The Traverse City area is stunning all year long, but it’s hard to beat autumn for truly jaw-dropping resplendence.
“With the blue bay and the golden sand and the red and gold of the trees along with all the evergreens, it’s just like a painting,” says Jillian Manning, public relations manager of Traverse City Tourism. While PR professionals are paid to say things like that, Manning is not exaggerating about one of Michigan’s most celebrated regions.
Fall is an especially wonderful time to visit because the crowds of summer have faded a bit so it’s easy to practice social distancing at attractions and on the trails. Traverse City Tourism is sweetening the pot with its Fab Fall promotion. Stay in a participating hotel and receive a mobile passport that offers money-saving deals at a variety of restaurants, shops, wineries, kayak and bicycle rentals and other attractions.
Whether you’re taking the kids apple picking, exploring a corn maze, screeching through a haunted house — or visiting a winery, cidery or brewery — there is something for every taste and age in Traverse City. Pack a jacket and a sense of adventure and check out these family-friendly spots:
- The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the area’s most famous draw, is not to be missed. Hunt for Petoskey or Leland Blue stones along the beach, enjoy the breathtaking Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (construction is upcoming, so check first to ensure it’s still open), or “send your kids on a dune climb and have them tire themselves out,” Manning laughs.
- Jacob’s Farm, just 3.5 miles west of the city, is a century-old farm with three separate corn mazes that encompass more than 4.5 miles of serpentine pathways. The picturesque site, which has a shipwreck theme this year, also includes a half-acre pumpkin patch and an apple orchard.
- Right across the street is Gallagher’s Farm Market a charming marketplace of fresh fruits and vegetables, baked goods, homemade jams and jellies, local wines, cherry products and barnyard animals. Be prepared to buy way more than you intended!
- The Grass River Natural Area has miles and miles of easy trails, boardwalks and sweeping overlooks (keep an eye out for eagles), as well as interesting programs for nature lovers. It’s in Bellaire, a picture-postcard village of colorful shops, eateries and galleries.
- Also in Bellaire, the Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area is a must-see for its trail system that covers 10 distinct habitats for walkers or cyclers.
- With its quaint towns and bucolic drives, the Benzie County area is fun to explore. One highlight is the Michigan Legacy Art Park, which combines great fall colors with some 50 works of contemporary art dotted among a 30-acre forest preserve.
- Benzie’s biggest attraction is the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort, which offers up golf, outdoor laser tag and archery lessons for those 7 and up. (Take advantage of your free time by ducking into the spa for a pampering service.)
- Also in Benzie County, Fantail Farm offers horse-drawn carriage rides through the autumnal splendor. Participants are encouraged to dress in their Halloween costumes.
- Older kids will love being scared silly at the Ghost Farm of Kingsley, an interactive tour that winds through the Cursed Barn, Haunted Trail and Gravely Greenhouse. Unearth other local spooky thrills via HauntedTraverse.com.
Finally, fall is wine season and the harvest is being celebrated everywhere at Traverse City area’s 40 wineries, many situated on the impossibly beautiful Leelanau Peninsula to the north of the city. “All the wineries have created gorgeous outdoor places this year with patios, overlooks or tents where you can sip a glass of wine and watch the grapes coming in off the vines,” says Manning. On the Old Mission Peninsula, Bowers Harbor Vineyards is particularly family-friendly – and dogs are welcome too.