If sun, sand and water are your favorite things, the Circle Tour of Lake Michigan is the vacation for you.
The 1,100-mile drive along this Third Coast is an easygoing road trip that appeals to beach bums, lighthouse lovers, boating buffs and anyone who likes to wander in and out of wineries and fudge shops.
It's a great family trip because there's a beach every few miles, almost always with a playground. On the northwest side of the lake, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one big sandbox.
At the top of the Michigan mitten, a little village has seen a lot of action over the centuries.
Iroquois war parties, French explorers and British soldiers passed by on the Mackinac Straits, which link Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. American traders, lighthouse-builders, ore boats and tourist ferries followed.
Then the continent's longest suspension bridge went up, a link to the Upper Peninsula and an attraction in itself.
In the straits between lakes Michigan and Huron, you can find more than one Mackinac Island.
The best-known first was advertised as "the Fairy Isle of Mackinac," and it's not quite rooted in reality. It has a tuxedo shop but no hardware store, a Victorian house called Brigadoon and a fan club that gathers every October in vintage clothing to revere the year 1912.
You get to that island in a horse-drawn surrey, driven by a liveryman in a top hat.
Smack in the middle of the Upper Midwest, Lake Michigan is irresistible in summer.
It's America's freshwater Riviera, and everyone competes for a little piece of that beautiful sand: beach bums, lighthouse buffs, campers on a budget.
A road trip around its shores is one of the world's most scenic drives, a thousand miles of lakeshore lined by state, county and national parks and two big cities.
In 1816, the first schooner built for Lake Superior shipping also became first to sink. It was called the Invincible, but it was no match for winds whipping off the east end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
The Invincible wreck was the first of hundreds along what become known as the Shipwreck Coast. The last we hope was the Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down in 1975 with 29 lives lost.
At Whitefish Point, not far from the Soo Locks, the lake narrows into a funnel where shipping lanes converge, visibility is poor and northwesters reach full
fury, building up over 200 miles of open water.
In Sault Ste. Marie, tourists find out what floats their boats.
For most, its watching serious machinery moving through the Soo Locks.
What really floats a boat, however, is 22 million gallons of water, which is what it takes to lift a boat through the Poe Lock, a liquid escalator between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.
The first time I visited Marquette, I saw mostly Yooper Land.
I chuckled at a 10-foot mosquito, giant chainsaw and packages of Roadkill Helper. I noted the best-sellers in the bookstore window: "A Look at Life From a Deer Stand'' and "Leap of Faith 2: God Loves Packer Fans.''
This is the Marquette that's sports-crazy, hunting-happy and tough as nails, with a population descended from Cornish, Finnish and Italian immigrants who could put up with the rigors of iron mines and, later, their closings.
At most waterfalls, people mainly sit, look and take pictures.
Not at Tahquamenon Falls.
Here, people duck under the falls, wade through them, row out to them and hike between them on a five-mile riverside path that's part of the North Country National Scenic Trail.
Along Michigan's Pictured Rocks, there's no such thing as a bad view.
White sandstone cliffs line nearly 40 miles of national lakeshore, the nation's first when it was created in 1966. Named for the colorful swishes and whorls painted by mineral-laden water oozing through cracks, Pictured Rocks draws tourists from around the world.
This part of Michigan is inconveniently distant for tourists from big cities; Detroit is closer to Charleston, W.V., than Munising.
If Lake Superior is the drama queen of the Great Lakes, then Lake Michigan is president of the pep club.
Its beautiful, popular and a lot easier to get along with than its tempestuous sister. Its shores are lined with sand, not jagged cliffs, and its beaches attract festive crowds every summer.
Its the only Great Lake you can circle without a passport, and if you dont want to drive around the whole thing, you can take a short cut on a car ferry.