Experiencing the picturesque 20-mile drive around Little Traverse Bay reveals why this slice of Lake Michigan’s splendid north country attracts so many visitors.
It’s a delightful route I’ve traveled countless times: rolling through M-119’s famed Tunnel of Trees into the charming cottage town of Harbor Springs; driving past Petoskey State Park, where the sunsets seen from its westward-facing beach prove dazzling almost every night; and swinging around into the historic Bay View community — and then on to Petoskey’s downtown shopping district — before landing in the ever-developing golf and boating resort area of Bay Harbor.
Together, these points frame a mesmerizing waterfront landscape of the approximately eight-mile-long and 3.5-mile-wide featured attraction that reigns over this laid-back, yet lively, Up North destination.
“Petoskey sits on a bluff overlooking the bay. The panoramic views and sunsets over the water never get old,” claims Peter Fitzsimons, executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, which covers Petoskey, Harbor Springs, Boyne Falls, Bay Harbor, Alanson, Bay View, and Boyne City.
This beautiful lakeside region maintains “a healthy respect for its history, architecture, and culture,” he says.
Adds assistant director Diane Dakins: “When Little Traverse Bay is dancing in the sunshine, even the most churlish of vacationers can’t help but be captivated by her allure. Fishermen, boaters, kayakers, and jet skiers, for example, take advantage of the clean waters of the bay and our inland lakes. The varied terrain means hikers and bikers (on the roadways, paved paths, and mountain trails) get the best of both worlds — flat and leisurely, or hilly and exhilarating.”
Fitzsimons says downtown Petoskey’s signature feature is the famed and walkable Gaslight Shopping District, a collection of around 80 family-owned shops and more than a dozen restaurants. Harbor Springs, meanwhile, is known for its specialty shops, marinas, and fun places to eat — such as the classic waterfront Stafford’s Pier Restaurant, whose airy outdoor deck rates among my summer favorites.
What else makes the list of favorites? Fourteen wineries, six breweries, and four distilleries, all well worth a visit; a self-guided Ernest Hemingway Petoskey driving and walking tour; the Little Traverse Conservancy, which features more than 60 preserves around the region for hiking and bird-watching (including the Sunset Coast Birding Trail); and a promise (fingers crossed!) from Fitzsimons that many of last year’s COVID-canceled events and cherished activities are coming back with pizzazz this summer.
Best Bets: The area’s charm centers around its natural beauty. The region presents a wonderful environment for golf courses, the arts, shopping and dining, water sports, biking or hiking, parks, historic sites, and so much more. It’s an inviting mix that’s hard to find elsewhere. The stories on the following pages include updates that showcase the splendors of life all around Little Traverse Bay and highlight what visitors can expect this summer.
Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau
Take to the water to experience a different perspective
What makes water sports activities so special around Petoskey?
“It’s simple,” says Don Marszalec, owner of Bahnhof Sport in Petoskey. “Everyone can enjoy the water, and it’s everywhere you look and go. Most folks want the Lake Michigan experience, even the kids. Seeing the water is one thing, but to be on it is a whole new experience. Visitors often comment about the clarity and color of the water, and compare it to the Caribbean.”
Good News: “Lake levels are receding from all-time highs in 2020,” Marszalec reports. “It’ll be down a foot or more, which will make access to the lakes and rivers much easier.”
That means the waterways this season “shouldn’t be all look, no touch,” he adds. “Seeing northern Michigan from the water paints a completely different picture of the amazing vistas and brings them into more of a 3-D view.
“Once you’re on the water, your adventure is just beginning. A simple paddle can be an hour or all day, depending on your strength and ability. You can cross Little Traverse Bay to Harbor Springs, for example, which is about three miles, or take the picturesque shoreline route back, which is five miles.”
That kayak, canoe, board, or boat adventure depends on your desires, he says. “Lake Michigan offers wide open water. Be sure to look at the views. The inland lakes (Crooked and Walloon) offer the calmest paddling for the inexperienced, and (there are) beautiful houses to see. They also offer distance, if that’s what you’re looking for. Lake Michigan can be for all levels, with the breakwall offering shelter from the waves, and the vast open water for the brave at heart.”
He says families will love paddling a tandem kayak, so they can bring along the young ones and not worry about them veering off on their own in a single kayak.
