Pure Michigan road trip, optimized

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been computing optimal road trips across the U.S. and Europe. This time, as a shout-out to my current home state, I made a road trip around Michigan. With the snow melting and a warm summer right around the corner, it’s about time we start planning our summer fun.

If there’s one thing I know about Michiganders it’s that they love their state more than anything, so I’m undoubtedly stepping on thin ice by picking only a handful of sites to visit in Michigan. Regardless, I thought I’d try my hand at creating the ultimate Pure Michigan experience by mapping out all of the Pure Michigan “hot spots.”

Below, I’ve mapped an optimized road trip circling the entire state of Michigan, hitting 43 sites along the way that are integral to the Pure Michigan experience.


Click here for the interactive version

This trip makes a 2,098-mile (3,377 km) circle around the great state of Michigan, only spending 40 hours on the road so you can spend more time taking in the state’s natural beauty. Feel free to start at any point on the circuit; as long as you follow the route in order from then on, you’ll eventually hit all of the points and end up where you started.

You may want to plan to take this trip sometime in the Fall so you can enjoy the Fall colors as you drive around the state. When you make your stop at St. Ignace, don’t forget to hop on a ferry to enjoy a day of bike riding and eating fudge on Mackinac Island.

I recommend checking out the Pure Michigan web site for advice on what to do at each stop.

Here’s the full list of stops in order:

  1. Ypsilanti, MI
  2. The Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, Dearborn, MI
  3. Detroit, MI
  4. Port Sanilac, MI
  5. Flint, MI
  6. Frankenmuth, MI
  7. Bay City, MI
  8. Mt. Pleasant, MI
  9. East Tawas, MI
  10. Alpena, MI
  11. Gaylord, MI
  12. Cheboygan, MI
  13. Mackinaw City, MI
  14. St. Ignace, MI
  15. Mackinac Island, MI
  16. Sault Ste. Marie, MI
  17. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Grand Marais, MI
  18. Marquette, MI
  19. Mt. Bohemia, Grant, MI
  20. Keweenaw Peninsula, Schoolcraft, MI
  21. Escanaba, MI
  22. Manistique, MI
  23. Harbor Springs, MI
  24. Petoskey, MI
  25. Charlevoix, MI
  26. Traverse City, MI
  27. Leelanau Peninsula, Leelanau, MI
  28. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, MI 49630
  29. Cadillac, MI
  30. Manistee National Golf & Resort, Manistee, MI 49660
  31. Ludington, MI
  32. Michigan’s Adventure, Muskegon, MI
  33. Muskegon, MI
  34. Grand Rapids, MI
  35. Holland, MI
  36. South Haven, MI
  37. Kalamazoo, MI
  38. Binder Park Zoo, Battle Creek, MI
  39. Coldwater, MI
  40. Lansing, MI
  41. Jackson, MI
  42. Tecumseh, MI
  43. Ann Arbor, MI

Make your own road trip

If you’d like to customize your own road trip, I’ve released the Python code I used in this project with an open source license and instructions for how to optimize your custom road trip. You can find the code here.

Dr. Randy Olson is the Chief Data Scientist at FOXO Bioscience, where he is bringing advanced data science and machine learning technology to the life insurance industry.

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38 comments on “Pure Michigan road trip, optimized
  1. Chrystal M. says:

    Pretty awesome!

  2. Tonya Alan says:

    You seem to have missed some really great spots in NE lower Michigan, including, among others, Rogers City, Domaci Gallery, Hoeft State Park, miles of untouched Lake Huron Shoreline north of Rogers City along US 23, Old & New Presque Isle Lights, 40 Mile Point light, Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, Hammond Bay Biological Station, Calcite, Ocqueoc Falls (largest lower penninsula waterfall) & the Huron Sunrise Trail.

    • lostmanindetroit says:

      Cranbrook’s museums, the DIA, Turkeyville… they missed the 3 most important ones!

  3. lostmanindetroit says:

    See the beautiful Ypsilanti! Get mugged, get your car stolen, get beat up by thugs!

    • HankReardon says:

      I guess that’s where you start from, to get the “Pure Michigan” experience. LOL

    • Russell Stephen Rein says:

      I’ve lived in Ypsi since 1987 and my car has not been stolen, and I have not been mugged or beat up by thugs. BTW – what is the difference between being mugged and getting beat up by thugs? Ypsi is a great place as is Detroit. Concentrate on the positive, historic, educational rather than sarcasm and negativity.

    • Paul Bowen says:

      You obviously haven’t been there. You can stroll one of the most walkable college campuses in Michigan, have a beer at a great pub in historic Depot Town, take in a division 1 football or basketball game for $10, tour one of the coolest architectural salvage places in Michigan, and tour one of several great museums.

