I confess: I was itching to get out again after nearly five months of sheltering-in-place. A solo road trip seemed like a good idea for several reasons: First, solo travel is my jam. Second, one’s own car is the safe way to go these days. Third, road trips are just plain fun.
Where to go? It had to be a destination with outdoor options. Even though I had Covid-19 in March, the virus seems to mutate and possibly re-infect. So it had to be a place with lots of fresh air, safety mandates…and folks who willingly follow current CDC guidelines. Last bit: My solo road trip had to be affordable.
Manistique, Michigan: Great solo road trip getaway
The choice became clear: Manistique, Michigan. Located in the state’s Upper Peninsula, at the top of Lake Michigan, it’s a worthwhile stop on the Northern Lake Michigan Circle Tour. I’d been there briefly during a winter day trip, and knew I wanted to return.
My first task was to make sure I had a place to stay; I’m not one to leave these things to chance. One of Manistique’s charms is that there are still some fine vintage motels. A quick search at VisitManistique.com, backed up by TripAdvisor reviews, led me to Colonial Motel. Since 1952, it’s been welcoming guests to its knotty-pine rooms. Rustic seemed right for this adventure, so I called–no online reservations–and scored the last room. Owner Mike Phelan takes all the calls: “It will be $74 a night…$80 with tax.” He sounded apologetic. I was thrilled.
First: “To the Lighthouse!”
Sorry, Virginia Woolf…but I really DID go to the lighthouse first. Seul Choix (French for “only choice,” probably because it was the only spot to shelter during storms or other unfortunate events.) Point Lighthouse is a little beyond Manistique, located on a spit of land in Gulliver, it’s tops in the “If you can only see one lighthouse in Michigan…” category.
Built in 1892, Seul Choix has had an interesting history. With murders, ghosts (there are photos!) and a string of keepers, it was almost left to decay. Then the Gulliver Historical Society, led by spunky Marilyn Fischer–who claims she’s met the many ghosts and spirits–managed to rescue the lighthouse and its buildings.
Although the 96-step staircase is currently closed, the $5 fee allows entry into the surprisingly elegant lightkeeper’s home, and two buildings that serve as museums. Marilyn herself was the docent on the day I visited; she informed me that until 1972, the keepers had to haul buckets of whale oil up the steps, twice a day, to fuel the light.
The stream of visitors was steady, but never overwhelming. There’s a small gift shop with an impressive number of books about the area and the Great Lakes. Find out about hours and more at Seul Choix Point Lighthouse.
Clyde’s Drive-In: “Best Burger in the UP!”
Deciding where to eat lunch in Manistique is a no-brainer. Besides, I had been there before and couldn’t wait to get back. Although there is a tiny counter for indoor eating, during the pandemic, Clyde’s is back to being a drive-in. And really, isn’t that the classic way to eat on a road trip?
I pulled into my slot and a young (masked) carhop took my order: The classic cheese burger and everything, fries, and a soda. Burgers aren’t cooked until you order, so I read my Michigan tour book while I waited. The weather was sunny and mild, slight breeze. Perfect…just like the meal.
How much for this award-winning meal? Only $7.70. The Big C basket is $10–so very tempting, but a half-a-pound burger is too much for me. I gave my (masked) server a generous tip. Supporting local businesses and workers is more important than ever. You’d do the same.
The best state park ever? Maybe…
Feeling satisfied, as well as the need to burn some “Clyde” calories, I set off to Fayette State Park. Lucky Michiganders can add $12 to their annual auto license fee and get free entry to any state park. The rest of us pay $9 for a day pass. But I’m not complaining.
Fayette sits in Snail Shell Harbor, on the Garden Peninsula, protected by huge dolomite cliffs. When it was an active port town, over 500 residents lived and worked there.
There were over twenty buildings: housing for lower, middle, and upper classes; all the essential services, such as a blacksmith and sawmill; a well-stocked company store; an opera house; and a hotel so grand that the Escanaba newspaper, Iron Port, declared in 1885, “It is one of the best furnished and conveniently arranged hotels we have seen outside the cities.”
I spent several hours at Fayette. (One of the best things about a solo road trip is there are zero time constraints.) For a small town, it covers a fair amount of space. Wander freely in the restored buildings; masks are required to enter the buildings and floor markings direct the traffic. Signage is plentiful, explaining where everything was and how daily life happened.
It’s not the UP without eating a pasty
Still full from my cheeseburger lunch, I decided to stop at the local grocery for dinner. It’s no secret that I don’t spend a lot on food when I travel. After a packed day, something simple that I could eat back at the motel seemed just right.
Pasties (“pass-tees”) are universal in the Upper Peninsula. “Yoopers,” as residents of the UP proudly call themselves, adore them. Every town–actually, every household–makes them. You’ll find them in pasty shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and gas stations. Read my post about pasties to learn more about their history and how to make your own.
It’s impossible to spend a lot on a pasty. They’re almost always about $5 for what is a hefty meal. Jack’s, the Manistique grocery store, charged $3.99. I was there on a Monday, so I had the beefy mushroom–one of the best I’ve ever had.
I succumbed to the call of ice cream to go with my pasty. A single-serving container was $1.39. Total for my dinner? Under $6. (To be fair, I’d already bought a variety of beverages and fruit for the trip.)
Manistique Boardwalk before departing…
Twenty years ago, clever minds in Manistique found space and funds to construct a two-mile path along beautiful Lake Michigan. They provided ample parking and entries to the path, called “the boardwalk.”
The boardwalk–partly paved with wooden walkways–was across the street from the Colonial Motel. I decided to walk it at sunrise, in the cool morning air.
I’m a pretty brisk walker, but the colors of the sun, clouds, and sand had me stopping every minute to take a photo. Interpretive signs along the way taught me about the shoreline and its inhabitants.
The path ends at a beach near the red Manistique lighthouse. I dallied there for awhile, deciding if I wanted to climb the rocks to get to the walkway that goes all the way to the lighthouse. As I watched a young and agile runner struggling to get across them, I realized it was probably not a good idea.
Back on the road…back to reality
It was a short road trip, but truly felt like a time apart. And it was a great way to begin to get out again–safely. The drive home took longer than usual–almost eight hours–due to an expressway shutdown in Milwaukee. That was my return to reality. Still, I’m ready to go again. Are you?
By the way, how much did I spend? Direct expenses (hotel, admissions, meals, tips) were $115. Toss in $20 for the cooler of drinks and fruit, plus another $20 for a tank of gas. About $155–pretty sweet deal, huh?