Top 3 Picks: “First, a morning paddle on Lake Michigan when the water is calm, quiet, and the boat wake is minimal. It’s a great way to enjoy your morning beverage of choice,” he says.
“Second would be Crooked Lake. It’s close, calm, and has a sand bar to paddle to — or even a paddle around Oden Island. More adventurous paddlers could head up the Crooked River all the way to Lake Huron.”
Marszalec’s third pick is the white-water park near downtown. “This course offers the thrill and excitement of mountain paddling right here in Petoskey. The Bear River Recreation Park is a stretch of the Bear River, just before it enters Lake Michigan. We equip visitors with rubber boats, wet suits if they’d like, helmets, paddles, and some advice for a fun-filled time.”
So, plan ahead to enjoy the views. Bahnhof offers equipment rentals for all experience levels at three-hour, all-day, or multi-day options.
Biking & Hiking
Let the good times roll along the amazing Top of Michigan Trails network
Biking Petoskey country ranks among my favorite rides.
From the gorgeous M-119 Tunnel of Trees Scenic Heritage Route bordering Lake Michigan south from Cross Village to a delightful waterfront ramble through downtown Harbor Springs past charming cottages and Petoskey State Park, and then on to Charlevoix along the Little Traverse (Bay) Wheelway, they’re all part of a fantastic web of fun biking adventures. Add in the North Western State Trail (NWST)to Mackinaw City and you’re talking lots of good times in the saddle!
That’s a big reason why people visit the Petoskey area, confirms Brent Bolin, executive director of the Top of Michigan Trails Council.
“It’s the ‘Up North’ lifestyle — enjoying inland lakes, forested preserves, charming small towns, and Lake Michigan. Traveling by trails is a great way to connect to these resources because it engages you in the journey and gets you into the great outdoors that you came up north for in the first place,” he says.
“Biking or walking to your destination helps you (get) into the vacation by slowing you down and making the journey part of the experience. In one (long) northern Michigan summer day in the Petoskey area you can bike, swim, kayak, shop, and still have hours of daylight left to just relax or go on other adventures.”
Use of the Top of Michigan Trails Network is booming because it offers great biking and hiking opportunities for all experience levels, with a variety of options for distance and difficulty.
“Thankfully, we have plenty of room on our trails, such as the iconic Little Traverse Wheelway — 26 miles of dedicated trail connecting Petoskey around the bay to Charlevoix and Harbor Springs, and our entire 250-mile network stretches north to Mackinaw City and east all the way to Alpena,” Bolin says. “The wheelway, for example, is very flat and accessible through Bay View and Petoskey, but features some ups and downs as you head toward Charlevoix.”
The trails organization opened several new tracks last year: The Boyne Valley Trail, which now connects Boyne City to Boyne Falls and passes through Boyne Mountain Resort, and a new section of the Burt Lake Trail. This year, look for more activity on the Burt Lake Trail and the next section of the Charlevoix to Boyne City Trail. Maps of all the trails are available on the council’s website and at the Packy Offield Trail Center.
Bolin’s Favorites Include:
- “Our Packy Offield Trail Center sits at the junction of the Little Traverse Wheelway and the North Western State Trail, so we see and talk to a lot of trail users, many of whom tell us we have one of the best trail systems they’ve used,” he says. “I always say that the beautiful northern Michigan scenery does the heavy lifting for us, but equally important is the vision and foresight to build not only iconic trails such as the Little Traverse Wheelway, but also a 250-mile network connecting the whole region.”
- “The Little Traverse Wheelway has wonderful water views and is always a good choice for a day trip,” Bolin suggests. “The NWST from Spring Lake Park to Alanson connects to Round Lake and the Oden State Fish Hatchery, which is well worth a stop.”
- “Farther afield from our area, I love the North Eastern State Trail and send people there all the time,” he adds. “It’s another rail trail that runs from Alpena to Mackinaw City. It’s not difficult, but long sections of it pass through beautiful and remote natural areas, creating a unique experience. Trailheads can be accessed via a 45- to 60-minute drive from Petoskey.”
3 Tips: Bolin says there are several local bike shops that rent bikes. Call ahead. If you want to shorten your rides, the Little Traverse Bay Ferry offers summer service between Bay Harbor Lake Marina, Josephine Ford Park in Harbor Springs, and Petoskey’s Bayfront Park. There are several public Lake Michigan access points along the trail network where you can hunt for Petoskey stones. “If you come by the Trail Center on M-119, I may even tell you my personal spot for rock-picking,” Bolin laughs.
