Circling Lakes

In a stroke of tourism genius, Michigan started establishing Great Lakes Circle Tours in the 1980s.  Basically, the states and local jurisdictions that border the Great Lakes identified roads with special signage to help travelers maintain a scenic route close to the shoreline.  According to the official website, “four of the five Great Lakes feature “Circle Tour” routes, as well as the Great Lakes Seaway Trail in New York State and Pennsylvania.”  I had traveled along the Seaway Trail in New York, so I was excited to pick up some of the other Circle Tours during this leg of my journey. 

Part of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour runs right through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

From Indiana Dunes, I followed the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route by picking up US-12 out of New Buffalo.  From there, it was pretty much US-31 all the way to the city of Honor and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, even though it didn’t actually run along the shoreline and other roads did.  Throughout the Leelanau Peninsula, a combination of M-22 and M-109 hug the coast and take you through several quaint little towns like Glen Arbor, Leeland, Northport, and Suttons Bay, as well as the Leelanau State Park, the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, beautiful cherry orchards, farmers stands, beaches, and stunning coastline views.

Along M-22, I stumbled across this sign alerting me about passing through the 45th parallel, the north-south halfway point between the equator and the north pole.  Interesting!
Lake Michigan lakeshore at Leelanau State Park.
Grand Traverse Lighthouse was erected by the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1858 and was converted to a family dwelling for the lightkeeper and his family around 1900.  Once the light tower was automated in 1972, the building was closed and the current mission of the building as a museum occurred in 1986.  The museum inside with original furnishings was truly impressive.
According to, Michigan produces 70% of the U.S. supply of tart cherries (ranking first in production).  In fact, Traverse City bills itself as the Cherry Capital of the World! Tart and sweet, this area has all kinds of cherries. 
I’m not much for tart cherries, but the sweet cherries happen to be in season and were being sold in roadside stands everywhere, so I stopped to pick up a few for snacking.  Delicious!
The Great Lakes are known for their white fish, a relative of trout, salmon, and char.  Its mild flavor was perfectly accented with a savory crust of pecans and dried tart cherries for my lunch along the shore.

The next day, I picked up Traverse City, continuing to hug the Lake Michigan shoreline, and rode north on US-31. I picked up M-119 to Harbor Springs and rode north on what’s known as the Tunnel of Trees

My good friend Christi grew up in Traverse City, so I had to stop and have a Cosmo ice cream cone from the Dairy Lodge, a place where she worked growing up. The “cosmo” of the ice cream cone is Rice Krispies and chocolate.
The yellow diamond sign says “Narrow Winding Road, Next 20 miles.”  Music to a motorcyclist’s ears 🙂  At only 21 miles between Harbor Springs and Cross Village, it’s a short, but twisty, scenic ride.
The road was super narrow, with no centerline, necessitating vehicles to hug the outer edge to pass each other.  I’m northbound in this pic, so there are stunning views of Lake Michigan off to my left, and dense forest dotted with beautiful houses off to my right.  Though spectacular in the summer, I imagine this road would be best enjoyed in the fall when the leaves are changing.

Just as I popped out the northern end of the Tunnel of Trees and spotted the legendary Legs Inn, I could feel the rain clouds about to open up, so I quickly found a seat at the bar (table wait times were 1.5 hours!) and ordered a smoked white fish salad.  The food was good, but the back patio was the real treat once the rain let up.

According to the Historical Site sign out front, “The Legs Inn was named for the stove legs that trim the roofline.  The building reflects Stanley Smolak’s creativity and the craftsmanship of local Odawa (Ottawa) Indians.  A Polish immigrant, Smolak came to the U.S. in 1912 and settled in Cross Village in 1921.  During the 1930s, Smolak enlisted the labor of Odawa and other area residents to construct the inn from locally gathered timber and stones.” 
Stunning landscaping and view of Lake Michigan from the back lawn of the Legs Inn.

From Cross Creek, I wanted to continue to follow the coast eastward to Mackinaw City, but a local dissuaded me, citing horrible road conditions.  So, I heeded her advice and took a more direct highway route, which ended up being under construction almost the whole way.  Construction was so bad that in several sections, the concrete was torn up and unpaved sections just left as open gravel pits.  My riding and towing abilities are certainly being tested this trip!  But, like the t-shirt slogan says:  “But, did you die?!”  No, I didn’t die, and I’ve lived to tell the tale and dive headlong into the next challenge… the Mighty Mac!

4 thoughts on “Circling Lakes

Add yours

  1. You’re killin’ me Smalls! This trip gets more epic every week. I’ll bet that lighthouse museum was cool.

    Ride SAFE and stay in touch.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just love reading your adventures! Was Mackinaw island on the route? I’ve always heard about it and never have been!


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