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  • Manicured floral landscape at Windmill Island Gardens
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    Holland: Dutch Charm in an All-American Town

  • Aerial view of downtown Grand Rapids and The Blue Bridge pedestrian walkway over the Grand River
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    Grand Rapids: Dining, Arts and Entertainment in River City

  • Pyramid Point Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
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    Traverse City: Wine, Natural Wonders and Downtown Excitement

  • Serene kayak landing on Voyageur Island in Sault Ste. Marie
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    Sault Ste. Marie: Laid-back Vibes in the Upper Peninsula

Brilliant fall colors along Mt. Pisgah in Holland, Michigan
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Holland Area Visitors Bureau

Western Michigan’s Scenic Lake and River Towns

By Idoia Gkikas

  • Route distance:
    1114.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Renowned for its natural beauty and abundant outdoor activities, Michigan is a state best explored with plenty of time to spare.

One day, you could boat on one of hundreds of lakes and rivers; another could be spent sipping a cold craft beer and munching on farm-to-table cuisine. You’ll also stumble upon Michigan’s history, from its early European settlement days to its more recent renaissance. This road trip takes you through the state’s western region during the autumn season, when vibrant fall colors and crisp weather add a stunning backdrop to the adventure.

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Manicured floral landscape at Windmill Island Gardens
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Holland Area Visitors Bureau

Holland: Dutch Charm in an All-American Town

Fly into Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) in Grand Rapids, which offers connecting flights from other U.S. hubs including Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta and New York. Pick up your rental car and head 30 minutes west to Holland, an absolutely charming lakeside town founded by Dutch Calvinists in 1847. Dutch influences are still evident all over the city. You’ll discover quality Dutch art at the Holland Museum, the Nelis’ Dutch Village (a recreation of a Dutch Village from 100 years ago) and popular Dutch-themed festivals throughout the year. Head to downtown’s 8th Street to the farmers market (Wednesdays and Saturdays, May through December) and stroll the cobblestone sidewalks lined with assorted shops, restaurants and pubs. From downtown, you can walk to Windmill Island Gardens, one of Holland’s main attractions. Costumed guides offer tours of the 250-year-old DeZwaan, the only authentic Dutch windmill in the USA. Be sure to pick up a fresh-milled bag of flour and a pair of adorable wooden clogs. Hike at Sanctuary Woods Preserve for scenic lake views, or trek up 240 steps to the top of Mt. Pisgah, a dune with sweeping vistas of Holland State Park Beach and Lake Michigan. Finish the day with a gorgeous beach sunset at historic Tunnel Park, where you’ll walk through an 80-year-old concrete tunnel, that passes through a sand dune, to reach the water’s edge. Stay the night and enjoy Holland’s eclectic mix of craft breweries and distilleries before heading on to Grand Rapids, just 30 minutes away.

45 km
0.5 hours by car
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Aerial view of downtown Grand Rapids and The Blue Bridge pedestrian walkway over the Grand River
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Experience Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids: Dining, Arts and Entertainment in River City

On your way north, stop back in Grand Rapids, which Thrillist has described as brimming with the art, food and music of a much larger city, but at an incredible value. The city offers endless opportunities for creative exploration, from three distinctive art museums to numerous public art installations, including the ArtPrize competitions and projects. The Downtown Market Grand Rapids celebrates the art of food and drink with artisan vendors, restaurants, cooking classes and events that highlight the city’s farm-to-fork philosophy. The Market and dozens of local restaurants source ingredients from nearby family farms, which also supply local breweries, cideries and distilleries. Grand Rapids is the reigning “Beer City USA” champion, and visitors can earn an exclusive Beer City Brewsader® T-shirt by checking in to eight of the 80-plus breweries on the Beer City Ale Trail. Music-lovers can choose from a wide range of live-music venues – many of them downtown, where 200 entertainment venues, restaurants and museums are within a 10-minute walk of hotels. Family fun and outdoor recreation – from John Ball Zoo and the Millennium Park swimming beach to dozens of golf courses and hundreds of miles of hiking and biking paths – are as close as five minutes from the city center.

229 km
2.25 hours by car
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Pyramid Point Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
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Traverse City Tourism

Traverse City: Wine, Natural Wonders and Downtown Excitement

Enjoy a tranquil, two-hour drive into Traverse City, known for its tart cherries (it’s the largest cherry producer in the USA), wine production, beaches, shipwreck diving and other water sports. Downtown Traverse City offers shopping and dining along its tree-lined streets, particularly along Front Street. Fall colors and decor add to the charm. Take a drive on Old Mission Peninsula to visit wineries, stop for a delicious bite, pick up fresh apples and other produce at roadside stands, and snap photos of the views of Grand Traverse Bay. Undoubtedly, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is the star attraction here. With 160 kilometers of hiking trails (especially beautiful in the fall), awe-inspiring views of Lake Michigan, plenty of biking and water sports, and tall sand dunes to climb, it’s an Instagram-worthy adventure. After this full itinerary, you might consider hanging out for the night. Enjoy a relaxing dinner downtown and wash it down with a pint at a microbrewery – Traverse City was named one of the Top 7 Beer Destination by Travel Channel. Your final stop: Sault Ste. Marie, the Birthplace of Michigan.

280 km
3 hours by car
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Serene kayak landing on Voyageur Island in Sault Ste. Marie
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Sault Ste. Marie CVB

Sault Ste. Marie: Laid-back Vibes in the Upper Peninsula

In the farthest reaches of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the “U.P.”) lies Sault Ste. Marie, a stone’s throw from Canada over the St. Marys River and the pinnacle of fall beauty in Michigan. It’s also a treasure for water seekers, starting with kayaking around the island at Voyageur Island Park. This hidden gem is a small island in the St. Marys River, accessible only by kayak, canoe or paddleboard (you can rent one on the mainland at Bird’s Eye Outfitters). Explore the backcountry trails amid the changing fall landscape. Other options for fun on the water include the Soo Locks boat tour, which takes you through the historic locks that have provided passage for ships through the Great Lakes for over 160 years; the Point Iroquois Lighthouse, located in Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior and listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and Tahquamenon Falls State Park, featuring one of the most voluminous waterfalls east of the Mississippi River along with honey-hued autumn colors to fill your camera roll. Take a 30-minute drive to the Chippewa County International Airport with connecting flights into Detroit and Minneapolis.