If you are looking for that perfect getaway weekend that satisfies every need for scenery, things to do, and places to go; northwest Michigan is certainly worth considering, and a two day run up or down M-22 is our pick as the best route to travel. M-22 is an excellent roadway with an abundance of steep grades and sharp turns to keep the smile factor at 100 percent. There are many interesting places to stop, so fatigue never becomes a factor.
Manistee to Traverse City
Est 116 miles - 3.5 hours (click here for route map)
Although you could start from Traverse City, it's really better to begin from Manistee. It offers a large amount of reasonable lodging and entertainment, including a casino at the corner of M-22 and US-31. Plus, running north to Traverse City seems more reasonable to end the weekend as it has a larger amount of major highways to choose for the quick run southbound to the more populated areas of Michigan.
Weekend travelers should plan to arrive in Manistee on Friday evening to take in the Victorian Era charm of this Great Lakes seaport town. Much of the city center was built between 1875 and 1910 and the entire section has been designated a National Historic Landmark area.
The joy of these old buildings is that they continue to serve the community, most of them as they were intended. Hotels, theatres, the Carnegie Library, banks, and several restaurants are thriving. But, that might not always have been the case. In the 1920's the Ramsdell Theatre was slated for demolition, although it was only 20 years old. It was acquired by the City of Manistee in 1943 and was designated an historic landmark in 1972. Most of his fans don't know it, but actor James Earl Jones began his career right here in the Ramsdell - as a stage carpenter!
Be sure to click the photo
to hear the calliope found in
the farmers market every Saturday
morning during summer season
It may be difficult to place into context today, but Manistee is an active seaport and a large portion of the local economy revolves around the mariners that find safe harbor in the Manistee River and Lake Manistee. The tourists walking through the riverside parks are treated to a nice atmosphere full of friendly waves, and often music from the bandstand. It's the kind of place that makes you want to waste the day just enjoying the sun and fresh air.
Before you find yourself watching a Lake Michigan sunset from the banks of the riverside park, make sure you plan on spending the evening at the Little River Casino. It's a full scale resort complex right at the start of M-22 at US-31. Indian Gaming has become a big attraction in Michigan and this area has several opportunities to take part in the fun.
Turn north on M-22 from US-31 and you only have to be patient for about one mile before the thrill begins to build. The first vistas off to the left of the road look back toward the Manistee area and are a bit distant, but that's okay because the roadway is beginning to take some nice blind, off camber, curves that demand careful attention until you get into the rhythm of its' route through the Michigan woods.
The first village encountered is Onekama, on the eastern shore of Portage Lake. It's very small, very quiet, and some might call it backward. But it does have a few stores to while away your time and a nice park with public restrooms at the edge of the lake.
The old Quimby family homestead is off the main road, falling in and mostly forgotten - sort of like the story of Harriett! She only lived here as a child, her parents moved the family to California in 1887.
While maturing in the San Francisco area, and after starting her career as a magazine writer, she never mentioned her Michigan roots. But maybe she didn't want to explain about the home remedies her mother sold from this house. "Quimby's Liver Invigorator" was said to be a popular seller.
The intrepid Miss Quimby was the first woman to fly over the English Channel. She accomplish this on April 16, 1912...just as news of the sinking of Titanic was hitting the headlines. Harriet never got the attention she deserved and never had a chance to overcome this faux pax of fate. She died later that year, on July 1st, when her aircraft crashed in Massachusetts.
The Village of Arcadia is another very small place, but does have a couple of shops, small motel, and a restaurant or two that can feed the hungry traveler, although at this time you are really only 22 miles from Manistee. It's real easy to just motor on by and follow the road northbound and enjoy the view of thousands of acres of orchards scattered about the area.
Approaching Elberta and Frankfort the thick forest begins to overhang the road at times and the hills are less obvious because of that. At Frankfort the road will T right at a drive-in that is a perfect stop for a root beer float. Follow M-22 into historic Frankfort and don't be afraid to explore some of the side streets! I was wandering around, basically because I missed a turn, and found a super narrow street with a 40 percent grade and two blind corners. Wow, you forget about the historic homes for a second and wonder if it's possible, or even safe, to turn around and try that again!
Just north of Frankfort the bluffs of the Lake Michigan shoreline are the only story in town. For two up riders this is no longer a high gear tour, prepare to shift down and pay close attention. Some of the corners are tagged with 30 mph speeds and if you are not prepared for the diminishing rate turn, even that could be hard on the ego. I found the road surface generally clean and the pavement in excellent condition, but there are times that I believe you could easily be surprised by drifting sand.
At this point you begin to see, and really appreciate, one of the curious geological results of the ever present westerly wind across Lake Michigan. You are entering the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore area. The Park Service maintains a visitor center at Empire, another sleepy lakeshore village. The village has a fair size park right on the edge of Lake Michigan, and a couple of restaurants, but not much else. There is one ten room inn right on M-22 and a few resorts within the next few miles. Be prepared to part with a little cash, the in season prices are as steep as the dunes. The best room rates may be at the casinos, but call ahead - you might find a bargain.
