Your browser is not supported for this experience. We recommend using Chrome, Firefox, Edge, or Safari.

Travel Guide

Enewsletter.

  • Privacy Policy

Lighthouse Driving Itinerary

Lake michigan circle tour itinerary plan.

The Great Lakes Circle Tours are a total of four routes circling each Great Lake, with the exception of Lake Ontario. The State of Michigan has signed each of the circle tours for the Great Lakes the state touches: the Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior Circle Tours. These tours were originally conceived as an aid for travelers who wished to stick close to the shorelines of the lakes in their journeys. You’ll find the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route below.

Lake Michigan Lighthouse Map & Circle Tour

The Lake Michigan Lighthouse Map & Circle Tour is a free publication available from the West Michigan Tourist Association to accompany the Lake Michigan Circle Tour.  Request your free copy of the Lake Michigan Lighthouse Map & Circle Tour .

Lake Michigan Circle Tour Route

Michigan side.

The route of the mainline Lake Michigan Circle Tour in Michigan follows signed state trunkline routes in its entirety, although in some places the nearest state highway to the Lake Michigan may be several miles away. Along with the primary Circle Tour route, several marked “Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loops” have been posted using white-on-brown signs. These loops may follow state highways or utilize city streets and county roads running closer to the shoreline. These loop routes are detailed below the mainline route below:

  • The Lake Michigan Circle Tour enters Michigan from Indiana on US-12 south of New Buffalo and proceeds northerly through New Buffalo to I-94.
  • The route leaves US-12 and continues northerly on I-94 from Exit 4 toward St Joseph. At Exit 23, the route exits I-94 and continues northerly into downtown St Joseph via BL I-94.
  • In St Joseph, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour continues northerly on M-63 into northern Berrien Co.
  • At the nothern terminus of M-63, the circle tour proceeds northerly on I-196/US-31 toward South Haven.
  • The route leaves I-196/US-31 at Exit 18 and loops through South Haven using BL I-196.
  • On the east side of South Haven, where BL I-196 ends at I-196/US-31 Exit 20, the route continues north into Allegan Co on I-196/US-31.
  • While the Lake Michigan Circle Tour remains on I-196/US-31 at Saugatuck/Douglas, a locally-designated Lake Michigan Circle Tour Harbor Tour loop route is signed concurrently with A-2/Blue Star Hwy between Exits 36 and 41.
  • The circle tour continues northerly on US-31/BL I-196 toward Holland at Exit 44 when I-196 splits off to the east.
  • At Exit 47, route signage indicates that the circle tour exits US-31 and loops through downtown Holland following the former route of BUS US-31/BL I-196. However, this business loop route through Holland was removed in August 2004 (signage removed in May 2005), but Lake Michigan Circle Tour markers along US-31 itself still indicates the route exits US-31 onto a business route which no longer exists. Therefore, the new de facto route for the circle tour continues northerly past Holland via the US-31 bypass.
  • On the east side of Holland, the route continues northerly following US-31 through Grand Haven and toward Norton Shores.
  • At the jct of US-31 & I-96, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour leaves US-31 and follows BUS US-31 through downtown Muskegon.
  • Northeast of downtown Muskegon, the route continues northerly via M-120 to North Muskegon and northeasterly back to US-31.
  • Back on US-31, the circle tour continues northerly toward Ludington, leaving US-31 twice: once to follow the route of BUS US-31 through the downtowns of Whitehall and Montague in northern Muskegon Co; and again to follow the route of BUS US-31 through downtown Pentwater in Oceana Co.
  • At the end of the US-31 freeway near Ludington, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour turns east following US-10/US-31 toward Scottville.
  • At Scottville, the circle tour turns northerly again to follow US-31 toward Manistee, although a locally-designated Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop Route formerly continued east on US-10 into downtown, then northerly via Old US-31 back to US-31 and the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. (NOTE: The Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop route through Scottville was removed/decommissioned some time in late 2004 or early 2005 and no longer exists.)
  • The route continues northerly from Scottville and through Manistee on US-31.
  • Northeast of Manistee, the route turns northerly to follow M-22 through Onekama, Frankfort and Empire.
  • Northeast of Empire, a Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop Route leaves M-22 to follow M-109 past Glen Haven, rejoining M-22 at Glen Arbor. (The mainline LMCT remains on M-22 between Empire and Glen Arbor.)
  • From Glen Arbor, the circle tour continues northerly on M-22 through Leland to Northport. At Northport, M-22 and the Lake Michigan Circle Tour turn nearly 180 degrees to head southerly into Traverse City.
  • At Traverse City, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour returns to US-31 and continues northerly via US-31 through Elk Rapids, Charlevoix and Petoskey and on toward the Mackinac Bridge.
  • South of Mackinaw City, where US-31 ends, the route continues northerly on I-75 crossing the Mackinac Bridge and entering the Upper Peninsula at St Ignace. Between Mackinaw City and St Ignace, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour is jointed by the Lake Huron Circle Tour.
  • In St Ignace, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour continues westerly along US-2 for more than 140 miles through Manistique and Gladstone to Escanaba.
  • At Escanaba, the circle tour continues southwesterly via M-35 along the Green Bay shoreline to Menominee
  • The route continues south on US-41 through Menominee and enters Wisconsin at Marinette.

Thanks to Chris Bessert and the Michigan Highways site for the route.

Wisconsin Side

In Wisconsin, the mainline of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour follows signed state highway routes in its entirety, although in some places the nearest state highway to the Lake Michigan may be several miles away. This route listing lists the official route as well as any locally-designated and marked “Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loops,” which are generally posted with brown signs. These loop routes are detailed below the mainline route below:

  • The Lake Michigan Circle Tour enters Wisconsin from Illinois via STH-32 and proceeds northerly through the downtowns of Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee, all the while following STH-32 religiously.
  • In northern metropolitan Milwaukee, the LMCT joins I-43/STH-32/STH-57 heading northerly into Ozaukee Co.
  • At Grafton, the tour departs I-43 to remain on STH-32 and continues through Port Washington.
  • On the north side of Port Washington, the tour rejoins I-43 and contines northerly via I-43/STH-32 toward Sheboygan.
  • At Exit 123, the circle tour departs I-43 and continues northeasterly via STH-28 into Sheboygan.
  • At STH-23, where STH-28 ends and STH-42 begins, the LMCT continues northwesterly via STH-42 back to I-43 at Exit 128.
  • The route continues northerly via I-43 from Sheboygan to Manitowoc.
  • At Manitowoc, the circle tour leaves I-43 at Exit 149 and continues into downtown via US-151.
  • In downtown Manitowoc, the route continues northerly via US-10 to STH-42. Also in downtown Manitowoc, a rather unique Lake Michigan Circle Tour spur route begins: travelling straight across the lake via Lake Michigan Carferry’s S.S. Badger carferry!
  • On the north side of Manitowoc, the tour continues northerly via STH-42 through the communities of Two Rivers, Kewaunee and Algoma into Door Co and the Door Peninsula.
  • At STH-57, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour turns northeasterly via STH-42/STH-57 past Sturgeon Bay.
  • The route then heads northeasterly along the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula via STH-57 through Jacksonport, meeting back up with STH-42 in Sister Bay.
  • In Sister Bay, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour turns back southwesterly via STH-42 through Egg Harbor to Sturgeon Bay once again.
  • Southwest of Sturgeon Bay, the tour continues southwesterly via STH-57 into Green Bay.
  • At Green Bay, the circle tour transitions to the final seven miles of I-43 northwesterly to that highway’s northern terminus at US-41/US-141.
  • The Lake Michigan Circle Tour then turns northerly via US-41/US-141 in Howard.
  • A the US-41/US-141 split in Abrams, the circle tour veers northeasterly to follow US-41 through Oconto and Peshitgo on its way to Marinette.
  • At Marinette, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour enters Michigan on the US-41 Interstate Bridge linking that city with its sister, Menominee, on the other bank.

Thanks to Chris Bessert and the Wisconsin Highways site for providing the route.

  • Overview & Introduction
  • Lake Superior Circle Tour

Lake Michigan Circle Tour

  • Lake Huron Circle Tour
  • Lake Erie Circle Tour
  • Great Lakes Seaway Trail
  • Other Circle Tours
  • Illinois Tourism Info
  • Indiana Tourism Info
  • Michigan Tourism Info
  • Minnesota Tourism Info
  • New York State Tourism Info
  • Ohio Tourism Info
  • Ontario Tourism Info
  • Pennsylvania Tourism Info
  • Québec Tourism Info
  • Wisconsin Tourism Info
  • Technical Resources
  • Circle Tour Signs & Graphics
  • Official Contacts
  • History of the GLCT
  • All In-Depth Articles
  • What's New?
  • Site Map & Search
  • Sources & Credits
  • Corrections & Feedback
  • Other Sites

Great Lakes Circle Tour > The Circle Tours > Lake Michigan Circle Tour

Working in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the West Michigan Tourist Association (WMTA) helped to make the first of the official Great Lakes Circle Tours a reality. On the MDOT side, Jack Morgan, assistant to the department’s deputy director, introduced the concept of a Circle Tour in 1987. Just 14 months later, agreement had been reached on a route and signs to be posted along the 1,100-mile tour completely circling Lake Michigan. The WMTA filled the need for a guidebook and when the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal ran articles in 1988 about the new Circle Tour, 150 callers from the Chicagoland area along deluged the WMTA staff the next Monday morning, requesting the guide. Two days later, 700 guidebook requests came in from Illinois and Wisconsin and the following day an additional 1,000 phone and mail requests poured in to their offices.

Present-Day Concerns and the Tri-Modal Corridor

In November 2012, the inaugural meeting of the Lake Michigan Trails Conference was convened in Saugatuck by Western Michigan University professor Dave Lembeck. Lembeck is championing both the completion of a Lake Michigan “water trail” for kayakers, canoeists and other paddlers around the lake’s entire shoreline as well as an interconnection between the water trail, the new U.S. Bicycle Route 35 (USBR-35) and the existing Lake Michigan Circle Tour. The envisioned “Tri-Modal Corridor” would accommodate non-motorized transportation and recreation via the “water trail” in the Lake and the bicycle route on land. The LMCT would help link the various bicycle trailheads and water access points together.

Unfortunately, actual signage along the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route has deteriorated over time. While Wisconsin has generally kept the Circle Tour reasonably well posted, signage in Michigan and Illinois is lacking and long segments of the LMCT in Indiana are now completely unsigned. Indeed, when the numbered highways that the Circle Tour ran along were rerouted in Northwest Indiana in recent years, the LMCT route markers were regrettably not relocated or replaced. Furthermore, highway signing standards may have changed to the point where including Circle Tour route markers alongside the other numbered highway markers on freeway signage is no longer allowed or encouraged. While hundreds of the standard Circle Tour markers are still found alongside the roadside in Michigan, some locations where the LMCT changes directions (e.g. transitions from one highway to another) are now under-signed or completely unsigned altogether. This was cited as a major concern by the attendees at the 2012 Lake Michigan Trails Conference.

Conference attendees vowed to support the ongoing efforts of the existing organizations assembling the resources necessary to complete the Lake Michigan Water Trail and the signed U.S. Bicycle Route network now underway around the periphery of the Lake. Additionally, attendees citied a need to renew coordination and oversight of the Great Lakes Circle Tour Program within the various state departments of transportation, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the de facto coordinating agency, the Great Lakes Commission. Several of those in attendance pledged resources and a commitment to both preserve the Circle Tour routes and look for ways to improve the coordination and signage into the future. Creating background documentation, documenting and recording the officially-adopted Circle Tour route, clarifying route signage standards and formalizing a route maintenance policy are just some of the concepts put forth in the revitalization of these important tourist routes.

