No Matter the Season, This Highway in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is Worth the Drive

U.S. Route 2 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, circa summer 2015

U.S. Route 2 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, circa summer 2015

Though driving through certain parts of Michigan is not all that exciting (looking at you, I-96), there are numerous stretches of roadway in the state that many would probably consider destinations unto themselves. Having grown up in Northern Michigan, one such roadway that readily comes to mind is M-22, a rather curvaceous highway that stretches 116 miles along the Lake Michigan shoreline of the Leelanau Peninsula.

Beginning in 1993, the Michigan legislature took to designating certain scenic, recreational, or historically significant highways and byways in different parts of the state as Michigan Heritage Routes. Referred to nowadays as Pure Michigan Byways (in line with the state’s Pure Michigan marketing campaign), there are currently 21 roadways throughout the Great Lakes State bearing the designation, 15 in the Lower Peninsula and six in the U.P.

In the last few years I have had the chance to drive on a couple of the U.P.’s Pure Michigan Byways, including one that runs along Lake Michigan’s northern shore. Traversing the underside of the U.P., Top of the Lake Scenic Byway, designated in fall 2017, follows a section of U.S. Route 2 from St. Ignace (just across the Mackinac Bridge) to Thompson, which sits slightly west of Manistique. Running 92 miles in total, this scenic stretch of highway is a sight to see no matter the time of year.

Built on the traces of an ancient Native American trade route (according to the Michigan Department of Transportation), this section of U.S.-2 passes through multiple villages, including Brevort, Epoufette, Naubinway, Gould City, and Gulliver. In addition to the opportunity to stop in those tiny towns, travelers also can take advantage of numerous scenic roadside turnouts, state and federal campgrounds, and pit stops like the GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park and the Mystery Spot.

Without a doubt, though, the attribute that makes Top of the Lake Scenic Byway so attractive is its proximity to Lake Michigan.

The highway winds along tall bluffs and dives right down to the shoreline in numerous places, allowing travelers the chance to visit oft-deserted beaches along the way, including a long sandy stretch roughly between Point Aux Chenes and the Brevort Lake Campground.

Speaking of campgrounds, there are quite a few to choose from, among them the St. Ignace/Mackinac Island KOA (good for families), Lake Michigan Campground (good for that holistic camping experience), and Hog Island Point State Forest Campground (good for being just step away from the shoreline).

Looking for a place to stay along the way that’s a little less campground-y? A few options include Dunes Shore Resort just north of Point Aux Chenes, Chapel Hill Motel in Brevort, Skyline Motel Inc. in Epoufette, and a number of choices over in Manistique, such as Gray Wolf Lodge (not to be confused with Traverse City’s Great Wolf Lodge), Northshore Motel, and The Colonial Motel. If you’re not looking to indulge in classic Up North-style accommodations, you can always opt for a Super 8 or Comfort Inn, too (and we’d only judge you a little bit).

Interested in learning more about Top of the Lake Scenic Byway and the state’s other Pure Michigan Byways? Check out this map showing all 21 and a take a peek at the complete list right here.

-LTH