Beginning near Empire, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park stretches along the Lake Michigan shoreline for miles. It is a special favorite for those that remember great times in the sandbox!
Visitors to the park can climb the dunes, visit a maritime museum, or take a scenic drive by running a small deviation from M-22 onto M-109 to Sleeping Bear Point. CAUTION: Fine sand covers this roadway most of the year - it can be difficult to find safe grip at any speed.
Those choosing to stay on M-22 get another special treat, a ride over one of the prettiest lakes in Michigan, Glen Lake. The sandy bottom and especially clear waters make the water a beautiful pattern of greens and aqua blues, especially on a bright day when the sun has warmed the waters. The road follows the northwestern edge of Glen Lake to Glen Arbor, and things begin to jump like a tourist town here! A few really nice restaurants and watering holes reflect a much more affluent area than those just a few miles south. Souvenir stores and recreation shops clustered in the village are tastefully decorated and avoid the neon and plastic found in some tourist spots.
You are now just 60 miles from Manistee, but when properly done, it may have taken most of the day to reach this point. Hey, relax and enjoy a night here, or in the beautiful Leelanau Peninsula, just a few miles up the road. M-22 turns easterly at Glen Arbor and runs for a few miles through deep woods, exploring the turns of creeks and rivers and shorelines of small lakes that dot the area.
Just outside of the the Sleeping Bear park boundaries the flavor of the landscape immediately changes back to that of northern rurual Michigan. Farmhouses and orchards are prevalent. This is wine country and visitors are always welcome for a taste!
Just south of Leland you begin to get a glimpse of spacious lakeshore homes that have been established in the last twenty years. These homes are generally oriented toward the setting sun and broad beaches and even the least expensive will cost the entire budget of the average American family.
Leland itself is the jumping off spot for an exciting day trip, (without your bike) to the Manitou Islands. Ferry boats are available to the South Island for shopping and exploring and to the North Island for camping if you desire to experience the offshore wilderness away from the lights, noise, and bustle of mainland Michigan.
These islands were settled by lumber interests over 150 years ago, and are significantly different in appearnce from that first seen by those pioneers. Many plant and animal species found here now are not native to the insland environment. Please do your best to keep your own impact upon the island at a minimum.
Bring your hiking boots and camp clothes, especially a sweatshirt and rain gear if you expect to stay the evening on the islands. The bluffs run well over 300 foot above the water and the highest elevation on the island is 421 feet above Lake Michigan. Temperatures tend to wander several degrees cooler here than the mainland. You may find many abandonded buildings that look inviting....BE CAREFUL! If you are injured while on the island it could be several HOURS before you can receive medical attention.
Eleven miles further down the road is Northport. It may be the northernmost part of our route along M-22, but it's far from the end of the road. Local roads can take the leisure visitor all the way out to Cat Head Point for a look at Grand Traverse Bay from an uncrowded perspective. This isn't a crowded area, although it does offer some opportunities for shopping, camping, eating, and general tourist activities. Pick a spot on a park bench and watch the activities at the marina, or gnaw on a piece of authentic turkey jerky. It's the kind of town where cleaning fish or just enjoying the sunshine is an expected part of life.
The final 28 miles from Northport to Traverse City quickly change from twisty curves and nice hills to the straighter roads of the Grand Traverse Bay shoreline. The pace is much faster and the countryside much more populated and developed.
The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians has a nice casino and resort facilty at Peshawbestown, complete with over 700 hotel rooms. Motor on in and drop a few coins in the slot or take your best shot at Texas Hold'Em Poker!
Suttons Bay is your last opportunity to drag your feet, so to speak, before returning to the real world as represented by Traverse City. The harborside village has been established 150 years now and most residents really like the place. It offers a good variety of stores and entertainment opportunities and many good restaurants. Shopping for antiques is a passion for lots of visitors here, and Suttons Bay has at least eight nice shops to fit your need for that oddity you've been searching.
Many inns and hotels may be found here. They range through most budgets and styles, from plain and simple to those with vineyard and bayside view suites. Several offer special rates during the off seasons and for those riders that understand the value of a lesser traveled road...these may be very good choices to make. The route ends back at the junction of US-31, near the marina at Traverse City. By now you have had the chance to enjoy several hours of great motorcycle roads and wonderful sights of the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan. The Traverse City area was a vacation hot spot long before the white pioneers began appearing here over 200 years ago. There are many museums, shops, restaurants and attractions to keep you busy for a full day at the edge of the bay.
Enjoy your ride along M-22, and be sure to tell everyone you came because it's one of our "Favorite Roads" here at Roads And Riders!