Three Days in Northern Michigan
MYSTICAL DUNES, DREAMY SMALL TOWNS AND FARMSTANDS—PLUS OUR OLD FRIEND PAPA.
NORTHERN MICHIGAN is defined by water–the huge arcs of Great Lakes that surround it, the inland oases and waterways that thread through the land. But folks live ashore, after all, and these three days take us through the natural wonders and cultural vitality that make this tip of the Mitten so amazing. [For much, much more, check out Wildsam’s field guide to Northern Michigan.]
DAY 1: SLEEPING BEAR DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE
A 35-mile stretch of sugary sand dunes, freshwater beaches and majestic cliffs overlooking Lake Michigan: America’s wild edge.
Begin with breakfast at Glen Arbor’s ART’S TAVERN or Empire’s Shipwreck Cafe. Then head to the riverbank to explore by canoe, a venture harking back to Indigenous culture and French settler days. Modern versions of the birchbark variety can be rented at RIVERSIDE CANOE TRIPS on the Platte River. Stock up on picnic supplies at the outfitter’s grocery, then hit the calm lower part of the river for a two-hour trip. Alternatively, CRYSTAL RIVER OUTFITTERS in Glen Arbor can set you up for a visit with the blue heron, turtles and fish of Crystal River’s clear waters. SLEEPING BEAR SURF & KAYAK in Empire rents paddleboards, kayaks and surfboards too.
Recharge with lunch at Joe’s Friendly Tavern [since 1946] in Empire or THE HOMESTEAD, which has multiple restaurant options, such as Whisker’s, an indoor-outdoor pub with firepits and kid-friendly splash pads, and Cavanaugh’s, a “grocerant” for grabbing provisions and heading out.
Then, hike. Take in the sweeping views from the Dune Climb, Empire Bluff, Sleeping Bear Point or PYRAMID POINT. On summer days in the heart of the tourism season, seek quieter environs at Platte Plains, the Bay View Trail or GOOD HARBOR BAY TRAIL.
DAY 2: HEMINGWAY’S MICHIGAN
Key sites to walk the writer’s Up North footsteps.
“As far down the long stretch as he could see, the trout were rising, making circles on the surface of the water, as though it were starting to rain.”
—ERNEST HEMINGWAY, “Big Two-Hearted River”
The 22 summers the iconic author spent fishing and boating Up North informed his work–most evident in his Nick Adams short stories. A walking tour of sites can be found at michiganhemingwaysociety.org. For personalized tours, talk to Christopher Struble at petoskeyyesterday.com.
WALLOON LAKE The Hemingways summered here at a cottage named Windemere. Survey the scenery from the deck at Barrel Back Restaurant.
HORTON BAY GENERAL STORE Sit on the porch at this institution and read “Wedding Day,” inspired by the still-tiny hamlet.
PETOSKEY Begin where Hemingway himself often did: Pere Marquette Rail Station (now Little Traverse History Museum, with Hemingway exhibit).
DAY 3: FARM STANDS AND FARMERS MARKETS
In one of the most agriculturally rich states in America, farm stands and markets dot wooded back roads, parks and marinas all along the shoreline.
Summer and fall, travelers can layer beach visits and swims with stops at every roadside farm stand in sight–particularly on Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City, where stands range from apple-red shacks to sleek modern buildings selling fruits and vegetables, but also flowers, seasonal gourds and firewood. At LOCAL YOKELS FARM STAND on Center Road, you can hardly find a patch of grass between the pumpkins in autumn. Trust is the name of the game at these stands too: many offer a wooden box for depositing your bills or check.
At the bigger markets, farmers arrive with armloads of asparagus and morels in spring, cherries in July, corn in August, as well as products that will travel well–maple syrups, jams, goat’s milk soups, honey.