Hugging the shores of beautiful Grand Traverse Bay in the far northwestern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Traverse City is a clean, crisp, cool drink of water.
The bay, part of Lake Michigan, was named by 18th-century French settlers, who decided that sailing across it was a long crossing, a grand traverse. (And for the record, locals pronounce it TRA-verse, not tra-VERSE.)
Winters are gorgeous. Pristine snow clings to leaves, needles and brush in tall, deep forests; well-maintained roadways move traffic well; and mornings on the slopes are brisk. A dozen ski areas are close to Traverse City.
To the east, Shanty Creek Resorts sports 12 lifts, 49 trails and vertical drops of 450 feet via gradients ranging from the daunting Schuss Mountain to the more friendly Summit Slopes. Northwest of Traverse City, near Glen Arbor, the Homestead Resort offers downhill skiing and boarding with panoramic views of Lake Michigan. Rigorous cross country skiing is available at the nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
To the northeast, Boyne Mountain has 416 ski-able acres accessed by 10 lifts, vertical drops of 500 feet and enough variety to give expert skiers a thrill while also accommodating beginners. In addition, there are miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. Après-ski celebrations come in many forms, from soaking in the massive outdoor hot tub and pool and sampling marvelous restaurants to experiencing the lively bar scene, eclectic shopping and warm, welcoming fireplaces.
If it’s winter and outdoors, Michiganders are active. Two of the latest crazes are fat tire biking on the many hard-packed snow trails in the region and snow tubing. Towline-equipped Timberlee Hills, northwest of Traverse City, features Michigan’s largest tubing hill.
Summers in Traverse City glow – sun, sand, gorgeous blue waters, golfing – in a congenial environment.
Water sports and enjoyment abound; the marinas and beaches on the bay are too numerous to count and the water itself is generally calm. You can fish, take a lazy float trip down a nearby river or explore any of the fascinating towns in the region: Frankfort, Glen Arbor, Leland, Charlevoix and Mackinac Island. Particularly appealing is Interlochen, home of the Interlochen Center for the Arts and its prestigious summer arts camp for grades 3-12; performances are open to the public.
In downtown Traverse City, the merchants’ aura is playful, unhurried, thoughtful and conversational amid the dozens of curious shops, inviting boutiques, attractive galleries, relaxing coffee houses, enticing restaurants and places to simply sit and observe. For added spice, attend the National Cherry Festival in early July. It’s a tart hoot.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is a must, especially in the summer. Trekking up the initial 300-foot dune of sand (and nothing but sand) is rewarded with impressive views of Glen Lake to the east. (Be sure to wear shoes; the sand can be hot.) Once atop that dune, intrepid hikers can head west over the sand 2 miles to Lake Michigan.
More challenging is the 450-foot dune from the Pierce Stocking Drive overlook and its breaktaking view of 35 miles of coastline. This dune drops at a 75-degree angle into Lake Michigan. The quick journey down is like moonwalking, but the return trip can take up to an hour, depending upon your fitness, because you lose about 50 percent progress with every step upward.
For a change of pace, visit the City Opera House, State Theater and the Dennos Museum (featuring works by Michiganders) or tour one of Lake Michigan’s many restored lighthouses.
Getting there is a breeze. American, Delta and United fly into Traverse City’s convenient and charming Cherry Capital Airport.