Empire: Small Town, Big View, Big Heart

Have you ever heard of Empire? Many outside of Michigan probably have not. Locals can even be found bragging about Empire’s slow pace of life in the heart of the awe-inspiring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Real people of all walks of life (just shy of 400 of them) live year ‘round in Empire, more come just for the summer. And who can blame them?

Empire Bluffs is one of the most popular photo-taking spots in all of Michigan

Photo Courtesy of Experience 231

It’s one of those places you think just exists in stories. Stunning natural beauty in all four seasons, friendly shop owners selling gourmet chocolate, freshwater surf boards and bikes, antiques, local art and of course, great burgers, whitefish, perch and ice cream. But there’s something about the people and environment here that draws you in and makes you never want to go back home. The community is known for working hard together to make a living while at the same time enjoying themselves, creating a quirky community and not taking life too seriously.

These are the people who cut a big hole in the ice in February and jump in and come together to celebrate spring’s coming and its first local crop with the renowned Empire Asparagus Festival. Parades in Empire “are so nice, they go around twice.” All we’ve got is time some days so why not?

There's incredible beauty to be found in Empire no matter the season

There’s incredible beauty to be found in Empire no matter the season

Locals migrate west down to the public beach right on Lake Michigan for sunsets in the summer, almost the latest one in the eastern time zone. After looking for the infamous green flash as the sun dips below the horizon, bonfires are built and people gather to sing songs of Great Lakes pirates, rogue waves and the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Surely you’ll come for the incredible Lake Michigan waves to surf, shallows of North Bar, Platte or Otter Creek to play all day and possibly pick up a skim board habit, miles of epic trail to hike, bike, ski or horseback ride and the incredibly legendary vistas of Dunes and Caribbean-like azure and emerald water, but it’s the people you’ll meet in the businesses and walking down the street that will get you wondering, “people get to live here too? Lucky.”

The beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes are truly breathtaking

Photo Courtesy of Chris Arace

So don’t just tell your friends about the green flash, the parade that goes around twice or the miles of sugar sand beach…experience it for yourself.

What do you love most about Empire? Share with us by commenting below!

3 Ways to Get Your Feet Wet along Michigan’s Sunrise Coast

Michigan’s Sunrise Coast stretches from Au Gres to Rogers City along the blue waters of Lake Huron.  This picturesque Northeast coast of Michigan has pristine beaches, spectacular views and endless outdoor activities.With more than 20 miles of sandy beaches, the Au Sable River and 35 thousand acres of unique trails, the Oscoda area is a great destination for your summer vacation bucket list.

Here are three ways to get your feet wet and enjoy the sun, sand and fresh air in Oscoda.

Oscoda is a paradise destination on the coast of Lake Huron

Photo Courtesy of Jennifer Bailey

1. Explore Oscoda’s Water Trails 

Take in the beautiful scenery and catch a glimpse of wildlife in their native habitat during a canoeing or kayaking trip along the mighty Au Sable River.  The Au Sable is one of North America’s best canoeing rivers and runs through Northern Lower Michigan.

Whether you’re looking for a two-hour trip or a weeklong adventure, it’s an adventure you won’t want to miss.

 2. Go Fish 

If you’re looking for a trophy size fish, Oscoda is the right place for you.  The area is known for walleye fishing, but the Au Sable River and other inner lakes and streams attract trout, salmon and perch.

Once you decide where you want to fish, ,make sure you stop by the local bait shops and spend some time talking with the locals to determine what lures are hot and what is being caught.

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3. Life’s a Beach

The pristine beaches along Lake Huron, the Au Sable River, Cedar Lake and Van Etten Lake offer something for everyone.

Want a quiet afternoon taking in the sights and sounds of nature? Take in a sunrise at Huron Sunrise Park, along the Lake Huron’s shoreline. Stay for a picnic, wildlife observation, swimming or fishing.

Kids and kids-at-heart can spend a day at Oscoda Beach Park swimming, skateboarding, playing on the playground and more. While you’re there, be sure to check out the 33rd Annual Art on the Beach where there will be more than 150 artisans display and sell their handmade arts, crafts and hobbies.