Top of Michigan Trails Council
Arts scene gears up for ‘rousing’ new season
Browsing the charming collection of local art shops, galleries, and art centers provides a creative diversion for those attracted by the outdoor options available. That’s why there’s a reason to rejoice, as the Petoskey region’s art havens and community events ramp up momentum for a rousing return.
“After last year’s COVID-related trials, artists, performers, musicians, and galleries are all excitedly looking forward to the opportunities the summer season will provide — outdoor concerts and performances, artist paint-outs, art fairs, safe social gatherings, and more,” says Alex Dailey of Petoskey’s Crooked Tree Arts Center (CTAC), which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Most programming is free and open to the public.
“The arts scene here is special because a thriving and collaborative community of artists and art appreciators exists here. The galleries and shops support local, regional, and Michigan artists,” Dailey adds.
Why Visit: “Our lectures, outdoor concerts, free arts activities, exhibits, and sales gallery are all great reasons to visit the Petoskey area,” she says.
The CTAC stands ready (pending additional COVID restrictions) to reboot a spectacular season. Here’s a sampling:
- Now in its 40th year, the annual Charlotte Ross Lee Concerts in the Park Series kicks off at noon on Wednesdays and Fridays from June 16 through Aug. 20. Visitors can watch Michigan musicians perform at the Pennsylvania Park gazebo.
- A weekly Open Studio offers free sessions for all ages and skill levels,10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. A teaching artist will be on hand to help inspire creativity.
- The 24th annual Dart for Art fundraising event, featuring the pastel work of Heidi Marshall, is slated for July 14 and 15.
- Kindred Traditional Arts of the Little Traverse Bay Bands (LTBB) of Odawa Indians will run Sept. 20-Dec. 4. Developed in partnership with the LTBB, the exhibit includes historical and contemporary examples of Odawa art and more, plus pieces from private and public collections.
Crooked Tree Art Center
A Golfer’s Dreamland
17 courses offer unmatched quality, variety, and Pure Michigan memories
You’ll relish Pure Michigan moments on every hole of the 17 amazing (they’re also humbling, if you let a wicked slice like mine affect your game) golf courses in Petoskey country.
Seven outstanding local tracks complement the 10 absolutely divine courses under the three-resort Boyne Golf umbrella. For wonderful water views, I maintain you can’t beat Crooked Tree Golf Club or the trio of nines (The Quarry, Links, and Preserve) at Bay Harbor Golf Club, just south of town off U.S. 31. You’ll love the manicured Up North terrain and fairways at the other gems, a few of which I still need to cross off my own to-play list.
When asked about an ideal Petoskey itinerary, Peter Fitzsimons, executive director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, admits: “Mine would be to golf all day. It’s just that great!”
Adds Ken Griffin, director of golf sales and marketing at Boyne Golf: “The quality and variety of the courses, in such close proximity, is unmatched anywhere in the United States. Often, when numerous courses are found in close proximity, the terrain is very similar. But we’re fortunate to offer mountain courses, wetlands courses, quarry courses, and lakeside courses. Petoskey’s location on the far western side of the Eastern Time Zone means long days in the summer (so you can) play multiple rounds per day, or experience the many other activities the area offers once you’ve enjoyed the courses.”
What to Expect: “At this time last year, we all had more questions than answers about how the 2020 golf season would play out, or even if we would have a golf season,” Griffin recounts. “We’re optimistic that we’ll have a 2021 season with less questions and more vaccines that will allow everyone to get out and enjoy the season with less risks than last summer.”
Most courses cover large tracts of land. That means a typical round could take four to five hours, Griffin says. “Green fees vary, based on the time of year, day of the week, and time of day. That range could be from $65 to $400, for example, for a round on the Links/Quarry course on a busy day in the middle of summer. Springbrook Golf Club near Boyne Falls offers a great value, as does Chestnut Valley north of Harbor Springs.”
Boyne Updates: “We’re adding a TrackMan Range to the 32-acre driving range facility at the Ross Golf Center at Boyne Highlands Resort in Harbor Springs,” Griffin says. “We’re also making upgrades there to the Donald Ross Memorial Golf Course. Completion of this phase is targeted for the fall.”
