Submitted by: Scott Timmerman
In August I decided it was time to do something I have wanted to do the last few years: drive completely around Lake Michigan. I chose to follow the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route with a few slight variations. Their website offers plenty of suggestions and claims this adventure would take “14.5 hours and 900 miles without stops.” I love stops. I also only had 7 days.
Day 1: Milwaukee In the interest of time, I decided to bypass Chicago and chose Milwaukee to be the first destination. Before even reaching Milwaukee, a stop had to be made at the Mars Cheese Castle located off the interstate shortly after arriving in Wisconsin. They have every kind of cheese ever made (and meat, craft beer, a restaurant, among other things). Free samples were taken advantage of and plenty of cheese and meat was purchased. Milwaukee was reached in late afternoon. The first stop was Sprechers Brewery for a beer/gourmet soda tasting. Following the tasting, I headed to Lakefront Brewery. Lakefront Brewery is well known around Milwaukee and offers tours which usually sell out. After checking that out, I finally ate dinner at the Brat House located in the historic Old Third Ward before going to the hotel. In the morning, I completed a quick run on the lakefront path and had coffee/breakfast across from the lake at Colectivo which is located in an 1888 historic water flushing station. Before leaving, a trip to Milwaukee is not complete without stopping at Usingers Meat Market and the Cheese Mart which are both located in the historic Old Third Ward. There are several museums, Pabst Mansion, Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, and several breweries (including Miller-Coors) located around the city that are also worthy of checking out if you have time.
Tip of Peninsula, Door County
Day 2: Door County (with a few stops along the way) Heading north on the circle tour out of Milwaukee, the next destination was Door County with a hotel booked in Green Bay for that evening. Driving through the Lakeside neighborhoods filled with big houses, it was not long before I took another unplanned stop. This time it was Cedarcreek Settlement which includes a winery and several touristy shops. This winery is located in an 1860 woolen mill that has a wine cellar made of stone and sits on the banks of Cedar Creek. Tours are available. I enjoyed this settlement, and town and look forward to returning. Back on the circle tour, I drove a little further north until I ran into the county of Manitowoc. You may be familiar with this name from the highly publicized Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer.” Like I mentioned, I love stops. Once again, I found myself getting out of the vehicle to take a trip through the Courthouse to see the Courtroom and to walk around the Courthouse square. Back on route, I was then successfully able to reach Door County without any other stops. Door County is filled with tourist shops and wineries. It would be easy to spend a weekend here. At the very northern tip of this peninsula is a ferry that goes to Washington Island where even more tourist attractions wait, but by this point it was already getting dark. I briefly walked around a portion of the peninsula tip and then headed back south towards Green Bay. While in Door County, I visited two wineries. The first winery was Door 44 with the name coming from the winery being located on the 44th parallel. The second was Door Peninsula. I pulled into Green Bay right at 9 and was able to grab dinner at Titletown right before closing. As you can probably imagine, it was highlighted with everything Green Bay Packers.
Lighthouse in Marquette
Day 3: Green Bay/Marquette MI Upon waking on day 3, I took a quick jog along the new river walk and ran my way to Lambeau Field. Since my last visit in 2012, Green Bay is a city that is revitalizing itself. A site I missed this time but is worth visiting is The National Shrine of our Lady of Good Help. Located just outside of Green Bay, this is the only place in America where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in 1859. Before leaving town on this occasion, I stopped at Lambeau Field briefly. Lambeau Field is the home of the NFL Green Bay Packers. A tour allows you to see the field and the opportunity to walk through the same tunnel the Packers do. At this point, after studying the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I followed the circle tour as far as I could before deviating to Marquette, MI. Marquette lies on the shores of Lake Superior. There is an inactive iron ore dock downtown and a newer active dock further north of the city. Luckily, an iron ore boat was getting loaded on that day which was neat to experience. Also located in the city is a lighthouse that you can tour and there’s an active coast guard presence in the city. I explored the lower iron ore dock and also walked a pier roughly a quarter mile into the lake where you can look back over the city. At this point, it was time for dinner and there’s only one option when you first arrive in the U.P since they are known for them: a pasty. Pasties, a meat hand pie, come in many different styles and originate from the mining cities of England. After dinner, I checked out the imposing St. Peter Cathedral located in downtown Marquette. Before calling it a day, I had a flight at Ore Dock Brewery which is located in an old atmospheric building downtown that has outdoor patio seating. Living up to its name, you can see the old iron ore dock from the patio. Frequently, you are able to see the Northern Lights from this city. Marquette was a pleasant surprise and I was glad to make the deviation.