Lack of Official Routing & Erroneous Information

Unfortunately, the Great Lakes Commission's own description of the LMCT is largely incorrect, both in terms of the actual route and because of numerous typos and incorrect community names. For example, as of last check (March 2013), errors in just the "Lake Michigan Circle Tour Road Route" section of the Commission's LMCT page give the following description of the route in Lower Peninsula:

ROUTE: Follow I-96E to Holland; US-31N to Manistee; MI-22 to Traverse City; US-31 to Petoskey; MI-119 to the town of Cross Bridge; C66 to US-31; cross the Mackinaw Bridge (toll) into the Upper Peninsula

The first major issue is to get to Holland from Indiana, one needs to first follow US-12 East (not listed) before transitioning onto I-94 East (not listed), then exit that route and follow BL I-94 and M-63 through St Joseph and Benton Harbor (not listed), transitioning then onto I-196/US-31 North (also not listed!) with a loop through downtown South Haven via BL I-196 (not listed), then back to I-196/US-31 North, before exiting onto US-31 North to reach Holland. On top of that, I-96 doesn't go to Holland at all!

From Holland to Petoskey the directions are somewhat better, although loops through downtown Muskegon, the downtowns of Whitehall and Motague, and through Pentwater via the respective BUS US-31 routings are omitted. However, from Petoskey, the LMCT has never run along M-119 and even if it did, the directions erroneously call the community of Cross Village , Cross Bridge , instead! (It's never been called Cross Bridge since its was founded in 1830!) But after omitting the connection from US-31 onto I-75 once US-31, the name of one of Michigan's most famous landmarks is misspelled: the Mackina c Bridge! If these directions are this bad—and have been since it was first reported to the Great Lakes Commission in the late 1990s (a decade and a half ago!) —how trustworthy is the rest of the information!

Lake Michigan Circle Tour Route

The Lake Michigan Circle Tour (LMCT) enters the state from Indiana southwest of New Buffalo, continues up the east coast of Lake Michigan and crosses the Mackinac Bridge along with the Lake Huron Circle Tour. From St. Ignace, the LMCT heads west across the Upper Peninsula then turns southwesterly to Menominee where it continues into Wisconsin. In Michigan, the 631-mile route generally follows the state trunkline highway running closest to Lake Michigan. The officially designated route for the LMCT is as follows:

  • The LMCT enters Michigan from Indiana on US-12 south of New Buffalo and proceeds northerly through New Buffalo to I-94.
  • The route leaves US-12 and continues northerly on I-94 from Exit 4 toward St Joseph.
  • At Exit 23, the route exits I-94 and continues northerly into downtown St Joseph via BL I-94.
  • In St Joseph, the LMCT continues northerly on M-63 into northern Berrien Co.
  • At the nothern terminus of M-63, the circle tour proceeds northerly on I-196/US-31 toward South Haven.
  • The route leaves I-196/US-31 at Exit 18 and loops through South Haven using BL I-196.
  • On the east side of South Haven, where BL I-196 ends at I-196/US-31 Exit 20, the route continues north into Allegan Co on I-196/US-31.
  • While the LMCT remains on I-196/US-31 at Saugatuck/Douglas, a locally-designated LMCT Harbor Tour loop route is signed concurrently with A-2/Blue Star Hwy between Exits 36 and 41.
  • The circle tour continues northerly on US-31/BL I-196 toward Holland at Exit 44 when I-196 splits off to the east.
  • On the east side of Holland, the route continues northerly following US-31 through Grand Haven and toward Norton Shores.
  • At the jct of US-31 & I-96, the LMCT leaves US-31 and follows BUS US-31 through downtown Muskegon.
  • Northeast of downtown Muskegon, the route continues northerly via M-120 to North Muskegon and northeasterly back to US-31.
  • Back on US-31, the circle tour continues northerly toward Ludington, leaving US-31 twice: once to follow the route of BUS US-31 through the downtowns of Whitehall and Montague in northern Muskegon Co; and again to follow the route of BUS US-31 through downtown Pentwater in Oceana Co.
  • At the end of the US-31 freeway near Ludington, the LMCT turns east following US-10/US-31 toward Scottville.
  • At Scottville, the circle tour turns northerly again to follow US-31 toward Manistee, although a locally-designated LMCT Loop Route formerly continued east on US-10 into downtown, then northerly via Old US-31 back to US-31 and the LMCT. ( NOTE: The LMCT Loop route through Scottville was removed/decommissioned some time in late 2004 or early 2005 and no longer exists. )
  • The route continues northerly from Scottville and through Manistee on US-31.
  • Northeast of Manistee, the route turns northerly to follow M-22 through Onekama, Frankfort and Empire.
  • Northeast of Empire, a LMCT Loop Route leaves M-22 to follow M-109 past Glen Haven, rejoining M-22 at Glen Arbor. (The mainline LMCT remains on M-22 between Empire and Glen Arbor.)
  • From Glen Arbor, the circle tour continues northerly on M-22 through Leland to Northport. At Northport, M-22 and the LMCT turn nearly 180 degrees to head southerly into Traverse City.
  • At Traverse City, the LMCT returns to US-31 and continues northerly via US-31 through Elk Rapids, Charlevoix and Petoskey and on toward the Mackinac Bridge.
  • South of Mackinaw City, where US-31 ends, the route continues northerly on I-75 crossing the Mackinac Bridge and entering the Upper Peninsula at St Ignace. Between Mackinaw City and St Ignace, the LMCT is jointed by the Lake Huron Circle Tour .
  • In St Ignace, the LMCT continues westerly along US-2 for more than 140 miles through Manistique and Gladstone to Escanaba.
  • At Escanaba, the circle tour continues southwesterly via M-35 along the Green Bay shoreline to Menominee
  • The route continues south on US-41 through Menominee and enters Wisconsin at Marinette.

The LMCT enters Wisconsin at Marinette and follows the shore of Green Bay through its namesake city, then runs up nearly the entire length of the Door Peninsula before looping back to continue south along the western shore of Lake Michigan through Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, Milwaukee, and Racine, exiting the state into Illinois south of Kenosha. Approximately 351 miles of the LMCT exist in Wisconsin. The officially signed route for the LMCT is as follows:

  • Enters from the State of Michigan via US-41 on the Interstate Bridge in the City of Marinette, Marinette Co.
  • Southerly via US-41 through downtown Marinette, continuing southwesterly along US-41 past Peshtigo and Oconto to Abrams.
  • At Exit 187, the LMCT continues southerly via US-41/US-141 from Abrams toward Green Bay.
  • Southerly at Exit 171 via I-43 through the City of Green Bay via the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge.
  • Northeasterly at Exit 185 to follow WIS-57 from Green Bay past Dyckesville and into Door County.
  • At the southernmost junction of WIS-57 & WIS-42, the LMCT actually loops over itself. Continuing along the route in the counterclockwise direction, the LMCT continues northeasterly via WIS-42/WIS-57 past Sturgeon Bay to the second junction of WIS-42 & WIS-57.
  • Northeasterly via WIS-57 along the Lake Michigan shore through Jacksonport and Bailey’s Harbor, then northerly into Sister Bay and the third junction of WIS-57 & WIS-42.
  • Southwesterly to follow the east shore of Green Bay via WIS-42 through Ephraim, Fish Creek, and Egg Harbor back to the second junction of WIS-42 & WIS-57.
  • Southwesterly past Sturgeon Bay via WIS-42/WIS-57 to the first junction of WIS-42 & WIS-57 southwest of Sturgeon Bay.
  • Southerly via WIS-42 through Algoma, Kewaunee, and Two Rivers and into Manitowoc.
  • Southerly via US-10/BUS WIS-42 into downtown Manitowoc.
  • LMCT Spur: Continues southerly, then easterly and northerly via US-10 from downtown Manitowoc to the Lake Michigan Carferry dock.
  • Westerly from downtown Manitowoc via US-151/BUS WIS-42 to I-43 at Exit 149.
  • Southerly via I-43 from Manitowoc to WIS-42 at Exit 128 northwest of Sheboygan.
  • Southeasterly via WIS-42/Calumet Dr from I-43 at Exit 128 into Sheboygan to North Ave.
  • Easterly via North Ave to N 3rd St.
  • Southerly via N 3rd St to Lincoln Ave.
  • Easterly via Lincoln Ave to Boughton Dr.
  • Follows the Lake Michigan shoreline in a generally southerly direction via Boughton Dr to Pennsylvania Ave.
  • Westerly via Pennsylvania Ave from Boughton Dr to Riverfront Dr in downtown Sheboygan.
  • Southwesterly via Riverfront Dr to S 8th St.
  • Southerly across the Sheboygan River via S 8th St to the roundabout at Indiana Ave.
  • Easterly for one block via Indiana Ave from the 8th St roundabout to S 7th St.
  • Southerly via S 7th St to High Ave.
  • Southerly from S 7th Ave & High Ave via Lakeshore Dr to Washington Ave.
  • Westerly via Washington Ave from Lakeshore Dr to junction WIS-28 at the intersection of Washington Ave & Business Dr.
  • Easterly via WIS-28/Washington Ave from Business Dr to I-43 at Exit 123.
  • Southerly via I-43 from Exit 123 southwest of Sheboygan toward Port Washington. (I-43 and the LMCT are joined by WIS-32 at Exit 113 near Cedar Grove.)
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Wisconsin St from I-43 at Exit 100 into Port Washington.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Franklin St from Wisconsin St through the Port Washington downtown business district to WIS-32/Grand Ave.
  • Westerly via WIS-32/Grand Ave from Franklin St to junction WIS-33 at Spring St west of downtown Port Washington.
  • Southwesterly via WIS-32/Spring St from WIS-33 toward I-43 at Exit 93 at Grafton.
  • Southerly via I-43/WIS-32/WIS-57 from Exit 93 northeast of Grafton into Milwaukee County.
  • Easterly from I-43 at Exit 82 via WIS-32/Brown Deer Rd, then southerly via WIS-32/N Lake Dr through the suburban communities of Bayside, Fox Point and Whitefish Bay and into the City of Milwaukee.
  • Westerly via WIS-32/Bradford Ave from N Lake Dr to WIS-32/Farwell Ave.
  • Southwesterly via WIS-32/Farwell Ave from Bradford Ave to Franklin Pl, then southerly via WIS-32/Franklin Pl to Prospect Ave. (Northbound LMCT follows WIS-32 Prospect Ave from Franklin Pl to Bradford Ave.)
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Prospect Ave to State St.
  • Southbound LMCT follows WIS-32/State St westerly from Prospect Ave to US-18/WIS-32/Broadway, then southerly via US-18/WIS-32 Broadway from State St to Michigan St, continuing southerly via WIS-32/Broadway from Michigan St to St Paul St. LMCT southbound then runs easterly via WIS-32/St Paul St from Broadway to WIS-32/Milwaukee St. Northbound LMCT follows WIS-32/Milwaukee St northerly from St Paul St to US-18/Michigan St, then continuing northerly via US-18/WIS-32/Milwaukee St to Wells St. LMCT northbound then continues easterly via WIS-32/Wells St from Milwaukee St to Prospect St, then northerly via WIS-32/Prospect St to WIS-32 Sbd/State St.
  • LMCT continues from downtown Milwaukee southerly via WIS-32/Milwaukee St to Menominee & Young Sts.
  • Southwesterly via WIS-32/Young St from Milwaukee St to Erie St and via WIS-32/Broadway across the Milwaukee River to Water St.
  • Westerly via WIS-32/Pittsburgh Ave to S 1st St.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/S 1st St from Pittsburgh Ave to Kinnickinnic Ave.
  • Southeasterly via WIS-32/Kinnickinnic Ave from S 1st St to Howard Ave.
  • Easterly via WIS-32/Howard Ave from Kinnickinnic Ave to S Lake Dr.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/S Lake Dr from Howard Ave to E College Ave.
  • Westerly via WIS-32/E College Ave from S Lake Dr to N Chicago Ave.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/N Chicago Ave and 10th Ave from E College Ave to Marquette Ave in the City of South Milwaukee.
  • Westerly via WIS-32/Marquette Ave from 10th Ave to S Chicago Ave.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/S Chicago Ave from Marquette Ave in South Milwaukee to through the City of Oak Creek and into Racine County.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Douglas Ave from Milwaukee County into the City of Racine at Hamilton St.
  • Easterly via WIS-32/Hamilton St from Douglas Ave to N Main St.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Main St through downtown Racine to 6th St.
  • Southbound LMCT continues westerly via WIS-32/6th St from Main St to Washington Ave. Northbound LMCT continues easterly via WIS-32/7th St from Washington Ave to Main St where it continues northerly via WIS-32/Main St.
  • Southwesterly from the intersection of 6th St, 7th St & Washington Ave via WIS-32/Washington Ave to Racine St.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Racine St from WIS-20/Washington Ave into the south side of Racine.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Sheridan Rd from Racine Ave into Kenosha County and the City of Kenosha.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Alford Park Dr from Sheridan Rd at Carthage Collage to  Sheridan Rd south of Alford Park.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Sheridan Rd from Alford Park Dr through downtown Kenosha and then through Pleasant Prairie.
  • Southerly via WIS-32/Sheridan Rd in Pleasant Prairie into Illinois at Russell Rd, entering Winthrop Harbor, Illinois.

