South Haven Riverfront

3 Quirky, Budget-Friendly Michigan Road Trips

To the thrifty Mitten State traveler, the Michigan road trip is bread and butter. Cheap, flexible, and limited only by the highway miles you’re willing to put on your car – on a road trip, nothing stands in the way of adventure except the open road.

What if you live in Michigan and only have a few days to take a break from everyday life? What if your budget isn’t exactly, um, large? Michigan has some delightfully quirky destinations that can not only give you the experience of a lifetime in a single weekend but are also wallet-friendly. For right around $200, you can have a wonderfully weird Michigan road trip weekend.

St Ignace - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Samolo.

Michigan Road Trip: St. Ignace, MI

St. Ignace is just over the Mighty Mac, and a must-stop for anyone on a road trip. Instead of just passing through, why not stay a few days? St. Ignace is close enough to soak up all the awesome of Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City, and it has some pretty cool attractions in its own right.

STAY: Straights State Park has campsites for around $30 per night.

EAT: Stop by Java Joe’s Café for a low-cost, homestyle breakfast with a creative menu and a small-town diner feel. You can’t visit Iggy without eating a pasty, so grab one at Lehto’s – no frills, just food! And for another community institution, Clyde’s Drive-In boasts old-fashioned car hops, handmade burgers, shakes and fries, and low prices.

PLAY: Two words: Mystery Spot. Yes, it’s hokey, it’s a tourist trap, it’s decidedly uncool – but who cares? For $8 per person, you can tour the Spot. Ante up a bit more cash for mini golf and the maze in the woods, or budget $23 for a combination zip line and tour ticket!

Murdick’s Fudge isn’t just on Mackinac Island. Get the famous fudge without the cost of a ferry ticket at the St. Ignace location! Downtown St. Ignace is a destination in itself.

The Fort de Baude Native American Museum, free to the public, houses nearly 3,500 artifacts dating from prehistoric times – plus the famed Newberry Tablets. And you thought St. Ignace was boring!

Colon, Michigan - The Awesome Mitten
A peek inside Abbott’s Magic Co. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Crackerbunny .

Michigan Road Trip: Colon, MI

Colon is NOT named after a part of human anatomy. Located about 30 miles southwest of Kalamazoo, you might think that a town named after a punctuation mark would be boring. You would be wrong. Colon is the Magic Capital of the World! Visit Colon during the MagiCelebration or the Magic Get-Together Convention to witness small-town life at its best.

STAY: Camping at Leidy Lake Campground runs around $30 per night or $20 without water or electric hookup (then you’re REALLY roughing it!)

EAT: Locals recommend Dawn & Phil’s Café, Five Star Pizza, and Curly’s. Colon isn’t exactly a foodie destination, but you’ll find plenty of good fare and low prices.

PLAY: Visiting Colon during any magic event is … well, magical. Magic shows run anywhere from free to $15, and arts and crafts fairs, competitions, caricaturists, balloon artists, and jugglers are scattered across town for your enjoyment.

During the Magic Get-Together Convention, add a cardboard boat race, $10 drop-in golf at the Colon Golf Classic, and fireworks for a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

South Haven, Michigan - The Awesome Mitten
The South Haven Riverfront is a local hangout worth seeing. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Yuan2003.

Michigan Road Trip: South Haven, MI

South Haven is a popular weekend retreat for families and Western Michigan University students alike. Situated on beautiful Lake Michigan, the many festivals and community events make this a fun, yet budget-friendly Michigan destination. They’re also really, really into their blueberries in South Haven.

STAY: Camp at Van Buren State Park for around $23 per night. The park also boasts a 13-mile trail, perfect for hikers and bikers!

EAT: It’s not a South Haven vacation without visiting Sherman’s Dairy Bar. Huge portions, creative sundaes and free water and coffee make this a must. If you’re still hungry, check out Subs ‘n’ More – this isn’t your neighborhood Subway chain. Fresh ingredients, big portions, and other selections like pizza, salad and nachos elevate this restaurant way above average fast food. For dinner, there’s South Haven staple Clementine’s with their famous onion rings and a large, varied menu.

PLAY: Visit during one of South Haven’s many festivals for a fun, low-cost weekend. HarborFest boasts Dragonboat races (yes, you read that correctly,) live music, craft fairs, and gourmet food vendors.

The National Blueberry Festival features blueberry pie socials and pie-eating contests, pageants, free concerts, tractor pulls, and a 5k/10k race, among many other fun blueberry-themed activities.

If you miss a festival, South Haven offers free outdoor concerts every Thursday in the summer, and admission to the historic Michigan Maritime Museum is only $8!

These three destinations are just a sampling of the hidden gems in our state. Do your own research on places like Mt. Pleasant, Munising, and Caseville – you don’t have to spend mountains of money to have a great weekend getaway in Michigan.

About the Author: Janelle Witting manages social media for Michigan First Credit Union, connecting important financial issues with the realities of day-to-day life. When she’s not filling her head with useless trivia, you can find her reading books, watching dorky television, pretending to work out, or playing with her perfect dogs.

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