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It’s by far one of the most beautiful drives in America, and it’s right here in northwest Michigan. M-22 is a 116-mile stretch of road that winds through the scenic countryside of Manistee, Benzie, and Leelanau counties. Though very pretty in spring and summer, the fall season is when you really must take this drive along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Along the way you can visit wineries, art galleries, and experience small-town friendliness.
The southern-most section of M-22 starts in Manistee County off US-31.
Manistee is a charming Victorian port city, best known for the historic Ramsdell Theater, the 1.5 mile Riverwalk, gorgeous beaches and golf courses, and the popular Little River Casino. Two of Manistee’s biggest festivals are the Manistee Forest Festival over July 4th and Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend in early December. The fall season is a gorgeous time to drive through the Manistee area, or walk downtown and browse the variety of stores and restaurants. During the month of October, dare to get scared in Manistee’s very own Ghost Ship, otherwise known as the S.S. City of Milwaukee the rest of the year. Read more about Manistee.
After visiting the city of Manistee, follow the winding M-22 up to the village of Onekama, just 20 minutes north of Manistee. Onekama is commonly know as the “Two Lake Town,” offering the combination of Lake Michigan shoreline and peaceful Portage Lake.
Less than 15 minutes north of Onekama you’ll come across the small town of Arcadia, home of Arcadia Daze in July and Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course.
Entering Benzie County, M-22 curves through the sister towns of Elberta and Frankfort. Frankfort has an exceptional downtown district with fine dining and unique shopping that makes the town feel much bigger than its small size. Just a few miles north, the M-22 highway takes travelers to the turn off for the Point Betsie Lighthouse, a don’t-miss attraction while in Benzie County. Point Betsie is a public lighthouse with historic and aesthetic value, and a public lakeshore to explore. M-22 continues along the shoreline of Crystal Lake, named accurately for its breathtaking color–with turquoise hues which are typically found in more tropical destinations.
M-22 continues up and winds around the Leelanau Peninsula, the “Little Finger” of our mitten-shaped state. Empire offers unparalleled hiking trails. Glen Arbor and Leland’s “Fishtown” are top visitor destinations with friendly locals ready to welcome you in. Rock hounds enjoy looking for the beautiful Leland Blue stones on Van’s Beach downtown. If you make it all the way to Northport at the tip, you’ll find yourself in a more secluded region, surrounded by nature and unspoiled by heavy tourism. Heading back south on the last leg of M-22, you will pass through Suttons Bay, a very nice waterfront community with specialty shops and eateries. The journey ends in Traverse City, an up-and-coming, energetic city and the cherry capital of the world. Traverse City has two bays separated by the Old Mission Peninsula, which offers a another great road trip tour- shorter, but scenic, with country farms and vineyards galore.
The snow melts, the ground thaws and the days grow longer: Spring is here. As flowers start popping up, bikes and golf clubs are dusted off. Boots change to walking shoes. A perfect beach day sneaks in between two chilly days.
In Michigan, spring is signified by the coming of the trilliums. The common, beautiful white flowers blanket the forest all over West Michigan. There are several other species of trilliums in Michigan ranging from pink, red, green, or yellow flowers as well as different shaped leaves. Some of these species are threatened or endangered and protected under the State Endangered Species Act.
Morel mushroom hunting is a popular spring activity for many people in West Michigan. Early spring brings people out into the woods, searching for a mushroom that resembles a wrinkly gray honeycomb. This mushroom likes wet, 50°F weather, and prefers certain trees more than others. Do your research and ask around for tips, though most people are unlikely to reveal their favorite hunting spots. Morels are delicious and a classic spring flavor here in Michigan; fry them up with a steak, throw them in an omelet, or saute them up on the side.
The most popular time for vacationers to visit West Michigan, summertime is filled warm weather, sunny days, and lots of time spent enjoying the outdoors. There are an abundant amount of things to do. Go swimming in the lake, hiking in the Sleeping Bear Dunes, kayak down the river, camp in the forest, or grill out with the family.
Most towns have their major festivals and events during the summer, like Traverse City’s National Cherry Festival and Film Festival. You will find live music in every town along M-22 during the summer as well as Arts and Crafts fairs throughout the summer.
Farmers Markets usually run from May-September. Read more about all the summer Farmers Markets along M-22 here.
Arguably the best time to travel M-22, fall is the time of year that brings the best and brightest colors to the leaves of the trees. Peak time for a color tour is mid to late October, though it can change from year to year. Take a leisurely drive along M-22 and immerse yourself in the reds, oranges, and yellows.
There are so many apple orchards throughout West Michigan, and they are a great place to stop and take in the fall air. Drink apple cider, have a fresh doughnut, pick apples right off the tree, and get lost in a corn maze.
Not for the faint of heart, a West Michigan winter offers many adventures. Go skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, ice fishing — and, of course, end the day curling up with a hot chocolate in front of the fireplace. Most rivers still run during the winter- creative picturesque scenery that draws photographers from all over. Sleeping Bear Dunes is sculpted daily with added winds and snow.
Even during the winter, many towns celebrate the snowy wonderland with different festivals and events. Christmas is a magical in the snow covered, quaint towns along M-22. The Victorian Sleighbell Parade & Old Christmas Weekend in Manistee is a December classic. No matter where you are, you’ll find spirited people and fun adventures even in the dead of winter.
If you like traveling on M-22, then you will love the Lake Michigan Circle Tour! Dozens of articles for travel destinations around the Lake Michigan Circle Tour can be found in the Lake Michigan Circle Tour website. Enjoy reading and then plan your getaway!