We spent all of July 2022 in Northern Michigan and I have so much to share with you about the many fun things to do there. It's no exaggeration to say that Michigan is now one of our all-time favorite places and I'm certain we'll return often.
Here are our recommendations for the best things to do in Northern Michigan!
While we were there, our oldest daughter and our oldest niece came to visit for a week and we did our best to experience as much of Northern Michigan as we could. If a trip to Northern Michigan is in your future, these are our top recommendations.
And, if you're interested in fun things to do and see in the areas around the southern end of Lake Michigan and Muskegon, check out last month's issue of Let's Get Lost, our monthly travel journal.
Things to Do in Traverse City
We drove through Traverse City on July 2rd on our way to our RV park in Petoskey and found ourselves in the middle of the annual National Cherry Festival. We'd never heard of the Cherry Festival, but it didn't take much deduction to recognize that it's a pretty big deal.
Fighter jets flew above us during an air show, there were crowds of people everywhere, carnival rides, and food stands everywhere. I quickly googled it on my phone as Steve maneuvered our 43-foot 5th wheel through the chaos like a boss and learned that it's a week long festival and July 2rd was the first day.
So, the next day we hopped on the motorcycle and got to Traverse City just in time for the air show. All the planes were fantastically entertaining, but the Blue Angels stole the show.
We spent the rest of the day walking through all the Cherry Festival attractions, eating turkey legs and cherry pie (actually, we had cherry pie blended into ice cream, kind of like a cherry pie blizzard, which is as delicious as it sounds), and exploring Traverse City.
Arriving in Petoskey just in time for the Cherry Festival was a delightfully happy coincidence.
Cherry Festival aside, there are many, many things to do and see in Traverse City. We ended up spending quite a bit of time there and didn't come close to exhausting our options. If you visit, here are some of the things we recommend:
- Go for a sail on the Tall Ship Manitou, a replica of an 1800’s “coasting” cargo schooner, similar to those that sailed the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. We booked an evening sail and enjoyed everything about it.
- The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a sprawling series of buildings that housed the former Traverse City State Hospital (asylum) and now includes shops, restaurants, and residences. We went on a 2-hour guided tour with a spirited, entertaining tour guide that brought the facilities's 100 year history to life with colorful stories of the people who worked and lived there.
- Old Mission Peninsula is a narrow finger of land extending into the center of Grand Traverse Bay. The road that runs down the center of the peninsula is peppered with vineyards and cherry orchards, charming farm houses, and beaches. The Old Mission Lighthouse stands at the tip of the peninsula with a picturesque beach that looks across Grand Traverse Bay. The peninsula is one of the best places in Michigan to grow wine grapes and there are plenty of tasting options - 10 wineries within just 5 miles.
Things to Do in Petoskey
The first thing we did after arriving in Petoskey and getting set up was head to Sunset Beach in front of the Inn at Bay Harbor.
The beach was a short 5 minute drive from our RV Resort (Sun Outdoors Petoskey Bay Harbor) and, as the name suggests, one of the best places to watch the sun set over Lake Michigan. We visited often.
We also discovered a beautiful, quiet walking and biking path along the Bear River. The path begins on the shore of Lake Michigan at Bayfront Park and winds along the river through fields of trees, ferns, and wildflowers that look like they were plucked straight from an illustrated picture book.
Other things to do and see in Petoskey and in a few of the little beach towns nearby:
- One of the most popular things to do in and around Petoskey is search for Petoskey stones. The Petoskey stone is fossilized pre-historic coral that consists of tightly packed, six-sided corallites, which are the skeletons of once-living coral polyps. We saw people hunting for Petoskey stones at almost every beach we visited.
- Cormack's Deli is an extremely popular deli and bakery in Petoskey, for good reason. Their extensive menu of sandwiches, quiches, salads, soups and baked goods is legendary and if you're going to go, try to get there when they open because the place gets busy fast. We ate there a couple of times and the day before we left, I went over and bought and entire berry pie which we happily ate for the next 3 days.
- There is a 26-mile bike path called Little Traverse Wheelway that runs along the Lake Michigan coast from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs. We were thrilled to discover that the path was across the street from our RV Resort. It's clean and well maintained, and runs past miles of picturesque coast line and beaches.
- Speaking of Harbor Springs, the town hosts the most charming movie theater we've ever been to. Seriously - if you're ever in the area, go see a movie at the Lyric Theater regardless of whether they're showing anything you want to see. It'll be worth it. FYI - We ran out of time before exploring the rest of Harbor Springs, but it looked delightful.
Things to Do in Charlevoix
The little beach town of Charlevoix was about 10 miles down the road from our RV Resort in Petoskey and we ended up spending a lot of time there. The town reminded me of Main Street in Disneyland - fresh flowers everywhere, remarkably clean, perfectly painted houses with wide covered porches, and charming shops and restaurants.
Some of our favorite places in Charlevoix:
- Walking the path to the South Pier lighthouse and watching the boats pass through the draw bridge which opens every half hour.
- Walking along the boat docks to ogle all the beautiful boats docked there.
- The Taffy Barrel contains 150 different flavors of salt water taffy. We may or may not have walked out of the store with over 3 pounds of taffy. 🙄
- Cherry Republic. We picked up habanero cherry sausage, chocolate covered dried cherries, cherry BBQ sauce, cherry slow simmer sauce, cherrywood smoked sea salt, and cherry pretzels. And honestly, it's amazing we didn't purchase more at this store.
