The Quiet Season

In winter, families from all over will flock to the Little Traverse Bay area to take advantage of “the best skiing in the Midwest.” Meanwhile, Michigan Travel Ideas contributor Jennifer Wilson revels in this quiet time in the area’s holiday-card-perfect towns.  If you would like to submit your own guest blog entry, visit our Guest Blogger Information Page to learn how.

Little Traverse BaySummer crowds have cleared, and it’s weeks before the ski-season frenzy. Now, I can feel the true rhythm and see the quiet beauty of the towns along Little Traverse Bay.

My sojourn begins in Charlevoix, flanked by Little Traverse Bay and blessed with lake-life chic. My exploration then extends to a necklace of small towns along the bay’s shore: Petoskey’s jocular antiqueness, the Victorian exclusivity of the Bay View summer colony, and finally, Harbor Springs, untouched by chain stores, strip malls and, seemingly, time.

I’m eager to discover a resplendent land that is, for a few early-winter weeks, unhindered by lake or ski crowds. The story of a historic bayside nirvana once visited by Hemingway and Capone, of “gnome homes,” Charlevoix’s architectural claim to fame, and retreats Gatsby would envy.

In Charlevoix, I drive along Ferry and East Dixon avenues for peeks at the voluptuous manses within the Chicago and Belvedere clubs. It’s not hard to imagine dapper gents escorting refined ladies from the train depot to nearby summer homes.

Gas street lamps still shine in Petoskey, casting a nostalgic glow as I browse the modern-day gadgets in the toy shop or look over shelves of McLean & Eakin Booksellers.

After October, Bay View’s houses, many still owned by the original families, are boarded up for winter. The enclave remains off-limits to the public, but we stay among those 400 cottages rising above Little Traverse Bay at the Terrace Inn. Today, the inn organizes cross-country ski trips and sleigh rides through meandering streets. As we glide among the silent cottages, I feel as if we are moving through a shimmering, more gracious past.

The massive Christmas tree in front of Holy Childhood of Jesus Catholic Church transforms Main Street in Harbor Springs into a Saturday Evening Post scene. From the winding boardwalks along East Bluff and Arbor streets, I take photos of the sweeping view of the deep harbor. None seem to quite do it justice.

While winter sports don’t rev up until after Christmas, I’m hoping for snow before then. I’m told I’ll have the slopes practically to myself if it comes.

Boyne City barn

“The best skiing in the Midwest is in this area,” declares a smiling Stafford Smith as we chat beside the fire at his Bay View Inn. The white clapboard hotel still serves Bay View guests.

Stafford, who also restored Petoskey’s grand Perry Hotel, says area resorts make this a skier’s paradise: great slopes, great snow. I agree. Accommodations, cafes, ice skating, restaurants and shopping make the Boyne ski resorts a lavish winter party. You could spend your whole vacation at Boyne Highlands north of Harbor Springs or Boyne Mountain east of Boyne City and not leave for a thing.

A few snowflakes waft by, among the first of the average 120 inches that fall each year. Soon, skiers will arrive in droves. Life will resume its bustle in a place playfully indifferent to the outside world. But not just yet, and I can’t help but be thrilled.


jen wilsonAs a travel and features writer for the past 12 years, Jennifer has worked for magazines such as Esquire, National Geographic Traveler, Frommer’s Budget Travel, AAA Living, Midwest Living, Better Homes & Gardens, Traditional Home, Cooking Light, and many others. Her work has won an award from the National Association of Travel Journalists. You can share your comments with Jennifer on Twitter, Facebook, or by leaving a comment below.