If you really want to slow down, get back to basics and spend quality time together there’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned family road trip. Michigan is a great place to take a road trip. Drive in almost any direction, and you’re sure to find a sandy beach, scenic hiking trail or charming town to explore. But what really makes a road trip fun are the little stops you make at all the interesting spots along the way. Michigan has no shortage of unique, kitschy and sometimes just plain odd sights to see. So load the kids up in the minivan and come along for a tour of some of Michigan’s best roadside attractions.
1. Nelis’ Dutch Village is located just off U.S. 31 in the city of Holland. The Dutch theme park transports you back to the old world country of Holland where canals and windmills were an essential part of life. Klompen dancers clad in wooden shoes entertain you, and you can even take home your own pair of the iconic shoes.
2. Michigan produces about 200 million pounds of cherries every year, so it’s no surprise that we’re home to not one but two of world’s largest cherry pie pans. One is located in Traverse City, and the other is 50 miles up the road in Charlevoix. Both once held the contents of real, giant, record-breaking cherry pies. While the pastries are long gone, you can still stop and marvel at the huge bake ware.
3. You’ll find The Bishop Baraga Shrine along U.S. 41 near L’Anse in the Keweenaw area of the Upper Peninsula. Also called The Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest, a 35 foot, five ton brass statue pays tribute to Baraga who served area residents in the early 1800s. The religious monument sits on cliffs overlooking Keweenaw Bay in Lake Superior. The peaceful setting is a great place to stop and relax on the road.
4. If you’re traveling U.S. 23 along Lake Huron, be sure to stop at Dinosaur Gardens Prehistoric Zoo in Ossineke, Michigan. The gardens at this quirky pit stop feature large statues of dinosaurs, prehistoric birds and even cavemen. Built between the 1930s and 70s, it’s a piece of roadside Americana your family will never forget.
5. Just up the road from Holland on U.S. 31 is Grand Haven’s musical fountain. One of the world’s largest, it puts on a spectacular light show set to music at dusk early spring through early fall. Shows are nightly Memorial Day to Labor Day.
6. Kalkaska is home to the National Trout Festival and The National Trout Memorial, an 18 ft long giant trout fountain in downtown. You’ll pass right by it on U.S. 131. Stop for a photo in front of the fountain, and you’ll always have a big fish story to tell.
7. Just off Interstate 96 you can go back in time with a ride across the Kalamazoo river on the Chain Ferry in Saugatuck. The ferry is powered by two human drivers who turn a crank that activates a chain and pulls the ferry across the water. It’s the only hand-crank chain ferry still in operation in the United States.
8. You might think it snows a lot where you live, but it probably doesn’t measure up to the snowfall just outside of Calumet on U.S. 41 way up in the Keweenaw Peninsula. They keep track of the fluffy white stuff with a giant snow thermometer or snow stick. Besides tracking yearly snowfall, it memorializes the area’s record snowfall of 390 inches!
9. More of a what than a place, stop at any Lake Michigan beach along the top third of the lower peninsula to hunt for Petoskey stones. You’ll have the most luck searching around Little Traverse Bay right here in Petoskey, the town that gave the stone its name. The fossilized coral that features a hexagon shaped pattern is world-famous. No trip to northern Michigan is complete without bringing one home for a souvenir.
10. We all know the old joke about cops liking doughnuts, but in Clare, just off U.S. 127, they loved them so much the members of the local police department bought the town’s doughnut shop when it was in danger of closing. They renamed it Cops & Doughnuts. A giant pink doughnut encircling a police badge hangs over the door bearing the bakery’s moniker.