The Lake Michigan Circle Tour (LMCT) enters Illinois at Winthrop Harbor in northeastern Lake County and continues south through Zion, Waukegan, Lake Forest, Highland Park, Winnetka and Evanston. In these areas, the LMCT follows the route of Sheridan Rd very closely. Once in the City of Chicago, the Circle Tour joins iconic Lake Shore Drive through the city before exiting the state into Indiana. About 61.9 miles of the LMCT exist in Illinois. The Illinois route of the LMCT route is as follows:

  • Enters from the State of Wisconsin via SR-137/Sheridan Rd in the Village of Winthrop Harbor in northeastern Lake County.
  • Southerly via SR-137/Sheridan Rd through Winthrop Harbor, Zion and Beach Park to Greenwood Ave in Waukegan.
  • Southerly via Sheridan Rd from Greenwood Ave (where SR-137 turns easterly toward the Amstutz Expwy) into downtown Waukegan to Belvidere St.
  • Westerly via Belvedere St from Sheridan Rd for one block to S Genesee St in Waukegan.
  • Southerly via S Genesee St from Belvidere St for three blocks to SR-137/Sheridan Rd-Amstutz Expwy in Waukegan.
  • Southerly via SR-137/Sheridan Rd from S Genesee St in Waukegan to Martin Luther King Jr Dr (Co Rd A-31) in North Chicago.
  • Southerly via SR-137/Bobby E Thompson Expwy from Martin Luther King Jr Dr (Co Rd A-31) to SR-137/Buckley Rd in North Chicago.
  • Easterly via connecting ramps from SR-137/Buckey Rd-Bobby E Thompson Expwy to Sheridan Rd in North Chicago.
  • Southerly via Sheridan Rd from SR-137 ramps in North Chicago to intersection of Sheridan Rd, East Sheridan Rd & McKinley Rd in Lake Bluff.
  • Easterly via East Sheridan Rd from Sheridan Rd-McKinley Rd to intersection of East Sheridan Rd, North Sheridan Rd, Moffett Rd & Cambridge Ln in Lake Bluff.
  • Southerly via Sheridan Rd through Lake Forest to Westleigh Rd intersection.
  • Southeasterly via Sheridan Rd from Westleigh Rd intersection in Lake Forest to intersection of Sheridan Rd, Waukegan Ave & Walker Ave in Highwood.
  • Easterly via Walker Ave from Sheridan Rd-Waukegan Rd in Highwood to Oak St in Highland Park.
  • Southerly via Oak St from Walker Ave for two blocks to Edgecliff Dr.
  • Easterly via Edgecliff Dr from Oak St for one block to Sheridan Rd.
  • Southerly via Sheridan Rd from Edgecliff Dr to Central Ave in downtown Highland Park.
  • Southwesterly via Central Ave for one short block in downtown Highland Park from Sheridan Rd to St Johns Ave.
  • Southerly via St Johns Ave from Central Ave in downtown Highland Park to Sheridan Rd.
  • Southeasterly following the many twists and turns of Sheridan Rd—the road encounters many 90° turns at several intersections in this area—through the rest of Highland Park and the communities of Glencoe, Winnetka, Kenilworth, and WiImette, to the intersection of Sheridan Rd, Ridge Ave & Isabella St in Evanston.
  • Easterly via Sheridan Rd from intersection of Ridge Ave & Isabella St for two blocks to Lakeside Ct in Evanston.
  • Southerly via Sheridan Rd from Lakeside Ct through the campus of Northwestern University to Chicago Ave in Evanston.
  • Southeasterly via Sheridan Rd for four blocks from Chicago Ave to Campus Dr in Evanston.
  • Southerly via Sheridan Rd from Campus Dr for three blocks to Forest Ave
  • Southwesterly via Forest Ave from Sheridan Rd for one block to Davis St.
  • Southerly via Forest Ave from Davis St for four blocks to Burnham Pl.
  • Southbound LMCT continues southerly via Forest Ave from Burnham Pl for four blocks to Main St, then runs easterly via Main St from Forest Ave for two blocks to Sheridan Rd where it continues easterly. Northbound LMCT runs northerly from the intersection of Main St & Sheridan Rd via Sheridan Rd for four blocks to Burnham Pl, then runs westerly via Burnham Pl for two blocks to Forest Ave where it continues northerly.
  • Easterly via Sheridan Rd from Main St for one block to Clark Square Park, then southerly via Sheridan Rd to South Blvd.
  • Easterly from South Blvd, then southerly, then westerly via Sheridan Rd to skirt the edge of Calvary Cemetery and enter the City of Chicago.
  • Southerly via Sheridan Rd from Calvary Cemetery to intersection of Devon Ave & N Broadway.
  • From the intersection of Sheridan Rd, Devon Ave & North Broadway, the LMCT continues southerly via North Broadway from Sheridan Rd-Devon Ave to intersection of Bryn Mawr Ave & Ridge Ave.
  • Southerly via US-14/North Broadway from Bryn Mawr Ave & Ridge Ave to US-41/Foster Ave.
  • Easterly via US-41/Foster Ave from US-14/North Broadway to Lake Shore Dr.
  • Southerly via US-41/Lake Shore Dr from Foster Ave through downtown Chicago to intersection of Lake Shore Dr, Jeffery Blvd & Marquette Dr in Jackson Park.
  • Easterly via US-41/Marquette Dr from Lake Shore Dr & Jeffrey Blvd to intersection of Marquette Dr, E 67th St & S South Shore Dr.
  • Southerly via US-41/S South Shore Dr from E 67th St & Marquette Dr for five blocks to intersection of S South Shore Dr, E 71st St, Yates Blvd & Exchange Ave.
  • Easterly via US-41/E South Shore Dr from intersection of S South Shore Dr, E 71st St, Yates Blvd & Exchange Ave for two blocks to the eastern intersection with E 71st St.
  • Southeasterly via US-41/S South Shore Dr from intersection of E South Shore Dr & E 71st St for nine blocks to intersection of S South Shore Dr, E 79th St & S Lake Shore Dr.
  • Southeasterly then southerly and then southwesterly via US-41/S Lake Shore Dr from intersection of S South Shore Dr & E 79th St to intersection of S Lake Shore Dr, S Mackinaw Ave, Ewing Ave & Harbor Ave.
  • Southeasterly via US-41/Ewing Ave from intersection of S Lake Shore Dr, S Mackinaw Ave & Harbor Ave, across the Calumet River to intersection of Ewing Ave & US-12/US-20/E 95th St.
  • Southeasterly then southerly via US-12/US-20/US-41/Ewing Ave from 95th St for five blocks to Indianapolis Ave.
  • Southeasterly via US-12/US-20/US-41/Indianapolis Ave from Ewing Ave into Indiana at State Line Ave, entering Hammond, Indiana.

The Lake Michigan Circle Tour (LMCT) enters Indiana at Hammond in northwestern Lake County and continues easterly through Whiting, East Chicago, Gary, Burns Harbor, and Michigan City before exiting the state into Michigan. About 46½  miles of the LMCT exist in Indiana.

Note: Route signage for the Indiana segment of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour is missing in most areas of the route.

  • Enters from the State of Illinois via US-12/US-20/US-41/Indianapolis Blvd in the City of Hammond in northwestern Lake County.
  • Southeasterly via US-12/US-20/US-41/Indianapolis Blvd from the Illinois state line to US-41/Calumet Ave.
  • Southeasterly via US-12/US-20/Indianapolis Blvd from US-41/Calumet Ave in Whiting to US-12/Columbus Dr in East Chicago.
  • Easterly via US-12/US-20/Columbus Dr from Indianapolis Blvd to SR-912/Cline Ave on the East Chicago/Gary municipal boundary.
  • Southerly via SR-912/US-12/Cline Ave from Exit 6 at Columbus Dr to US-20/Michigan St-5th Ave at Exit 10AB.
  • Easterly via US-12/US-20/5th Ave from SR-912/Cline Ave to Bridge St in Gary.
  • Through downtown Gary, the eastbound LMCT continues easterly via US-12/US-20/5th Ave from Bridge St to Vermont St where it rejoins with the westbound LMCT. The westbound LMCT continues westerly from Vermont St via 4th Ave to Bridge St, then continues southerly for two blocks via US-12/US-20/Bridge St from 4th Ave to 5th Ave where it rejoins with eastbound LMCT.
  • East of downtown Gary, the LMCT continues southeasterly via US-12/US-20/Dunes Hwy from Vermont St to the US-12 & US-20 “split” at Dunes Hwy & Melton Rd.
  • Easterly via US-12/Dunes Hwy from US-20/Melton Rd in Gary through Portage, Ogden Dunes, Burns Harbor, and Porter to intersection of Dunes Hwy, County Line Rd & Woodlawn Ave on the western limits of the City of Michigan City.
  • Northerly via US-12 from intersection of Dunes Hwy, County Line Rd & Woodlawn Ave to Beverly Dr, then easterly via US-12 into Michigan City at Sheridan Ave.
  • Northeasterly via US-12/4th St from Sheridan Ave to intersection of 4th St, Willard Ave & Michigan St.
  • Northeasterly via US-12/Michigan St and easterly via US-12/Michigan Blvd from 4th St & Willard Ave through downtown Michigan City to 2nd St at Blue Chip Dr.
  • Northeasterly via US-12 from Blue Chip Dr to SR-212.
  • Northeasterly via US-12 from SR-212 into Michigan at the state line, entering New Buffalo Township, Michigan.

Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop Routes

Lake michigan circle tour - harbor tour (saugatuck/douglas).

A locally-designated loop route which helps circle tour motorists navigate into and through the off-route communities of Saugatuck and Douglas in northwestern Allegan Co. While most local loops are designated as "Loop Routes" off the mainline circle tour, this particular route is actually designated as a "Harbor Tour," although it behaves like any other Loop Route. Also, as with all Loop Routes, this route is designated with white-on-brown circle tour signs, using the same LMCT "logo." The route is 7.7 miles long:

  • The LMCT Harbor Tour begins at I-196/US-31/LMCT at Exit 34 near Ganges (south of Douglas).
  • The Harbor Tour route proceeds easterly from the freeway along M-89/124th Ave to A-2/Blue Star Hwy.
  • The route turns northerly on A-2 /Blue Star Hwy into Douglas, passing just west of the downtown area.
  • The loop route then crosses into Saugatuck, still via A-2/Blue Star Hwy, passing just east of the downtown.
  • The route ends when it meets back up with I-196/US-31/LMCT at Exit 41 northeast of Saugatuck.

