M 22 The Ultimate Guide to the M22 Michigan Scenic Drive
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The Ultimate Guide to the M22 Michigan Scenic Drive

Northern Michigan is almost impossibly beautiful, and there’s no better way to explore this region of the state than by taking a road trip. The M22 Michigan scenic drive will take you through small towns, into colorful forests, and along the crystal blue waters of Lake Michigan.

The M-22 scenic drive is one of the most popular scenic drives in the state, and for good reason. There are many ways to customize this excursion and to enjoy M-22 Michigan in the way that is right for you.

Interactive Map of M-22 Scenic Drive - M-22
Interactive Map of M-22 Scenic Drive

Frequently Asked Questions About the M22 Michigan Scenic Drive

Where does M-22 start and end?

The M22 Michigan scenic drive begins in Manistee and winds along the shores of Lake Michigan around the northwest corner of the state. It ends in Traverse City.

How long is the M22 Michigan drive?

M22 Michigan is a scenic highway that spans more than 116 miles.

What is there to see on the M-22 scenic drive?

All along the M-22 Michigan highway, you’ll enjoy views of Lake Michigan. In addition, there are many quaint Northern Michigan towns along the way and several nature preserves and parks.
Additionally, the region has lookout points, lighthouses, and dunes, as well as plenty of wineries, restaurants, shops, and attractions to enjoy during your drive.

What towns does M-22 go through?

The M-22 scenic drive goes through four different counties in Northern Michigan, and there are nearly a dozen towns to visit along the way. These towns include Manistee, Frankfort, Empire, Glen Arbor, Northport, Suttons Bay, and Traverse City … just to name a few.

Driving M22 Michigan Throughout the Year

The M-22 Michigan scenic drive is a uniquely wonderful experience regardless of which season you journey on this highway. Here’s what you may see or enjoy on a M-22 road trip during each season of the year.

Spring on M-22 Michigan

As the winter thaw begins and life springs anew in Michigan, the M-22 scenic drive bursts with color. Wildflowers and budding trees make the drive particularly beautiful, and many of the seasonal businesses that are located in the towns along M-22 begin to open their doors again.

If you’re searching for a time of year when you can have this roadway to yourself, spring may be one of your best options. 

M-22 Spring - M-22
M-22 Spring | photo via @brandonkarnesphotography

M22 Summer Drive

During the summer months, the M22 Michigan scenic drive is enjoyed by visitors from around the country. Tourists who are staying in Northwest Michigan use this drive as a way to get from one destination to the next, and they love that there are so many things to do along the way.

On summer evenings, the water glistens as the sky turns from blue to purple to orange during sunset. M-22 Michigan is lively and adventurous during the summer, so it’s a must-do for anyone who plans to spend a summer vacation in the Great Lakes State.

M-22 Summer - M-22
M-22 Summer | photo via @wellbeingwithkat

Fall Along M22

Fall is one of the most spectacular times of year to take a scenic drive on M22 Michigan. In Northwest Michigan, the leaves begin to change color in early-to-mid September, and the fall colors peak most years during the middle of October.

Anytime between when the colors turn and the leaves fall, you’ll find a fantastic array of golds, oranges, reds, and browns as you drive along the road. Expect it to be a bit more crowded during this time of year, but that just means that you get to take your time and savor the views that surround you.

M-22 Fall - M-22
M-22 Fall | photo via @pennyonpenniman

M-22 Michigan Winter Drive

During the cold, dark days of winter, the M22 Michigan scenic drive showcases an entirely different side of the state. The icy cold waters of Lake Michigan still lap on the frozen shores, and snow covers the bare trees that line the highway.

It’s a peaceful time to drive from town to town, and it’s noticeably quieter than during the fall. While it may not be as enjoyable to get out and hike along a trail, you’ll still find that this is a wonderful time to take a road trip in Michigan.

M-22 Winter - M-22
M-22 Winter | photo via @thehomesteadmi

Stop at a M-22 Town in Manistee County

Manistee on M22 Michigan

Manistee is the starting point of the M-22 highway and is an ideal place to begin your road trip along the scenic drive. Located in the southwest corner of Manistee County and near the shores of Lake Michigan, the quintessential Up North town of Manistee has plenty to see and do.

