Hitting the open road means so much more when you’re on a motorcycle — you are literally open to the road, your surroundings, and the smells of forest, field, or shore. It’s a more intimate experience when you drive with all your senses: feeling the wind and sun, smelling the fields, hearing the roar of the motor. This is why thousands of people spend all winter waiting for blue skies and dry pavement so they can get out and find all those stretches of road that are definitely better on a motorcycle.
With over 3,000 miles of coastline, you don’t even need a destination to enjoy a road trip in Michigan by motorcycle. Driving around our state provides plenty of diverse scenery, back roads, and dramatic vistas. While Michigan is a relatively flat Midwest state, the mitten offers a unique landscape dotted with quaint towns, long stretches of beach that appear out of nowhere, open farmland, and miles and miles of forested wilderness.
Touring Michigan on a motorcycle really is all about the journey, not the destination. You have to stop and take breaks more often than you would driving in a car, which allows you to get out and discover hidden gems. Everyone who rides has a favorite local route they take for an evening ride and a favorite destination or two that allows them to enjoy an afternoon on the bike, but sometimes you want to go a little further, explore a little more.
In celebration of May’s Motorcycle Awareness Month, here are some particularly nice drives to take if you are lucky enough to find yourself on two wheels:
The Sunrise Coast
From Bay City, take M-13 North to US 23 in Standish. Continue on US 23 for 200 miles. Highlights include pretty little resort towns, impressive beachfront houses, Ocqueoc Falls (outside Rogers City), dockside restaurants, and the tip of the mitt: Mackinaw City. It won’t be hard to understand why US 23 has been classified as a National Scenic Byway by the National Forest Service. This route was featured in two guide articles from 2014: Sunrise Coast I and Sunrise Coast II.
Tunnel of Trees
This stretch of road, frequently referred to as Michigan’s Tunnel of Trees, is only about 22 miles from M-119 from Harbor Springs to Cross Village, but it is one of the best rides in the state and is often mentioned in top ten lists of the best rides in the US. Two lanes and turns are what this road is all about. The canopy of trees completely covers the road, making this a popular destination in the fall.
Traverse City Area
The Traverse City area, including M-22, M-37, and US 31, is loaded with unique shops, restaurants, wineries, and breweries, and a motorcycle is a perfect way to enjoy touring all Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas have to offer. M-22 skirts the shore of Lake Michigan around Leelanau Peninsula and makes up part of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, US 31 will take you from the lakeshore into Traverse City and beyond, and M-37 runs out to the end of Old Mission Peninsula. Northern Michigan provides the most diverse elevation in the state, which contributes to the region’s fantastic wine and fruit culture, and provides the backdrop for spectacular riding.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Now that the interior road through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is paved, County Road H-58 through the Lakeshore is a great way to make your way through the park. You can stop at all the park’s highlights — Miner’s Castle, Miner’s Falls, 12 Mile Beach, Au Sable Light Station, Sable Falls — on the way out, and just put it in 5th gear all the way back. Plenty of sweeping curves and a few hills provide interest without too much handling to take away from the enjoyment of the ride.
This run stretches along M-203 North out of Houghton to US 41, North to Copper Harbor, and back along M-26. Riding the ridge of the Keweenaw Peninsula affords numerous views of forest-lined rocky shores. With elevation changes of up to 500 feet, this small rocky outpost peninsula of Michigan is fun to explore. The city of Houghton is a surprising find on the far end of the UP. From here you can explore the Porcupine Mountains or go north to Copper Harbor. Stop at the Jampot in Eagle Harbor, The Gay Bar in Gay, any one of the nine lighthouses or ten waterfalls, and dozens of ghost towns along the way.
Every city has “that road” that gets you out of town, has lots of curves, or leads to your favorite diner, watering hole, or scenic destination. Exploring Michigan on two wheels just means getting there is more than half the fun. Where will you be riding this season?