In and On the Water in Traverse City This Summer

Boating, beaches and the Grand Traverse Bay await your family this summer, so don't miss a moment of the long, sun-filled days on and in the water of Traverse City.

There are so many reasons to visit the Traverse City region – the splendid scenery, the charming wineries, the excellent restaurants, the eclectic shopping, the sweeping cherry orchards … and the irresistible lure of Lake Michigan.

“On an average day on Grand Traverse Bay you will see sailboats, powerboats, jet skis, paddleboats, canoes, kayaks, and people swimming,” reports Mike Kent of Traverse City Tourism, who is lucky enough to have an office overlooking the sparkling water. “And we have so many miles of beaches, most of which are public. The water is a constant draw and reflects the beauty of this region.”

Photo by Traverse City Tourism.

Formed by the stunning Leelanau Peninsula (a must-see for any visit to the region, no matter the season or reason), Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay is enormous — 32 miles long, 10 miles wide and up to 620 feet deep, and divided into two arms by the Old Mission Peninsula. Situated on the bay’s southern end, Traverse City is the launching point for a plethora of activities in, on, beneath or far above the water.

Here are some ideas for dipping a toe in:

Making a big splash this summer (after a year’s delay due to COVID-19) is Discovery Cruises, which just launched July 1 with two-hour sightseeing excursions along the West Bay, as well as 90-minute happy hour cruises on Thursday-Saturday evenings. The beautifully remodeled ship comfortably accommodates 149 passengers and offers beverages and snacks.

With its large white sails billowing in the wind, the Nauti-Cat is a striking sight as it plies West Grand Traverse Bay. The Great Lakes’ largest commercial sailing catamaran offers a variety of cruises, most in the 2 1/2-hour range.

Another impressive option is the double-gaffed, 60-foot Wind Dancer, which offers three-hour sailing and biking tours to Power Island in Grand Traverse Bay, complete with locally sourced food and drinks.

The non-profit Inland Seas Education Association has provided educational cruises on traditionally rigged tall ship schooners since 1989. Families can try sailing basics by raising the anchor or hoisting the sails, learn all about the area’s ecosystem and fish populations, conduct interesting scientific experiments or enjoy a night sail under the stars with a local astronomer who points out constellations.

If you’d rather be in the water than on it, there are plenty of places to rent water toys from, and most will even deliver and pick up your equipment for a truly hassle-free experience. Traverse City Tourism has a complete list on its excellent website. Highlights include Paddle TC in Clinch Park on West Grand Traverse Bay, which rents kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, 11-foot-long water carpets and, for the landlubbers, beach lounge chairs or bicycles; River Outfitters, which has kayaks, paddleboards and bicycles and also offers a variety of bay and river tours; and TC Watersports, which delivers boats and jet skis along the bay and to most surrounding lakes in the area.

Photo by Traverse City Tourism.

The adventurous can experience a birds-eye view of the bay and surrounding scenery via a parasail on a single, double or even triple rig. As one company assures, “If you can sit, you can fly!”

The bay’s cold waters hold dozens of well-preserved shipwrecks. Those with valid open water scuba certification can inspect them via a guided shore dive with Scuba North in Traverse City.

Does all that sound a bit exhausting? Remember, this is your vacation and you’re entitled to simply veg out. Just pick a sugar sand beach (there are literally dozens from which to choose), order a take-out picnic, and escape to your own world for hours as you gaze at magnificent Lake Michigan. Don’t forget the sunscreen, and keep your eyes peeled for passing freighters.

Learn more about the region, including accommodations, restaurants and shopping, at Traverse City Tourism.


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