From community parks like Douglas Park and Duffy Park to the local public beach, there are plenty of places to simply soak up the natural beauty that surrounds you. The Huron-Manistee National Forest is a favorite among people who enjoy hiking the trails that wind through the preserved forest.

In addition to outdoor spaces and recreational activities in Manistee, consider visiting the Historic White Pine Village. This educational attraction is a living history museum with historic buildings, actors dressed in period costumes, and an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.

Downtown Manistee - M-22
Downtown Manistee | photo via @meaghankennedy

M-22 Village of Onekama

When you head north on the M22 Michigan scenic drive from Manistee, the next town you encounter is Onekama. This town — which is more aptly described as a village — has been a tourist destination since leisure travel emerged in Michigan in the late 19th century.

In fact, travelers today still enjoy renting Victorian-era cottages throughout the town, which are filled with both charm and history. Visitors of all ages have long been attracted to this town, which has earned the nickname of the “Two Lake Town” because of its proximity to Portage Lake and Lake Michigan.

Its premier spot in Manistee County makes it a convenient place to stay if you want to enjoy all that the west side of the state has to offer. Onekama is home to many boutique shops and locally-owned restaurants, giving you a chance to enjoy the flavor and culture of the community.

Also, it boasts numerous hiking trails and recreational spaces, allowing adventurers of all skill levels to find a place to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities. Perhaps the most iconic site is the Portage Lake North Pierhead Lighthouse, which was built in 1930 and has been restored for visitors to enjoy.

Onekama - M-22
Onekama | photo via @onekama_agent_joh

Arcadia M-22 Scenic Drive

As you continue north, your final stop in Manistee County on the M22 Michigan scenic drive is Arcadia. This tiny town is a dream come true for anyone who loves to spend time on the water because it boasts miles of beaches filled with soft sand.

On top of that, it has a Lake Michigan access channel that makes it convenient to go boating and fishing on the lake. Families that enjoy a day on the beach often spend time rock hunting because the town is one of the best places on Lake Michigan to find the famous Petoskey stones.

In addition, Arcadia is a preferred destination among golfers because the infamous and picturesque Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course is located here. Any road trip along M-22 should include a stop in Arcadia, which is the perfect place to enjoy a truly authentic Michigan experience.

Arcadia - M-22
Arcadia | photo via @farmersfotos89

Benzie County Towns to Visit Along M22 Michigan

Inspiration Point Michigan M22

Just north of Arcadia in Benzie County is one of the most breathtaking lookout points on the M22 Michigan scenic drive. Inspiration Point, or the Arcadia Lookout as it’s sometimes referred to, is a scenic turnout that allows you to truly appreciate the beauty of the Michigan landscape.

In order to enjoy the view, there’s a climb ahead of you because the lookout point is about 800 feet above sea level. Fortunately, an overlook was constructed over the sand dune to make it as easy as possible for anyone to enjoy the panoramic view at the top.

You should be prepared to climb more than 200 steps to reach Inspiration Point, but your efforts will be rewarded. At the top, you’ll see endless views of Lake Michigan and the sandy, tree-lined topography of the region.

While this scenic turnout offers amazing views throughout the entire day, it’s perhaps most popular at sunset, where a crowd of people turn out nearly every night to see the sun dip below the shores of Lake Michigan.

Inspiration Point, Arcadia - M-22
Inspiration Point | photo via @josiemcoury

Elberta M-22 Scenic Drive

For a taste of what a quiet life in Northern Michigan might be like, stop at the tiny village of Elberta, which is home to only a little more than 325 residents. In this sleepy town, you’ll find the perfect lakeside escape.

At Elberta’s Waterfront Park, you can take a break from your road trip, and enjoy a peaceful picnic or let your kids burn some energy on the playground. There are many walking paths along the waterfront, making this a popular spot among visitors and locals alike.

Another excursion that you can enjoy in this small town is charter fishing. Given its proximity to Lake Michigan and its relatively slow pace, Elberta is a haven fishing enthusiasts. Charter fishing tours take you onto Lake Michigan for a chance to get the catch of a lifetime before getting on M22 Michigan again.