- Momentum Outfitters. We bought t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, and water bottles in this fabulous store. I've been wearing the 2 long sleeve t-shirts I purchased here in constant rotation. The clothing is soft, comfortable, good quality and affordable. You can order any of their products online, which is GREAT because at the rate we're wearing what we bought here, we're going to need replacements.
We also spent a day riding the Emerald Island Ferry to and from Beaver Island. The 2-hour ferry ride was relaxing and enjoyable, but there really isn't much to do on Beaver Island as we quickly discovered.
The island boasts a colorful history so we booked a guided van tour that honestly, and I'm trying to be kind here, was the most boring tour we've ever been on. Our advice is to skip it and enjoy all the many things to do in Charlevoix instead.
Things to Do on Mackinac Island
We spent one day on Mackinac Island and were completely smitten. For anyone not familiar with Mackinac, it's an island on Lake Huron situated between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas. The island does not allow motorized vehicles so the only way to get around is via horse, bicycle or on foot.
We rode the ferry to Mackinac Island early one morning and immediately hopped on a carriage tour. The 1 hour and 45 minute tour gave us an immediate introduction to the island and its history, the tour guides were entertaining and informative, and we all fell in love with the horses.
From there we visited the Grand Hotel, one of the most famous and historic hotels in the country. We walked through the hotel and over the grounds, had cocktails on the iconic sprawling front porch (the world's longest front porch!) and lunch in the Geranium Bar, and ice cream in Sadie's ice cream parlor. Steve and I resolved to come back one day and spend at least a couple of nights there.
Other highlights from our day on Mackinac Island:
- Mackinac Island is rich with history and there are a lot of historical sites and museums on the island - many more than we could see in a day. We were able to visit Fort Mackinac, which was founded during the American Revolution and contains 14 original buildings. We also toured the Grand Hotel Carriage and Stable museum and the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop.
- There is a bike path that runs the entire perimeter of the island so we rented bicycles and rode the whole thing. It was truly one of the most beautiful bike paths we've ever been on!
- At the recommendation of the staff at the bike rental shop, we had dinner at Millie's On Main and highly recommend it to anyone visiting the island.
Michigan's Upper Peninsula
The Upper Peninsula, the UP, is a 16,000 square mile region bordering Canada and 3 of the Great Lakes - Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior. The UP is connected to Michigan's Lower Peninsula by the 5-mile long Mackinac Bridge which spans the Straits of Mackinac.
There is a LOT to see and do in the UP. We only spent a couple of days there so we barely scratched the surface, but here are the highlights:
- We spent a gorgeous Sunday on the Motorcycle riding the Tunnel of Trees out of Harbor Springs before crossing the Mackinac bridge and riding up to White Fish Point in the UP.
- We visited several beaches on Lake Superior, peppered with colorful rocks and crystal clear water.
- We visited Oswald's Bear Ranch, a black bear rescue organization in Newberry, MI. There are currently 40 bears at the ranch with separate areas for the males, females, yearlings, and cubs. You can purchase bags of apples and throw them over the fence to the bears and they also offer guests the opportunity to feed the bear cubs. We spent most of our time watching the bear cubs who were delightfully playful, active, and entertaining.
- At the recommendation of a Michigan native, we visited The Mystery Spot, a total tourist trap that was nonetheless entertaining. We took the tour of a wacky house created to make you feel off-center, and Steve and our niece rode their zipline course.
More Fun Things to Do in Northern Michigan
- Cider and wine tasting at Royal Farm Market and Winery. We visited this place a couple of times and tasted our way through their entire hard cider menu. Our favorites were: Caramel Apple, 1865, and Hard Red.
- Kayaking on the Crystal River. We rented kayaks at Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor and spent several hours kayaking down the Crystal River. The river is exactly as advertised, crystal clear, and it was a gorgeous way to spend an afternoon.
- St. Ambrose Cellars. Kayaking on the Crystal River and dinner at St. Ambrose Cellars were both fantastic recommendations from a friend who lives in Michigan. We went here after kayaking and enjoyed dinner, hard cider and wine on the lawn while listening to live music.
We Love Michigan
We left Michigan on July 30th, after 10 weeks there and we are sold on the state. Both of us can see ourselves spending many more summers there, especially in the beach towns along Lake Michigan and in the Upper Peninsula.
It's really an ideal place to spend the summer - mild temperatures, plenty of sun, beaches and boats around every corner, and luxuriously lush and green. The people are friendly, the food is fantastic, and the summer days are long.
Before heading to Northern Michigan, we spent a few weeks in Muskegon and loved that area as well. If you're curious about our recommendations for that part of Michigan, check out last month's issue of Let's Get Lost.
Thank you to all the people who gave us recommendations about where to go, what to eat, and what to do throughout all of Michigan. Your recommendations were pure gold and while we didn't get to all of them this time around, we know we will eventually.
I am writing this from a beautiful, quiet campground in Wisconsin and while we were sorry to leave Michigan, we are loving Wisconsin just as much. I'm already looking forward to sharing our Wisconsin travels with you next month.
-Rebecca and Steve