Michigan travel rolls toward 15-year high for Fourth

Over 1.48 million Michiganians are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home during Independence Day weekend.

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

The number of Michiganians heading to beaches, campgrounds and northern cities around this Fourth of July holiday is expected to reach a 15-year high.

More than 1.48 million Michiganians are predicted to travel 50 miles or more from home this weekend — a 3.3 percent increase from last year, according to estimates by AAA. The association says that many Michigan residents haven’t hit the road over an Independence Day weekend since 2002. More than 1.3 million people are estimated to drive to their destination, while nearly 65,000 will fly. More than 110,000 will travel by by train, bus or ship.

AAA Michigan spokeswoman Susan Hiltz said there’s a “trifecta” causing these larger travel numbers.

“Gas prices are down, the weather looks great and kids are out of school,” she said. “And on top of that, the economy is improving, and consumer confidence is up. When you have all those factors combined, it really makes it easier on people’s wallets to go and take that vacation.”

Joan Anderson Travel Service agent Nancy Fleck, who’s worked in the travel industry for more than 40 years, agrees Michigan’s healthy economy is a large reason residents are packing their suitcases for this weekend.

“Compared to the past, the economy has gotten a little better, and people feel that they can spend a little money to get away over the holiday,” Fleck said.

Travel prices from June 30 to July 4 are also lower compared to last year. According to AAA, airfare rates average $186, a 10 percent decrease from 2016, and daily car rental rates average $65, a 14 percent decrease. Hotel prices are relatively the same at $185 a night, on average.

Gas prices have also remained reasonably low. As of Wednesday, the average gallon of gas in Michigan was $2.32 — roughly the same price during last year’s holiday weekend. Wednesday’s national average was $2.24 per gallon.

Muhammed Harashgay of Dearborn Heights co-owns a Mobil gas station off Interstate 94 on Ford and Wyoming in Dearborn and said he’s seen an uptick in customers as a result of the lower prices. On Wednesday, his station was charging $2.19 per gallon.

“So many people are buying gas lately,” he said. “(Around) $2 is really good, and it’s coming at a good time.”

While filling up at the nearby BP gas station off I-94 on Ford and Wyoming on Wednesday, Detroit resident Karen Clayborne said the gas prices are “the best they have been in a long time,” and she’ll take advantage of them this weekend.

“I’ll be spending the Fourth driving about five hours to Cincinnati to pick up my sister and bring her back here,” she said.

A majority of drivers are heading Up North to spots like Traverse City and the Alpena area, Fleck said.

“A lot of people are going in their cars and traveling in Michigan probably because the gas is a little cheaper than it’s been in the last few years,” she said.

Irene Hizelberger, general manager of the Weathervane Inn Terrance & Suites in downtown Charlevoix, said they have a lot of families from the Lower Peninsula make July 4 weekend reservations in their 67-room hotel. This year, they’re booked Friday through Sunday but still have about 28 rooms available both Monday and Tuesday.

Hizelberger said the day of the week tends to affect travel. Last year, the Fourth fell on a Monday, so families could more easily stay over the weekend.

“This year, it’s a little different, she said. “I don’t know how many people need to be back to work on Monday to get Tuesday off. So that would make a difference in people’s plans.”

Many residents are heading to Michigan’s 103 state parks and 138 state campgrounds.

Jason Fleming of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said DNR campgrounds are at a nearly 90 percent occupancy rate heading into the weekend, which is about 4 percent higher than last year. Visitors can make reservations for up to 15 nights, and many are staying for both weekends, he added.

“Since Tuesday is Independence Day, we see people stay more local and go to (campgrounds) near work like Pontiac Lake, Waterloo and Brighton,” said Fleming, explaining some camp group members may remain through the week while others return to and from work.

Those getting out of the Great Lakes State may be heading to the Sunshine State. According to AAA’s summer travel bookings, Orlando is the most popular destination, followed by Vancouver, Canada; Cancun, Mexico; Seattle; and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

The next few days in Metro Detroit may not see Florida’s sunshine.

Alex Manion, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in White Lake Township, said Metro Detroit may endure storms.

“Of all the days, Friday looks to be the messiest of the bunch caused by a low-pressure system,” said Manion, adding there’s a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms Sunday and Monday afternoon.

As of now, Fourth of July skies should be clear for fireworks.

“(There’s a) slight chance for showers and thunderstorms during the morning and afternoon hours and looks to die out in the evening,” he said.

Metro Detroit’s temperatures are expected to reach the upper 80s through Tuesday, with lows in the lower 60s. Traverse City will be a bit cooler, with highs in the mid to upper 70s and lows in the upper 50s.

Outside Michigan, a record number of Americans are expected to get out of town this weekend. AAA estimates 44.2 million people will travel 50 miles or more, which is an increase of 2.9 percent, or 1.25 million people, compared to last year.

Dearborn resident Ahmed Dabaja, 27, for one, travels every Fourth of July to Camp Dearborn in Milford.

“It’s a family tradition,” she said. “They don’t have the fireworks anymore, but we still think it’s fun to rent tents and barbecue on the lake.”


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Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg

Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.