Elberta - M-22
Elberta | photo via @snaphappymichigan

M22 Frankfort Scenic Drive

To the north of Betsie Lake and Betsie Bay on the M22 Michigan scenic drive is the town of Frankfort, which is known for its charming atmosphere, sandy dunes, and picture-perfect beaches. If you want to stay awhile, you could rent a Victorian cottage that has stood for more than a century.

With its tree-lined downtown area and plethora of local shops, Frankfort is a favorite among travelers who love to spend leisurely days in the Michigan countryside. In addition to playing on a Frankfort beach or shopping in town, most visitors make time to visit the different lighthouses that call Frankfort home.

The Frankfort North Light is located on a pier that juts into Lake Michigan. It’s an industrial lighthouse that serves an important purpose, but it’s nearly the perfect lookout point for memorable Lake Michigan sunsets.

Perhaps the most treasured lighthouse in the city is Point Betsie Lighthouse, a regal lighthouse attached to a restored farmhouse that features a brick red roof. It’s a beautiful place to catch a sunset and an important historical attraction. The lighthouse opens for tours during the summer.

Pointe Betsie Lighthouse, Elberta - M-22, A Summer Lake Michigan Road Trip, Ludington to Frankfort
Pointe Betsie Lighthouse | photo via Aaron Cruz

Towns on M22 Michigan in Leelanau County

M22 Michigan Scenic Drive in Empire

After leaving Frankfort, you’ll wind around Crystal Lake and along the Lake Michigan shoreline into Leelanau County, the gateway to Northern Michigan. The first stop after you enter Leelanau County is Empire, a tiny community and entrance to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Before you get into the National Lakeshore and begin climbing those sandy dunes, though, you should spend some proper time in Empire. It has a charming downtown area, where you can find restaurants, souvenir shops, and chocolate stores.

Also, Empire Beach is a rugged and private beach where you’ll feel as if you have the glory of Lake Michigan all to yourself. It’s the perfect beach for sunbathing, splashing, or rock hunting, and is a favorite among visitors of all ages.

Empire - M-22
Empire | photo via @journey15

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on M22

Whether you make a stop in Empire or simply cruise along M-22 Michigan to enjoy the views, you can’t miss the opportunity to explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Continuously voted as one of the most beautiful places in the country, this protected area is a playground for all ages.

The park is often considered a hidden gem that many travelers from outside of Michigan easily overlook. The best way to experience it is to take a trip along Pierce Stocking Drive, a scenic drive that will take you to the most important points of interest throughout the park.

Not only will you be able to sink your feet into the softest sand imaginable and hike up impossibly tall dunes, but you’ll also discover incredible lookout points along the drive that will make you feel as if you entered another world entirely.

At the Sleeping Bear Dunes, you can enjoy a picnic on a sunny afternoon, or find a spot on a dune to watch the sun glide gracefully into the lake below. It’s a very popular spot, so don’t be surprised if you encounter other travelers while you’re hiking or climbing, making Michigan memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Empire - M-22
Sleep Bear Dunes | photo via @bosexposures

M22 Glen Arbor Scenic Drive

After immersing yourself in the majestic wilds of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, continue your road trip north along the winding M22 Michigan scenic drive. The next town along the way is Glen Arbor, a welcome respite from the rugged outdoor experiences on the dunes.

In Glen Arbor, you’ll be welcomed by a quaint downtown area that’s filled with boutique shops, mom-and-pop restaurants and coffee houses, and ice cream stands. In addition to its picturesque downtown, it boasts many miles of shoreline, beaches, and dunes — much like the rest of Northwest Michigan.

Recently named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” and designated one of 20 of the best summer vacation destinations, Glen Arbor is quickly earning a reputation across the country as being one of the best places to spend a leisurely holiday.

Cherry Republic, Glen Arbor - M-22
Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor | photo via @monaamy

Leland M-22 Scenic Drive

Once you finish exploring all that Glen Arbor offers, you can hop back on the M22 Michigan scenic drive to begin a peaceful stretch along the Leelanau Peninsula. Along the way, you’ll see signs for wineries nearly every mile or so, so stop to sip a few new vintages while soaking in views of the stunning landscape.