      And it’s the home of one of Michigan’s best hospitals, even though St Joe’s doesn’t advertise it.

  4. Karrll Johnson says:

    I don’t see Old Faithful on here or the Canadian side of the falls either.

  5. Kevin Corbat says:

    No stopping for the pure Michigan 400 in the beautiful irish hills of brooklyn?

  6. mark says:

    Too bad you missed Michigan’s largest inland lake. What a great body of water

  7. summersetretrievers says:

    Ha! You know you can’t drive on Mackinac Island!

    • Maritimer1 says:

      Wow…..apparently you are functionally illiterate. “don’t forget to hop on a ferry to enjoy a day of bike riding and eating fudge on Mackinac Island.”

  8. Brenda Childs says:

    wow, you are excluding one of the best parts of the state. The tip of the thumb πŸ™

  9. We have a resort on Lake Gogebic (the largest inland lake in the UP) and you are missing out if you don’t head a little further west to the Porcupine Mountains and the Lake Gogebic area! You can check us out at http://www.walleyelodge.com!

    • Maritimer1 says:

      Agree with this, too. There is nothing like the view of Lake in the Clouds from above….just watch out for the bears….

  10. Chantel Cummings says:

    What is there to see in Flint? And Frankenmuth is way overrated.

    • Maritimer1 says:

      Agreed….no one who is FROM Michigan would waste their time….especially with Flint.

  11. Marilou Knoblock says:

    The Thumb of Michigan is an untapped beautiful place to be and yet you left it out completely. On any given Saturday in the Summer you will find over a thousand people attending our Farmer’s Market with free horsedrawn wagon rides. There is kayaking, canoeing, horseback riding, swimming, shopping, fine dinning, and the friendliest people you will come across. Give it a try and you will never leave it off your road trip again.

  12. Vladimir says:


  13. Maritimer1 says:

    I’ve been to every place on this route. While you have some great spots on here, you sure miss a lot and add in places that are, well, meh……I’m not going to list my favorite spots in the UP because I like them the way they are- relatively empty. Have fun on your trip.

  14. Russell Stephen Rein says:

    If only your routing was based on the historic roads of Michigan like the Dixie Highway, West Michigan Pike, Chicago Road and/or the Federal numbered highways like US 2, 10, 12, 16, 23, 24, 25, 27, 31, 41, 45, Old 112 instead of algorithm!

  15. Michael Saari says:

    The Governor should be working on reversing Michigan traffic felony laws that Permanently remove firearm rights from good and honest state citizens for victimless crimes when offenses are totally void of a victim or even a witness to confront on the witness stand, and have absolutely nothing to do with firearms.

  16. Chris Hodshire says:

    Randal be sure to be objective and do not try to mislead us on Lansing/E Lansing since you are from MSU. Thanks. Be objective if you end up adding the colleges to your list.

    Better be objective and discuss Michigan Tech., U of M, Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College, since you are visiting Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo is critical to educate about since they were the very first college in Michigan, long before MSU and U of M which many do not know. They were also the first city to provide a free K-12 education in the USA as well.

    You got to visit downtown Kalamazoo too and report about the cool heated streets and sidewalks (all brick), culture, WMU Medieval Water Tower, as well as Air Zoo and many other national highlights! The Kalamazoo Promise got to be mentioned too.

    Holland and Grand Rapids are also worthy to mention as is all of the UP. So many unique places in Michigan. No debate about that.

  17. Mike Connick says:

    Having driven over 50,000 miles in Michigan for “leisure” since returning to the state full-time in 2013, I can say this may be a great drive, but you’ll miss much of Michigan’s best sites. Some examples: Tahquamenon Falls, Whitefish Point, Crisp Point, Grand Marais (H-58 from Grand Marais to Munising), Big Bay, Point Abbaye, Huron Mountains, High Rock Bay, Stamp Sands, Porcupine Mountains, Black River Scenic Byway, Isle Royale (you’ll need to catch a boat or plane), Kitch-iti-Kipi, M-119, Iargo Springs, Turnip Rock (walk the ice in winter or kayak otherwise), Ocqueoc Falls, Warren Dunes, Manitou Islands (boat ride), Beaver Island (boat ride or plane), 100+ waterfalls, 100+ lighthouses, Drummond Island, Old Mission Peninsular, etc. The list goes on and on. Your trip is mostly cities and misses a lot of what Michigan has to offer.

    • John White says:

      Hey Mike, sorry I’m very late to this discussion but my friends and I are planning on taking a road trip to Michigan this summer and it appears that you know your stuff. I was wondering if you could maybe give a few suggestions? We will be coming from Cincinnati and we’re hoping to find some beautiful places to see and explore in Michigan! Thanks for your time!