- The Heather, Boyne’s first course — designed by architect Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1966 at the Highlands — won the National Golf Course Owners 2019 Course of the Year award.
- Golf Digest’s Top 100 Public Courses include the Links/Quarry (No. 82) and The Heather (No. 92).
- GolfPass recently listed Boyne Golf as the No. 1 Golf and Ski Resort experience in the U.S.
- The Inn at Bay Harbor, one of only 115 U.S. Marriott Autograph Resorts, is an Editor’s Choice award-winner for Golf Resorts, as determined by Golfweek.
Boyne Best Bets: “Each Boyne course is unique; they’re very different experiences. The Alpine at Boyne Mountain in Boyne City and The Heather are two of our best for inexperienced golfers. There are beautiful views, and not many forced carries,” Griffin says. “We also offer six tee boxes on every course and encourage golfers to play from a box that allows them to enjoy their round.”
Guest Favorite: The Arthur Hills Course at the Highlands. Its layout ambles through a pine forest with dramatic vertical drops and incredible views.
Most Challenging: The Moor at the Highlands — a true test of your skills.
Where Locals Play: Crooked Tree, especially after the workday ends.
Where Golf Buddies Hang Out: Boyne Mountain’s Disciples Village.
Incredible Views: The Quarry is one of a few true quarry courses in the country, while The Preserve is a delightful parkland course. Both offer amazing views of Lake Michigan.
All of this excitement makes me want to tee it up this summer with Fitzsimons and play all day! How about you?
Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau
A Quiet Escape
Book time to explore the Bay View campus
The gorgeous Victorian Bay View Association cottages overlooking Little Traverse Bay east of downtown Petoskey always intrigued me. Finally, one memorable weekend, my wife and I got out of the car, criss-crossed the area on foot, and discovered lots of wonderful amenities that are open to the public.
We enjoyed two nights at the historic Terrace Inn, which was built in 1911 and today features 38 cottage-style rooms and larger suites. The inn’s 1911 Restaurant and huge welcoming porch for happy hour and dinner service (it faces Fairview Park and has water views) added to our cozy bed-and-breakfast-style experience.
“Founded in 1875, the Bay View Association has unique Victorian architecture, a beautiful campus, and a 137-acre woods preserve,” says Executive Director Mike Spencer. “We’re a national historic landmark and welcome visitors to learn about our (Chautauqua) history. We have 445 cottages (some available for rent by the week), two historic inns, and about 30 common buildings including a library, museums, and seven parks.” Spencer says this summer’s agenda includes concerts, worship services, classes, lectures, and recreational opportunities, much of it open to the public. He suggests checking the association’s website.
“We’re one of the oldest music conservatories in the country. Each summer, about 50 to 60 music students come to learn, study, and perform with our resident music faculty. Our 30 to 40 resident music faculty come from all over the country and include professional musicians and college professors.”
Bay View Association
Casual & Unstuffy Tastings
Tip of the Mitt winemakers specialize in cold-hardy grapes and distinctive varietals
Proprietors often hear visitors talk about two surprises they experience while sampling the wines, spirits, and brews of northern Michigan.
The first thing guests don’t expect is the personal interaction with the owners of many Michigan wineries — which are, by and large, family-owned and operated.
“Many other wine regions have become very large, busy, and commercialized. We’ll often hear the comment ‘people are so kind in this area,’ ” says Tracie Roush, co-founder, along with her husband, Andy, of Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery. The couple planted their first grapes in 2012 and opened their Petoskey winery/tasting center in 2014.
Vickie Wysokinski, owner of Rudbeckia Farm/Winery and Burnt Marshmallow Brewstillery, which share a tasting/taproom area, adds: “Most visitors love our casual, ‘unstuffy’ approach to wine-tasting. They love that they get to be adventurous and try wines from grapes they’ve never heard of. They’re surprised at how many places they can visit, and that there’s so much to do and see.”
Her winery started in 2015 on a 190-acre former dairy farm, where 10 acres of vineyard were planted. The Petoskey company also began distilling in 2020.
Roush and Wysokinski agree it’s always time to kick back and relax, because the focus is on fun at all of the tasting rooms in the 14-member Petoskey Wine Region (formerly the Bay View Wine Trail). It’s part of a larger Tip of the Mitt American Viticultural Area (AVA), which covers wineries/vineyards in a band of counties (Alpena, Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, and Presque Isle) across the upper Lower Peninsula.
