Landscape of Traverse city in Autumn, surrounded by golden trees and the bright clear sky
Gary R Ennis Photos/

M-22 Road Trip: a scenic drive along the Lake Michigan shoreline

Published by Pat Dorri on November 5 2022

With dramatic views across Lake Michigan, M-22 is one of the state's most famous scenic drives, with picturesque shorelines and beautiful countryside all along the route. Beside the stunning scenery, you'll stumble upon quaint towns along the way, including charming Manistee and historic Frankfort.

It takes 2 hours 50 minutes to drive the scenic M-22, following the shore of Lake Michigan for 120 miles through Manistee, Arcadia and Frankfort to Traverse City or start in Chicago for a 7 hour 20 minute, 390-mile trip via Indiana Dunes and Holland.

During fall the striking greenery turns vibrant red and brown, making it a wonderful time to drive this scenic Michiganroad. M-22 was even voted 'Best Scenic Autumn Drive' back in 2015, so keep on reading to find out what makes it such an amazing drive whatever time of year you visit.

Where is M-22?

The whole length of M-22 is in Michigan, following a stretch of the Northeastern shore of Lake Michigan. It passes through small fishing towns and villages such as Manistee, Onekama, Frankfort, Lake Township, Leland, Northport and Traverse City.

River surrounded by colourful trees
Take a stroll and discover the rivers in Manistee.
Devon Kotke/

The scenic road offers beautiful lake views throughout the drive, but there are also some amazing natural wonders that you'll pass, including Arcadia Dunes, Crystal Lake, Glen Lake, West Arm Grand Traverse Bay.

Where does M-22 begin and end?

Manistee, on the shore of Lake Michigan, is where the scenic drive along M-22 begins.

This small town, located 265 miles out of Chicago, is famous for its picturesque views, historic downtown, and also as a gateway into Huron Manistee National Forest.

M-22 runs right the way up to Traverse City, which is also in Michigan. Looking out over the West and East Arms of Grand Traverse Bay, it has fantastic freshwater beaches. It's also known as the Cherry Capital of the World!

How long is M-22, and how long will it take to drive the entire M-22?

Comparison of road trip routes incorporating the scenic M-22
RouteDistanceDriving Time
Scenic M-22 from Manistee to Traverse City
125 miles2 hours 50 minutes
Taking the scenic M-22 from Chicago
(includes time/distance on scenic M-22)
390 miles7 hours 20 minutes
Taking the Scenic M-22 from Detroit
(includes time/distance on scenic M-22)
380 miles7 hours

M-22 itself is about 120 miles long, including the short distance you'll need to travel along other roads to get all the way from Manistee to Traverse City, Michigan.

You can cover this distance in around 2 hours and 50 minutes if you don't make any stops, meaning you could easily complete the round trip in half a day.

Many travellers will make their way from other cities in the region. One of the most popular is Chicago, which is 265 miles away from Manistee. If you start your trip from the Windy City then the one-way drive via M-22 to Traverse City is 390 miles long.

Chicago Skyline aerial view skyscrapers by the beach , vintage colors
Chicago is a perfect place to start this road trip.

With a driving time of 7 hours and 20 minutes, you'll probably want to stop at least once on your drive from Chicago. With so many amazing views to admire along the way, we'd suggest taking your time so that you can really appreciate this amazing part of the world - a night or two by the lakeshore makes the perfect scenic getaway.

Best way to drive M-22

Driving the full 120 miles of the M-22 allows you to see the scenic road in its full glory. You'll ride along the eastern shores of Lake Michigan then turn along the western side of Great Traverse Bay before reaching your destination.

As you'll be following this one road almost all the way, it's pretty simple to navigate this route so you can give all your attention to the stunning beaches, lush forests and quaint towns you'll pass.

M-22 is still considered something of a hidden gem, so heavy traffic isn't usually an issue. Along the way, you're sure to find a secluded spot to pause and admire Lake Michigan.

If, like many travellers, you're starting your trip from Chicago, you'll find that the route via Interstate 90 (I-90) and I-94 is pretty straightforward. As an added bonus, you'll be able to enjoy the southern shores of Lake Michigan along the way.

As well as nature spots and sweeping lake views you'll pass through charming towns like Holland voted 'America's Prettiest Town' not too long ago.

Driving the entire length of M-22

Leave Manistee on Route 31, heading toward the airport. A little way out of town you'll take a left turn just after Little River to pick up the start of M-22, this scenic drive that you'll be following for the next few hours.

This will take you north, swinging round the shore of Portage Lake before carrying on through Arcadia and Green Point Dunes.