Lake Michigan Circle Tour - Spur Route (Ludington-Manitowoc)

This Lake Michigan Circle Tour spur route utilizes the S.S. Badger carferry traversing the middle of Lake Michigan between Ludington and Manitowoc.

  • Departs LMCT at the west junction of US-10 & US-31 east of Ludington.
  • Westerly via US-10/Ludington Ave from US-31 to James St into downtown Ludington.
  • Southerly via US-10/James St from Ludington Ave to the S.S. Badger carferry docks in Ludington.
  • LMCT Spur officially continues via the S.S. Badger carferry across Lake Michigan, connecting with the LMCT mainline in downtown Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
  • From the S.S. Badger carferry docks in Manitowoc, LMCT Spur continues southwesterly via US-10/Lakeview Dr to Lake St.
  • Westerly via US-10/Madison St from Lakeview Dr for two blocks to 8th St.
  • Westbound LMCT Spur continues northerly via wbd US-10/8th St from Madison St for four blocks to junction US-10, US-151 & BUS WIS-42, where it terminates. Eastbound LMCT Spur departs LMCT at junction US-10, US-151 & BUS WIS-42 at the intersection of Washington St & 10th St and continues southerly via ebd US-10/10th St for four blocks to Madison St where it continues easterly for two blocks via US-10/Madison St from 10th St to 8th St where it rejoins the westbound LMCT Spur.

Lake Michigan Circle Tour - Loop Route (Sleeping Bear Dunes)

While the Lake Michigan Circle Tour generally follows the closest posted state trunkline to its namesake body of water, the Sleeping Bear Dunes area is one exception. Instead of diverting the mainline LMCT off M-22 for only eight miles, it continues via M-22 through to Glen Arbor and on to Leland. However, as M-109 loops off M-22 to the west (lakeside) through the Sleeping Bear Dunes area, it has been designated as a LMCT Loop Route. The route is 6.8 miles long:

  • The LMCT Loop Route begins at the southern jct of M-22 & M-109 just northeast of Empire and continues northerly toward Glen Haven.
  • At Glen Haven, the loop route turns east and continues on M-109 toward Glen Arbor.
  • The LMCT Loop Route ends at the northern jct of M-22 & M-109 in Glen Arbor.

Back to: The Circle Tours .  

Additional Information

  • Lake Michigan Circle Tour - listing from MichiganHighways.org .
  • Lake Michigan Circle Tour History - from the West Michigan Tourist Association (WMTA). The WMTA helped to coordinate the first of the Great Lakes Circle Tours in the 1980s.
  • Great Lakes Circle Tour - information from the Great Lakes Commission . It was the GLC who originally established the Great Lakes Circle Tours and continues to provide information on many aspects of the Great Lakes region.
  • Lake Michigan Circle Tour - from the Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN), which "is a partnership that provides one place online for people to find information relating to the binational Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region of North America." Please note that the "Circle Tour Road Route" description from the GLIN site is not only vague, but incorrect! (See description above.)
  • --> Shoreline Charms (via archive.org )- an article by Donna Marchetti about the Lake Michigan Circle Tour from the Michigan Living magazine published by AAA Michigan.

Copyright © 1997-2014 Christopher J. Bessert. All Rights Reserved.  |   [email protected]   |  Last updated Thursday, May 15, 2014 .

  • Travel guides
  • Budget travel
  • Luxury travel
  • Moving abroad
  • Trip planning
  • Inspiration
  • Flight attendant
  • Recent posts
  • Bosnia & Herzegovina
  • Netherlands
  • Dominican Republic
  • New Zealand
  • Travel Resources

Lake Michigan Circle Itinerary: A 7-Day Road Trip Through 4 States

  • 20 July 2021 16 May 2023

The Lake Michigan Circle is one of the quintessential, must-do American road trips . You’ll find beaches, forests, dunes, and plenty of local breweries and wineries during your 24-hour drive. The trip spans 4 different Midwestern states and dozens of different cities. Read on for a detailed 7-day Lake Michigan circle road trip itinerary !

Last updated: 9 April 2023

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. When you purchase through links on my site, I may make a small commission (at no extra cost to you!).

Where to stay in Grand Haven

Where to stay near sleeping bear dunes, book a tour in traverse city, where to stay on mackinac island, where to stay on the upper peninsula, where to stay in milwaukee, book a tour in chicago, planning your lake michigan circle road trip.

This itinerary assumes that you’re starting in Chicago, but you can start from any part of the circle! You can also add or remove days based on how much time you have. I don’t recommend trying to do this in less than 5 days, however, as that would be too much driving at once to be enjoyable. Summer and fall are both wonderful times to take this trip since many of the activities are outdoors.

Lake Michigan Circle road trip itinerary map

Lake Michigan circle road trip itinerary

Day 1: indiana dunes, holland, & grand haven.

From Chicago, drive 45 minutes over the state line to the Indiana Dunes. The Indiana Dunes National Park takes up 15 miles of shoreline around Lake Michigan and features a unique ecosystem with lots of native birds and plants. Spend the morning here either relaxing by the beach or doing something a bit more active. Afterwards, stop by the nearby town of Michigan City, IN for lunch at Shoreline Brewery.

Fun fact: the Indiana Dunes just became a National Park in February of 2019, making it the third-newest park after White Sands (December 2019) and New River Gorge (December 2020)!

Things to do at Indiana Dunes National Park

  • Relax on one of the 8 beaches
  • Hike through dunes, forest, or wetlands
  • Kayak or canoe on Lake Michigan

Once you’ve gotten enough beach time, drive 1 hour and 40 minutes along the Dunes Highway to Holland, a city in the state of Michigan. Holland (you can probably guess by the name) is a former Dutch settlement in Michigan. The town could be mistaken for one in the Netherlands , with plenty of tulips, windmills, and European-style architecture. Spend some time exploring the town, and make sure to check out the Windmill Island and Tulip Gardens.

If you have some time, make a quick detour to Grand Rapids — there, you can check out the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, appreciate art at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and have a drink at one of the many breweries.

After exploring Holland, drive thirty minutes to Grand Haven. There are plenty of delicious dinner spots here — Rustic Roots, Mamas Thai Cafe, and Righteous Cuisine are some good options. Catch the sunset at the Grand Haven State Park Lighthouse, then head over to the Musical Fountain in town (it plays nightly at dusk).

  • Looking Glass Beachfront Inn
  • The Harbor House Inn
  • Washington Street Inn

Lake Michigan Circle: sunflowers at Indiana Dunes National Park

Day 2: Silver Lake & Sleeping Bear Dunes

From Grand Haven, drive 55 minutes north to Petite Pointe Au Sable Lighthouse (Little Sable Point Lighthouse) in Mears, Michigan. Built in 1874, this lighthouse is a great place to take in the grandeur of Lake Michigan and the surrounding sand dunes. Drive a bit farther to get to the town of Ludington, where you can stop for coffee and some pastries at Red Rooster Coffee & Community or relax at Ludington State Park.

After your morning pick-me-up, continue driving north until you reach Inspiration Point. This viewpoint off of the main highway is one of the best places to get a bird’s eye view of the Lake Michigan shoreline. There are a few stairs to reach the top, so make sure to wear some comfortable shoes!

A 45-minute drive from Inspiration Point will bring you the main attraction of the day, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The park encompasses hundreds of acres of sand dunes, lakeshore, and forest. There are plenty of activities to keep you busy, so spend your afternoon doing whatever sounds the most fun.

Things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes

  • Dune Climb: uphill sand climbs and hiking
  • Walk or bike the Heritage Trail
  • Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
  • Canoe the Crystal and Platte rivers
  • Camping : on the mainland or on North and South Manitou Islands
  • Chimney Corners Resort in Frankfort
  • Sylvan Inn Bed & Breakfast in Glen Arbor
  • Cedar Ridge Cabins in Honor

Lake Michigan Circle: lighthouse on the beach in Silver Lake, Michigan

Day 3: Traverse City & the Leelanau Peninsula

From Sleeping Bear Dunes, drive 45 minutes to Traverse City. Make sure to stop at Cherry Republic Gift Shop and Pyramid Point Trailhead along the way. You’re in wine country now — sampling some locally-produced bottles is a must today!

Things to do in Traverse City

  • Wander around the charming downtown area
  • Get a cider flight at Acoustic Tap Room
  • Have a tasting at a winery
  • Visit Mission Point Lighthouse

Where to stay in Traverse City

  • Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn
  • Hotel Indigo Traverse City
  • The Spring Lighthouse B&B

circle tour lake michigan

Day 4: Mackinac Island

Drive 2 hours from Traverse City over to Mackinaw City. Along the way, you’ll drive through the Tunnel of Trees, one of the most scenic routes that feels like you’re getting swallowed by all the nature around you. When you get to Mackinaw City, you’ll need to take the ferry over to Mackinac Island (pronounced like Mack-i-naw ). Adult tickets cost $27 per person with the option of adding a bike pass for $12.

Buy ferry tickets here

Mackinac Island was founded in 1780 and occasionally, it seems like time has stopped completely. There are no cars allowed on the island, due in part to an 1898 ban on “horseless carriages” that has remained unchanged. You won’t find any chain hotels, either — every accommodation option is unique and family-owned. Biking is a popular way to get around the island, as are horse-drawn carriages. Mackinac Island is the best place in the Midwest to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life!

Things to do on Mackinac Island

  • Rent a bike (or bring your own) and bike around the perimeter of the island. The M-185 Bicycle Route is 8.2 miles (13 km) long and takes about an hour to complete.
  • Check out Arch Rock
  • Take a horse-drawn carriage tour
  • Learn some local history at Fort Mackinac
  • Sample some world-famous fudge at Murdick’s
  • Grab lunch at Mighty Mac Hamburgers
  • Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast
  • The Inn at Stonecliffe
  • Grand Hotel

Note: Hotels on Mackinac Island are notoriously expensive. To save some money, take the ferry back over to the mainland and stay in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace for the night.

Lake Michigan Circle: ferry to Mackinac Island, Michigan

Day 5: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Today, you’ll leave the Lower Peninsula and cross over the Mackinac Bridge to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Although it’s only a 15-minute drive across the Straits of Mackinac, the Upper Peninsula feels like a different world from the colonial vibe of Mackinac Island. Its proximity to Canada , heavily forested hills, and lack of decent cell service make it feel like you’re at the ends of the earth. Spend today exploring all of the beautiful marvels of nature the UP has to offer.

Things to do on the Upper Peninsula

  • Kayak to Lover’s Leap
  • Hike Chapel Basin
  • Relax at Miners Beach
  • Take in the blue waters of Kitch-iti-kipi, a scenic natural spring
  • Explore Fayette Historic Townsite
  • Hike up the Porcupine Mountains
  • Magnuson Grand Pioneer Inn and Suites in Escanaba
  • Kewadin Sault Ste Marie Hotel in Sault Ste Marie
  • Landmark Inn in Marquette

Tollway onto Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Day 6: Wisconsin’s lakeshore

On day 6 of our Lake Michigan circle itinerary, you’ll cross into our fourth and final state — Wisconsin. Land of New Glarus beer, Cheeseheads , and Midwestern hospitality, driving down Wisconsin’s lakeshore is a pleasure in and of itself. Although not quite as scenic as Michigan’s side of the lake, you’ll be sure to soak in some beautiful views along the way regardless.

