Rudey's Room

Circle Tour: Driving Around Lake Michigan Travel Journal

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

– J. R. R. Tolkien


Why don’t we go all the way around?

It’s debatable which one of us actually said this. We both take credit, of course, but pssst, as much as I want to say it was my idea, I think this one was organically born. Both my husband and I decided that yes, yes, we wanted to go all the way around.

It’s an unknown term, but this road trip is officially called the Circle Tour.

Have you seen this sign in the Midwest? Next time you see it call it out: Circle Tour! If you follow the signs, it will get you all the way around.




All the way around Lake Michigan, that is. According to the official website, the Circle Tour covers 900 miles and would take 14 hours with no stops.

We spent a few hours planning our trip online and it appeared to be the set up of a classic road trip – lots of driving. Plus it featured the largest freshwater dunes, an island, and mile after mile of …

Pure Michigan.

We decided to do it in eight days.

We started the tour at home in Chicago with a day at Lollapalooza. We spent the first four hours of the day with the girls in Grant Park.




Kids that are 10 and under get in free with a paying adult. It was so entertaining for them that I had to drag them away in a taxi to meet our babysitter, who was waiting on our front stoop.




We ditched the girls so that my husband and I could enjoy the night listening to one of our favorites – the Red Hot Chili Peppers  – sans kids. Under the Bridge is hands down one of my top songs of all time and I was geeked to see them knock it out of the park live. I bumped into a dear friend and the Peppers’ performance put this show at the top of my list.

Day 2 of our trip had an interesting start as we both lost our car keys at Lolla (what are the odds?). It wasn’t until 11 p.m. the night before our road trip that we realized this snafu.

We were barely delayed thanks to quick thinking by my husband to call a locksmith that night and have the key master set to arrive at 10 the next a.m.

By 11:30 a.m. we were en route to Silver Lake, Michigan. Our start was rocky – keys, traffic –  but we remained hopeful to make afternoon Dune Buggy rental reservation. We made it in time, but after stopping by the store we quickly realized we were out of our league.  On our drive into town we saw SUV’s and pick up trucks with flags attached to the back and realized this is probably not in our best interest to be novices attacking the the dunes with our girls.

The store was so helpful and guided us to try Mac Wood’s Dune Rides

The ride was a better fit for us. It was a safe and fun-filled ride and the panorama views of the dunes, Lake Michigan, and Silver Lake were breathtaking. It lasted 40 minutes and on it you learned about the history of the dunes while feeling like you were on a roller coaster.




The buggies leave frequently, so no reservation is needed.


The dunes at Silver Lake are stunning and unexpected. Veronica said this was her Wow from the trip. Her reasoning was you ran up the dune and had no idea that the top would go on and on and be so rewarding.




We hightailed it from Silver Lake to Thompsonville. We entered the ski resort of Crystal Mountain in darkness and checked into where we stayed for two nights.

Day 3 consisted of lots of family friendly outdoor activities.

We ziplined.




We biked the wooded trails.

We challenged the adventure course.




And rode the 1700-foot Alpine Slide many times.




“I’m going with you mama,” my youngest said to me after her first time with daddy. “This time speed up.”

Most of the ride down I heard, “faster, faster, mama.”

My youngest has her left thumb permanently pushing up to more, faster.

On the other hand, Veronica said to Stephen before the second tour, “Take it easy, take it easy. Slow it down dad.”



Just before that troublesome ride


I leaned into her insistence, but quickly realized why mommy needs to be in charge. We pushed the speed too much, went too fast on the turns, and on the third turn Stella started to tumble out. I reached to save our stella and got friction burn on my arm in several spots as did she.

Falling off was a low point – my pow. It was so painful.

As the attendant told me, “We made those rules for a reason. We’ve tested them, we’ve broken them, and we’ve learned. Were you going too fast? Were you leaning into the turns?

I nodded yes. “Remember,” he said. “You are in control.”

Life lesson: Stay in control. If you can. Life will throw lots of curveballs so when the control is yours, take it.

I’m just grateful no one got really hurt.




“I’m officially over going fast,” Stella said after that too fast ride.

On Day 4, we started off with a canoe ride down the Platte River on a Riverside Canoe Trip.





We switched places at one point where Veronica was up front and I lazy rivered with Stella in the back.




This is a highly recommended activity.




We stayed on the beaten path and played in the sand near the base of the Platte River. The backdrop was beyond jaw dropping. In this pic you can see a hint of the dune cliffs, but my goodness, it was stunning and uncapturable.

What’s a vacation without a sand castle?




On that beach, we chatted with locals and heard that Empire was the spot to set up for the day. Coastal Living agrees as mentioned here.  Maybe next time we do Pure Michigan.

Our next stop was the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  

Dunin’ it right!  That’s right, as we passed  through this dunnie area, we cheesed out and played the Daft Punk songIt brings me back to smiles to that moment now, which is priceless.

It was tempting to race down the dune. Thankfully a couple passerbys warned us against the urge before we had the chance to run. They said it could take hours to get back up the 450-foot dunes, ending in a $1500 fine if you needed assistance.




Can you believe this is Lake Michigan? (no filter).


We were so tempted to run down. It was a wee bit nerve racking initially. But once you go a little lower, you see you’re not going to tumble into Lake Michigan. It takes more effort than a fall to get down.




The dunes are a natural wonder. Unexpected and the colors so different than the other side of the lake. Are we really in Michigan?  Why yes, Pure Michigan.

The end of our fourth day was in Bar Harbor near Petosky. The sun was sinking within the hour of checking into our hotel.




In Door County, we have the west-side sunsets. In Chicago, we do not. This sunset was so spectacular.