Next, after crossing Betsie Lake, you'll reach Frankfort where you can stop to explore this charming historic town. From here the road hugs the shore of Lake Crystal and carries on through Empire and Glen Arbor.

Follow the road around Good Harbor Bay then up past Clay Cliffs Natural Area to Northport, where you'll change direction and start heading south along Great Traverse Bay.

From Sutton Bay, the road cuts inland for a couple of miles before you begin the final, stunning stretch along Great Traverse Bay into Traverse City.

Driving M-22 from Chicago to Traverse City

Head east out of Chicago on I-90 then merge onto I-94 near Portage. The interstate will take you past Indiana Dunes National Park then on into Michigan, where you'll change onto the I-196 a little way past Benton and St Joseph.

The silhouette of Indiana Dunes State Park landscape overlooking Lake Michigan at sunset
Take a minute and relax by watching the sunset at Indiana Dunes National Park.
Sarah Quintans/

Follow I-196 along the shore of Lake Michigan until you reach Holland, where you exit onto Highway 31 to continue north. The highway will take you all the way to Manistee to start the scenic part of this drive, passing through Grand Haven and Muskegon along the way.

Best places to stay along M-22

You can drive the length of M-22 in a single day, but with such a beautiful landscape to explore many travellers choose to stay a night or two while they make the drive.

Empire, Michigan

Whether you're travelling from Manistee or all the way from Chicago, a great place to spend the first night of your trip is the coastal small town of Empire.

The Empire Lakeshore Inn in Empire, Michigan, offers a delightful combination of charm and convenience, making it a favorite among guests.

Nestled in a picturesque location, the inn boasts modern and clean rooms. The proximity to the beach and a local bar/restaurant adds to the allure, providing guests with easy access to leisure activities and dining options.

The Empire Lakeshore Inn serves as an ideal base for exploring the stunning Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, renowned for its natural beauty. The inn's location ensures that guests are never far from the best sights and experiences that Empire has to offer.

Bright blue skies and the waters of Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Not far from Empire, you'll find Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which is a beautiful spot for a summer stroll.
Craig Sterken/

The friendly and welcoming staff at the Empire Lakeshore Inn receive consistent praise from visitors. Their attentiveness and local knowledge enhance the stay, making guests feel at home and well-informed about the area's attractions and activities.

For activities outside the inn, guests recommend a visit to the nearby beach, which is just a short walk away. The beach offers a tranquil setting for relaxation and enjoying the natural beauty of Lake Michigan.

Additionally, exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes and indulging in the local dining scene are highly recommended to complete the Empire experience.

Traverse City, Michigan

Once you reach the end of your M-22 drive, kick back and relax with Traverse City, where you'll find a great range of outdoor activities to enjoy. The climate and terrain also lend themselves to viticulture, so you'll find a number of wineries in and around the town.

Several of the vineyards and wineries are open to visitors. Famous establishments where you can have taste of the local wines include Bowers Harbor Vineyards, Mari Vineyards, Chateau Chantal Winery and Brys Estate Winery.

Downtown Traverse City is on the shoreline of the west part of Grand Traverse Bay, and when you walk along scenic Front Street you can visit stores, galleries and restaurants. Don't forget to visit Cherry Republic for cherry related products while you're in the Cherry Capital of the World!

Also on West Grand Traverse Bay is Clinch Park, a popular spot with sandy beaches - bring a picnic and enjoy a scenic lunch. Nearby, the renovated historic site of The Village at Grand Traverse Commons now offers shopping, fine dining, gardens, and spa treatments.

Tamarack Lodge offers an ideal blend of comfort and natural beauty, making it a superb choice for a road trip stopover. The well-equipped kitchens in each suite allow for the convenience of home-cooked meals, adding a touch of homeliness to your travels.

The accommodations are spacious, suitable for families or groups, and provide stunning views of the surrounding area. The lodge's location by the lake, with its private beach, offers a serene escape and opportunities for relaxation and outdoor activities like walking tours and billiards.

Sunset hitting the waters over west Grand Traverse Bay
Listen to the waves as you relax at West Grand Traverse Bay.
David Lingholm/

Tamarack Lodge's proximity to local attractions such as the State Park Beach and the Dennos Museum Center offers a blend of cultural and recreational activities. The shared fire pit and barbecue facilities at the lodge further enhance the outdoor experience, making it a memorable part of your journey.

Things to see on a road trip along M-22

Most travellers are immediately attracted to the road trip along M-22 by the fabulous lakeshore views, but there are plenty of other attractions that make this drive the perfect pick for a scenic road trip.

