A long winter can make even the most optimistic among us forget how truly glorious summer can be. But take heart. Warm weather is upon us and there’s no better place to soak it all in than beautiful Traverse City. Family activities in Traverse City are all the more fun with a plan, so we tapped into the experts at Traverse City Tourism to reconnect with some old favorites (Sleeping Bear Dunes!) and some really unique new offerings.
“It’s all about the water,” says Traverse City Tourism President, Trevor Tkach. “Families play in the lakes and rivers, they explore the trails, hop on a kayak, go fishing or just hang out on the beach. There is so much to see and explore.”
Your family deserves to dig into really fun family activities in Traverse City, so here are some ideas to get you started planning a trip for late spring and early summer. But don’t delay! You know how time flies.
New ways to explore Sleeping Bear Dunes
We’ll start with the iconic location that is practically synonymous with the Traverse City region: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. There’s more to Sleeping Bear than sand dunes, says Tkach. “Many people only consider the Dunes climb when they think of Sleeping Bear Dunes, but Sleeping Bear has so many trails for hiking and biking, too,” he says. “What a wonderful and accessible way to explore this beautiful natural landscape.”
There are some 15 different trails to explore, including the Old Indian Trail, which winds through a maple-beech forest and offers a short spur through the dunes to Lake Michigan — and some really spectacular views. Your kids will be intrigued to set out on the Alligator Hill Trail, which offers loops of varying lengths along the 9-mile trail. On a clear day, you can see North and South Manitou Island and Sleeping Bear Point from the trail’s Lookout.
Or park your car and pile onto your bicycles to take in some of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. You can ride a short 2 miles to the historic logging village of Glen Haven. Pro tip: if you see a bright orange vest, it’s on the back of a Trail Ambassador of the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Stop and ask them any questions you might have. They’re happy to help.
Don’t leave Sleeping Bear Dunes before signing your kids up to be Junior Rangers. This is a great way for your kids to build their own sense of environmental stewardship. “Programs like Junior Rangers are often overlooked, but really fun for kids to do,” says Tkach. Head to the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center to learn more.
Brand new trail fun
While you’re enjoying the outdoors, be sure to visit the Boardman Lake Trail in the heart of Traverse City. Part of a network of four trails in Grand Traverse and Leelanau County, Boardman Lake Trail is fun to explore on foot or bicycle. The trail is unique because it offers plenty of natural beauty while keeping you close to Traverse City amenities.
The trail itself is in various stages of completion, but new segments are opening regularly and the entire 4-mile loop is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2022. “We expect this trail to be really popular and it’s really fun to watch it grow,” Tkach says.
You must do this
New to Traverse City is Elev8 Climbing and Fitness, the first climbing gym to open in northern Michigan. There’s no minimum age for climbing at this unique indoor facility and there’s even an introductory walkthrough where you’ll learn the basics, including safe falling techniques for bouldering, rules and etiquette. Your whole family can take advantage of day passes and rock-climbing rental gear from shoes, harnesses, ropes and everything in between. You can also boulder, which requires no ropes or harnesses, just the desire to try something new and have fun.
Immersive fun for the kids
Traverse City is home to Great Lakes Children’s Museum, one of the region’s best museums for kids — and their parents, too. In early childhood, kids are always learning and they’ll really dig into the hands-on fun here.
Optimized for kids ages 1 to 8, there are several exhibits to love. Visit The Hatchery, a fun space for toddlers up to age 2 where kids can play in a safe, welcoming environment. At the Great Lakes Watershed, little captains can pilot magnetic ships along a scale-appropriate map of the Great Lakes. Older kids will love the Up Periscope, a real working periscope that allows kids to see Heritage Harbor in Grand Traverse Bay and other fun views.
Kids and parents will love the Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters exhibit, which offers an authentic experience of life in a lighthouse and plenty of opportunities for pretend play as kids take on the various roles of people who lived in and tended lighthouses around the Great Lakes.
Parents! Get uncorked!
Moms, dads and grandparents visiting in May can participate in Traverse City Uncorked, a true celebration of Michigan Wine Month on the Traverse Wine Coast. Grab a mobile-exclusive passport to get access to a collection of wineries offering special deals during the event.
Visit award-winning Black Star Farms Old Mission or Black Star Farms Suttons Bay and enjoy tastings and discounts. Enjoy a visit to Bonobo Winery in Traverse City’s Old Mission Peninsula or Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn. These are just a few of the exciting vineyards and wineries to enjoy during Traverse City Uncorked. Stay at a Traverse City area hotel for a chance to win a wine-themed vacation to Traverse City.
Whether or not you participate in Traverse City Uncorked, Traverse City is always a wonderful place to visit for truly unique wine experiences, since 55% of Michigan’s wine grapes are grown right here in the region.
“Come for the cherry blossoms in spring, play in the summer waters, enjoy with changing fall colors, or relax at a ski resort fire in winter. Traverse City is truly a yearlong vacation getaway,” says Tkach.
Learn more about Traverse City and plan your own trip at traversecity.com.