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Great Escape: GREAT LAKES

Start your American road trip in Detroit, home of Motown, then sample Michigan wine in Traverse City and its vine-striped countryside. Take in lakes, dunes and a lighthouse in Ludington State Park, dig into farm-to-table food and craft beer in Madison, and end with sky-high views and big laughs in Chicago.
A restored foghorn tower stands on the edge of Lake Michigan in Ludington State Park, one of the largest expanses of freshwater dunes in the world

Plan your trip


1 In Detroit (p48), the one-time Motor City, find a rich musical heritage, new venues and talent leading the city’s comeback.

2 Visit lakeside vineyards and innovative wineries in Traverse City(p50), the heart of Michigan’s top wine region.

3 Scale dunes and kayak over lakes in Ludington State Park (p52), one of Lake Michigan’s most beautiful spots.

4 Head to arty Madison (p54), where local produce and a taste for invention fuel a blossoming food and craft-beer scene.

5 Soak up the nightlife in architecturally epic Chicago (p56), whose rooftop bars and comedy clubs are the height of fun.


Airlines including BA, Delta and Virgin Atlantic fly direct from London into Detroit and out of Chicago, and via connecting flights from cities such as Manchester and Edinburgh (from £790; Detroit and Chicago are a 4½-hour drive apart, so you can also fly return from either (Chicago from £560;


A car is essential for exploring beyond the big cities. All the usual hire firms have offices in Detroit and Chicago (from £170 a week including insurance; Pick up when you’re leaving town to avoid costly, and often elusive, parking (from about £9 a day, more at hotels). Carry change for Illinois’ toll roads – Madison to Chicago is about $8 (£6). It’s possible to drive around Lake Michigan from Ludington to Madison, then loop back to Chicago, but the shorter, more fun option is to cruise aboard the SS Badger (a 60-mile, four-hour journey). This car ferry – a National Historic Landmark dating from 1952 and America’s last coal-fired steamship – heads west from Ludington to Manitowoc in Wisconsin, 2½ hours from Madison (from £90 including car;


Plan to spend a couple of days in each place – ideally more in culture-packed Detroit and Chicago. This itinerary takes in about 600 miles, so factor in driving times and rest breaks. It’s possible to do in about 10 days, but best to allow at least two weeks.


Overall, prices in the Midwest – even in Detroit and Chicago – are lower than the US average. Travelling well doesn’t have to break the bank, with plenty of free attractions and budget-friendly options like cafés, diners and b&bs around. Hotels in Chicago are pricey – from £110 for a room, compared to about £60 in small-town Michigan. You'll need to add state and local sales taxes to prices, which vary from about 6 per cent to 10.5 per cent. Petrol costs roughly £1.70 per gallon (around 40p a litre); budget about £100 for the trip based on a full-size vehicle. Don’t forget to tip: 10–15 per cent for taxi drivers, 15–20 per cent for waiter service, $2–$5 for cleaning staff and porters, and at least $1 per drink.


The region is at its liveliest (and hottest) in July and August, but prime summer weather lasts from May to September and the shoulder seasons offer fewer crowds, lower rates and fair days. Early autumn also brings the harvest in farms, orchards and vineyards. In winter, cities’ cultural offerings crank up a notch while prices – and temperatures – plummet, but winter-sports fans will be in heaven.

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - September 2017
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