Why you should travel this scenic route, says Michelle Harrison
Beginning and ending in Chicago, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour is one of the most scenic routes in the USA, looping clockwise around the mind-bogglingly big ‘Great Lake’ Michigan, taking in buzzy cities, quaint resorts and ghost towns, with beautiful beaches and world-class attractions along the way.
A great way to appreciate the city of Chicago is to take the 75-minute architectural boat tour along the Chicago River, where a guide explains the history of its art deco, neo-Gothic and modernist buildings. Then go up the John Hancock Tower – if you’ve a head for heights, the Tilt observation booth tilts you 30 degrees out and 1,000ft up.
Refuel at Giordano’s with a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza pie, then walk it off round the shops on Magnificent Mile, or wander through Millennium Park – look out for the famous Cloud Gate sculpture, aka ‘the bean’, which reflects the skyline.
In the evening, enjoy German-influenced fare with a side order of history at the atmospheric Berghoff, one of the oldest restaurants in America. Leave your willpower in the cloakroom and tuck into jagerschnitzel with spätzle (noodles) and caramelised root vegetables.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Chicago without some blues, so round the night off at Buddy Guy’s Legends club. Boutique Hotel Raffaello is a stylish place to rest your head and its Drumbar on the 18th floor is a chic spot for a nightcap.
Bikes and boardwalks
Heading north from Chicago, you’re guaranteed a warm Midwestern welcome in Milwaukee – even the beautiful Art Museum greets you with open wings (which ‘flap’ at noon every day).
There are great views of the lake from inside and 30,000 works, including some by Monet, Warhol and Picasso. Milwaukee is also the birthplace of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company, and whether you’ve ever sat astride one or not, its one-of-a-kind museum is worth a look.
As you’re in ‘Brew City’ a visit to the award-winning Lakefront Brewery is a must. For £5, you get to learn about the brewing process during a fun beer-in-hand tour. The luxurious Marriott is handily located in Downtown (doubles £138pn).
Further north still is Door County, the ‘Cape Cod of the Midwest’. Start in the quaint capital, Sturgeon Bay, and follow your nose to Scaturo’s Baking Co. and Cafe. As you’re in cherry country, try a slice of their iconic cherry pie or squidgy cherry granola cookies.
Next, head toWhitefish Dunes State Park for a walk along Old Baldy (the boardwalk) and a dip in crystal-clear waters, or grab your camera and check out Cave Point County Park’s dramatic coastline (it’s the same rock formation you’ll find at Niagara Falls).
For dinner, try a tasty ‘fish boil’ – cooked outside, the process culminates in a fiery spectacle called a ‘boil over’.
Step back in time
At the top of Lake Michigan, Mackinac Island might be a car-free zone, but this unique state park is worth the 15-minute hop by pedestrian ferry.
Take a horse-drawn carriage tour, which visits most attractions, including quaint Main Street (don’t forget your souvenir fudge), historic Fort Mackinac and geological curiosity Arch Rock.
We stayed at the charming Metivier Inn, a stone’s throw from bustling Downtown. The wicker rockers on its porch are a fantastic place to watch the world go by (from £85 a night).
Once back behind the wheel, set the satnav to – fittingly for a road trip – Detroit, the Motor City. But first, detour via bijou Traverse City – it’s a great base for exploring one of America’s most beautiful state parks, Sleeping Bear Dunes.
The 110ft Dune Climb will take your breath away (in both senses, the views from the top are incredible) and is the start point for the picturesque Heritage Trail.
Or let the car take the strain on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Stay at Park Place Hotel, right in the heart of the quaint Downtown (rooms from £97 a night). For spectacular sunsets over the lake, head up to the 10th-floor Beacon Lounge.
Finally, to Detroit.
Once the revving heart of industrial America, the city went bankrupt in 2013 after decades of decline and is, for now, off the tourist radar. There are derelict art deco buildings everywhere, however, it’s this ghost town feel that makes the city so intriguing – and photogenic.
It’s also excellent value; a suite at the luxurious Westin Book Cadillac is only £110 a night. Make like a local and lunch on melt-in-the-mouth beef brisket with mac ’n’ cheese at Slows Bar-B-Q in hip Corktown. Don’t miss the Motown Museum, housed in the label’s old offices since the 1970s.
Watch out for the worn-away floorboards from too much foot-tapping in the editing suite, and the vending machine that’s still stocked with Baby Ruths, Stevie Wonder’s favourite candy bar.
Great for culture vultures
Choose a CityPass booklet and visit the Art Institute of Chicago, which houses over 300,000 works, including American Gothic by Grant Wood – TripAdvisor voted it No1 museum in the world! The pass also gets you into the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium.
Great for fun-loving families
Spend a day at the Henry Ford Museum complex, Detroit. There are thousands of fascinating exhibits and interactive areas, where you can build a life-sized Model T or watch a 19th-century baseball game.
Great for spirited adventurers
Take a guided kayak trip to the remains of shipwrecked schooner Metropolis in Grand Traverse Bay with PaddleAway Tours, Traverse City. Beginners are in safe hands with seasoned paddlers Susan and Mary.
My America Holiday offers a 15-night fly-drive break, which starts and finishes in Chicago, via Milwaukee, Door County, Mackinac Island, Traverse City and Detroit, as well as Niagara Falls and Toronto, Canada. Prices from £1,815pp, including flights, hotels and car hire.
My America Holiday can also create bespoke holidays.
For information or to make a booking, call 020 3603 6189.