Summer is time to hit the open road

John McCormick
Special to The Detroit News

It’s summer and time to indulge in that most American of automotive traditions, the road trip.

Today, road trips have evolved from the classic 1960s era version, where parents would load up a lumbering wagon with kids, too much luggage and the family pets.

For one thing, we have lots of vehicle types to choose from, versus the old days when the wagon was pretty much the only practical utility model available. Now road trippers may have one of dozens of different sport utility or crossover vehicles, or the practical modern people mover, the minivan. A few, mostly European brands, still offer wagons, although they are light years removed from their clunky predecessors.

In most cases, today’s vehicles provide numerous features — navigation systems, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, video entertainment systems and so on — that previous generations of road trippers could only dream about. Plus, that old wagon was rear-wheel drive only and had limited ground clearance. So it was not as ready to tackle rough roads or trails as are the more rugged, front-wheel or all-wheel-drive models we have now.

But whatever the vehicle you have at your disposal, two of the big questions are where to go and what to do. Prepping for a trek out to the east coast or an even longer haul to the Rockies or the southwest are options, but I would argue we have laudable alternatives much closer to home, especially if time is tight.

In my family’s case, we stretched out the recent July Fourth holiday break to spend a few days exploring northern Michigan, based out of Frankfort, a small, picturesque harbor town on the west side of the state about 40 minutes southwest from Traverse City.

Our family road trip essentially became a series of mini-trips to interesting and entertaining destinations. First of all, it has to be emphasized just how much fun it is to drive the road network in the northwest portion of the lower Michigan peninsula. While we have cause to complain about the overall condition of roads in our state, routes like the 116-mile-long M-22, which snakes up the east side of Lake Michigan, are in good shape and very scenic. So popular, in fact, is M-22 that the road designator has become a familiar bumper sticker and adorns T-shirts and baseball caps.

Most entertaining, in the true sense of the word, of all our destinations was the Interlochen Center for the Arts where we watched the Doobie Brothers give a spirited performance of hits like “Long Train Running,” “Taking it to the Streets” and “Jesus is Just Alright.” Even though the Doobies date from the 1970s, the original band members are full of energy and had older audience members on their feet for much of the show.

Interlochen is a bucolic campus and the Center’s 2015 Arts Festival still has plenty of high profile entertainers lined up for rest of the summer, including Harry Connick Jr., Boz Scaggs, the Beach Boys, Diana Krall and Vince Gill.

We discovered entertainment of a quite different kind during a two-day backpacking trek along the Manistee River Trail, a U.S. Forest Service trail just south of Mesick. Here, our sport utility vehicle allowed us to venture to a backwoods campsite and sample the stunning forest and river scenery.

To cool off, literally, as Lake Michigan is still very cold, we hit the beautiful beaches in the Frankfort area. The quality of these beaches, in terms of sand, scenery and water quality, I would put up against any in the country. Then it was off farther north to the Leelanau peninsula to explore Michigan wine country.

Road trips can take many forms. Whether you choose to go for distance and a single destination, or go local and hit several spots, a little planning, the right vehicle and road trip spirit is all it takes.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at