Things to do on Wisconsin’s eastern coast

  • Stop by the historic town of Marinette
  • Eat some cheese curds in Green Bay
  • Cheer on the Packers at Lambeau Field
  • Go swimming at Point Beach State Forest
  • Attend a concert at Milwaukee’s annual Summerfest
  • Check out some art at the Milwaukee Art Museum
  • Hike the Seven Bridges area
  • The Muse Gallery Guesthouse
  • Ambassador Hotel
  • Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown

Milwaukee's SummerFest

Day 7: Chicago

End your week-long trip right where you started — the Windy City, one of the greatest big cities in the world! Today, you’ll do some sightseeing and finish off strong with some hearty Chicagoan food. You’ve earned it after all that driving!

Things to do in Chicago

  • Take cheesy mirror pics at the Bean
  • Stroll down Michigan Avenue and do some shopping
  • Stand on the edge of the Willis Tower (…ahem… Sears Tower ) Skydeck
  • Order some deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s or a Chicago-style hot dog from Superdawg
  • Ride the ferris wheel at Navy Pier
  • Cheer on the Bears at Soldier Field

⇉ Chicago Summer Activities: The 21 Best Things to Eat, See, and Do

⇉ Winter in Chicago: The Best Things to Eat, See, and Do

Where to stay in Chicago

  • LondonHouse
  • theWit Chicago

Niki stands in a glass box, Sears Tower, Chicago

If you have more time on your Lake Michigan circle tour

This Lake Michigan circle itinerary can be easily extended by spending a bit more time in each destination. Additionally, you can add stops to your trip in the following locations:

  • New Buffalo
  • Downtown South Haven
  • Benton Harbor
  • St. Joseph: Silver Beach County Park
  • Silver Lake State Park
  • Downtown Muskegon
  • Isle Royale National Park
  • Door Peninsula, the “Cape Cod of the Midwest”: Door County, Peninsula State Park, Fish Creek, Sturgeon Bay, and Egg Harbor
  • Take a boat trip to Washington Island
  • Port Washington
  • Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve

Things to know before your Lake Michigan circle trip

  • If time is not a factor, you can extend your trip to become a full Great Lakes Circle Tour , adding on Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River! The full drive is 6,500 mi (10,460 km) long and takes over 100+ hours of driving.
  • Some of the state highways in Illinois are toll roads. You can pay any unpaid tolls after the fact on the Illinois Tollway website .
  • Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that’s entirely inside the United States! You won’t be needing your passport for this single-nation circle tour.

Thanks for reading this Lake Michigan circle itinerary! I hope you found it helpful for planning your own road trip.

Like it? Pin it!

airplane icon

Related posts

New Zealand lakes - Lake Matheson, West Coast

Join the conversation

Thanks for this itenerary! We did it exactly as is written this past June 2023. We did stay 2 days in Glen Arbor at the Sylvan Inn. We rented bikes in town and rode out on the heritage trail. We also rented kayaks to go down the creek there (can’t remember the name) That was my favorite place! I also really liked Traverse City. Unfortunately we did experience some of the smoke from the Canadian fires in both Milwaukee and Chicago, but it wasn’t horrible. We had beautiful weather on Mackinac Island however. I loved all the cherry stores, but was there too soon for the actual fruit! However we experienced no mosquitos that Michigan is known for. Beautiful sandy beaches, and friendly people!!

Following your itinerary! Shoreline Brewery is a must. Jasmine I’d the best!

Hi Niki! We are planning on using your itinerary this summer for a road trip with our 3 boys (ages 10,8,4). We want to spend a couple days in Chicago to kick it off. Which stops would you cut out while traveling with kids? (least kid-friendly activities). Thanks!

Hey Lauren! That sounds like an awesome trip! I’d say that the majority of this itinerary is actually super kid-friendly, especially if you go at your own pace and leave some extra room to stop between cities. Most of the suggestions I’ve listed are outdoors and/or free which is awesome! Running down sand dunes, exploring Mackinac Island, and camping/biking/hiking around Door Peninsula would be my must-dos with kids. If I had to pick one stop to get rid of, it would be the Leelenau Peninsula — there’s not as much to do and the kids would probably find the wineries/breweries boring. Chicago in particular is a really family-friendly city. Depending on what they’re interested in, I’d recommend checking out Lincoln Park Zoo, the Children’s Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier, and the Museum of Science and Industry! Happy travels 🙂

Thanks so very much for your great website…. I was lucky to find you while considering my trip around Lake Michigan next Septembfer

I spend half an hour to read this website’s articles or reviews all the time along with a cup of coffee 🙂

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Samantha Brown's Places to Love

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

  • April 12, 2018

When it comes to Great American road trips along the water, California’s Pacific Coast Highway gets all the press. But I say the middle coast is incredibly underrated. Why not drive around Lake Michigan?

There are two ways to tackle this 900-mile, 14.5-hour drive. The first is to complete it all at once. The other? Break it into two separate trips—the north loop and the south loop. A ferry between Manitowoc, WI and Ludington, MI make it easy to bisect the huge body of water. The 620 passenger vessel can accommodate tour buses, RVs and cars, and takes about four hours. Sounds like a fun adventure to me!

In addition to resources on GoRVing.com , both Michigan and Wisconsin’s tourism boards do a great job of pointing you toward RV campgrounds along the route.    

Tackling the serene North Loop

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

Kick off your trip in Ludington, Michigan, heading north toward Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and Traverse City. With its rich blue waters, white sand beaches and nothing but water on the horizon, it’s easy to see why this town is called the Caribbean of the North.

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

If you can, allot a few days here. Explore Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, the five local lighthouses (I have a thing for lighthouses!), and explore many great restaurants. From breakfast at the Grand Traverse Pie Company to Asian-inspired food at Alliance Restaurant, there’s no shortage of great places to grab a bite.

Next, it’s on to the “Tip of the Mitt” (aka the top of Michigan—you’ll notice locals regularly use their palm to denote locations within the state). Stop in Petoskey’s downtown, which overlooks Lake Michigan and offers terrific shopping, then continue on to Mackinaw City. From here, you must must must take the ferry to famous Mackinac Island. It’s one of my favorite places in the country. Touristy, sure, but I adore any place where no cars are allowed (here’s my travel guide to the island ). Simply leave your camper or RV on the mainland and head over for the day or even overnight.

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

From Mackinaw City, you’ll cross the “The Mighty Mac,” the 10th largest over water suspension bridge in the world. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (aka the U.P.).

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

For one of the strangest attractions in the area, visit Saint Ignace’s Mystery Spot , an area where gravity, allegedly, seems to have gone haywire. Is it a natural phenomenon… or cheesy tourist roadside stop? Hmm… maybe both. The route through the U.P. is quite rural, but offers many opportunities to immerse yourself in nature. Fall colors explore here, and there’s tons of great hiking and mountain biking.

Continue on to Marinette, WI. This area is known for its series of scenic and accessible waterfalls, located primarily in Marinette County’s Parks System. From there, it’s on to Green Bay, home of the Packers and historic Lambeau Field.

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

If you can, allocate a few days to picturesque Door County, WI. A weekend and holiday playground for Milwaukee and Chicago residents, you’ll find quaint shops, wineries, restaurants, pretty campgrounds and more on this peninsula. And with that, you’re headed to Manitowoc, home to the largest maritime museum on the Great Lakes, and where you can hop aboard the ferry back to Ludington.

Exploring the scenic South Loop

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

The south loop kicks off in Manitowoc. Head south down I-43 Sheboygan and into Milwaukee. If you’re lucky enough to drive through on a Friday, hit up one of the city’s many fish frys. In fact, no matter where you are in Wisconsin, this happens every single Friday. Think fried cod or perch served with tartar sauce, potato pancakes, apple sauce and coleslaw. Paired with a Wisconsin brewed beer or an old fashioned, it’s the quintessential ‘Sconnie meal.

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

Next stop? Chicago. Route 137 joins Lakeshore Drive (US-41), taking you past the Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier and the Shedd Aquarium. Indiana is but a blip on the Circle Tour, passing through industrial Gary (birthplace of Michael Jackson), then onto Dunes Highway near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. If weather permits, stretch your legs along the sandy shoreline, or hike the West Beach Dune Succession Trail and boardwalk. Nearby you’ll find the town of Beverly Shores, where you may view the five historic Century of Progress Homes from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

The Dunes Highway continues on to Michigan City (which is actually in Indiana), then into the Great Lakes State. Explore the Riviera of the Midwest’s charming towns, like the wine lover’s haven of New Buffalo; St. Joseph and its delightful lighthouse and beach; and Holland, known for its Dutch heritage, quaint shops and restaurants, and its annual springtime Tulip Festival . Both Grand Haven and Muskegon are great stops for beach adventures, spectacular views of lakeside dunes, wilderness trails and more. There are plenty of places to park your RV for a night or extended stay.

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

The farther north you drive, the more scenic and less populated the landscape. Meander through the communities of Whitehall, New Era, Shelby, and Hart, as well as Silver Lake Sand Dunes. The blue waters adjacent to the dunes are so crystal clear, you can actually view a wreckage of three ships that sunk on November 11, 1940. Art lovers will adore Pentwater, which hosts arts and crafts fairs all summer long. Fifteen minutes north of Pentwater, you’ll be in Ludington, where you may catch the ferry back to Manitowoc.

Have you driven the Lake Michigan Circle Tour? Any tips for making the most of the experience?

Like this post? Save it on Pinterest!

When it comes to Great American road trips along the water, California’s Pacific Coast Highway gets all the press. But I say the middle coast is incredibly underrated. Why not drive around Lake Michigan?

This Post Has 15 Comments

Do have a map of this tour?

Try this link. https://www.wmta.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Lighthouse-Map-for-Web-2018.pdf

I loved the info. I grew up in Zion IL. Do you have a map of this tour?

I loved this info and grew up 50 miles north of Chicago in Zion. I wondered if you have a map of this tour?

I did this trip late last Sept in my T@b camper for 2-1/2 weeks. Made it as far as Mackinaw Island, but not the upper peninsula, It was the hottest two weeks MI had experienced all summer. Stayed in state parks all around the lake down to Holland. Let me just say, Lake Michigan is absolutely beautiful and the beaches and clear water made for some great swimming! I highly recommend Sleeping Bear Dunes Nat Park, the wineries on Traverse Bay, and the trip back in time on Mackinaw Island! Can’t wait to go back and go up into the Upper Peninsula!!!

@Kathy – Hello! I will be driving a camper for a 5 day trip around Lake Michigan, coming from Chicago. I saw your comment and was wondering if you had any additional suggestions/tips for camping. Sleeping Bear is definitely on the list already. I’m just trying to research easy places to stay for a night or two on the trip. Any advice is greatly appreciated! Stephanie

Try this on a Harley….. so much more fun.

I would love a paper map of the circle tour. Is that available? Been looking at lots of sites and see nothing. Thanks for any help.

My husband and I took a week’s vacation to drive around Lake Michigan a number of years ago – stopping and staying in many of the lakeside towns along the way. Even though we’ve vacationed in west and northern Michigan our whole lives, we discovered things we had never seen before or hadn’t seen in years. Shopping in Saugatuck, swimming in Lake Michigan all along the way, seeing Dorr County, WI, Lambeau Field and New Buffalo for the first time. Driving through the Tunnel of Trees along Lake MIchigan north of Harbor Springs (and lunch or dinner at Legs Inn in Cross Village on a shelf overlooking the lake.) Hanging out in Chicago. But somehow we missed Silver Lake Sand Dunes, still need to go back to see them! If you’re going now, check out some of the many craft breweries along the way — Greenbush (Sawyer, MI), New Holland (Holland, MI), Founders (Grand Rapids, MI), Right Brain, Workshop, & North Peak (Traverse City, MI), Short’s (Bellaire, MI), 3 Floyds (Munster, IN) — and tour the not-so-small Miller brewery in Milwaukee! And those are just the ones we’ve been to – there are many more. It’s a great trip, so beautiful!

