Guest Post by Jenn Kalchik
M22 is the most iconic highway in Michigan. It’s a state highway located in Northern Michigan, which stretches 116 miles along the coast of Lake Michigan and navigates through four counties: Manistee, Benzie, Leelanau, and Grand Traverse.
The highway also cuts through the 45h parallel, the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole. In addition to being a highway, the infamous M22 road sign is considered a cultural symbol for Northern Michigan in general. There truly is something for everyone on M22.
Since M22 runs around the shore of Lake Michigan, you’re bound to come across a beach!
Lake Michigan does take some time during the summer to be warm enough to swim in, so if you want to swim in Lake Michigan, I would aim to visit late July/early August so the lake is warm enough to swim in.
In addition to Lake Michigan, there are other smaller bodies of water along the highway that you can stop at too. Other bodies of water that have beaches include:
- Lake Leelanau
- Glen Lake
- Lime Lake
- Little Traverse Lake
- Platte River
Sleeping Bear Dunes
The most famous landmark along M22 is the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Sleeping Bear Dunes was established as a national park in 1970 by the National Parks Service, marking 2021 as its 51st anniversary.
The park is named after The Legend of the Sleeping Bear: years ago, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan from a large fire [from what is now known as the state of Wisconsin].
The mother and her cubs swam across Lake Michigan, but she lost sight of her cubs along the way. When she made it to shore, her cubs were still swimming and she climbed the dunes to get a better view of the lake and her cubs.
Sadly, she watched her cubs drown in the lake. The mother bear stayed on the dunes for days watching the same spot where her cubs drowned. The spirit Gitche Manitou raised two islands in honor of the two cubs, known today as North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island.
In 2011, Good Morning America voted the Sleeping Bear Dunes as “the most beautiful place in America,” and it’s not hard to see why!
Sleeping Bear Dunes has a variety of natural beauty: forests, dunes, bluffs, inland lakes, and unique flora and fauna.
You can explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes via hiking, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, camping, kayaking, the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, and through two historic sites: Glen Haven Village and Port Oneida.
Every year in elementary school, my school would visit the Dune Climb at the park; I even went sledding on there one time in the winter!
Lighthouses are scattered around Lake Michigan to help sailors find their way. These lighthouses played a crucial role in keeping people safe on the Great Lakes.
While most lighthouses are no longer in operation, they are still open to the public for viewing and even guided tours. The main lighthouses that are on the route of M22 include:
- Point Betsie Lighthouse
- Robert H. Manning Memorial Light
- South Manitou Island Lighthouse*
- Grand Traverse Lighthouse
*In order to see this lighthouse, you need to plan a day trip to the island South Manitou via the Manitou Island Transit.
Being able to view the sights of M22 while getting some exercise in is always beneficial! One great way to do this is by kayaking or canoeing. You can either provide your own, or rent one for the day at various shops in the area.
Be forewarned: if you plan to kayak on Lake Michigan itself it can be unpredictable, so be prepared.
A few years ago, my boyfriend, Dave, and I rented kayaks from North Shore Outfitters in Northport and kayaked at Bay Front Park: close enough to the shore to feel safe but enough of an adventure for what we wanted.
I would recommend kayaking or canoeing on one of the inland lakes where it’s more predictable and calm.
The landscape along M22 makes it the perfect for sightseeing via bicycle. Bicycling is a great way to exercise and a great way to see the landscape.
You could bike along M22 itself, but I wouldn’t recommend it since it’s a busy road with cars. Over the years, there have been several bike trails created to help cyclists see the sights while staying safe at the same time.
In high school, my basketball team would get in shape before our season by riding along the Leelanau Trail. Similar to canoes and kayaks, you can choose to bring your own or rent a bike from local shops.
Did you know M22 itself has its own store? M22 is a local company that not only sells merchandise for outdoor/Grand Traverse area enthusiasts, but they also commit to giving back to the community through donations and philanthropy.
But that’s not the only store in the area you need to stop at! I could go on and on about the different places to shop, but I’ll list some of my favorites in each town below (and include links for you to explore other shops virtually):
Food & Spirits
Now it wouldn’t be a road trip without food! You won’t find any national chains on M22, and it would be a crime not to partake in the local food spots.
There’s not as much variety as you would see in a large city, but each restaurant has something for everyone. If you like fish, this is an area that is popular for fish varieties like whitefish, walleye, and cod.
Forewarning: some of these places do not offer delivery services, but they do offer takeout. Some of my favorite places to eat include:
- Roman Wheel Pizza (Suttons Bay)
- Village Cheese Shanty (Leland)
- The Cove (Leland)
- Fischer’s Happy Hour Tavern (Northport)
If you are of age, you can enjoy some of the local drinking spots along M22. While the climate in Michigan is not the same in California in terms of growing grapes, there are dozens of wineries in northern Michigan.
Wine is traditionally made with grapes, but some wineries offer options for wines made from cherries; my personal favorite cherry wine comes from Good Harbor Winery.
The climate along M22 also is ideal for growing hops, so over the years the area has seen a spike in microbreweries, brew pubs and other craft beer options. There’s also Tandem Ciders, which makes apple cider [both regular and hard] from Michigan-grown apples.
The next time you’re in Michigan and want to plan a trip up north, M22 should be one of your top places you want to visit.
About the Author
Jenn Kalchik is a lifestyle blogger and digital marketer currently living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She originally grew up in Northport, MI, one of the many towns that cuts through M22. Her blog, Jenn & Tonic, highlights her take on life through lifestyle topics, book reviews, her experience with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and social media tips. She’s fueled by chardonnay, cast recordings, and chocolate.
You can follow more of her travels on:
You might also like…
- 5 Must-Visit Road Trip Routes in 2021
- 10 Free Things to Do in Los Angeles (According To A Local)
- 9 Underrated Places to Visit in NYC (Live Like A New Yorker)
- 5 Epic Things to Do in Alaska to Add to Your Bucket List
- 8 Free (and Cheap) Things To Do in St. Louis, Missouri