Mitten Road Trip: Northern (Lower) Michigan Travel Guide

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michigan road trip in the traverse city area

Hi friends!  Do you feel like summer flies by after the 4th?  I know I do.  I start to panic a little thinking about how it’s almost halfway over.  But I guess it makes me conscious of all the activities I want to make time for yet, too, like little road trips!  If you have a road trip on your summer bucket list, you really should consider northern Michigan’s lakeshore.  I don’t think you can beat it, although I admit being a Michigander I am a little biased.  Although, this area was voted one of America’s Most Beautiful Places by Good Morning America in 2011.  So here’s a little Two Liberty Belles’ mini up-north travel guide of a few of our favorite places near the Traverse City area of Michigan:

Crystal Mountain Resort is in Thompsonville (about a 35 minute drive south of Traverse City), which is where our parents own a vacation home.  This is a wonderful resort summer and winter, with skiing, golfing, and all kinds of activities.   In the summer, we enjoy the outdoor waterpark pool, the alpine slide, and they have a high ropes obstacle course too.   We will do another post on Crystal in the near future to give you even more details.

Crystal Mountain Resort pool, Thompsonville MI

Crystal Mountain Resort Alpine Slide, Thompsonville, MI

Just north of Crystal Mountain is a little town called Beulah.  It is located on gorgeous Crystal Lake, which has a cute public beach.  It is such a tiny little town, but it has a few nice antique stores and shops.  This is also home of the Cherry Hut, as mentioned in the previous post.  If you like homestyle cooking in a friendly, old-fashioned atmosphere, this is definitely a nice place to eat.

Cherry Hut Restaurant, Beulah, MICherry Hut Restaurant, Beulah, MI

Further down the road (US 31), almost to Honor is the Cherry Bowl Drive-in, also mentioned earlier.  It is so much fun!  It only shows family friendly movies, plays the National Anthem before the show, and is full of old-fashioned nostalgia.  They have the cutest snack stand that serves pizza, hot dogs, candy, and popcorn of course.  And if your car battery goes dead, like mine always does, a friendly employee gets it going with a quick jump.

Cherry Bowl Drive-in Theater, Honor, MI

Frankfort and Empire are two other little northern towns we love to stop at along Michigan’s famous M22.  They are both on Lake Michigan, have beautiful beaches, and cute little small town charm.  Definitely worth checking out!  Our kids love the beach at Frankfort.  They walk down the shore and find all kinds of neat trees and little streams.

Lake Michigan, Frankfort Lake Michigan, Frankfort

Empire also has an awesome beach, with a nice little playground.  On one side of the parking lot is Lake Michigan…on the other side is a calm inland lake with a dock and public beach.  The Sleeping Bear Dunes visitor center is also located in Empire.  This is nice to stop at and buy park passes if you plan to enjoy the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which we definitely recommend!  You can pick up trail maps and guides, and see a variety of displays on the ecosystem in the dunes.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire MI

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire MI


Probably our favorite stop is Glen Arbor, though.  It is located on Glen Lake and Lake Michigan, also on M22, north of Empire.  The water is as pretty, clear, and blue as any tropical beach.  The Cherry Republic is a must stop, especially so you can try out their Olympic Size Cherry Pit Spitting Arena, which all of the kids love.  Okay, I kinda like it too if I’m being honest.   It also has a tasting room for different cherry products, and a nice little restaurant.  The boomchukka cookies are my favorite, but they do have a full menu if cookies aren’t your idea of a meal.  And with a slogan like “Life, Liberty, Beaches, Pie”, these two Liberty Belles think it’s a match made in heaven.  Beaches and Pie definitely fit under the “pursuit of happiness” category in my book!

Cherry Republic, Glen Arbor, Michigan Cherry Republic pit spitting arena, glen arbor, michigan

After Glen Arbor, you can continue north on M22 to Leland, which is a quaint fishing village known for its smoked fish.  Here you can catch a ferry to the Manitou Islands.  Or you can cut across heading east towards Traverse City.

Traverse City is the “big” city nearby, and full of fun on its own.  Gorgeous public beaches, lots of nice shopping, and beachfront hotels make up this beautiful little city.  Our favorite restaurant/destination is the Jolly Pumpkin, on the Peninsula.  It has great food and a fun atmosphere, and it is at the end of a lovely drive filled with cherry orchards, beautiful homes, and beach views.

So here you have all of these fun little northern beach towns all within a fairly short distance of one another.  You can easily see a few of them in a day.  The next time you want to take a little road trip in Northern Lower Michigan, you should definitely plan on a few of these little towns!  You won’t be disappointed!  We love them so much, we go back year after year!

What are your favorite places to visit in Michigan?  We would love to know so we can check it out for ourselves!