Michigan is a state so often forgotten by foreign tourists, indeed I can say wholeheartedly that I too left it late to discover its varied attractions. A year or so ago we visited the Upper Peninsula region of the state, however the area is so unique and singular, it bears little resemblance to the regions further south and is essentially its own little entity.
This time we headed to the state’s main event, the area surrounding Traverse City. Find any person who has traveled around the state, and you will hear nothing but superlatives. People talk of the beauty of the landscape, the weather, activities and beaches. I must admit I didn’t quite believe it all, but having spent a week trekking the dunes, swimming in the lake and sipping wine in the vineyards, I’m now one of those superlative spewing people myself.
Our first stop was a campground on Bear Lake, about an hour south-west of Traverse City, we pitched a tent on the water, then headed to the lakefront town of Arcadia. This is a superbly cute town, all the American small town trimmings can be found here, plus good food and beer. The town caters primarily for tourists heading in to explore the nearby Arcadia Dunes.
We had a lunch, walked the town for a while and then headed in ourselves.
Arcadia DunesIf you enjoy good hikes or long walks with a little something different, you’ll like this place. Hiking here takes you through nice wooded trails, and then as your pay off, out onto sand dunes which cascade steeply down to the blue, crystal clear waters of Lake Michigan. Walks range in length, but they are all manageable, and you can tailor them to your own difficulty level.
This place, only another 30/40 minutes further north, was the main outdoors event for us on our little Michigan adventure. The town itself is one of those quintessential American towns that you could spend a week in just sipping coffee and drinking. Its exudes positive vibes, you can smell the pine trees as you walk the main street, and with bikes or boats on almost every car roof, everyone looks like they are either heading into the woods or the water. Why were we there? Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is why.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
A stretch of coast which deserves more publicity in my eyes. Known for its forests, beaches, dune formations, and ancient glacial phenomena, this little area of Michigan packs a punch. Extensive forest trails mean you can do full day hikes, but you can choose shorter two hour walks if you want to keep it easy on the legs. Every now and then you’ll pop out onto a hillside with a view that causes lower jaw dropping. There are crazy tall sand dunes to climb (and slide down), clear blue waters to swim in, and when you’re all done, you can shoot back to Glen Arbor for a cold beer and some delicious grub.
One of our main reasons for coming up here to Michigan was to see what all the fuss was about, enough people have gushed at me with regards to their love of this town that we needed to see for ourselves. Meh. It’s nice. The high street has some nice shops, there are some bars, an old movie theatre, it’s nice, sure. I admit I don’t really see it. Pleasant as it is, I would say the two previously mentioned places have way more appeal.
However, I will say, traverse city has a lot going on around it and this must be its appeal. Beaches line the front, boating trips go from down the road, there’s a good campground a mile from town, and best of all, hop in the car for ten minutes, and you’re in wine country.
Reaching north, on either side of Traverse City are two long, thin, beautiful (and perfect for the growing of grapes) Michigan peninsulas. On each of them are countless vineyards and tasting rooms. We picked up a map detailing the locations and just started touring them. As we had limited time we went for the closer, smaller peninsula, that being on the east side of town, and here are our recommendations:
For us, this was the most picturesque of the Michigan vineyards, it has a wonderful outdoor area and extensive gardens to stroll in. We took our time here and sat out on the verandah staring at the lush vines for a good hour, sipping away. I wouldn’t say the best wine can be found here, but its nice enough, and the atmosphere is simply wonderful.
Brys is just superb. Amazing food, spectacular views from a raised deck, and the best wine we had all day. If you don’t buy a bottle from here then I would be surprised!
A really unique place, inspired by prehistoric monuments in Ireland, Marty Lagina, the owner of Mari Vineyards, carefully designed the wine caves to bring in the light of the summer solstice. Taking a cue from the history, right down to the Templar Cross inscribed at the center of the wine cave (the “Oculus”).
The wine is great and the staff are really knowledgeable about a wide range of topics. Bekah was our favorite and spent so much time telling us about the wines, location design and other great recommendations for the area. Lake views and a chilled out atmosphere make Mari vineyards a perfect way to finish your wine tour off.
Where to Stay
There are tons of campsite in Michigan so you have lots of options if that’s your jam, the campsite just minutes from downtown Traverse City is huge, and really well kept. It is pricey as campgrounds go, but being set in a pine forest, you’d never know the town is just down the road. If you’re looking for hotels, again, there are lots of options in and around all the locations we mentioned, if you stay on the peninsulas or just south of the city prices drop, and nowhere takes long to drive to around here.
Rich and Steph