Don't miss the 33rd Annual Art on the Beach

Art on the Beach is the can’t-miss event of the summer in Oscoda

If you want to take your boat out for a day on the lake, take off from Van Etten Beach Park. This park is a fresh water lake that has all the recreation activities for swimming, boating, water skiing, wave running and of course, fishing.

After all that exploring, you’ll want a place to rest your head.  Oscoda has everything from cottages, Bed and Breakfast resorts and hotels – many of them with views along Lake Huron.

From relaxing on the beach to fishing for walleyes in the lakes and rivers, Oscoda offers endless outdoor recreation activities. It’s perfect for your next family vacation!

What are you looking forward to doing in Oscoda this summer?

Explore Sun, Water and Fun in Benzie County This Summer

They say water is life and we couldn’t agree more!  With over 57 inland lakes, over 20 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and 200 miles of rivers, Benzie County Michigan is a water wonderland.

Benzie County is located in the heart of Northwest Michigan’s Lower Peninsula along the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline, gateway to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and home to some of the most beautiful lakes and rivers in the state.  The sapphire waters of Crystal Lake offer recreation of all types from fishing to water skiing.  The Betsie and Platte Rivers are among the best kayaking, canoeing and tubing, or maybe a smaller lake is more to your liking, if so, we have over 50 others to choose from.

Explore Lake Michigan fishing in Benzie County

Photo Courtesy of Drew Smith Photography and the Benzie County CVB

The Sleeping Bear Dunes, which begins in Benzie County and continues into Leelanau County, was named The Most Beautiful Place in America by the viewers of Good Morning America in 2011. The Dune climb or the Pierce Stocking scenic drive should be on everyone’s bucket list.  The park also offers many other beach and trail options along with a variety of educational programs throughout the year.

Benzie County is also known as “the Best Place in Michigan for Outdoor Sports & Recreation.” Outdoor activities cater to a wide variety of sports and recreational interests including biking, hiking, running, golf, fishing, kite boarding, surfing and more. Championship level to intermediate and beginning golfers have plenty choices at area courses which boast natural beauty and magnificent scenic views.  There are locations for renting golf clubs, bikes, kayaks and other recreational equipment, as well.

An aerial shot of the Benzie County coast

Photo Courtesy of Drew Smith Photography and the Benzie County CVB

So after a day on the water or exploring a trail, Benzie County has great shopping and dining choices.  Many of the local dining establishments offer farm-to-table options on their menus.  If a winery, brewery or distillery is more to your liking, we have those too!  Our option of overnight lodging has something for everyone.  From our world class resort, Crystal Mountain to small mom & pop resorts, motels, cabins and homes that fit every need, you will find a great place to lay your head at the end of the day.

The Point Betsie Lighthouse stands tall

Photo Courtesy of Drew Smith Photography and the Benzie County CVB

Explore the Benzie Treasure Trove package this summer

Photo Courtesy of the Benzie County CVB

Looking to add some value to your vacation to Benzie County?  Our 2016 Benzie Treasure Trove promotion is an excellent way to put some real bang in your vacation bucks.  Come stay two or more consecutive nights at one of our 24 participating lodging properties and we’ll load you up with “booty” valued to nearly $300 from over 20 local businesses!  The package includes freebies, two-for-ones, discounts and a prize from the Benzie County Visitors Bureau by pulling a jewel from our Treasure Chest.  Just a few of the items included are a free slice of cherry pie from the Cherry Hut, a free root beer float from the A&W, two-for-one golf at Betsie Valley Golf Courses, a free dessert with your dinner purchase at Cold Creek Inn and so much more. Details and requirements for this promotion can be found on the Benzie County Visitor Bureau’s website, www.visitbenzie.com .

For more information on visiting Benzie County, Northern Michigan Preserved®, you can call our office at 800-882-5801 or explore our website, www.visitbenzie.com and be sure to like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/benziecounty.cvb

Mary Carroll is the President of the Benzie County Visitors Bureau and Benzie County Chamber of Commerce overseeing both organizations for the past eight years.  A born and bred Michigander, Mary love her state and appreciates the fact that she gets to work in and promote one of the best area in Michigan.