Makinak Island, where Lake Michigan and Lake Khuron meet, is a destination many people haven’t heard of yet, but it offers a unique opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of Chicago.

A 415 mile trip from Chicago to Mackinac Island can be made in one day, taking 6 hours and 30 minutes before considering a stopover, but you can instead take a few days to explore Michigan or make the long journey north through Green Bay.

Read on to find out where to stop along the way, what the best route is and what the best tips are for your trip.

How far is Makinak Island of Chicago and how long can I get there?

Why are we specifically looking for the trip to Chicago you’re asking for? Well, for those like me who live too far away to go all the way, we have to find a logical starting point.

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is one of the largest in the world and although Detroit’s subway is slightly closer, it offers flights to take you there from anywhere in the world.

Exactly how far do you have to go? The ferry port to the island is in Makinav, 415 miles from Chicago. Assuming you don’t have to stop for gas or use the lounge, you can travel in just under 6 hours and 30 minutes.

This makes it a trip you can make in a day if you want, even if you have to make strange stops along the way.

You also don’t have to worry about spending too much time in the car, because when you arrive you leave the car at the harbour to stretch your legs and breathe fresh, clean air.

There is a fully equipped car bar on the island, so even if you come all the way here, you won’t really be able to get to the island of Makinak itself.

Best route for a car trip from Chicago to Makinak Island

The quickest route, which also has the lowest number of kilometres, is a relatively direct route, where you spend most of your time on the motorway.

This includes leaving town on the I-94 and following the town over the bottom of Lake Michigan to the I-196, then following it until it ends at Grand Rapids.

The most direct route from here is US-131 to the north.

But since I am sure that everyone who goes to Makinak Island loves nature, I suggest a little detour. If you head north on the US-37, follow a more scenic route through the Huron Maniste National Forest.

River Road of America sign on the side of the road along the Manisti National Forest on a cloudy day
This scenic road is only a small part of the view you get when making a detour through the Manisti National Forest on your way from Chicago to Makinak Island.

ehrlif/Shutterstock.com

This national beauty, known for its abundance of wildlife and incredible landscapes, is often overlooked because it is a little misplaced. I think it’s worth the extra 20 miles and 30 minutes.

When you have finished exploring the forests, continue north on US-37 to Baldwin, then east on US-10 to US-131, which we avoided at the beginning of this cycle.

It’s an easy way out. At Cadillac, head east on US 55 to Horton Lake, where you will reach US 127. Drive north until it meets the I-75, which will take you the rest of the way.

Best ports of call between Chicago and Makinak Island

A trip is certainly possible in one day, but what do you want to do on a train?

If you take your time, there’s no real reason to race from a to b and possibly miss out on major attractions.

Overnight stay in Grand Rapids, Michigan

If you want to interrupt your trip for a few days, which might be better than a halfway stop.

Grand Rapids is the second largest city in Michigan with just over 205,000 inhabitants. With its rich history and great mix of cultures, it is a great opportunity to visit this fantastic city that many people visit.

The building with the glass structure of the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The Gerard R. Ford Museum, one of the attractions in the huge park of Michigan, houses the memories of the late President of the United States.

Fsendek/Shutterstock.de

With attractions such as the Gerald R. Ford Museum and John Ball Zoo, it’s more than enough to fill a day trip.

As for the evening, the city is not called Bierstadt for nothing, and there are many bars and restaurants where you can relax and have a local drink before you hit the streets in the morning.

The best hotel in town is the AC Hotel Grand Rapids Downntown, with its chic design and cool atmosphere in a 19th century building. You’re in the middle of the action and if, like me, you’re not a fan of expensive parking services, there’s a quality parking lot across the street.

Juronov national forests

To see this, you have to do the tours I suggest, and if you do, you will soon be satisfied with your decision.

The Huron-Manist National Forest is a natural beauty of almost one million hectares. From towering forests and rock formations to beautiful, clear lakes and rivers, Khuron Maniste is an excellent example of nature at its best.

For the more adventurous there are many hunting and fishing spots. There are also fun water activities such as boats and hoses to get your blood pumping.

Or maybe you just want to explore the area? Well, there are many hiking, biking or horseback riding trails where you can walk to your heart’s content.

