the city to a whole new level. Spend some time at the city beach, rock out at a festival like Lollapalooza or Pitchfork, party at one of many Chicago street fests, catch a free movie in the park, or wind down on a summer boat tour down the river. Sometimes all you need to do is put on your walking shoes and get to exploring, fun will find you in this awesome city.
Tip: Rush hour is a thing here, even in the summer. so plan your arrival time appropriately.