The Spaces Between the Places: The pleasure of local road tripping Up North

The start of June is always a magical moment here in the great “Up North.” The cherries are ripening and the lakes are finally just warm enough to look at without dread. Another fantastic summer is upon us, and I, for one, can’t wait. It was a long, cold winter followed by a long, cool spring. But all of that is behind us now and it’s time to get out there and have some fun.

May I make a suggestion?

Whether you live here year-round or are visiting, I’d like to encourage you to experience what I like to call the spaces between the places.

Let me explain. The Grand Traverse region has an incredible amount to offer when it comes to places to go and events to take part in. You know about the festivals, the wineries, the golf courses, the lakes, bays and streams. There are a lot of reasons people from all over the world flock here year-round but it’s especially true in summer.

What you may not know, though, is that the region has miles and miles of fantastic roads to drive. Curvy roads, straight roads, roads to familiar places, roads to the unknown. Even dirt roads.

I’m a lifelong resident of Traverse City and a devoted fan of fun cars, motorcycles and cycling. I like driving just for the sheer fun of it. There’s nothing I love better than tooling around Leelanau County or on Old Mission Peninsula at the wheel of my polo red 1967 Porsche 911S. It’s a special car to me. When I was 13, my dad and I found it in pieces in several snowbanks behind an old barn. We bought it and fixed it up together. Dad’s gone now and I miss him, but I still have the car and it reminds me of him every time I drive it.

Of course, you don’t need a classic car to enjoy the spaces between the places up here, although it helps! Any car or truck will do, even rental ones. You can even rent classics on Hagerty’s new platform. The point is to get out there. You never know what you’ll find.

I had that experience recently. I took a driving tour of California’s famed Highway 1 in that very same ‘67 Porsche. That’s the famous road that weaves along the Pacific coast. Since college, I had thought about making that trip in that car. Like a woodworker or chef who knows the right tool for a job, certain machines are simply the only car for certain roads. That car and that road finally met, and as you might expect, the experience was everything I expected. The scenery is breathtaking, the weather was perfect, and the road itself was curvy and challenging. Everything a car person likes.

Which brings me back to this marvelous region we call Grand Traverse.

There are roads not unlike Highway 1 here, you know, with scenery just as epic. There really are. Keep reading; I mention a few at the bottom of this column.

I encourage you to check them out. I also encourage you to drive them with your mobile phone placed firmly in the glovebox. Driving for the sake of driving is an activity that should be rediscovered. It’s about enjoying the freedom of moving through space, taking a random turn and discovering something new. It’s about quieting your mind and/or having a long conversation with a co-driver. Driving great roads, after all, isn’t really about cars or roads. It’s about us being present with ourselves.

That “be in the present, enjoy the ride” mindset is a major focus for Hagerty, a tiny business that was born in Traverse City back in 1984 and has since grown exponentially. Today, about 800 of our 1,100 employees live and work here, but we are known worldwide for our passion and commitment to cars and driving. Most of our customers are car lovers from around the U.S., Canada, the UK and beyond, and most have never been to northern Michigan. But they feel a little bit of this place in the way we interact with them. I believe a brand is actually a company’s culture reflected outwardly. So, for us, scaling our business has really been about scaling bits of what is so special about this place to the world. Maybe it’s the people. Maybe it’s the roads!

Hagerty has developed a small guide to some of the best regional road jaunts. You can get a free copy of the full guide at our main office in downtown Traverse City, 121 Drivers Edge Lane, Traverse City. Here are three of my favorites from it:

  • Old Mission Peninsula (19 miles): If your sights are set on a few destinations along the winding road, Old Mission Peninsula may be the perfect fit. Home to scenic overlooks, 10 wineries, a historic, can’t-miss general store, and the Old Mission lighthouse, the quick 19 miles offers a little bit of everything.
  • M-22, Empire to Leland (27 miles): If you’re not from the area, but “M-22” rings a bell, chances are this is the stretch you’ve heard about. Home to Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, we suggest tossing a pair of tennis shoes in the trunk and making plenty of pit stops along the way.
  • M-22, Suttons Bay to Northport (19 miles): Similar to the Manistee to Frankfort stretch, the 20 miles between Suttons Bay and Northport offer cruisers plenty of green and blue. Nearly half the journey is up along the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, while the second half takes a relaxed backseat through the vineyards and orchards that Leelanau County is known for.


Happy exploring. Onward and upward!

McKeel Hagerty is the CEO of Hagerty.