I know it doesn’t sound as intriguing as London, Paris or Switzerland, but traveling to northwestern Michigan (generally the area surrounding Traverse City), can offer some exciting adventures, good food and incredible scenery. Flights are easy to come by (there are now direct flights from more than six cities in the US) and the scenery, activities and cuisine cannot be beat. Here are some ideas of what might capture your imagination while visiting Michigan.
This national park encompasses a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline. Start your adventure at the ranger station near Empire, Mich. and introduce yourself to the wonders of the lakeshore on the Pierce Stockney scenic drive. Make sure you stop at Stops #9 and #10 for incredible views at the Dune Overlooks. Spend some additional time (and burn up a lot of calories) doing the well-known Dune Climb for another scenic view of Lake Michigan or sit and relax at one of the many beaches. The hikes are amazing. Don’t miss the Empire Bluffs Trail or the Pyramid Point Trail. Both are fairly easy with stunning views. Also, the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail offers cyclists up to 27 miles of scenic trails.
Traverse City sits at the bottom of Grand Traverse Bay off Lake Michigan. The Bay is beautiful and there are several ways to enjoy the sapphire blue water in this expansive bay. You can sign on for anevening cruise on a tall ship (the Manitou) or charter a private sailing boat for your own adventure (try Two Brothers Sailing). You can even rent a pontoon boat and cruise the bay or take sailing lessons with a very experienced captain (try Great Lakes Sailing Adventure).
Located just outside the national park, this village recreates the unique history of this area. Buy candy at the General Store or see old fishing boats in the Cannery. There is even a blacksmith demonstration and a Maritime Museum that tells the stories of many shipwrecks in the area. Plus, nearby is a great beach where there is space for you to just set up your chair and enjoy the lake.
If you head north from the national park on the great road M-22 (which circumvents this area), you will come to Leland, Michigan. Leland is a quaint town with a small historic fishing village, called Fishtown. Here you can grab a bite at The Cove, do a little shopping and watch the fishermen bring in their daily catch. Stop at the Village Cheese Shanty and have a taste of their many cheeses. Or you can sign up for a fishing adventure and travel into the waters of Lake Michigan where you can catch lake trout or even salmon. They will even clean it for you. The fish are abundant, and the adventure is memorable.
There are more than 40 wineries in this area. There is even a wine trail that you can follow (see the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail). Stop at the French Valley Vineyards in Sutton’s Bay (where you can have some great pizza to go with your wine) or travel the Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City and enjoy Bowers Harbor Vineyards or the incredible vistas at Bonobo Winery (where you feel like you are in Napa). You can even schedule a private wine and cheese tasting at Black Star Farms. The next day experience the craft breweries in the area. You can even do a Bike and Brew Tour or a kayak tour of the breweries. And November 8-15 is actually Traverse City Beer Week. Be prepared for the Flapjack and Flannel Festival. Is there a better way to experience the fall colors than in flannel?
When visiting Michigan In the summer, it is fresh blueberries, raspberries, peaches and cherries. You can buy them at the farm stands or the numerous farmers’ markets or pick them yourself. Fall brings an incredible variety of fresh apples to enjoy. Plus, there is some pretty awesome cider (some of which is for the over 21 crowd).
Don’t forget to shop in Traverse City or Glen Arbor and spend some time sampling and purchasing at The Cherry Republic. Chocolate covered cherries (check), cherry barbeque sauce (check), cherry salsa (check), cherry vinaigrette (check) – yes, anything you can think of with cherries. And they ship…. The jewelry at Becky Thatcher’s (with stores in Traverse City, Glen Arbor and Leland) is stunning. Becky is known for her unique designs in both gold and silver, utilizing semi-precious stones and the area’s own Leland and Petoskey stones. Meals can be elaborate (try Trattoria Stella in the refurbished old mental hospital in Traverse City or Trattoria Funistrada or Le Beccasse in Glen Arbor) or more casual at places like the Apache Trout Grill (get their early) or even Hop Lot Brewery in Sutton’s Bay (where you can enjoy beer, music and a fire pit with s’mores). And don’t forget to pick up a pie for dessert at the Grand Traverse Pie Company (several locations in the area). I particularly love their cherry pie, although the apple crumb pie disappears quickly, too. Small batch ice cream is everywhere. Many drive miles to go to Moomers for their Moose Tracks ice cream in downtown Traverse City.
Yes, you can travel to Traverse City in the winter and enjoy some great winter sports, too. Shanty Creek Resorts (40 minutes north of Traverse City) has 53 downhill slopes. Mt. Holiday Ski Area is very close to the city, has 16 runs and a snow tubing run. There is also more than enough snow, averaging from 18 to 32 inches in December and 23 to 37 inches in January. Average temperatures are between 31 degrees and 21 degrees in December.
So, when planning your next trip, consider visiting Michigan. Some may question your choice, but if they do, bring them along. They will love it, too.