Before you know it, you’ll arrive in the town of Leland, which is one of the most unique towns on this scenic journey. It was developed on a small sliver of land that’s located between the mighty Lake Michigan and sparkling Lake Leelanau.

While it may be a small village, there’s a lot to discover in Leland. It’s one of the most walkable communities in northern Michigan, so you can easily park the car and go exploring on foot for a while.

Be sure to take the time to visit one of the city’s most important points of interest — Fishtown. This working fishing village pays tribute to the vital role that commercial fishing played in the region throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Fishtown is comprised of many fish shanties, and there are few places like it in Michigan, or throughout the country. Some of the shanties house boutique shops, cheese stores, restaurants, and art galleries. There’s even a museum that tells the history of fishing in the community.

Fishtown, Leland - M-22
Fishtown in Leland | photo via @mhertzphoto

Northport on M-22 Michigan

Beyond Leland, M-22 Michigan continues to head north until reaching the town of Northport. This town is often described as the most picture-perfect town on the peninsula, and its historic downtown area is filled with art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and more.

The laid back nature of this town attracts a relaxed crowd, and fishing is a favorite activity among both locals and visitors alike. In addition to checking out the town itself, you could make time to explore Leelanau State Park, which consists of more than 1,500 acres.

The park is also home to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum. In addition to spending hours hiking along the trails and enjoying the wildlife, you can play along the shore and search for Petoskey stones while wading in the surf.

When you’re in Northport, you have the ability to enjoy views of both Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay. It’s a moment that you won’t soon forget.

Leelanau State Park, Northport - M-22
Leelanau State Park | photo via @noahjurik

M-22 Town of Suttons Bay

Once your time in Northport is complete, you’ll begin heading south for the first time on the highway while enjoying the views of the eastern side of the Leelanau Peninsula. Now, the waterfront view is no longer Lake Michigan. Instead, it’s the mighty Grand Traverse Bay.

Before long, you’ll arrive in Suttons Bay, yet another idyllic town on the Leelanau Peninsula and along the M22 Michigan scenic drive. With its colorful downtown buildings and welcoming appeal, Suttons Bay is a favorite among first-timers and veteran Michigan travelers alike.

If you truly want to immerse yourself in the Leelanau Peninsula wine scene, Suttons Bay is the perfect place for you. Nearly every winery boasts a unique experience, such as outdoor dining with panoramic views of the bay or private wine tastings.

Suttons Bay - M-22
Suttons Bay | photo via @msbaird2

M-22 Michigan Town in Grand Traverse County

Traverse City on M22 Michigan

As the old saying goes, “save the best for last!” In many respects, the final stop on the M22 Michigan scenic drive is the gem of the entire tour. Traverse City is perhaps the largest city on the scenic drive, yet it still maintains the authenticity and atmosphere of a small Northern Michigan town.

Once you arrive in the Cherry Capital of the World, you’ll have a hard time deciding what to do next. You can explore the thriving downtown area, which has local shops, flavorful restaurants, and lively breweries. Or, enjoy the downtown beaches that include state-of-the-art restrooms and concessions stands.

You can take a ride on the Tall Ship Manitou and enjoy the Grand Traverse Bay for yourself. Or, you can simply sip a coffee as you overlook the marina and the boats passing by.

With boutique hotels and vacation rentals available in Traverse City, you can seize the opportunity to sit back, relax, and stay a while in this vibrant town. There’s simply tons of things to do in Traverse City, including the Old Mission Peninsula wine tour!

Traverse City - M-22
Traverse City | photo via @dzwphoto

Explore More of Michigan on a Scenic Drive

Whether you’re leaf peeping in October or hoping to enjoy flavorful wine on a cool summer day, you’ll find that the M22 Michigan scenic drive unlocks the best that Michigan offers. With coastal views, this route ensures that Northern Michigan journey is just as good as the destination that you choose.

However, M-22 isn’t the only scenic route in Michigan. The fall colors drives in Michigan are fantastic to explore any time of year. Or, you can experience the cold season in a new way on one of several Michigan winter scenic drives.

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