Choose a track, some rapids or a Great Lake skyway. Climb into a dune buggy, hot air balloon or Model T: You’ll never think “road trip” in quite the same way again.
Indulge your need for speed (safely, without risk of ticket) at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, where one option lets you ride shotgun around Michigan International Speedway at up to 165 miles per hour (drivepetty.com). Or, opt for $25 to drive-your-own car on a couple of spins around the same track frequented by the NASCAR greats. Since no pit crew is provided, it’s probably just as well that a pace car keeps you at 70 miles per hour or less (mispeedway.com).
Equipped with a two-way radio, chart your own sandy course behind the wheel of a Jeep Wrangler (two adults up front, two adults or three children in back) from Parrot’s Landing at Silver Lake Sand Dunes Area between the shores of Lake Michigan and Silver Lake (parrotslanding.com), or hop aboard an 18-seat dune schooner for an adrenalin-pumped run in Saugatuck (saugatuckduneride.com).
Rapids set the pace when you whip down Michigan’s only whitewater, via raft, in the Western Upper Peninsula. The Menominee River boasts the Midwest’s longest continuous stretch of rapids, reaching a Class IV after heavy rains. Guides at Northwoods Adventures cater both to first-timers and adrenaline junkies (michiganrafts.com).
Doing aerobatics, behind the controls of an airplane, doesn’t seem like something you’d get to on lesson one, but it’s part of a you-won’t-forget this lesson sampling program, $65, at Northwestern Michigan College. Think driver’s training — in the air. While you get a chance at the controls, the instructor (luckily) has a set too. Cessna and float plane options are also offered as part of the “Let’s Go Flying” initiative of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Some 3,500 flight schools in the country participate for varying fees (letsgoflying.com).
Or, fly high full of hot air with Walloon Balloon Adventures in Walloon Lake — one of the newest ways in Michigan to glide silently between blasts, in this case high over Hemingway Country. All trips ($325 per person) end with the trademark champagne toast. Grand Traverse Balloons take to the skies, too, with Summertime Scenery Group Flights accommodating up to 10 passengers over the area’s lakes, bays, vineyards, farms and forests ($299 per person; group rates also available, grandtraverseballoons.com).
Walking on water is how you journey via the new “it” sport of paddleboarding. Try it at the Third Coast Surf Shop in St. Joseph, which also offers lessons in surfing a Lake Michigan wave — or sand dune (thirdcoastsurfshop.com).
Or go old school, paying homage to the car that inspired the road trip at the Gilmore Car Museum in Kalamazoo. Lessons in driving a Model T aren’t offered often, but if you do score a class ($95 for non-members, gilmorecarmuseum.org), you’ll know how to drive any Ford Model T built between 1908 and 1927 — starting with hand-cranking it to life.