Great tip. Harbor Spring Michigan is a must-do. Don’t forget Johans Backereys in Petosky and Harbor Springs!

Teri. I liked your comment around the Lake Michigan tour that you and your husband did, that is some thing that me and my wife would like to do this coming week, do you have a map or places that you may recommend to stop by. will appreciate if you can share it.

Alfredo & Austria

I would like a paper map, how do I get one?

West Michigan provides a paper map of the circle tour. It also shows most of the Lake Michigan Lighthouses on the route. You can print off your own map by downloading it or send a request and they will mail one to you. https://www.wmta.org/lake-michigan-lighthouse-map-circle-tour/lighthouse-driving-itinerary/ You can also visit the: State of Michigan Historical Markers web site for additional places to visit: State of Wisconsin Historical Markers: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS15267 State of Illinois Historical Markes: http://www.historyillinois.org/HistoricalMarkers.aspx State of Indiana Historical Marker: https://www.in.gov/history/2350.htm I am also going to suggest a side trip to Beaver Island, Michigan which is the largest inhabited island in Lake Michigan, with a year round population. You can fly there from Charlevoix airport (15mins) or take the ferry from Charlevoix (2 and 1/2 hours) leave your car in Charlevoix you can rent a car (advance reservation suggested or rent a bike). There are a couple of primitive campgrounds that are only $10 a night both right on Lake Michigan! Thank you Samantha for your suggestions as well.

As a lifelong Mighigander, I have a few must see places that I visit whenever I vacation on the Lake Michigan shoreline: 1) Horizons bookstore in Traverse City- one of America’s great bookstores 2) Northern Latitudes Distillery in Leland 3) Scalawag’s Seafood in Traverse City and Mackinaw City 4) The Omelette Shoppe in Traverse City 5) Grand Traverse Winery in the Old Mission Peninsula

I grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, so I’m glad Sam mentions it. Pere Marquette beach there is indeed beautiful. Downtown is a short exit off US-31 and has a great brewery, Pigeon Hill, and I believe a distillery nearby as well. South of downtown is the excellent Hearthstone restaurant, from which you can easily get back to US-31. Head north on US-31, between Muskegon and Whitehall, and you’ll find Michigan’s Adventure Amusement Park and water park. There are several camping options in the area, including Duck Creek RV Resort, which is across the street from Michigan’s Adventure.

I currently live in Chicago, where I’ve been for several years. I love the city, but it’s probably not the best place to visit on this driving tour. You can get around best without a car, and parking is really expensive. Also, since there’s a lot to do here, I think it warrants more time and thus a separate visit. If/when you do come to Chicago, my advice is to also get out of downtown and into the real neighborhoods, as they all offer cool restaurants, shops, pubs, festivals, etc. and more character.

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

circle tour lake michigan

As much as I love getting outdoors, going for scenic drives, and discovering small towns,…

Unique things to do in Miami

With incredible beaches, a society born of multiculturalism, and the type of energy found nowhere…

circle tour lake michigan

No name is quite as famous in American design as that of Frank Lloyd Wright.…

How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

  • MidwestWeekends on Facebook
  • Get trip ideas
  • Event Calendar

MidwestWeekends.com (mobile)

Because life's too short to stay home …, circling lake michigan, a road trip around this sandy inland sea uncovers multiple personalities..

The beach at J.W. Wells State Park.

© Beth Gauper

If Lake Superior is the drama queen of the Great Lakes, then Lake Michigan is president of the pep club.

It's beautiful, popular and a lot easier to get along with than its tempestuous sister. Its shores are lined with sand, not jagged cliffs, and its beaches attract festive crowds every summer.

It's the only Great Lake you can circle without a passport, and if you don't want to drive around the whole thing, you can take a short cut on a car ferry.

It's still a little moody, though. Shipwrecks litter the bottom, because sandy shoals can snag a boat as surely as rock.

But Lake Michigan hardly is wild. It's been thoroughly domesticated, with two giant cities near its foot, a bevy of beach towns on the east and a long chain of state and national parks.

The 1,100-mile tour of its shores is a classic road trip, featuring the world's largest freshwater dunes, a fabled island, a restored ghost town, the world's third-longest suspension bridge and one magnificent beach after another.

The route goes through four states — five, if you count the Upper Peninsula — and you can travel from steel mill to heron habitat in 10 minutes.

It's never boring, that's for sure.

We traveled it the third week in June, right before the tourist season started in earnest.

Seven years earlier, we'd done the half-Circle Tour, cutting off the southern part by taking the car ferry between Ludington, Mich., and Manitowoc, Wis.

This time, we wanted to see the famous beaches between Ludington and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. We wanted to stay overnight on Mackinac Island and spend time in Traverse City. We wanted more of everything.

Ruins at Fayette Townsite.

A Circle Tour is drive-by tourism; the first time, you can't do much more than gape, snap a photo and move on.

The second time, you try to catch what you missed the first time. But you still have to keep moving.

Starting on the Wisconsin-Michigan border

We started at the Menominee River, where Marinette, Wis., and Menominee, Mich., sit on opposite sides.

The working-class Upper Peninsula is far removed from the wealthy enclaves of Lower Michigan; its spiritual home is Green Bay, not Grosse Pointe. Much of the land was tax-forfeited during the 1930s and now is state and national forest.

Our first stop was J.W. Wells State Park, where we stayed in the first of a string of very nice state-park cabins.

For details, see Michigan's great lake cabins .

The next day on the beach, we ran into a couple from Manistique who love to explore the area.

They mapped out the things they thought we should see: Fayette Historic Townsite on the Garden Peninsula, Kitch-iti-kipi Spring near Indian Lake, the hiking trail down the 100-foot gorge of the Cut River near Naubinway.

U.S. 2 hums with vehicles heading cross-country, but few stop at nearby attractions.

You have to drive 17 miles down the Garden Peninsula to see the Fayette Historic Townsite , but once there, it's easy to imagine the description in the 1882 Schoolcraft County Pioneer: "Fayette looks like a little Chicago this week; the harbor is full of boats and business is brisk."

The little company town on the cliff-lined bay was a boom town in the 1870s and '80s, when its giant furnaces smelted ore into iron.

Today, visitors wander paths between the preserved music hall, hotel, bank, superintendent's home and boardinghouse, each with exhibits on the people who lived, worked or entertained there.

Kitchi-iti-kipi Spring.

Thirteen bottles that once contained 9,000 doses of morphine were found behind the walls of one house, and visitors can try to answer the question, "Who do you think was the morphine addict?"

We were barely back on the highway before we made the 11-mile detour to Palms Book State Park and Kitch-iti-kipi Spring .

From our raft, we gazed at its bubbling bottom through a viewing well. We were propelled by a 10-year-old girl from Victoria, B.C., who liked to crank the cable along which it rode.

Ten thousand gallons a minute hurl themselves upward through a limestone fissure, making the white sand on the bottom dance and swirl. It was hypnotizing, like watching an emerald-tinted aerial view of an erupting volcano.

We continued east through Manistique, whose high-school teams are called the Emeralds after the spring. There's a lovely beach there, right around the corner from the red pierhead light, but we were headed for St. Ignace and the ferry to Mackinac Island.

A bicyclist rides by Fort Mackinac.

Mackinac Island by bicycle

We'd brought our own bikes, and as soon as we arrived on the island, we circled it on the eight-mile Lake Shore Road, also known as M-185, the only state highway in the nation that doesn't allow cars.

In the golden light before dusk, it seemed sun-kissed and magical.

There's more to this fabled island than fudge shops and Fort Mackinac, which I toured on my first visit. This time, we poked into every nook and cranny, from wooded nature trails to the ruins of a British fort.

We crossed paths with the crowds only on Main Street and the path to Arch Rock, to which most tourists ride on horse-drawn trolleys.

Toward the end of Sunday afternoon, we returned to watch the big Lilac Festival parade, featuring the cross-dressing Scottsville Clown Band.

Soldiers at Colonial Michilimackinac.

After two nights, we returned to St. Ignace and crossed the five-mile Mackinac Bridge, thinking about the Yugo that was blown over the side in 1989 by gale-force winds. Luckily, it was calm that day.

Colonial Michilimackinac, a re-created British fur post, is right on the strait in Mackinaw City and a great stop for families, especially those with kids who might like to see soldiers fire cannons and muskets.

For more about the Circle Tour with children, see Lake Michigan with kids .

We kept going to Cross Village and the Legs Inn, a folk-art landmark whose fieldstone façade is lined with white stove legs.

It was founded by a Polish immigrant in 1921, and we guessed, correctly, that it would be showing World Cup soccer games. So we settled at the bar to eat a plate of pierogis and watch Spain play Honduras.

Nearly everyone else was on the flower-filled patio, sampling some of 100 beers served by young, dirndl-clad waitresses from Poland. Just beyond, the lawn rolled to the shore of Lake Michigan.

Bicycling on the Little Traverse Wheelway.

Down the Tunnel of Trees

We couldn't imagine a better place to while away an afternoon, but we kept going down M-119, also called the Tunnel of Trees.

The twisting road, barely wide enough for two cars to pass, has views of Lake Michigan and is famous for its spring wildflowers and fall color.

But it was June and we'd just spent two days bicycling on Mackinac's more-scenic M-185, so we weren't that impressed.

The drive ends in the old-money enclave of Harbor Springs. We drove on to the new-money enclave of Petoskey, where we tried in vain to find a trailhead of the 23-mile Little Traverse Wheelway, thinking one of us could ride it to Charlevoix.

We rode it later, one May, and it was beautiful. For more, see Bicycling in western Michigan .

Charlevoix is a pleasant tourist town squeezed between Lake Michigan and big Lake Charlevoix.

It's known for its ties to Ernest Hemingway, who spent his boyhood summers there, and for the stone "mushroom houses" designed and built by local resident Earl Young.

From downtown, we took a stroll along the channel to Lake Michigan, past Young's Weathervane Inn. As we left town, we wound through the adjoining neighborhood, past some of his whimsical homes.

On Grand Traverse Bay

Traverse City is the first of the big beach towns. For more, see America's freshwater Riviera .

We checked into a cabin in Traverse City State Park, just across the highway from the beach on the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay.

The lakefront in Traverse City.

The 10½-mile TART Trail runs alongside the park, so we hopped on and rode to the West Arm beaches, the marina, the adorable downtown and the Old Town district.

People can and do spend a week or more here. It's both beach town and cultural capital, with free music and festivals all summer, including the giant National Cherry Festival in early July.

Bicyclists like to ride its trails and also the roads around nearby Torch Lake and up the Old Mission Peninsula, which separates the two lobes of Grand Traverse Bay, and the Leelanau Peninsula, between the bay and Lake Michigan.

When we drove up the Old Mission Peninsula , ripening cherries were bright red in the orchards, and roadside stands sold strawberries.

Local farmers also grow grapes on this water-wrapped finger of land; at Chateau Chantal Winery, we stopped for a taste of the local pinot blanc.

We visited the Old Mission Light on the tip of that peninsula, and the Grand Traverse Light at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula.

Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear.

In Leland, we stopped at touristy Fish Town, whose weathered shanties now are occupied by T-shirt shops.

Playing in a giant sandbox

From Leland, it's not far to Empire and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore . Kids adore this giant playground of sand, and we spent several days there on the first trip.

Nevertheless, we stopped to do the classic Dune Climb and hike the Empire Bluff Trail again. We hit them in the golden hour before dusk, when the vast swath of sand glowed.

In Manistee, we stopped to tour the 1930 steamship S.S. City of Milwaukee , beached on the shore like a whale with its mouth propped open.

Once, this boat transported entire freight trains across Lake Michigan. Today, it's also a bed-and-breakfast, with rooms outfitted with antique-store finds from the era and a lake view from every angle.

Tubing in Ludington State Park.