We spent less than 12 hours here, but Bay Harbor was treat. We stayed at the Inn at Bay Harbor and I highly recommend this spot. If I could extend our trip a day, it would be here. I’d like to check out Boyne Mountain, Short Brewery, and circle back to Traverse City.

Day 5 started with a swim in this pool,




followed by lunch at Petoskey Brewing CompanyMy new favorite Michigan beer is from New Holland Brewing – Mad Hatter – although the IPA at Petoskey is quite good too.




We took the Sheplers Ferry to Mackinac Island and the ride was exciting.




By Day 5, we reached Mackinac Island.

It was the mid-point of our trip and we really started to sink into vacation mode. Possibly it was the two-beer lunch, but mostly it was the relief to ditch the car for a full 48 hours.

The first night we stayed at the historic Grand Hotel

After a dip in the pool, we dressed in our finest for happy hour on the porch. Veronica enjoyed a Shirley Cocktail, as we previously knew it to be a Kiddie Cocktail.




My girls enjoyed the golden hour on the porch.




The light was magnificent so we had a little shadow play on. There is something about this picture that steals my heart. It feels straight from my favorite childhood book.




That was my shot.

This is Stella’s chef d’oeuvre of me.




Queen Elsa was with us that day on the island. One glance at the old-timey picture and she knew where she was going, “Oh look. Everyone was princesses.”




I mean really, this girl cannot resist a princess moment. Clearly, she was simply going with the vibe as she stole my scarf to don her look.




She is a princess at heart.




She was ah-do rah-ble, but, at the end of the night, my flowy scarf smelt ripe. It was as if she had just walked through a freshly menured field of dung. Oh wait, she kind of did.

We loved the dinner and the hospitality at the Jockey Club at the Grand.




The next day we milked the hotel’s grounds until after 5 p.m.

The amazing pool.




The girls are on the giant snake in the middle.


IMG_5274 (1)


The snow cone maker.




We played bocci and explored the labyrinth where we were asked to, “surrender to the path. Let your mind wonder.” Yes!

Instead of touring the fort (above), we opted for nine holes of foot golf.




Stephen was set upon playing foot golf, and I’m so glad he was. It was a fantastic two hours en famille. 




Another option would be the mini golf on the greens at the Mission Resort. It’s the real deal for putt putt.

After a good-bye beer at the Jockey, we hopped on our bikes and headed to our next hotel.

Our second night on Mackinaw we stayed at the Chippewa Hotel




Kid Rock took his yacht to the hotel’s Pink Pony bar the week before – just in case you were wondering.

Fudge is a thing on Mackinac Island. We stopped in a few to sniff and see the section before landing on Murdick’s Fudge. What drew me in was the all natural sign.




The fudge maker was so helpful with our questions on allergies and even gave us a free sample as a before-dinner treat. Oh my, it was like a warm brownie.




Our second next’s dinner was at the Carriage House at the Iroquois Hotel

The food was quality and the view was outstanding.




Our last day on the island we biked the 8.2 miles around. We had an incredible morning, and these pink vibes might mean something, non?  Check it.




Our family likes to hop on our bikes to explore our surroundings.




Lake Huron was peaceful.




The glistening waters were sensational.




Arch Rock is a must stop.




I truly l.o.v.e. raising sisters. They bicker, of course, but catching these interactions touches me to the core.




It’s hard to resist a look-out spot.





On Mackinac the smell of dung is pungent. We sang, “Cacadoo every time we saw a poop on our bike ride and talked about “dung dust,” which is what we called the powder residue. (You can take the girls out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girls).




This was honestly one of my favorite trips.

We sunk into our family time and it was amazing to spent the time together. The girls handled the car well. We planned, yet we also rolled with it.  I appreciate this perspective on planning.

I will admit that my second pow was getting us lost on the way to Moomers for ice cream.

Our phones had no signal. Stephen was driving and I was navigating. As my husband gently pointed out, it’s probably best to know where you’re going before you start going and not rely on the signal of the phone. Touché. 

Yet, I was determined to find Moomers as it was considered a best ice cream spot in Food and Wine. We subscribe to Food and Wine, and I really like that magazine. It was a goose chase for ice cream, but finding moments, n’est-ce pas? 

We went an hour out of our way, but honestly it was worth it. To my Door County peeps, this spot is better then Wilsons.

Different view – DC is on the bay and this is on a farm field – but tops in my book for ice cream. Maybe it wasn’t so much of a pow after all.




I had better luck with a real map. We stopped near Platte River to get some Michigan maps and it was helpful to have a physical one.




The last two days of our vacation we spent at my family’s cottage in Wisconsin. We spent the weekend hanging out with my parents and one of my closest friends and her family at my family cottage.

Family and friends in one of my favorite spots – what’s better than this.


My college friend and I:




My friend’s daughter and mine:




The weather was glorious and as always, there were the most amazing sunsets …




We completed the circle at home in Logan Square. On our 12th wedding anniversary. We dined on our pizza staple – Dags pizza – and one of our favorite pretzels from The Radler. (In case you’re looking for other Chicago pretzels, here’s my take).

Pure Michigan. It’s where it’s at. If you’re looking for a solid vacation, you won’t go wrong in Upper Michigan and certainly not taking the Circle Tour.



P.S. I’m thinking we’ll try the Manitowoc to Ludington and then stop by Mackinac Island. Anyone done that before?

4 Responses to “Circle Tour: Driving Around Lake Michigan Travel Journal”

  1. Marilyn Bartkowiak

    The boat ride is a great family experience. First time we did this was to come for a visit with family in Wisconsin. Also, your next Pure Michigan vacation, a must is Traverse City. One of my favorite places, and also one of Amy’s. As a kid.


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