Spring is a time for renewal, and after the past year we’ve all endured, it’s safe to say people are looking forward to this one more than usual. As more people become vaccinated against COVID-19, they will be looking to make up for lost time traveling.
At this stage, it looks like families are going to be most comfortable taking a road trip with the car. Fortunately, the Traverse City area is a great — and accessible — getaway.
This Up North mainstay on Lake Michigan, located near the top of the lower peninsula about 250 miles from Detroit, appeals to families for a variety of reasons, says Mike Kent, public relations manager for Traverse City Tourism.
“It has all the amenities that people are used to in a bigger city — including thriving music and theater scenes, wineries, fine resorts and shopping — yet it’s a small-town atmosphere,” he notes. “There’s so much variety. Within a short drive you can go from a larger community like Traverse City to the quaint little villages of Empire, Suttons Bay, Bellaire or Frankfort and have a totally different experience. And, of course, the scenic beauty is unmatched.”
Indeed. While families appreciate the splendid resorts, multiple restaurants and wineries, eclectic boutiques and attractions that appeal to kids of all ages, soaking in the area’s jaw-dropping beauty is always the best reason to visit.
Headed Up North for a much-needed escape? Here are some ideas for making the most of the Traverse City area.
Actively bask in nature
Biking and hiking over hill and dale is something families can do all throughout the area, and there are trails for every level of ability. Bring your own bicycles or rent them at a number of sites, some of which also offer group cycling tours.
Trails and nature areas worth a special look include the 10 miles of paved trails of the Traverse Area Recreation Trail; the scenic Leelanau Trail — which connects Traverse City to Suttons Bay via repurposed railways corridors — and the Betsie Valley Trail, a historic former freight rail line that dates to 1892. Another favorite is the Heritage Trail, which is accessible to all activities, even wheelchairs, and runs 22 miles through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore the area’s most famous (and never to be missed, no matter how many times you’ve been here) attraction.
Wherever you end up wandering, keep an eye out for native trilliums, those lovely white-flowered harbingers of spring; tasty morel mushrooms (but first check out the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ handy guide to safe mushroom hunting); and cherry blossoms, which usually make their dazzling (albeit brief) debut in mid to late May. The Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas are particularly good sites to spot the blooms; Traverse City Tourism has good ideas on specific routes — and a cool time-lapse video.
Eat, drink, do stuff inside
If the weather is not cooperating, or you’re still not ready to say goodbye to winter, try the Olympic sport of curling (or at least watch it being played) at Broomstack Kitchen & Taphouse in Maple City. This fun spot in a former schoolhouse includes a restaurant; tavern with local craft beer, cider, mead and wine; and two sheets of curling ice.
You can also while away the hours at The Den at Grand Traverse Resort, whose sprawling grounds include scads of inside fun. There’s cutting-edge virtual reality “rides” (ages 10 and up), boutique bowling and gaming arcade (good for all ages), an escape room (8 and above), and even axe throwing (18 and up).
Of course, any season is the right season for ice cream. A local favorite is the family operation called Moomers, a working dairy farm that produces 160 flavors (20 available daily) from Amaretto Cherry to White Chocolate Oreo. Can’t decide? Taking a page from many local wineries, Moomers offer a flight of five flavors. USA Today has named this spot, located five miles outside downtown Traverse City, the nation’s best ice cream parlor.
Many restaurants and wineries have added outdoor tables and yurts, igloos and other creative socially distanced spaces to ensure a safe visit during these times of coronavirus. Visitors can trust that “all accommodations have been bending over backwards for stringent safety,” Kent says.
Visit Traverse City Tourism at traversecity.com.