In Ludington, we picked up a picnic lunch downtown and took it to Ludington State Park, one of the most popular in Michigan.

It's like a little resort, with four campgrounds plus tubing, canoeing, swimming, bicycling, a store and evening music and stories in the amphitheater.

"People come for 50 years, and then they bring their grandkids," said friendly campground host Stub Willick. He turned out to be a drummer in the Scottville Clown Band, founded in 1903; we'd seen them performing, memorably, in Mackinac Island's Lilac Festival parade.

We rode our bikes through the dunes to the 1867 Big Sable Point Lighthouse and caught the last tour. Volunteer keeper Larry Gorsh took us up the 132 steps to the catwalk, which had a sweeping view of dunes and water.

"I've often caught myself saying to visitors, 'Look out at the ocean,' " he said.

Our next stop was Muskegon, a working port where it's not so easy to find the beach.

The beach and lighthouse at Holland State Park.

Winding our way through town, we finally found the long beach at Pere Marquette Park, and nearby the World War II submarine U.S.S. Silversides, part of the Great Lakes Naval Memorial & Museum.

Sleeping on the beach

We washed up for the night at Holland State Park in the Dutch town of Holland, where we had a camper cabin at the edge of the beach, with a view of the beloved Big Red lighthouse.

When everyone else had to leave for the day, we got to stay, and we were first on the beach in the morning.

Just south of Holland, Saugatuck is another popular beach town. Its streets were thronged with shoppers and strollers, many sampling fudge. In Lower Michigan, eating fudge is a required tourist activity, much as eating pasties is on the U.P.

On our way to lunch, we walked past the S.S. Keewatin, a passenger liner that once sailed between Thunder Bay and Port McNicoll on Lake Superior.

The beach at Warren Dunes State Park.

We would have liked to visit Oval Beach, reached via hand-cranked chain ferry across the Kalamazoo River, but we had to move on.

In South Haven, we spotted the Friends Good Will , a replica of an 1810 square-topsail sloop, coming into the harbor and its berth at the Michigan Maritime Museum .

There was a beach downtown, and also beaches all the way down the shore, each populated with sunbathers and swimmers.

It seemed to extend all the way to Warren Dunes State Park, where the beach seemed to go on forever. Giant dunes rose behind it, with paths lined by wildflowers. It was a balmy evening, and we weren't the only ones who stayed well into dusk.

On the Red Arrow Highway

From nearby Sawyer, we traveled on an old stretch of the Red Arrow Highway, part of the 1922 West Michigan Pike between Chicago and Mackinaw City.

The beach in New Buffalo, Mich.

Parallel I-94 now carries most of the traffic, but this stretch is fun for its old-time roadhouses, fruit stands and antiques stores.

Around Harbert, art galleries and an Italian ristorante appeared, signs of the Chicagoans for whom this area is a favorite weekend getaway.

In Union Pier, we stopped and bought plump berries and baked goods at the Saturday-morning farmers market.

Near the Indiana border, we stopped in New Buffalo , the closest town to the Indiana border, and spent an hour swimming at the town beach.

Then we crossed the border and started looking for Indiana Dunes National Park, which looked large on the map but turned out to be elusive.

We finally found a beach where we could park. It was beautiful, but it was flanked on both sides by steel mills, and we could see the outline of Chicago in the haze. Created by a swap with the steel industry, the park is an oasis that harbors wetlands and wildlife.

Oak Street Beach in Chicago.

U.S. 12 through Gary was a trip through the Third World, though we still were following Circle Tour signs. An astringent smell hung in the air, and the only nice building we saw was a shiny blue-glass casino.

Chicago has gorgeous beaches. But the next time we saw Lake Michigan, it was on the other side of the city at Illinois Beach State Park, near Waukegan.

It's big, with a 6-mile-long beach, trails through nature preserves, wildflowers and a campground.

Park facilities have had problems with maintenance, due to underfunding, but the beach itself is beautiful. And for campers who don't want to cook, there's a conference center with a restaurant.

Lighthouses in Wisconsin

Ahead of us lay Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee, all with gorgeous beaches and lighthouses.

Wind Point Lighthouse in Racine.

The beach in downtown Kenosha stretches from two adorable, candy-striped pierhead lights, and the 1866 Southport Lighthouse is up the hill. The Electric Streetcar Circulator makes a two-mile loop along the shoreline and through downtown and historic districts.

In Racine, the 1880 Wind Point Lighthouse is a classic Poe tower that's one of the tallest on the Great Lakes. If you're there on the first Sunday of the month from June through October, you can tour it.

A bike trail connects North Beach to the Racine Zoo and downtown, where kids can run through the multi-jet fountain at Pershing Park without getting sandy.

Like Chicago, Milwaukee is a destination in itself. Its lakeshore is lined with tourist attractions and is fun to cruise either in a car or on a bike.

Port Washington is a stop on the Interurban bicycle trail and a good place to charter a fishing boat.

Sheboygan has a lovely beach at Deland Park and is famous for its free John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the nation's premier steward of outsider art.

A captain cleaning fish from Lake Michigan.

Manitowoc, where the Wisconsin Maritime Museum includes the U.S.S. Cobia submarine, and Two Rivers are linked by a bicycle trail right on the lake.

Point Beach State Forest, just north of Two Rivers, has perhaps Wisconsin's loveliest beaches and a lighthouse whose elegance rivals Racine's.

Like Milwaukee, Door County is a destination well worth a week to itself; it's very popular, like Michigan's beach towns all pushed together on one peninsula.

If you're closing the loop, your next stop will be Green Bay , in Packer country.

It's crawling with football fans every day, but if you're there in August, you can join the festivities around the Packers' training camp , which Sports Illustrated calls one of the best and most fan-friendly in the nation.

More information

Want to do the Circle Tour? See Planning a Circle Tour of Lake Michigan .

For details on making a half-Circle Tour, see Lake Michigan with kids .

For a nine-day sample itinerary, see Lake Michigan's greatest hits .

For more on camping, see Camping around Lake Michigan .

For more on staying in Michigan state parks, see Michigan's great lake cabins .

For more about the beaches and beach towns, see America's freshwater Riviera .

  • Plan A Trip
  • Privacy Policy
  • Events Policy
  • Advertising

© Beth Gauper, 2007 - all rights reserved

Your browser does not support our events calendar page. Please consider an update.

Take a Circle Tour Around the Lake

  • All SW Michigan Destinations
  • New Buffalo, MI
  • South Haven, MI
  • Benton Harbor, MI
  • St. Joseph, MI
  • Douglas, MI
  • Saugatuck, MI
  • All Central West Michigan Destinations
  • Grand Haven, MI
  • Holland, MI
  • Muskegon, MI
  • White Lake Area, MI
  • Silver Lake Area, MI
  • Pentwater, MI
  • All NW Michigan Destinations
  • Ludington, MI
  • Manistee, MI
  • Onekama, MI
  • Arcadia, MI
  • Elberta, MI
  • Frankfort, MI
  • Glen Arbor, MI
  • Northport, MI
  • Suttons Bay, MI
  • Traverse City, MI
  • All Northern Michigan Destinations
  • Elk Rapids, MI
  • Charlevoix, MI
  • Petoskey, MI
  • Mackinaw City, MI
  • Mackinac Island MI
  • All Upper Peninsula Destinations
  • St. Ignace, MI
  • Manistique, MI
  • Gladstone, MI
  • Escanaba, MI
  • Menominee, MI
  • All NE Wisconsin Destinations
  • Marinette, WI
  • Peshitgo, WI
  • Green Bay, WI
  • Door County, WI
  • Kewaunee, WI
  • Two Rivers, WI
  • Manitowoc, WI
  • All SE Wisconsin Destinations
  • Kenosha, WI
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Port Washington, WI
  • Sheboygan, WI
  • All Illinois Lakeshore Destinations
  • Chicago, IL
  • Evanston, IL
  • Winnetka, IL
  • Highland Park, IL
  • Lake Forest, IL
  • Waukegan, IL
  • Winthrop Harbor, IL
  • All Indiana Lakeshore Destinations
  • Whiting, IN
  • Michigan City, IN
  • Hammond, IN

Lake Michigan Destinations

The Lake Michigan Circle Tour spans four states over a thousand miles, and connects over a hundred lighthouses. It’s one of the most scenic routes in the United States. As the name implies, the tour follows state highways around Lake Michigan, through Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The Lake Michigan Circle Tour is a real adventure! Its roads–ranging from bustling to serene–are a plotted route which showcases the grandeur of Lake Michigan’s blue-green waters, often hugging the long circumference of the lakeshore. It holds the distinction of being the only one of the Great Lakes Circle Tours navigable entirely inside of the United States. On its route, coastal communities welcome travelers with a smile while the surrounding wilderness inspires a perpetual sense of awe.

The Lake Michigan Circle Tour is roughly 1,100 miles long and would take around 17 hours (averaging 65 mph) with no stops.

The entire tour is an ambitious undertaking, so for planning purposes, and ease of travel, we are simplifying and organizing this massive tour into two main segments: the Northern and Southern Lake Michigan Circle Tours. These segments are further divided into a combined total of nine distinct regions with detailed information about the towns and attractions within each region and destination. Half-the-lake trips can be accomplished by taking a car ferry across Lake Michigan, which is a wonderful experience where a big ship does the driving and allows you to relax and enjoy the cruise! 

A Northern Lake Michigan Experience

Northern Lake Michigan Circle Tour map

The Northern Lake Michigan experience is like no other. It’s quieter up north. Calmer. Slower. Ahhh…

Enjoy beautiful scenery along curvy roads, as well as many magnificent vistas from high on a hill top overlooking Lake Michigan. Whether you are at the water’s edge,  deep within a wooded valley, or cruising through rolling countryside dotted with farms–you will be inspired by the beauty you find along the way.

There are only a couple of larger sized cities around the northern half of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. On the Michigan side, the largest is Traverse City, and on the Wisconsin side, the largest is Green Bay. Other than these two bustling, yet beautiful, northern Lake Michigan cities, what you will find along the way are dozens of charming towns, with miles of scenic lakeshore in between.

On our Northern Lake Michigan Circle Tour page, we will start your tour at the home port of the S.S. Badger carferry in Ludington, Michigan , and continue north (counter-clockwise) around Lake Michigan. You will cross over the Mackinac Bridge which spans the Straits of Mackinaw between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. You’ll travel west through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and then turn south through Wisconsin, eventually ending in Manitowoc, Wisconsin , where you can ride the ferry back to Michigan.

Read our Northern Lake Michigan Circle Tour story

The Southern Lake Michigan Adventure

Southern Lake Michigan Circle Tour map

Southern Lake Michigan is all about coastal cities, grand marinas, and attractions galore.

Michigan’s largest cities on the southern portion of the lake include St. Joseph , Grand Haven , and Muskegon .  Lake Michigan’s grandest city is Chicago , and Milwaukee is the biggest Wisconsin city on Southern Lake Michigan.  There’s a city for everyone to enjoy!

Famous attractions around Southern Lake Michigan include the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

For the purpose of this article, we are starting the Southern Lake Michigan Circle Tour in Manitowoc, Wisconsin , and continuing south (counter-clockwise) around Lake Michigan, eventually ending in Ludington, Michigan , where you can ride the S.S. Badger carferry back to Wisconsin.

Read our Southern Lake Michigan Circle Tour story

How to Take a Circle Tour Shortcut!

Cut your travel time and enjoy a relaxing cruise across Lake Michigan on one of two car ferries which operate daily during the extended summer season.

These ferries, which transport passengers and vehicles across Lake Michigan, run between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and also between Muskegon, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Read About the Ferries of Lake Michigan

In summary, if you’ve been looking for an epic trip, look no further than the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. What are you waiting for? 

