Journey the Circle Tour around Southern Lake Michigan

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.

Southeast Wisconsin

  • After leaving Manitowoc, travel on I-43 south through to Sheboygan.
  • Continuing south out of Sheboygan, and into Milwaukee, the largest city in Wisconsin and famous for its breweries.
  • Leaving Milwaukee, you will get on WIS-32 and travel to the Wisconsin-Illinois state border.

Illinois Lakeshore

  • The short stretch of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour through Illinois travels along Route 137 and then joins Lakeshore Drive (US-41) right at the Lake Michigan coastline through the suburbs of Chicago. You pass by famous landmarks such as Navy Pier, Soldier Field, Lincoln Park Zoo and Calumet Park. It’s a spectacular view of the City of Chicago, as well as the splendor of Lake Michigan.
  • The circle re-joins US-12 south of Chicago, and takes you into Indiana.

Indiana Lakeshore

  • Indiana has the shortest amount of miles along the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. It follows both US-12 (also known as the Dunes Highway, closest to the lake) and I-94, which parallel each other and begins in Hammond on the westerly side.
  • It continues through Gary, which is a major industrial area. 
  • After Gary, the Circle Tour follows the Dunes Highway near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. At County Line Road, you’ll find a location for parking at the entrance to the Marquette Hike/Bike Trail.
  • The Dunes Highway takes an eastern route through the towns of Burns Harbor, Porter and Chesterton.
  • Before leaving Indiana, you enter Michigan City, the east end of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at Mount Baldy.
  • You then travel northeast into Michigan.

Southwest Michigan

  • After leaving Indiana, the Michigan route of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour begins. The Circle Tour enters Michigan on US-12 just south of New Buffalo, and continues north on US-12, into New Buffalo.
  • After traveling through New Buffalo, the tour leaves US-12 and continues north on  I-94 (Exit 4) toward St. Joseph.
  • At Exit 23, the route exits I-94 and continues north through downtown St. Joseph by following BL I-94.
  • From St. Joseph, continue north on M-63.
  • At the northern terminus of M-63, the tour continues north on I-196/US-31 toward South Haven.
  • At Exit 18, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route leaves I-196/US-31 and takes you into South Haven via BL I-196.
  • Exit 20 on the east side of South Haven marks the end of BL I-196, at which point you will continue north on I-196/US-31 into Allegan County, and on toward the Saugatuck / Douglas area.
  • The Lake Michigan Circle Tour remains on I-196/US-31 at Saugatuck / Douglas, and there is also a locally-designated Harbor Tour loop route which follows the A-2 Blue Star Highway between Exits 36 an 41. Blue Star Highway presents a more leisurely route as opposed to strictly following I-196/US-31.
  • Continue north on I-196/US-31 toward Holland Exit 44, when I-196 splits off to the east, and brings you into the Central West Michigan segment of the Lake Michigan Circle Tour.

Central West Michigan

  • Following I-196/US 31 north, you enter Holland, known for its Dutch heritage and the famous Tulip Festival in May. Downtown Holland has various shops and eateries that will keep you entertained for hours.
  • Heading north, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour follows its lakeshore route on US-31 through Grand Haven, home of the Coast Guard Festival. Here you can visit the beaches, book a charter boat or dine at one of the fantastic restaurants in the area.
  • Continue up to Muskegon, home to beaches and dunes, wilderness trails, and the P.J. Hoffmaster State Park.
  • After heading north beyond Muskegon, you will leave the city traffic behind and enter a more scenic and leisurely stretch of US-31. Along this highway, there are many exits to visit communities of the White Lake Area (Whitehall and Montague) and the Silver Lake Area (Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Mears, and Hart).
  • The Silver Lake Sand Dunes area is a great place to find adventure and fun, with both Silver Lake and Lake Michigan in close proximity.
  • Further north you’ll discover Pentwater—an artsy little community along Lake Michigan and Pentwater Lake.
  • Just 15 minutes north of Pentwater brings you back into Ludington, and the Southern Lake Michigan Circle Tour is complete.