The Great Lakes and More: My Michigan Road Trip


Thirty. There I was at 30, with 20 still to go in my continuing quest to visit each of the nifty 50 United States. The closest state to my Philadelphia home that I had yet to visit was Michigan. This I clearly noticed as I looked at my very “Eastern U.S.-lopsided shaded visited states” map.

Thus, Michigan would be visited state No. 31. But one problem remained: What was there to do in Michigan?

Michigan was far enough away that I needed to find something to do to make it worth the visit. So, I ordered one of those Detroit tourism guides that they send you in the mail for free but after reading through it, I quickly determined I needed to find something else to do in Michigan. Michigan was, after all, the unexplored land of 10-cent bottle redemption. Having enjoyed Lake Ontario on a trip to Niagara Falls and seeing Lake Erie on the same trip, I realized Michigan had the remaining three Great Lakes. And that was a good enough start. The essentials for a long road trip – fun companions and a vehicle – were then procured, and the trip was on.

Our first stop was Ann Arbor, which very much seemed like a large college town, encompassing the massive University of Michigan. Our last stop was Holland, perhaps an ill-advised journey to the other side of the state considering the tulips were not in bloom and we didn’t have time to see if there was anything else to the seemingly overly touristy town. But there were many highlights in between.

From our base of operations, a friend’s lakeside house in central Michigan, we were able to make a day trip to the popular vacation destination of Mackinac Island (or “Macinac Island” as it read on my friend’s shirt, which he bought for less than $3 and only later realized why it was so cheap). Mackinac Island, located in Lake Huron and officially part of the U.P. (Upper Peninsula), was reached via ferry after crossing the Mackinac Bridge (which quickly became one of my seven favorite bridges in the U.S.). On the island there are no motorized vehicles aside from a few emergency ones, which we were unable to find. There are horses that unfortunately made their presence known in odiferous, fly-attracting ways throughout the island. But there are also bicycles, which we made use of by biking around the whole island, enjoying the sights. The island had many flowers, which I liked, and for some reason the feel of it all made me think of Bar Harbor, Maine. Of note was the Grand Hotel, which has the world’s longest front porch, thousands of flowers, as well as a sign espousing the hotel’s dress code and not permitting non-guests any further. On the island, we also made sure to partake in many free samples of fudge from the countless fudge shops before finally deciding which kinds to buy. And for lunch we ate pasties, the other mandatory food of Yoopers (a term used to describe the U.P. and its people). Having grown up eating pasties, the beef and potato pastry pies were not a surprise. It was just quite weird to see them sold in their own restaurant!

Unfortunately, we were never able to make it through the U.P. to see Lake Superior, but we got a welcome surprise in Traverse City. We encountered an arresting city, nestled between two arms of Traverse Bay that I perhaps hastily pronounced best city to live in that you might not have heard of. After eating lunch on the shore, we investigated the self-proclaimed Cherry Capital of the World. We visited a store called The Cherry Stop, which I’m sure had more cherry-themed products than I could come up with in a protracted brainstorming session. Ever since returning from Michigan, I’ve been on a cherry craze. Who knew cherries had so many tasty uses?

From there, it was off to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a park overlooking Lake Michigan. There, we learned an important life lesson: No matter how much your friend encourages you, never practice driving stick shift on winding, hilly, scenic park loop roads. Aside from the beautiful lake views, we also encountered the steepest beach I have ever seen. It literally had warning signs about trying to climb up. I was content to stay mostly at the top and stare out in the deep blue.

After all that it turns out Michigan had plenty worth visiting. In fact, I hope to go back next summer. I still need to try some cherry fudge, after all!