The Tip of the Mitt is farther north than the other four federally certified AVAs in Michigan. That presents challenges and opportunities for the winemakers when it comes to growing the cold-weather-hardy grapes used in hybrid varietals such as Marquette, Petite Pearl, La Crescent, Frontenac, and many others produced in the region.
“Lake effect conditions from Little Traverse Bay and the Straits of Mackinac often create colder and windier winter seasons, meaning varietals typically planted downstate can’t withstand the harsh conditions up here,” Wysokinski explains.
“Most visitors are unfamiliar with the area and the grapes. The tastings are generally geared toward education, so everyone feels welcome.”
The wine and spirits scene around Petoskey is fairly young, and local winegrowers are pioneers in cold-climate wines. “This is extremely exciting,” Wysokinski says. “Among the wineries that make up the region, each started with a family’s passion to create one-of-a-kind tastes and deliver unique experiences.”
Roush adds that visitors don’t have to be experts to savor the joys of Up North wines. “Every palate is unique and different, and all of your senses impact your tasting and, ultimately, your experience. Ask your server for suggestions. If you’ve never had wine or cider before, it’s OK. We’re here to help make your first experience relaxing and memorable.”
Favorite Spots: “I have a few,” Roush admits. “Up for a walk in the woods? I prefer Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs, as they have more than 200 acres of grounds, are open all year, and offer food, wine, beer, hard cider, and activities.”
Roush’s tasting room, which was remodeled over the winter, added more outdoor seating to its 3,000-square-foot patio, all overlooking her 22-acre farm with 11 acres of vineyards.
Tasting Options: Talking about other AVA members, Wysokinski likes Maple Moon Sugarbush Winery. “It’s one of the only wineries making wine from maple syrup. They also make wines from grapes.
“Mackinaw Trail Winery & Brewery is the largest and longest-established winery (2004) in the area. They have an exceptionally large tasting room with seating inside and outside. It’s also the perfect place to take a classic tour of winery operations, from grape to glass,” she says.
Petoskey Wine Region
Suggestions to round out your visit
Below, some of our experts share a few favorites and provide insights to ensure your visit checks all the boxes.
Day-Tripping: “Four wineries, two breweries, and a distillery near Bay Harbor are quite close together (and only require) four stops. Start your day with a visit to Walloon Lake Winery, then proceed to Mackinaw Trail Winery and Brewery, move on to Resort Pike Cidery and Winery, and end at Rudbeckia Winery/Burnt Marshmallow Brewstillery for a facility tour and a private ‘lunch in the vines.’ Make reservations.”
— Vickie Wysokinski, Rudbeckia Farm/Winery
All’s Fare: “Breakfast in the H.O. Rose Room at Stafford’s Perry Hotel offers stellar bay views. Don’t pass up the sticky buns! Park at Bayfront Park and walk to Magnus Park, or rent a bike and ride to Alanson and back, stopping along the way at Oden State Fish Hatchery. Have lunch at City Park Grill, a favorite for great food, history, and tablecloths the kids can write on. Tour the Little Traverse Historical Museum. Have dinner at the Vintage Chophouse|Winebar, Sage, or The Terrace Inn. Go back to Sunset Park or East Park and catch a million-dollar sunset.”
— Diane Dakins, Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau
Water View: “After biking the local trails, ride the Little Traverse Bay Ferry, which criss-crosses the bay with stops in Bay Harbor, Petoskey, and Harbor Springs.”
— Brent Bolin, Top of Michigan Trails Council
Take a Look: “Grab a coffee/drink from North Perk before walking through Pennsylvania Park to listen to the live performers. Pop into NorthGoods for uniquely Michigan gifts, Merchant and Tailor for your vintage clothing needs, or McLean & Eakin Booksellers.”
— Alex Dailey, Crooked Tree Arts Center
Near and Far: “Tour the Earl Young homes and Castle Farms in Charle-voix. Stargaze at the International Dark Sky Park near Mackinaw City. Visit the Good Hart General Store, Legs Inn, and Three Pines Studio along M-119’s Tunnel of Trees. The family-friendly Pond Hill Farm in Harbor Springs has animals, a winery/brewery, and farm market. They’re all fun times.”
— Peter Fitzsimons, Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau