Our family’s favorite way to travel is to take a road trip and visit as many new places as possible. One of our all-time favorite trips was when we decided to take a road trip around Lake Michigan and it’s something I get asked to share the details of our itinerary all the time so I thought it was time to blog the details and share it with all of you!
Planning a Road Trip Around Lake Michigan
My first tip is to use a site like Road Trippers that will allow you to plot all of your stops. We have younger kids and didn’t want to spend more than 2-3 hours in the car and this site really helped not only visualize our trip but also see how many hours we’d have for each portion.
Here’s how we broke things up, I hope it inspires you to plan your own road trip around Lake Michigan!
Day 1: Chicago
We started our trip off in the windy city. There is SO much out there about what to do in Chicago so I’m not going to spend too much time on this location. We only stayed here one night because we are able to make it to visit the city pretty regularly and wanted to move on to the rest of the trip! Our activities included: Shed Aquarium, the Ferris Wheel on Navy Pier and The Art Institute of Chicago. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Chicago Downtown/Magnificent Mile and loved that they had a rooftop pool with some really amazing views!
Day 2: Saugatuck > Sleeping Bear Dunes
We got up pretty early on day 2 and got some breakfast and walked the Magnificent Mile for a bit before loading up in the car again and then made our way to Saugatuck which was a 2.5 hour drive. Do NOT skip this step, this was one of our absolute favorite things about the trip: the Saugatuck Dune Rides. You take a Dune buggy and ride through the huge sand dunes and it felt like a roller coaster ride. Our girls talk about this to this day!
We had a picnic lunch and then got back in the car and made our way to Sleeping Bear Dunes!
Days 2, 3 + 4: Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes is exactly across Lake Michigan from our cabins in Door County and it was so cool to spend some time there and notice the differences! We left knowing we would come back because it was really indescribably beautiful and there was so much to do and see. We stayed at The Homestead and 10/10 would recommend it to anyone.
Here was our sweet cabin called Fiddlers Pond. We played games on the patio every single night and slept with windows open listening to the little creek!
There were several pools and an amazing restaurant with so many activities from golf to boat rentals to riding the ski lift to the top of the hill to watch the sunset with s’mores and a campfire singalong. We could have spent MUCH more time here!
We make a family bucket list before every vacation and our youngest daughter Addison said she wanted to ride a chair lift. She had just learned to downhill ski the winter before and that was her request. We all laughed at the time because it was summer, but when we got to this resort and found you could ride the chair lifts she was THRILLED.
One thing I say to everyone about western Michigan is that it is absolutely crazy how much more sand they have because of the sand dune formations and the water is teal, like you feel like you hopped on a plane and traveled to the Caribbean (I believe that was my exact Instagram caption)! Don’t get me wrong, the WI side of Lake Michigan and Door County is my absolute favorite place on the planet, but this was just one glaring difference between the two locations!
We could have walked these beaches for hours a day and have been happy!
Days 5 + 6: Mackinac Island
Visiting Mackinac Island was the inspiration for our entire trip! I had gone as a child and it really made an impression on me. Mackinac Island has no cars and you honestly feel like you stepped back in time when you visit. There’s just this slower pace that I absolutely love and so much history! Taking the ferry to the island is so much!
We opted to stay on the island for a night and I would highly recommend you do this, although you can just visit for the day and it is only 4 miles so you can see everything you want in a day if you don’t have the time to spend on the island. We stayed at Mission Point and really enjoyed it! There is so much history (all I’m going to say is “Redrum” and we may have had chills a few times walking the halls!). You get an antique key to open your door and just feel like you’re time traveling. If we went back again, I think I would stay at the Grand Hotel (Somewhere in Time was filmed here!) but at the time, it wasn’t in the budget!
The first thing we did was walk down mainstreet and get some famous Mackinac Island Fudge ice cream – my absolute favorite!
Other favorite things were renting bikes and riding all the way around the island and hiking up to visit the famous Arch Rock!
Day 7: Tahquamenon Falls and Pictured Rocks
Next, it was time to take the ferry back to our car and go over the Mackinac Bridge (best photo opp is at Alexander Henry Park in Mackinaw City) and head to the UP!
Up until this point I would not change a single thing (except maybe to stay in Sleeping Bear Dunes longer). To be fair it was colder and cloudy when we traveled to the upper peninsula and I’m glad we went but if we do this again, we will skip this step!
Tahquamenon Falls and Pictured rocks were both stunning and 100% worth the stop. I would just continue driving and spend some time in Door County instead of spending a night in these locations! We really enjoyed the Tahquamenon Falls Brewery – the blueberry ale was SO good and we ate like locals and ordered pasties! We took a Pictured Rock Boat Cruise and it was so amazing even though the weather didn’t cooperate. We saw Kayakers which would be another amazing excursion if that’s your thing!
Heading from the UP to Door County, you could stop at DeYoung Zoo or Bay Beach!
We didn’t stop in Door County on this trip because we spend so much time there, but if I were helping a friend plan this trip I would tell them to split their trip between Sleeping Bear Dunes and Door County and have the other stops be day stops to break up the drive!
So there you have it, our week-long road trip around Lake Michigan. It’s to this day voted as our #1 favorite family vacation and we are planning to do it all over again soon! Tell me, what has been your favorite family road trip? Now I’m itching to plan a new one!