Travel the Lake Michigan Circle Tour

The Lake Michigan Circle Tour spans four states over a thousand miles, and connects over a hundred lighthouses. It’s one of the most scenic routes in the United States. As the name implies, the tour follows state highways around Lake Michigan, through Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

The Lake Michigan Circle Tour is a real adventure! Its roads–ranging from bustling to serene–are a plotted route which showcases the grandeur of Lake Michigan’s blue-green waters, often hugging the long circumference of the lakeshore. It holds the distinction of being the only one of the Great Lakes Circle Tours navigable entirely inside of the United States. On its route, coastal communities welcome travelers with a smile while the surrounding wilderness inspires a perpetual sense of awe.

The Lake Michigan Circle Tour is roughly 1,100 miles long and would take around 17 hours (averaging 65 mph) with no stops.

The entire tour is an ambitious undertaking, so for planning purposes, and ease of travel, we are simplifying and organizing this massive tour into two main segments: the Northern and Southern Lake Michigan Circle Tours. These segments are further divided into a combined total of nine distinct regions with detailed information about the towns and attractions within each region and destination. Half-the-lake trips can be accomplished by taking a car ferry across Lake Michigan, which is a wonderful experience where a big ship does the driving and allows you to relax and enjoy the cruise! 

A Northern Lake Michigan Experience

The Northern Lake Michigan experience is like no other. It’s quieter up north. Calmer. Slower. Ahhh…

Enjoy beautiful scenery along curvy roads, as well as many magnificent vistas from high on a hill top overlooking Lake Michigan. Whether you are at the water’s edge,  deep within a wooded valley, or cruising through rolling countryside dotted with farms–you will be inspired by the beauty you find along the way.

There are only a couple of larger sized cities around the northern half of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. On the Michigan side, the largest is Traverse City, and on the Wisconsin side, the largest is Green Bay. Other than these two bustling, yet beautiful, northern Lake Michigan cities, what you will find along the way are dozens of charming towns, with miles of scenic lakeshore in between.

On our Northern Lake Michigan Circle Tour page, we will start your tour at the home port of the S.S. Badger carferry in Ludington, Michigan, and continue north (counter-clockwise) around Lake Michigan. You will cross over the Mackinac Bridge which spans the Straits of Mackinaw between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. You’ll travel west through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and then turn south through Wisconsin, eventually ending in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where you can ride the ferry back to Michigan.

Read our Northern Lake Michigan Circle Tour story

The Southern Lake Michigan Adventure

Southern Lake Michigan is all about coastal cities, grand marinas, and attractions galore.

Michigan’s largest cities on the southern portion of the lake include St. Joseph, Grand Haven, and Muskegon.  Lake Michigan’s grandest city is Chicago, and Milwaukee is the biggest Wisconsin city on Southern Lake Michigan.  There’s a city for everyone to enjoy!

Famous attractions around Southern Lake Michigan include the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

For the purpose of this article, we are starting the Southern Lake Michigan Circle Tour in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and continuing south (counter-clockwise) around Lake Michigan, eventually ending in Ludington, Michigan, where you can ride the S.S. Badger carferry back to Wisconsin.

Read our Southern Lake Michigan Circle Tour story

How to Take a Circle Tour Shortcut!

Cut your travel time and enjoy a relaxing cruise across Lake Michigan on one of two car ferries which operate daily during the extended summer season.

These ferries, which transport passengers and vehicles across Lake Michigan, run between Ludington, Michigan and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and also between Muskegon, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Read About the Ferries of Lake Michigan

In summary, if you’ve been looking for an epic trip, look no further than the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. What are you waiting for? 

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