Michigan Highways: Since 1997.

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M-22 & M-109 junction route signage in Glen Arbor, Michigan

Lake Michigan Circle Tour

Lake Michigan Circle Tour route markerAfter Lake Superior’s loosely-organized “circle route” which had been promoted by local tourist organizations since the 1960s became the first officially signed Great Lake circle tour route, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour (LMCT) was not far behind. The only single-nation Circle Tour (Lake Michigan being the only Great Lake completely within the US, of course), the LMCT also has the most mileage of any Circle Tour in the state of Michigan: 616 miles.

Working in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), the West Michigan Tourist Association (WMTA) helped to make the first of the official Great Lakes Circle Tours a reality. On the MDOT side, Jack Morgan, assistant to the department’s deputy director, introduced the concept of a Circle Tour in 1987. Just 14 months later, agreement had been reached on a route and signs to be posted along the 1,100-mile tour completely circling Lake Michigan. The WMTA filled the need for a guidebook and when the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal ran articles in 1988 about the new Circle Tour, 150 callers from the Chicagoland area along deluged the WMTA staff the next Monday morning, requesting the guide. Two days later, 700 guidebook requests came in from Illinois and Wisconsin and the following day an additional 1,000 phone and mail requests poured in to their offices.

Present-Day Concerns and the Tri-Modal Corridor

In November 2012, the inaugural meeting of the Lake Michigan Trails Conference was convened in Saugatuck by Western Michigan University professor Dave Lembeck. Lembeck is championing both the completion of a Lake Michigan “water trail” for kayakers, canoeists and other paddlers around the lake’s entire shoreline as well as an interconnection between the water trail, the new U.S. Bicycle Route 35 (USBR-35) and the existing Lake Michigan Circle Tour. The envisioned “Tri-Modal Corridor” would accommodate non-motorized transportation and recreation via the “water trail” in the Lake and the bicycle route on land. The LMCT would help link the various bicycle trailheads and water access points together.

Unfortunately, actual signage along the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route has deteriorated over time. While Wisconsin has generally kept the Circle Tour reasonably well posted, signage in Michigan and Illinois is lacking and long segments of the LMCT in Indiana are now completely unsigned. Indeed, when the numbered highways that the Circle Tour ran along were rerouted in Northwest Indiana in recent years, the LMCT route markers were regrettably not relocated or replaced. Furthermore, highway signing standards may have changed to the point where including Circle Tour route markers alongside the other numbered highway markers on freeway signage is no longer allowed or encouraged. While hundreds of the standard Circle Tour markers are still found alongside the roadside in Michigan, some locations where the LMCT changes directions (e.g. transitions from one highway to another) are now under-signed or completely unsigned altogether. This was cited as a major concern by the attendees at the 2012 Lake Michigan Trails Conference.

Conference attendees vowed to support the ongoing efforts of the existing organizations assembling the resources necessary to complete the Lake Michigan Water Trail and the signed U.S. Bicycle Route network now underway around the periphery of the Lake. Additionally, attendees citied a need to renew coordination and oversight of the Great Lakes Circle Tour Program within the various state departments of transportation, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the de facto coordinating agency, the Great Lakes Commission. Several of those in attendance pledged resources and a commitment to both preserve the Circle Tour routes and look for ways to improve the coordination and signage into the future. Creating background documentation, documenting and recording the officially-adopted Circle Tour route, clarifying route signage standards and formalizing a route maintenance policy are just some of the concepts put forth in the revitalization of these important tourist routes.