Things to see on the road trip from Chicago to Manistee

  1. Gary, Indiana - Go to Marquette Park and see the 1921 Pavilion next to the lagoon and Lake Street Beach.
  2. Indiana Dunes National Park, Porter - Indiana Dunes is a 15,000-acre National Park next to the Lake Michigan shoreline. You can explore the dunes, prairies, rivers and forests on the 50 miles of hiking trails.
  3. Michigan City - Immerse yourself in the forest and streams at Trail Creek and take photographs at the Michigan City East Light.
  4. South Haven - Stroll the picturesque Van Buren State Park with 1-mile-long tranquil beach. There are campgrounds, picnic tables and grills waiting.
  5. Holland - With its historic charm and cobblestone sidewalks, pretty Holland has been voted America's Prettiest Town, so it's the perfect place to stop and explore.
  6. Grand Haven - Visit this graceful small town between May and September to see the Grand Haven Musical Fountain, which performs synchronized routines at dusk.
  7. Pentwater - You'll find stunning beaches in Pentwater, where you can join in on a yoga class on the Charles Mears State Park beach in the summer.
  8. Ludington - Step back in time to pioneer times at the Historic White Pine Village. The village includes an original 1849 County Courthouse and a working sawmill.
Light house on bright white sands next to the blue ocean
Feel the sand in between your toes on the white beaches in Ludington.
Frederick Millett/

Things to see on the M-22 between Manistee and Traverse City

  1. Manistee - Spend a few hours in the Manistee Historical Museum to learn more about the town, then go fishing on the Manistee River or enjoy the Orchard Beach State Park.
  2. Captain John Langland Park, Onekama - For a secluded beach walk, go to Captain John Langland Beach. You can park 90 yards from the water.
  3. Arcadia Dunes - Follow the Overlook Trail to look over Lake Michigan from a new perspective.
  4. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore - The sand dunes here are huge and walking up the dune climb is a strenuous hike. For more accessible views, ask a ranger at the Philip Hart Visitor Center.
  5. Glen Lake, Glen Arbor - Hire a boat or pontoon and spend a day on the inland Glen Lake. Surrounded by dunes and forested hills, it's a scenic day on the clear waters.
  6. Nedows Bay, Leland - Canoe and kayak at Nedows Bay. A family-friendly beach it's a popular stop in the summer months.
  7. Clay Cliffs Natural Area, The Leelanau Conservancy - Take a hike through forest terrain to the viewing platform. You'll see Lake Michigan to your west and Lake Leelanau to the east.
  8. Omena - Taste the local wines at Leelanau Wine Cellars and Tasting Room. They'll offer free samples as you overlook the Grand Traverse Bay.
  9. Suttons Bay - Before arriving at Suttons Bay, try your hand in Leelanau Sands Casino. Then visit Suttons Bay with its wealth of wineries and restaurants.
  10. Boughey Park, North Traverse City - Boughey Park is a small and quiet beach. There are seating areas and picnic tables on the waterfront.

Best time to visit M-22

Michigan has warm summers followed by harsh winters which bring freezing temperatures with snow and ice. This means that, depending on the time of year, your driving experience along the M-22 will vary.

In summer, temperatures seldom exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit or fall below 55 degrees, so although it's not excessively hot, the weather sees people flock to beaches to enjoy water-based activities. June, July and August are the hottest months, and also when the beaches near M-22 are busiest.

A wooden walkway to a bright white beach followed by the clearest waters and blue sky
Looking for paradise? Spend a summer's day at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Craig Sterken/

In contrast, from November through to February you'll experience extremely cold conditions. Temperatures can drop as low as 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Snow is common from December to February, but it's rare for it to cause closures on the M-22. With fewer visitors to the beaches, you're likely to have a quieter journey in winter. However, this also means that some shops, trails and smaller roads may not be open during winter months.

Thanks to the M-22 being coined the 'Best Autumn Scenic Drive' fall is actually the most popular time to drive this route. To see the foliage changing color in spectacular style, visit mid-October.

September and October have an average temperature of around 60 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, so it isn't too cold and it's comfortable enough to hike the trails.

Fast forward to spring and March remains cold, with temperatures averaging around 35 degrees Fahrenheit, but by May that rises to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spring is a great time to visit because the greenery comes to light and many open businesses open their doors after winter closures. If you're making this road trip in May, you will catch the Annual Tulip Festival in Holland.

Whatever time of year you visit, you can be sure to come home with unforgettable memories of the ever-changing Lake Michigan shoreline, which makes for a beautiful drive in all seasons.