Northerners know that a drive without a firm destination — a drive for the sake of driving — is one of summer's sweetest pastimes. An afternoon of cruising along M-119's Tunnel of Trees, with its tangled canopy of branches and arresting coastal views, is a sublime escape, even if you never leave the car.
One thing is certain — no road tripper in her right mind sets out without a trunk full of tasty road fare. In Harbor Springs, where your trip begins, the goods are at Gurney's Harbor Bottle Shop (215 East Main Street, 231-526-5472), where frosty drinks, hearty deli sandwiches and delightfully gooey brownies can be brown-bagged for later. Now just hop behind your steering wheel and head northwest out of town along M-119.
Roll along the coast for about four miles, past sweet bluff views and fields of nodding wildflowers, then swing left onto Lower Shore Drive. A half-mile down is Thorne Swift Nature Preserve (landtrust.org), a serene 30-acre outdoor sanctuary. Stretch your legs on the half-mile Balsam Trail, sit back on the bench near the dune observation platform (a primo spot to dig into your lunch), mosey down to the rocky Lake Michigan shoreline, then head back to your ride via the Cedar Trail.
Further up M-119 is Pond Hill Farm (5581 South Lake Shore Drive, 231-526-3276, pondhill.com), tucked behind a sharp bend in the road. The creaky-floored farmhouse is packed with dewy organic produce, dried strawflowers and amber jars of honey, maple syrup and preserves. Plus, 25 cents gets you and any gleeful little ones a bright pail of feed to let the critters outside nuzzle your palm.
Finally, settle into your car seat and prepare to dip down into the Tunnel of Trees. A canopy of leaves and branches envelops your vehicle while knockout Lake Michigan blues pop through the forest greenery to your left. Chilly from those windows-down breezes? Pull off at the Good Hart General Store (231-526-7661, goodhartstore.com) and warm up with coffee and a fresh doughnut. Cap off your trip at the landmark Legs Inn (6425 North Lake Shore Drive, 231-526-2281, legsinn.com) in Cross Village, a stone, timber and driftwood structure built by Polish immigrant Stanley Smolak. Take a relaxing stroll in the Legs Inn gardens high above Lake Michigan, eat potato pancakes and kielbasa, and sip Polish beers or Polish vodkas. If it's Sunday evening, dance it all off to the rock 'n' roll of the Jelly Roll Blues Band, which plays into the wee hours (9:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Sundays Memorial Day through Labor Day).
Emily Bingham is assistant editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in April 2006 and was updated for the web February 2008.