Day 4: Upper Peninsula/St. Ignace Day 4 covered the expansive Upper Peninsula with the destination being St. Ignace by the evening. Although spread out, there are quite a few spots to hit in this portion of the U.P. with the first one being The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising. The Pictured Rocks are located on the shores of Lake Superior. I took a cruise that lasted approximately 2 hours and learned several interesting facts about Lake Superior (such as Lake Superior does not give up her dead because the bottom of the lake only changes 2 degrees throughout the year; it is the largest freshwater lake in the world, holding 10% of the total freshwater, and if you were to empty it then North and South America would be covered in a foot of water.) You can also kayak this area and there are plenty of hiking trails as well. After the cruise, the next stop was Tahquamenon Falls. There is an upper falls and a lower falls. The falls used to be used by the logging industry and are the second most powerful falls east of the Mississippi River (behind the Niagara Falls). The falls are impressive year round and are a must see. After the falls, dinner was had a Brown Fish House located just 10 miles away. This little restaurant receives statewide acclaim and whitefish is their specialty. However, they only serve what they catch that day so once they are out, they are out. On this day, they were already out of their whitefish chowder. The next stop after dinner was The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. This museum is located in nearby Whitefish Point and is home to the bell from the notorious Edmund Fitzgerald freighter among several other boats that sunk in the Great Lakes. After two hours of going through several buildings, it was time to head towards St. Ignace. Arriving in St. Ignace after dark, which was a common theme this trip, I grabbed a pizza to go and went to see the Mackinac Bridge lit up in the dark before calling it a night. I wish I had time to see the Oswald’s Bear Ranch and the Soo Locks, both attractions previously visited that I would recommend.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Day 5: Mackinac Island The 5th day of the trip started off by grabbing a 30 minute ferry ride to Mackinac Island. There are two companies that offer ferry rides and specific depart times include a trip under the Mackinac Bridge which I was sure to take advantage of. Once on the island, there are two main things the island is known for: no motorized vehicles (bicycling is the main form of transportation) and fudge. There is a road that goes all the way around the eight mile island but there are several other inland paths to bike as well. Last time here, I rode around the outside of the island so this time I opted to do some interior paths so I could see sites such as Arch Rock and the newly reconstructed Fort Holmes. Bicycling worked up an appetite and my favorite lunch spot on the island is The Chuckwagon, where they make the food right in front of you. Next, I had an afternoon drink on the patio of the Pink Pony. Voted Michigan’s most iconic bar, the Pink Pony has plenty of outdoor seating and is perfectly located by the ferry docks making it a premium spot for people watching. I grabbed some fudge from Joann’s Fudge before taking the ferry back to mainland. Once back on land, and before leaving the U.P., I had to grab another pasty. I then followed the Lake Michigan Circle Tour towards Traverse City.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
Day 6: Traverse City (and the peninsulas near it) and Sleeping Bear Dunes The goal of Day 6 was to check out the two peninsulas near Traverse City. Like Door County, there are numerous wineries located on the peninsulas which draw a lot of tourists. The first winery where I stopped was Chateau Chantal. Upon arriving at the property, you are wound through their vineyards before you eventually make your way up a hill to the tasting room. Also located on site is an Inn where you are able to spend the night. The tasting room has an outdoor patio seating and you are able to see the bays on each side of the peninsula. This was a favorite stop on the tour around the lake. The second winery, located on the opposite peninsula, was Leelanau Cellars which sits right on the lake as well and also has outside patio seating. It is a different experience from the first winery, since this is just their tasting room, but equally as fun. After the peninsulas were accomplished, I headed towards the Dune Climb which is a massive sand dune located in the Sleeping Bear Dunes. From the top, you can see the “sleeping bears.” Also located in the Sleeping Bears is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive which consists of 10 stops for scenic overlooks. ABC Good Morning America named the Sleeping Bear Dunes the most beautiful place in America in 2011. Whenever I visit the Traverse City area, I seem to run out of time, and this time I did not have to chance to visit Moomers Ice cream which is located on a dairy farm with 160 flavors of Ice cream (20 rotating flavors at a time). By the time I reached Grand Haven for the evening, as you know by now, it was late and dark.
Lighthouse in St. Joseph Michigan
Day 7: Grand Haven/Holland/South Haven/St. Joe and Home! Upon waking on day 7, it was cold and rainy. The first stop of the day was the lighthouse in Grand Haven. Grand Haven is a popular little city and wind surfing is a common activity. There is a large beach with several volleyball nets and there is also a campground located right on the beach. On sunny summer days, parking can be a problem but due to the rain there were plenty of open spots. After a quick walk out to the lighthouse, I went downtown to the touristy shops and stopped at Blueberry Haven. As you might guess, they have everything blueberry. Making my way south of the city, I came upon Reender’s Blueberries where you can pick your own or buy them pre-picked. I made a quick stop to grab some blueberries and a fresh blueberry donut. Having loaded up on blueberries by this point, I headed south to Holland for a chance to see the Big Red lighthouse. I then headed south to South Haven. It was my first time in this city and I was impressed. By this time, the sun was out and the beach was populated. It took two trips around the lot to find a parking meter to feed. The walk out to the lighthouse was short and the cement was even. Boat traffic was heavy, and you could hear the sounds coming from the beach, so I stayed at the end and took in the environment.
The last night: To end my trip around the lake, I had to have dinner at one of my favorite spots: Silver Beach Pizza in St. Joseph. St Joe is right at an hour from Dune Country making it a favorite day destination of mine. The downtown sits atop a bluff that overlooks the beach/lake and has several stores, wineries, and restaurants. You can take steps down to the lakefront or there is also paid parking near the lake as well. Also located “down the bluff” is a great children’s museum, a carousel, and a splash pad/water sprayers. The beach is large with several volleyball nets and art sculptures. Silver Beach Pizza is located in an active Amtrak station making it a unique dining experience. The restaurant has a large room that is open so you can take in the sights and sounds of the lake front and recently added a second floor section as well. After dinner, I walked out to the southern pier which was an approximate 30 minute walk. To get to the actual lighthouse pier on the north side, you need to drive to the other side of the river and find parking on that side. The sun was still out and there were plenty of people on the pier. Boat traffic was heavy at this location as well so I spent several minutes just relaxing while taking everything in. I then headed back to my car to complete the trip by heading back to familiar Dune Country.
Overall, it was closer to a 1600 mile trip around the lake, but countless hours of fun and unique experiences. Several locations can be a multiday/weekend trip as it would have been easy to spend another week taking this tour. If you get a chance, it is a fantastic way to enjoy some of what Lake Michigan has to offer.
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