Discovering the Beauty of Michigan on a Relaxing Road Trip

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Striking foliage, charming inns, national lakeshore, and more await.

When setting off for the remote reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the smart move is to begin at Traverse City, the lakeside “cherry capital of the world,” where rentals of covetable classic cars can be pre-arranged through Hagerty. Drive one through the Tunnel of Trees, Michigan’s answer to the PCH, and in October a perfect leaf peeping destination all on its own. Proceed as slowly as road regulations and your fellow drivers allow, so as to take in the cliff dwelling marvels tucked away amongst the fall colors and the sparkling blue of Lake Michigan beyond. Head north to the Makinac bridge, and either the ferry from Makinaw City to Makinac Island, and it’s famed Grand Hotel, for a car-less adventure (they’re banned on island) in classic family resort splendor, or continue across the five mile long feat of engineering that connects the peninsulas. From there, the Upper Peninsula, or U.P., unfolds like a split open pasty (a local fried meat and dough delicacy, also highly recommended). 


Courtesy Alessandra Codinha

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From the centrally located Birch Lodge Inn, a lovingly renovated historical stay perched on the shores of Trout Lake, day trips throughout the region—from hiking Tahquamenon falls, surveying Pictured Rocks national lakeshore from a rented kayak, or visiting the shipwreck museum on the beach of Lake Superior at Whitefish point—are easily arranged. (Ventures to Copper Harbor, and the Jampot, a locally adored bakery and confectionary operated by the monks of Poorrock Abbey, is a longer jaunt, though certainly worth it to take home some preserves as a souvenir.) Birch Lodge is actually two different hotels in one: a pet-friendly, perfectly restored 1964 eight room motel with mid century modern finishings, and a gracious inn, built in 1912, with a happy marriage of modern amenities and period accents, an onsite restaurant, and cute boutique. The grounds are fronted by a private lakefront beach and extended dock. (Doubles from $174, birchlodge.com)


The dock and lake at Birch Lodge Inn. Courtesy Alessandra Codinha

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About an hour to the northwest, the brand new Milkweed Inn has taken root within the Hiawatha National Forest and captured imaginations across the country. Owned and operated by chef Iliana Regan (who owns Michelin-starred restaurant Elizabeth and the Japanese pub Kitsune in Chicago) and her wife Anna Regan, Milkweed offers its guests an all-inclusive weekend-long immersion in the U.P.’s most gastronomically exciting version of going off the grid. Each weekend’s set itinerary includes a casual Friday dinner, a more elaborate one on Saturday night, and a light breakfast on Sunday morning, all prepared by Regan and Hamlin using items foraged or grown in the area. Stays are either in a cabin room, glamping tent, or an Airstream trailer. All are fully sold out until summer 2022, though there is a waitlist for aspiring adventurers. The only risk is you may not want to go back to your regular life. (Tent for two, $1,500, MilkweedInn.com)