There are so many interesting places to see on a road trip through Michigan. Some roadside attractions are interesting enough to be destinations, not just pit stops!
The Manistique Water Tower
The old Manistique Water Tower is on Deer Street in downtown, just off U.S. 2 in the Upper Peninsula. When is was completed in 1922, the water tower received attention from national newspapers for its unusual design. Made of brick, the tower stands 137 feet high. It once held 200,000 gallons of water. An octagon, the building has eight exterior sides and 16 interior sides, making it extra strong. A decorative frieze and copper dome top off the tower.
After the city stopped using the tower to supply water in 1954, it went through many different uses, including as an office for the justice of the peace. Yes, there are couples who were married in the water tower! To make sure the landmark tower would be preserved, residents of Manistique had it placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today it’s the Schoolcraft County Museum and Historical Park. You can tour the inside of water tower during open hours which change seasonally.
After you tour the water tower, do some shopping downtown, grab a bite to eat at the the most unique Big Boy in Michigan and take in the view of the Manistique lighthouse on the north shore of Lake Michigan.
The Bishop Baraga Shrine
The Bishop Baraga Shrine is accessed from U.S. 41 near L’Anse in the Keweenaw area of the Upper Peninsula. It stands high up on a hill and can’t be seen from the road. Also known as The Shrine of the Snowshoe Priest, a 35 foot, five ton brass statue pays tribute to Barraga who served area residents in the early 1800s. The stunning monument looks out over incredible views of Keweenaw Bay and Lake Superior. There’s also a store that offers religious gifts as well as refreshments.
If you’re traveling near Alpena on U.S. 23 or M-65, be sure to stop at Dinosaur Gardens in Ossineke, Michigan. The gardens at this quirky Northern Michigan pit stop feature large statues of dinosaurs, prehistoric birds and even cavemen.
Artist Paul Domke built 25 large prehistoric creatures between 1930s and 1960s on his property along the Devils River. With the help of a chemist, he developed a special cement formula that would survive Michigan’s harsh, ever-changing weather. A steel framework and metal lath was used to support the cement. Taking may trips to the Smithsonian Museum, Domke carefully researched all the animals before he sculpted them. It was import to him that they be actual life size and even the small details correct.
The Gardens have changed hands a few times over the years. The current owners bought it in 2013. They carefully restored the dinos and added a mini golf course and ice cream shop. They also renovated the gift shop. The Gardens are currently closed for the season. They’re open late May to mid-October. Days and hours vary seasonally. Check their website for details.
Lighthouses dot the coast of Michigan from top to bottom and all around. Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state! Many of them are easily accessible and you can walk right up to them. Quite a few are even museums and open to the public for tours. There are some lighthouses that are privately owned residences, so please don’t trespass. Here’s a list of just some the lighthouses that are easy to visit via car and a short walk:
- St. Joseph (Open for tours)
- South Haven
- Grand haven
- Mission Point (Open for Tours)
- Grand Traverse (Open for Tours)
- Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse (Open for Tours)
- McGulpin Lighthouse (Open for Tours)
- Point Iroquois (Open for Tours)
- Eagle Harbor (Open for Tours)
- Fort Gratiot (Open for Tours)
- Alpena (Open for Tours)
- Whitefish Point (Open for Tours)
More Michigan lighthouses are opening to public each year as local historical societies buy and restore them. Each lighthouse has its own operating hours. A quick Google search should help you find out when and where you can visit.
Alger Falls just outside of Munising in the Upper Peninsula is a true roadside attraction. You can see it from your car as you drive by on M-28. It’s located at the bottom of the hill on a curve, so it’s not the best place to stop for a photo opp. But don’t worry! You’re just a short drive from other waterfalls in the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore area like the more accessible Munising Falls. There are over 200 waterfalls in Michigan’s U.P. Why not explore them all?
Brockway Mountain Drive
Brockway Mountain Drive takes you on a drive to the top of one of the highest peaks on the Keweenaw Peninsula. At the top are spectacular views of Copper Harbor, Lake Superior and the surrounding forests. On a clear day, you can even see Isle Royal. It’s a favorite place to catch sunset or take in the night sky. There are restrooms and parking at the peak. You’ll find the turn off on M 26, just north of US 41.
Saugatuck Chain Ferry
Take a detour off Interstate 96 to Saugatuck where you can go back in time with a ride across the Kalamazoo river on the Chain Ferry. The ferry travels across the river as two human drivers turn a crank that activates a chain and pulls the ferry through the water. It’s the only hand-crank chain ferry still in operation in the United States. Disembark on the other side and climb Mt. Baldhead, a sand dune that rises over Lake Michigan. Head down the dune for a day at the beach or return to the chain ferry for ride back across the river.
Cops and Doughnuts Bakery
It’s an old, old joke. You know, the one about cops sitting around eating doughnuts all day. But in Clare, Michigan, the cops really do love doughnuts. They love them so much that several years ago members of the local police department bought the town’s doughnut shop when it was in danger of closing. They renamed it Cops & Doughnuts and redecorated with a jailhouse chic aesthetic. The doughnut shop helped revitalize the city and now they have five locations around the state. It’s a fun stop for a sweet treat and a hot cup of coffee.
What are your favorite Michigan roadside attractions? What would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments.