The Mitsubishi Outlander offered comfort and adaptability during a long road trip around Lake Michigan. Frequent stops in Wisconsin and Michigan kept baby happy and offered gorgeous views for mommy and daddy.
The thought had been reappearing in my mind from time to time: How are we going to take a real vacation this year with a baby?
I get anxious even talking about airplanes. So we drew a radius around home (Chicago) and decided our best bet for an eventful, scenic trip would be to road trip north to Wisconsin, then over through the Upper Peninsula and back down through Michigan.
We snagged a 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander GT S-AWC (thanks to DriveShop and SheBuysCars) to make for a more comfortable week. While the Outlander didn’t provide much more trunk space than my car (despite a fold-down third row), it did offer comfortable seating and some really cool features perfect for a road trip. We packed as tight as we possibly could and set out on a Sunday for our family getaway.
On the Highways of Wisconsin
For the most part Day 1 involved cruising up the highway through Milwaukee and sailing over the smooth open roads along the Lake Michigan shore. The Outlander’s Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control came in handy on the open road.
Frequent stops were necessary to keep baby happy. So we pulled into the smaller towns of Manitowoc and Two Rivers. Known for the scandal that caught Netflix lovers’ attention in Making a Murderer, the two towns should get more credit for all they have to offer: quaint downtowns, great views of the lake, a beautiful beach, and yummy food.
We grabbed lunch at Port Sandy Bay, a low-key bar/arcade/party space frequented by locals, before setting out to finish the first day’s journey.
Our destination for the night was Escanaba, MI, north of Wisconsin and at the western edge of the Upper Peninsula (U.P.). We nearly made it there in one swing from Two Rivers, but baby started to get fussy around Marinette, WI. So we pulled over at Seguin’s House of Cheese. Locals stopped in for ice cream while tourists like us grabbed blocks of smoked cheese and cheese popcorn. With the car full of snacks, we made our final trek for the day up to Escanaba.
TravelingMom Baby travel tip #1: Make frequent stops (like every hour or two depending on if she’s napping) and try to finish your day a couple of hours before bedtime so she can play and relax.
Through the Scenic, Sometimes Rugged, Upper Peninsula
Escanaba didn’t seem to have any tourists…but tourists should really check it out. The lakeshore offers an inlet for easy access to boating and fishing, and the inland offerings include the state fair and a historic downtown. We stayed two nights, which gave us time to take a couple of excursions to the nearby Hiawatha National Forest.
Most of the forest is isolated, so we didn’t see a single person at our chosen trail. We parked the Outlander on a dirt path, strapped baby to my chest, and set out among the majestic cedars. The Outlander looked gorgeous among the trees and did a great job of navigating the dirt roads and forest terrain. The GPS did a decent job getting us to the forest, but the best way to navigate is with a detailed hiking map (stop by nearby Gladstone to purchase one for $10—it’s worth it).
The rest of our journey east through the U.P. was quiet, scenic, and mostly free of businesses. With an older kid, this might have seemed like a “boring” trip. But with baby, we got a chance to relax and watch her wonder at the beauty of the big trees around her.
TravelingMom Baby travel tip #2: Always pack a nylon changing pad. Most of the places we stopped to change baby in the U.P. did not have changing tables, and sometimes we were changing her out in nature.
Down Through Michigan
The last leg of our trip took us over the Mackinaw Bridge, southwest to Traverse City.
We had visited Traverse City years ago for the wineries and breweries. But with baby, it was a whole different experience. There is plenty to do with a baby in T.C. if you look for it—from sensory exhibits at local museums to splash pads and beaches. We spent a couple of days at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa before heading home to Chicago.
On the last day of our trip, we made a very necessary stop at Sleeping Bear Dunes, as we never got a chance to visit on our last trip to T.C. No lies—it’s tough to hike up a dune while carrying a baby. But if you’ve never experienced dunes, this is a great place to see them.
We also wanted to make a stop at Ludington, as we remembered its beauty from a previous trip to Michigan. You can pull over just about anywhere along Ludington’s Stearns Park (check the signs), walk a few steps up over the sand, and set up your beach gear along the water. For a farewell to vacation, Ludington was beautiful, and baby looked so cute putting her tiny feet in the water.
We were sad to put our last few miles on the Outlander, as it fared so well throughout our trip, kept us safe, and felt so comfortable. But in those last couple of hours, baby finally had it. Despite being pretty calm the whole week in the car, she just lost it after Ludington. I’m still so proud of her for being such a good traveler. She is a lot less anxious than her mama.
Baby travel tip #3: Try it. Get out and try a trip with baby. It doesn’t have to be 1,200 miles. Even a one-hour trip to Grandma’s will give you confidence to leave the house and get baby used to being on the go. Plus it will remind you that life is more than bottles and nap schedules. Life is love and time together.
What trips do you have for the first big trip out of town with baby?