Even if you just want to relax and enjoy the beauty, there are beaches, dunes and picnic areas that make this trip more than worth it.

Don’t worry, if you decide to travel during the winter months, you won’t be disappointed. Activities such as snowmobiling, skiing and snowshoeing allow you to get the best out of the snow.

Whether you come in summer or winter, the Crystal Mountain Hotel is located north of the national forests. This charming house away from home is situated at the foot of a small ski mountain – an ideal place to stay after a day of hiking.

Day in the city of Makinau

While the previous stop was based on a small detour, you will pass it no matter what your route is. Indeed, you will park here to take the ferry to Makinak Island.

However, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s just a parking lot, because Mackinaw has always been ranked as the most popular tourist town in Michigan. With this in mind, you should make the most of it and visit a number of sites during your stay.

USCGC Mackinaw retired American Coastguard icebreaker, red museum ship in the harbour of Mackinaw Michigan at nightfall
Visit to the USCGC Mackinaw, which was an icebreaker for the American Coastguard and is now a museum for red boats.

ehrlif/Shutterstock.com

Among the sights you will discover in the city is an 18th century fortress. Here you will also find Fort Micilimakinak, the largest icebreaker on the Great Lakes, the USCGC Makinau and the historic village of Makinau.

There are also several lighthouses and even a national park called Historical Mill Creek and a nature reserve.

Whether you want to spend the day sightseeing or even a little extra time on your trip and spend the night, you’ll really appreciate some of the experiences you can have in Mackinaw City.

Visit to a road trip from Chicago to Makinak Island

Whether you choose a 7-day or a 7-day trip, you won’t forget it. For anyone who likes to travel by road, it’s not just a matter of knowing how to get to your destination, it’s also a matter of knowing what sights and experiences you can bring along along the way.

Although some car rides can lead through arid landscapes, this is certainly not the case here and there will be plenty to see everywhere.

Here are some of the sights you can discover along the way

  1. Lake Michigan – The first part of your trip will take place around the southern tip of Lake Michigan, the second largest of the Great Lakes and the only one entirely within the United States.
  2. Grand Rapids – Michigan’s second largest city. Whether you stop on the motorway or just drive through the city, it’s always exciting to discover new cultures and places.
  3. Maskegon River – The proposed route runs along part of the Maskegon River, a 216 mile stretch connecting Houghton and Maskegon Lake. It is home to many wildlife such as deer, eagles, otters and water birds, as well as many species of fish.
  4. Huron National Forests and Manisterium – As I have described in detail, this is an absolutely amazing piece of nature that simply cannot be ignored.
  5. Houghton Lake – While it may not be as impressive as some of the other lakes you will discover on this trip, you can feel its charm in a quieter part of the state, in a more secluded natural setting.
  6. Gaylord State Forest Zone – If you have chosen a detour, this is a similar attraction, but on a much smaller scale, through which all routes pass. Although she doesn’t have all the activities to stop, it’s just as much fun to drive through.
  7. Burt Lake and Mallett Lake – At the end of your journey you will cross a narrow straight line between these two beautiful lakes. For some it might even make you feel like you’re in the Florida Keys? There’s even Miami Beach.
  8. Mackinaw City – Your last stop before the ferry. A beautiful place with many attractions, even if you don’t want to spend the whole day there.

Best time to travel from Chicago to Makinak Island

Picturesque view of Lake Khuron through the natural rock of Arca with corners that grow in the walls of Makinak Island, Michigan on a sunny morning
This is such a breathtaking angle if you want Lake Khuron on Makinak Island as a backdrop.

Narrow Picture Window/Shutterstock.com

Although this trip can certainly be done all year round, especially if you are interested in winter activities in Juron Maniste National Forests, it might be best to organize them for some time between late spring and early autumn.

With so many events taking place outside, you don’t want to risk it getting too cold to enjoy, or even that the slopes and attractions are closed due to snowfall.

Keep in mind that this part of Michigan may be known for its weather at certain times of the year. Although you probably don’t have problems with the road on the highway, the little ones in the forest can be a bit more difficult.

But if you’re looking for a snowy adventure, you’ll never forget it.

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