As the last of the snow is melting (seriously, vestiges still on ground here outside of Boston), I am starting to dream about summer road trips. The call of the open road is beckoning to me. Another road trip? my kids will ask, some in delight, some in agony. We drove to Michigan (my home state) for Christmas and visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We were able to experience the raw beauty despite the chilly weather (although no snow) and now the kids want to go back to see it in the summertime. Which got me thinking.
If I could create my dream drive “Up North” (the northern part of the lower peninsula) and “the UP” (the upper peninsula, pronounced you-pee), I would start with these five spots:
1. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. From nps.gov: Miles of sand beach, bluffs that tower 450’ above Lake Michigan, lush forests, clear inland lakes, unique flora and fauna make up the natural world of Sleeping Bear Dunes. High dunes afford spectacular views across the lake. An island lighthouse, US Life-Saving Service stations, coastal villages, and picturesque farmsteads reflect the park’s rich maritime, agricultural, and recreational history.
From there, take a scenic drive up US 31 to:
2. The Headlands Dark Sky Park, Mackinaw City. Who knew dark sky parks were a thing? Not me, until I recently read about them. I happen to think they’re a fabulous idea and wish more places would adopt a dark sky mentality. Getting my kids out to spend a night under the stars like they’ve never seen before, including a fantastic view of the Milky Way, would be something to remember. There are several dark sky parks out West, and more around the world, but all things considered they are pretty rare. Read more about dark sky parks here.
Next, hop the ferry to:
3. Mackinac Island. Known for its fudge and horse drawn carriages, Mackinac Island is a step back in time. You don’t have to worry about your kids being hit by cars, but you do have to dodge horse droppings. There’s lots to do there: ride bicycles or horses, hike in the state park, visit Fort Mackinac (which saw action during the War of 1812), or just walk around the shops by the harbor. The Grand Hotel is pricey but spectacular.
Get back on the ferry and drive over the impressive Mackinac Bridge, the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world, to the UP. Continue on to:
4. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising. From nps.gov: Sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, lakes, forest, and shoreline beckon you to visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Hiking, camping, sightseeing, and four season outdoor opportunities abound. The lakeshore hugs the Lake Superior shoreline for more than 40 miles. Lake Superior is the largest, deepest, coldest, and most pristine of all the Great Lakes.
Drive west and hop one of the four ferries or one seaplane servicing:
5. Isle Royale National Park, Houghton. From nps.gov: Explore a rugged, isolated island, far from the sights and sounds of civilization. Surrounded by Lake Superior, Isle Royale offers unparalleled solitude and adventures for backpackers, hikers, boaters, kayakers, canoeists and scuba divers. Here, amid stunning scenic beauty, you’ll find opportunities for reflection and discovery, and make memories that last a lifetime.
As you can probably tell, I love our National Park Service. (See my earlier post on the NPS’ recently announced program to get all 4th graders out to a National Park.) I also love my Michigan home. If you’ve stuck with me thus far, I beg another moment of you. Michigan’s state motto is “Siquaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice” – “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.” Go visit – the odds are in your favor – Michigan has two of them!
Wishing you a happy life in the car.
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