    • lojo46 says:

      We went to Fayette Historical park last summer…it was amazing! You can go there, kitch iti kipi, tahquamenon and whitefish point in two days and it’s a great trip!

  18. Shelley Larson Colley says:

    If you are traveling between Kalamazoo and South Haven make sure you make a slight detour to Paw Paw to sample some fine Michigan wine and dine at La Cantina.

  19. Brandon Osborn says:

    This is totally vague – Why would anyone want to visit Tawas – except, maybe to buy meth.

  20. Linda Wal says:

    this is just a list of cities. It would have been nice if he noted what made him choose each city instead of telling us to reasearch it ourselves.

    • Randy Olson says:

      He Linda,

      I mentioned in the article that the list of stops came from the Pure Michigan web site. If you visit the Pure Michigan web site (linked in the article), they provide some great explanations for visiting each stop. πŸ™‚

      My contribution here was taking the Pure Michigan list and optimizing a road trip between all of them. Enjoy!

  21. YooperGal_VA says:

    The *PUREST* part of “Pure Michigan” is in the Upper Peninsula, but you left off many times more of the really great places to visit than those you included.

    No Tahquamenon Falls, no Whitefish Point, no Kitch-iti-kipi spring, no Porcupine Mountains or the gorgeous view from 500 feet above the “Lake of the Clouds”. There’s also no mention of Copper Harbor or Fort Wilkins — yet, you list in Mt. Bohemia, which is right there near Copper Harbor, but then you skipped the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame (and Museum) in Ishpeming (which is right on the path from Marquette to Houghton), as well as the ski jump and ski flying hills in Iron Mountain and Ironwood.

    Plus, there’s a whole lot more to the U.P. than that.

    For example, how about the amazing A.E. Mineral Museum in Houghton, the Quincy Mine Hoist, the bridge in Houghton (both of which hold world records, for being the largest of their kind), or why no mention of the tallest point in Michigan (which is just outside of L’Anse — and also on the way to Houghton from Marquette), Canyon Falls (known as the “Grand Canyon of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula”).

    You also missed a whole bunch of other great waterfalls from amongst the U.P.’s 300 or so waterfalls, including some very popular ones, like Bond Falls, Douglass Houghton Falls, Hungarian Falls (right by Mt. Bohemia), Jacobs’ Falls (where the amazing “Jam Pot” bakery is located — run by a bunch of Byzantine monks).

    Additionally, you missed some other “great” lakes that are found inland, such as Lake Gogebic (which happens to be the largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula) , Lake Michigammee (another of the largest inland lakes in Michigan), and so many other great places, too.

    Heck, there’s even the “Paulding Light,” which is quite a place of interest in the U.P. — but, of course, you completely ignored almost the entire western half of the U.P., so it’s like it doesn’t exist.

    I see that you didn’t forget about Mackinaw Island, but it’s not the only wonderful island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you’re pressed for time, Isle Royale isn’t exactly going to fit into a tight schedule, and though it can be incorporated into a side trip on a road trip, it’s accessible only by plane or boat (but, so is Mackinaw Island, for that matter — or, by snowmobile in the wintertime). But, Isle Royale is reknowned for being one of the most amazing places to visit. At least a mention of it would have been in order.

    You’ve really done quite the “crock” of a job planning a trip through the U.P. — and, while I must admit that I’m surprised you even included it at all, if you’re going purport to map out an “optimal Pure Michigan road trip,” then at least make it a decent, representative and inclusive trip, instead of doing it such an injustice.

    It’s not an “optimal Pure Michigan road trip” if you don’t include the many places I’ve mentioned above, and so many more.

    One look at all those red markers scattered about in the Lower Peninsula easily tells the observer that you managed to include a whole lot more places downstate than in the wild, wonderful Upper Peninsula — one of this country’s least inhabited, natural areas.

    I was born in the Lower Peninsula, but I was raised in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas, and I know my home state very well.

    You’re a post-doctoral “researcher” (allegedly) in Pennsylvania, and though there’s no information about where you were born or raised, your claim to know so much about Michigan (and especially the Upper Peninsula) is a joke. A real/true researcher would’ve done far more than the piss-poor “research” job that you did. What a mockery!

    • dawn g says:

      You have mentioned some amazing spots that my husband and I will be checking out in the near future. Thank you for such a great list.

  22. bambi berkowicz says:

    Mr. Olson acknowledged that not all spots were included. It is why he offered users a way to adapt the route to suit their own tastes.

  23. Janet Head Bandas says:

    This is awesome! We’re from Texas and taking a month long trip to Michigan in July. The trip layout already includes much of what we have planned, but everyone’s comments are immensely helpful! Keep those suggestions coming!

  24. wayleftcoaster says:

    You missed the great lakes Shipwreck Museum in Paradise.