Lack of Official Routing & Erroneous Information

Unfortunately, for many years, the Great Lakes Commission's own description of the LMCT was largely incorrect, both in terms of the actual route and because of numerous typos and incorrect community names. For example, for sixteen years (2001–17), the "Lake Michigan Circle Tour Road Route" section of the Commission's LMCT page (archived) gave the following highly-erroneous description of the route in Lower Peninsula:

ROUTE: Follow I-96E to Holland; US-31N to Manistee; MI-22 to Traverse City; US-31 to Petoskey; MI-119 to the town of Cross Bridge; C66 to US-31; cross the Mackinaw Bridge (toll) into the Upper Peninsula

The first major issue is to get to Holland from Indiana, one needs to first follow US-12 East (not listed) before transitioning onto I-94 East (not listed), then exit that route and follow BL I-94 and M-63 through St Joseph and Benton Harbor (not listed), transitioning then onto I-196/US-31 North (also not listed!) with a loop through downtown South Haven via BL I-196 (not listed), then back to I-196/US-31 North, before exiting onto US-31 North to reach Holland. On top of that, I-96 doesn't go to Holland at all!

From Holland to Petoskey the directions are somewhat better, although loops through downtown Muskegon, the downtowns of Whitehall and Motague, and through Pentwater via the respective BUS US-31 routings are omitted. However, from Petoskey, the LMCT has never run along M-119 and even if it did, the directions erroneously call the community of Cross Village, Cross Bridge, instead! (It's never been called Cross Bridge since its was founded in 1830!) But after omitting the connection from US-31 onto I-75 once US-31, the name of one of Michigan's most famous landmarks is misspelled: the Mackinac Bridge! If these directions are this bad—and have been since it was first reported to the Great Lakes Commission in the late 1990s (based on a previous incarnation of the erronous web page)—how could anyone trust the rest of the information?

Lake Michigan Circle Tour Route

The route of the mainline LMCT in Michigan follows signed state trunkline routes in its entirety, although in some places the nearest state highway to the Lake Michigan may be several miles away. Along with the primary Circle Tour route, several marked "Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loops" have been posted using white-on-brown signs. These loops may follow state highways or utilize city streets and county roads running closer to the shoreline. These loop routes are detailed below the mainline route below:

Note: The route included on this website has been personally researched by the website author in the field.

Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop Routes

Lake Michigan Circle Tour Harbor Tour route markerLake Michigan Circle Tour - Harbor Tour (Saugatuck/Douglas)

A locally-designated loop route which helps circle tour motorists navigate into and through the off-route communities of Saugatuck and Douglas in northwestern Allegan Co. While most local loops are designated as "Loop Routes" off the mainline circle tour, this particular route is actually designated as a "Harbor Tour," although it behaves like any other Loop Route. Also, as with all Loop Routes, this route is designated with white-on-brown circle tour signs, using the same LMCT "logo." The route is 7.7 miles long:

Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop route markerLake Michigan Circle Tour - Loop Route (S.S. Badger carferry)

While most Lake Michigan Circle Tour spur and loop routes simply involve an alternate highway routing diverging from the mainline route, this particular spur route is unique among them. On August 29, 1998, Lake Michigan Carferry's S.S. Badger which ferries automobiles, trucks and passengers between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan was officially designated as a Lake Michigan Circle Tour spur route. The route traverses the following path:

Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop route markerFormer Lake Michigan Circle Tour - Loop Route (Scottville)

When MDOT completed a western bypass of Scottville, taking the high volume of US-31 traffic out of town, a locally-designated LMCT Loop Route was signed, acting as a de-facto Business Routing for US-31. Note, however, this LMCT Loop route was removed some time in late 2004 or early 2005 and no longer exists. The former route was 1.5 miles long:

Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop route markerLake Michigan Circle Tour - Loop Route (Sleeping Bear–Glen Haven)

While the Lake Michigan Circle Tour generally follows the closest posted state trunkline to its namesake body of water, the Sleeping Bear Dunes area is one exception. Instead of diverting the mainline LMCT off M-22 for only eight miles, it continues via M-22 through to Glen Arbor and on to Leland. However, as M-109 loops off M-22 to the west (lakeside) through the Sleeping Bear Dunes area, it has been designated as a LMCT Loop Route. The route is 6.8 miles long:

Back to: Great Lakes Circle Tour page.

Additional Information