Eastern U.S. Summer Road Trip Part 1: the Midwest and Great Lakes

We are moving to Poland in just a handful of weeks. Can you believe it? I can’t. I’m not sure when its going to sink in. Poland! We’re so excited. But right now, despite the fact that movers are coming tomorrow and I’m stress eating ice cream sandwiches and peanut butter pretzels by the handful, it doesn’t seem real. It’s bittersweet leaving our current home. We’ve spent more time here than anywhere else in our married life. Heck, its the longest I’ve spent in one home in my entire adult life. We brought a baby home from the hospital here, and watched the other take his first steps in the living room. I’ll always adore the birch tree in the backyard. But, its time to go. And, as seems to be tradition when we move, we have about a month where we will be between places and homes. We plan to spend this time visiting family and friends before we head across the pond to make our next home in Szczecin.

My husband and I have been on some epic road trip adventures together. We like to take advantage of this “homeless” month and use the drive from point A to B as the skeleton on which we grow our road trip itinerary. One summer, we made a huge loop of the Eastern United States. We left Georgia, drove to Kansas via Arkansas. Dropped off a car load of things the movers hadn’t moved. Then continued on up to Chicago. Spent a couple nights there. Drove north through Wisconsin, stopping in Sheboygan for lunch and Green Bay to wave at Lambeau Field. Then spent about a week camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the Porcupine Mountains and Pictured Rocks, before heading back down “south” via Mackinac Island, Traverse City and M-22. We spent a little time at my parent’s in western Michigan before heading east to Niagara falls and onward to the east coast from there, which I will tell you all about in Part Two of this two-part series. Scroll all the way to the bottom of this post, I mapped out the stopping points I will talk about here.

What I love about this route, is you can basically jump on it from anywhere East of the Mississippi. Unless you’re in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, or Arkansas, in which case, jump on in Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, or Arkansas. I have to tell you, I didn’t take a single one of these photos. I think, in a fit of nesting rage when I was pregnant and preparing for the birth of my first baby, that I must have deleted all of my pictures from this trip without backing them up. I was obviously out of my mind. So, photo cred goes to husband, who does take a nice photograph. But also, I am regretfully missing many photos. This trip was only four years ago, and yet seems like it was from a different life. This was our last summer B.C. (Before Children).

img_6458We left Georgia and drove west across Alabama and Mississippi to Arkansas. After our first night on the road in Jonesboro, AR, we stopped at a nice park with a neat old dam in Mammoth Spring, Arkansas, near the Missouri state line.

img_6934Our first stop out of Kansas. An unplanned overnight at a riverboat casino on the Mississippi River. We hadn’t made any reservations and were simply looking for a place to stay halfway between Chicago and Kansas City. I think we consulted Yelp as we rolled down I-90 and decided, yes that sounds like random fun. It was. I think for something like $70 we got a river view room with complimentary buffet passes, and a credit to use in the casino. We aren’t really “riverboat casino” people, but it was fun to be someone else for the night. Try it sometime.

img_7004img_6946img_6998img_6966Next up, a couple nights in sweet home. We went to a Sox game, only because the Cubs weren’t in town. But we did swing by Wrigleyville to have lunch at my favorite hole in the wall thai restaurant in a triangle shaped building directly under the Brown Line tracks. We visited my alma mater, Loyola University’s campus, which had changed so much. We hit up the Art Insitute, Millenium Park and otherwise played tourist. I like to think we would have made Ferris Beuller proud. Ultimate Chicago tourist activity: drinks (or drink, lets be honest, you pay for the view) at the Hancock Tower’s Signature Lounge on the 96th floor.

img_7016Photographic proof of our brief stop in Green Bay. Sheboygan was super cute and I was so happy to lunch on my beloved Lake Michigan. Fun fact: Sheboygan is known as the surf capital of the Great Lakes. Funner fun fact: you can surf on the Great Lakes.

img_7074img_7052img_6460img_7092One of my favorite parts of this trip full of favorite parts, was the drive through the north woods of Wisconsin into Michigan’s upper peninsula to the shore of Lake Superior in the Porcupine Mountains. What I loved about it was, it felt like we were leaving it all behind. The busy few weeks of packing and moving, along with the hustle of the cities and highways we had passed through up to this point. The woods were fresh and crisp and the road was lined with birch trees and peaceful green marshes. It was like driving through a sigh of relief and coming out feeling relaxed and refreshed on the other side. We camped at Union Bay campground, with the lake mere steps from our tent. Recommended Porcupine Mountain wilderness activities include: taking in views of Lake of the Clouds, hiking the Presque Isle River Waterfalls Loop, and Lake Superior sunset happy hour with your choice of beverage, camp chair, and company.

img_7125img_7212img_7247img_7309img_7269From Porcupine, we drove east to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Where we again, set up camp on the bluff above Lake Superior. This was a rustic campground, with no amenities beyond an outhouse. I’ll never forget my brave, tough, sucker-for-punishment, husband washing our camp dishes in the 42 degree F lake. I swear he gets a kick out of things like that. When you’re in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, there are some nice hikes through the woods along the water, but for the most part remember, to actually see the pictured rocks you have to get out on the water. Take a boat tour from Munising. Off-the-beaten-path explorer tip: read the book “A Face in the Rock, The Tale of a Grand Island Chippewa” by local author, Loren Graham. Gain an education and appreciation for the Native American history of the area. Then, visit the actual 200 year old face in the rock at the scenic Roadside Park on M-28, just east of Au Train. Read a little bit about this impressive tale here (but do read the book).img_7321.jpgimg_5051img_7322img_7340img_7336

Every Michigander knows no trip to Northern Michigan is complete without a stop at Mackinac Island. On our way down south, we met my parents in Saint Ignace and took the ferry over for an overnight on the island. Mackinac Island is a Michigan treasure. Visiting is like taking a step back in time. Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed, so transportation is by foot, bike, or horse. Mackinac Island has a little bit of something for everyone- a historic fort, two of them actually, for history buffs, cute little shops, restaurants, hiking trails, natural wonders, a golf course, a Grand Hotel, Adirondack chairs for watching lake freighters pass, and of course, fudge. We visited during Lilac Festival in the early summer, which was still off-season. Traveler tip: visit in the early summer off-season. Although I had been to Mackinac Island probably half a dozen times, this was my first time staying over after the last ferry boat left for the night. When it does, you get the place to yourself and can run down the middle of the – normally packed with horses, carriages and bikes – street. Like an idiot.


From the U.P., we continued down to Traverse City and Sleeping Bear Dunes, before making our way to my parent’s house where we stayed for a week or so. You could, technically, skip this part and continue directly to Niagara Falls, where I will pick up our adventure in Part 2: the East Coast. But trust me, you wouldn’t want to. Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Leelanau Peninsula in general, are on the top of the list of my favorite places on Earth. Insider info: this photo taken on the walk from North Bar Lake to the Sleeping Bear Dunes overlook on Lake Michigan. I don’t want to tell you any more, in fact, I hope no one reads this, because its kind of a hidden gem that is becoming not so hidden.

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For you visual learners, or if you’re like me and just like maps. Here you go! Ask your smart phone how to get from point to point, or consult your road atlas. Or if you have questions, ask me! I’m excited to share the rest of our journey in Part Two!





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