Read More Stories About the Lake Michigan Circle Tour…

The history of the official lake michigan circle tour, loop the lake with a circle tour shortcut, northern lake michigan circle tour, southern lake michigan circle tour, privacy overview.

Must-visit stops along the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

circle tour lake michigan

Any season can be road trip season! Are you feeling lost or craving something fun to do with friends, but don’t quite know where or how to start planning? We’ve got you. The Lake Michigan Circle Tour is a ~1,100-mile loop that passes through Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana following the shorelines of Lake Michigan. 

Lake Michigan is the fifth largest lake in the world! Among the five Great Lakes, it’s the second largest in volume and the third largest in surface area. Don’t underestimate the beauty and magnetism of this Midwestern body of water. Along the drive, you'll experience beaches, forests, dunes, local breweries, delicious food joints, National Parks and National Lakeshores.

Since the route is a loop, you can start anywhere you want (Chicago is popular)! Below are some places you should check out in each state you’ll pass through! Download the Outbound Collective app to find even more popular and hidden adventures along your route. 

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria – Chicago, IL

Satisfy your hunger by indulging in deep dish pizza for a true Chicago experience. Lou Malnoti's is run by the oldest family name in Chicago pizza history! The 9-inch-deep 'zas are made fresh and are the perfect easy meal to share among friends while getting a taste of Chicago.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery – Chicago, IL

Coffee lovers will enjoy the opportunity to visit the largest Starbucks in the world! Built in 2019, this Starbucks Reserve is four-stories-high – definitely not your average coffee shop! Right in the heart of Michigan Avenue, you can order any of your favorite classic Starbucks drinks, and can also choose from a selection of gourmet coffee, food, and alcoholic beverages. Grab a latte before hitting the road or stay for a while to fully experience the roastery.

Ice Skate at Maggie Daley Park – Chicago, IL

As winter is approaching, what better way to get into a festive spirit than to go ice skating? Chicago is home to the longest ice skating ribbon in the U.S. at a total distance of a quarter-mile. This year, the skating ribbon opens November 18, 2022. If you take this road trip during the warmer months, the ribbon is used for rollerblading instead! Admission is free, and rental skates are available. Not only will you have fun doing something active outdoors in a major city, but you’ll also bask in incredible views of the city skyline and lights.

Mars Cheese Castle  – Kenosha, WI

When you think of Wisconsin, what comes to mind? …. CHEESE! Wisconsin is the #1 cheese-producing state in the country and it wouldn’t be right to pass through the state without having a cheese-related experience! Stop by this unique castle stocked with all the cheese you can imagine, plus baked goods, meats, and popcorn! It’s about an hour drive north of Chicago.

Milwaukee Public Market – Milwaukee, WI

circle tour lake michigan

Not sure what to eat for lunch? People in the car arguing over what they’re in the mood for? The Milwaukee Public Market is sure to have something that will satisfy everyone! Get inspired by a plethora of food vendors from seafood to Thai to Middle Eastern and plant-based options! Then, take your food up to the Palm Garden seating area on the second floor. If you have the time or are stopping for the night, try out one of the hands-on or demonstration classes  and learn how to make coffee toffee and hot cinnamon peanut brittle, curate your own bottle of gin, etc. Reserve your spot ahead of time - class tickets sell out!

Point Beach State Forest – near Two Rivers, WI

This state forest boasts roughly 3000-acres of land and 6 miles of beach along the Lake Michigan coast. It’s a great spot to stop to go swimming in the hot summer months. Hike along the Ice Age Trail , visit the Rawley Point Lighthouse , or stay overnight at one of the family campsites.

Grand Traverse Pie Company – Traverse City, MI

Transport yourself to grandma’s kitchen with a trip to this pie-lovers destination! Inhale the fresh baked smells wafting your way and delight in the joy of sharing a pie with your traveling companions. The Grand Traverse Pie Company is committed to using Michigan products and suppliers whenever possible, which you can taste with each rich and flaky bite. Choose from a wide selection of options like the blueberry lemon silk pie, vernors cherry pie, and lakeshore berry crumb. They also make sandwiches, salads, quiches, and pot pies!

Great Wolf Lodge – Traverse City, MI

You can enjoy summer fun activities even in the cold weather right here at the Great Wolf Lodge’s 37,000-foot indoor water park! Stay overnight or purchase a full or half-day pass to dip your toes in the warm waters and scream your way down waterslides. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes – Glen Arbor, MI

circle tour lake michigan

Located in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, this National Lakeshore features truly stunning sandy dunes and forests. Hike the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore  or  Drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive  to get a taste of this beautiful area. Michigan Ice Fest – Munising, MI

circle tour lake michigan

Anyone who interested in ice climbing, whether you’re someone who has no experience, some experience, or an expert, should definitely check out this renowned ice climbing event! It’ll be held from February 8-12, 2023. The south shore of Lake Superior has some of the country’s best ice climbing. Learn more advanced skills and receive instructions during courses, clinics, and socials to connect with people in the climbing community! Some of the world’s best alpinists and ice climbers will be there. How often will you have the opportunity to grab a drink after a day of activity with a professional athlete?!Even if you aren’t a climber, the event is fun to spectate or attend for climbing photography experience. Online registration is $65 and $85 at the door.

Veldheer Tulip Gardens – Holland, MI

circle tour lake michigan

Did you know you can have a very European experience right in the state of Michigan? Holland is an extremely charming town featuring European-style architecture, tulip fields, and windmills that could easily be mistaken for a village in the Netherlands. The tulips are at their most vibrant in May while lilies flourish through the spring and summer. The town is still a unique and cute stopping point even in the winter months.

Mackinac Island

circle tour lake michigan

You’ll need to take a ferry from Mackinaw City, MI to arrive at the beautiful and serene Mackinac Island. There are no cars or chain hotels here, just charming and family-owned accommodations. Biking (rent a rig on the island) and walking are the best ways to get around. Mackinac Island State Park , which features trails and woods, covers most of the island. Hike to Arch Rock to check out a distinct geologic natural limestone arch formation.

Other Michigan Adventures:

Winter Hike Empire Bluff Trails – Honor, MI

This popular and relatively short hike will reward you with an overlook of Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, South Bar Lake, and Lake Michigan.

Winter Hike Pyramid Point Trail – Maple City, MI

This adventure offers panoramic views of Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, North and South Manitou Islands, Lake Michigan, and Leland, MI. If you plan to hike in the winter, it’s recommended that you bring crampons or microspikes since conditions can be icy.

Indiana Dunes National Park

circle tour lake michigan

Explore 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan featuring a unique ecosystem with native birds and plants. Kick back and relax on one of the 8 beaches or hike through dunes, forests, and wetlands. Kayaking and canoeing are also great ways to explore the lake. Camp overnight to extend your time enjoying all this place has to offer like: Hike the Cowles Bog Trail , Photograph the Chicago Skyline , Hike the Dune Succession Trail .

Shoreline Brewery – Michigan City, IN

After a long day of driving and adventuring, stopping for a cold one and some contemporary American food can really hit the spot!

Road trips are the perfect time to take it easy, be present, and enjoy the ride. There are plenty of places, like the ones on this list, that are worth stopping to check out along the way. But, don’t forget that the best parts of road trips are often the spontaneous stops and unexpected treasures that you just so happen to stumble upon. Keep your eyes open!

Need more suggestions for your route? Download the Outbound app  and input your starting point and ending point. It'll suggest a route and include some awesome adventures along the way like hiking, biking, and paddling!

Cover photo: Aaron Burden

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.

circle tour lake michigan

Overnighter on the Sonoma Coast

Benjamin Canevari

A quick escape for some fresh air north of the Bay Area.

circle tour lake michigan

Cooking in the Southwest with the Gerber Gear ComplEAT Camp Cook Set

Tanner Price

circle tour lake michigan

10 Things you need to do in Baja

wyld honeys

Ready for an unforgettable adventure in Baja, Mexico? We've rounded up the top 10 things you need to do while you're there. From visiting the famed boojum trees in Cataviña to exploring secluded waterfalls, there's something for everyone. by: wyld honeys

circle tour lake michigan

Journey to Wyoming’s premier snowmobiling destination: Togwotee Mountain Lodge

Samuel Brockway

A couple of snowmobiling newbies hop aboard some steel horse sleds to explore the mountains of Wyoming.

circle tour lake michigan

Hiking in comfort: a review of Danner Mountain 600 Evo boots

Meghan White

Picture this: a crisp morning in San Diego, the sun peeking over the horizon, casting a warm glow over Oak Canyon in Mission Trails Regional Park.

  • Local Adventures
  • Tours and trips
  • Camping Nearby
  • Outbound PRO Membership
  • Add your property

Mobile Apps

App Store

© 2024 The Outbound Collective - Terms of Use - Privacy Policy

IMAGES

  1. Want to take a Lake Michigan lighthouse tour? New map shows you how

    circle tour lake michigan

  2. Lake Michigan Circle Tour

    circle tour lake michigan

  3. The Siberian American: Lake Michigan Circle Tour: Grand Haven, Michigan

    circle tour lake michigan

  4. How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

    circle tour lake michigan

  5. Driving Lake Michigan’s Circle Tour: Lighthouse Map

    circle tour lake michigan

  6. Lake Michigan Circle Tour

    circle tour lake michigan

VIDEO

  1. Chicago Lake and River Architecture Tour

  2. Lake Superior Circle Tour Q&A

  3. Lake Superior Circle Tour

  4. A Walk Through the Nightlife of Chicago

  5. Cycling Around Lake Michigan Circle Loop: EP. 13

  6. Wendella boats tour

COMMENTS

  1. Circle Tour of Lake Michigan: What to see and do on a scenic

    Here's a nine-day, eight-night Circle Tour of Lake Michigan that takes in the highlights. Start planning as far in advance as possible — six months if you're planning to camp over weekends in Michigan beach parks, 11 months in Wisconsin parks.

  2. Lake Michigan Circle Tour Itinerary Plan

    The Great Lakes Circle Tours are a total of four routes circling each Great Lake, with the exception of Lake Ontario. The State of Michigan has signed each of the circle tours for the Great Lakes the state touches: the Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior Circle Tours.

  3. Lake Michigan Circle Tour

    The Lake Michigan Circle Tour (LMCT) enters Indiana at Hammond in northwestern Lake County and continues easterly through Whiting, East Chicago, Gary, Burns Harbor, and Michigan City before exiting the state into Michigan. About 46½ miles of the LMCT exist in Indiana.

  4. Lake Michigan Circle Itinerary: A 7-Day Road Trip Through 4

    The Lake Michigan Circle is one of the quintessential, must-do American road trips. You’ll find beaches, forests, dunes, and plenty of local breweries and wineries during your 24-hour drive. The trip spans 4 different Midwestern states and dozens of different cities. Read on for a detailed 7-day Lake Michigan circle road trip itinerary!

  5. How to make the most of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

    West Michigan provides a paper map of the circle tour. It also shows most of the Lake Michigan Lighthouses on the route. You can print off your own map by downloading it or send a request and they will mail one to you.

  6. Driving around Lake Michigan: Best places to see on the Circle ...

    See Planning a Circle Tour of Lake Michigan. For details on making a half-Circle Tour, see Lake Michigan with kids . For a nine-day sample itinerary, see Lake Michigan's greatest hits .

  7. Lake Michigan Destinations

    The Lake Michigan Circle Tour is a real adventure! Its roads–ranging from bustling to serene–are a plotted route which showcases the grandeur of Lake Michigan’s blue-green waters, often hugging the long circumference of the lakeshore.

  8. Must-visit stops along the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

    Explore 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan featuring a unique ecosystem with native birds and plants. Kick back and relax on one of the 8 beaches or hike through dunes, forests, and wetlands. Kayaking and canoeing are also great ways to explore the lake.