Northwest Michigan offers a wealth of rich views and outdoor activities.
Outdoor recreation in Northwest Michigan begins with the activity of simply stepping back and taking a look around. Natural beauty abounds in every direction, from the water vistas along the shores of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay to the lush forests covering the region’s rolling hills. And every lovely view comes with something fun in store for people of all ages.
“This is a very beautiful area,â€ says Bill Danly, president of the Cherry Capital Cycling Club (CCCC) in Traverse City. “You’ll have this awesome view of everything, then you’ll go around a curve, and it gets even better. And the opportunities this provides for outdoor recreation are phenomenal.”
This is the case year-round in Northwest Michigan, which offers abundant water activities and hundreds of miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding during warm-weather months. And when the weather turns cold, the area transforms into a winter wonderland for downhill and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating.
“We have the reputation of being a summer destination, which is true. Our beaches are absolutely amazing,â€ says Jenny Jenness, media relations manager for Traverse City Tourism. “But I love the way the landscape changes during the winter. We have really great outdoor recreation opportunities year-round.”
Beaches and Bikes
The sandy shores along Lake Michigan are of high appeal during the summer, especially the morethan 50,000-acre Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with its 64 miles of beaches, two islands, 26 lakes and spectacular sand dunes that rise nearly 500 feet above the water. Its picturesque views are the reason Good Morning America named it the Most Beautiful Place in America in 2011.
“Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes is one of our greatest attractions,â€ Jenness says. “These are essentially sand mountains. They are just so majestic and glorious.”
Climbing the dunes is one of the most challenging outdoor activities in Northwest Michigan, but thousands of people make the trek each year. A somewhat easier way to enjoy the scenery is by taking a bike ride.
The CCCC organizes rides each year, like Ride Around Torch in July, which attracts up to 1,000 cyclists who circle the clear waters of Torch Lake, and Leelanau Harvest Tour in September that brings in 500 to 600 riders.
“More than 70% of the cyclists who take part in these rides are from outside this area,â€ Danly says. “We get people from Southern Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and even Canada. They fill up hotel rooms and eat at restaurants, and many of them come back again to ride on their own.”
With all the outdoor activities in Northwest Michigan, you can easily fill your day from sunup to sundown, which during some seasons can mean hours’ worth of playtime.Since the region is located so far north and is on the western edge of the Eastern time zone, the sun doesn’t set until after 9 p.m. from late spring through much of the summer, and darkness doesn’t descend until around 10 p.m.
“It makes for really magical summers,â€ Jenness says. “You can eat dinner first and then go on a sunset hike or play golf. So if you’re coming in for a weekend visit, it allows you to get a bigger bang for your buck.”
This has created a booming hospitality business in Northwest Michigan, with restaurants, shops and resorts teaming up to offer what Jenness calls “destination experiences,â€ like cross-country skiing to different wineries or kayaking to a waterside eatery.
“People love good food and drink, and then they love to do things to burn those calories,â€ Jenness says. “What’s great about Northwest Michigan is you can be in an urban area, and then minutes later, you’re out on the water or isolated in a tunnel of trees. There’s a great contrast. It’s modern and sophisticated, but also very natural. And you can enjoy both experiences almost at the same time.”
5 Places to Get Outdoors
Little Traverse Wheelway
Petoskey State Park
With 180 campsites, Petoskey State Park spans 303 acres at the north end of Little Traverse Bay and features a large sandy beach for swimming. The park also offers fishing, jet-skiing and waterskiing.
Sleeping Bear Dunes & National Lakeshore
Stretching into Benzie and Leelanau counties is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, an outdoor recreation attraction that welcomes more than 1 million people each year. Highlights include miles of sandy beaches, inland lakes and bluffs that tower 450 feet above Lake Michigan.
Betsie Valley Trail
Old Mission Peninsula
Old Mission Peninsula stretches 19 miles from Traverse City to the Grand Traverse Bay along Lake Michigan and features numerous cherry orchards and vineyards. Several public parks with hiking trails are along the route.