Walking With Nature: Destination Traverse City

The spectacular landscape that embraces the Traverse City area is an ever-changing masterpiece created over centuries by the earth-moving power of ice, wind and water. No matter what the season, nature lovers will find trails and natural areas to fuel their passions. Read more on the beauty of TC, as shared by guest blogger Jonathan Schechter.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”  — John Muir

Spring is the gateway to wildflowers and migratory birds at places like the Grass River Natural Area. Summer allows explorers to roam the Manitou Islands in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Autumn is perfect for a paddling trip down the Platte River, and in the stillness of winter, the multitude of cross-country ski pathways and snowshoe trails is proof that the outdoor lure of Traverse City is strong and growing.

Look Out

Why wait? Today is the perfect day to walk with nature.

The Grass River Natural Area is a hidden treasure of Antrim County encompassing 1,433 acres. Spring is the perfect season to view the moss-covered hummocks of land along the clear waters of Finch Creek. Sit silently on a bench under the sweetly scented cedars; nature will share her secrets. During my last visit I watched a mink bound over the boardwalk, heard a hidden grouse drumming from behind lush vegetation and found fresh bobcat tracks – all in a matter of five minutes.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with its 70 miles of shoreline, magnificent sand dunes and trails for every taste, lures millions of outdoor enthusiasts.  Two of its beautiful treasures are the Manitou Islands – and a visit to these isolated spots makes a rewarding summer adventure.

Lighthouse

South Manitou Island is a perfect destination for a day hiker with its lighthouse – a stark reminder of the stormy seas and shipwrecks of the Manitou Passage – and the wreck of the Francisco Morazan, a favorite haunt for cormorants. For a more rugged adventure, North Manitou offers opportunities for backpacking treks – just remember that your visit might be extended an extra day or two if the waters are too rough for the ferry to return.

The crystal-clear Platte River is well known among anglers for steelhead, salmon and trout, but it can get busy on summer days as kayakers and canoeists paddle downstream. A much better option is to go in the autumn, when the wildlife returns and the fall foliage puts on a brilliant show. Bring your own craft or rent at Riverside Canoe Trips. Seekers of solitude and wildlife may want to paddle during the morning mist; dawn is an unforgettable moment to embrace this landscape, which defines the essence of Pure Michigan.

Kayak

In winter Traverse City has miles and miles of woodland trails for skiers and snowshoers to explore. In the Brown Bridge Quiet Area you can even witness the rebirth of Traverse City’s Boardman River, whose system of dams is being removed, returning this beautiful stream to a time when she was wild and free.  You can get a close-up look at this process at Brown Bridge, a 1300-acre nature preserve just south of town. This broad river meadow, surrounded by high hills, was once the site of a wide forest pond, but today you can hike along its former shoreline and see how nature (with lots of human help) has been healing and renewing the valley.

On my last visit it was winter, and I made my way through deep snow, warmed by the sweet scent of cedar and balsam fir and invigorated by the bounding tracks of a river otter.  It’s a wonderful wild place in the shadows of Traverse City!

bioJonathan Schechter is a Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks, a member of the Wilderness Medical Society and an avid hiker and trail-explorer at Sleeping Bear Dunes.  JonathanSchechter@Frontier.com

 

Explore Spring Food & Drink in Northern Michigan

CherryBasketFarm

Photo courtesy of Tec Petaja

The Sara Hardy Farmers Market, along the Boardman River in downtown Traverse City, is my absolute favorite way to experience the spring food scene in Northern Michigan!  I love to browse around all the stalls to see what’s being brought to market from our neighboring farms. But there are plenty of other opportunities to find, sample and buy the season’s freshest foods. Here are some other upcoming events, ranging from small educational gatherings to big community festivals.

They all have one thing in common, though – they all celebrate this glorious time to eat in Northern Michigan!

Ongoing: Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market in Traverse City

This bustling farmers market between Cass and Union Streets is the best way to see all that is happening in the fields and forests of Northern Michigan. The market is open on Saturdays in May and Wednesdays and Saturdays in June. A do-not miss!

Ongoing: A Walk Through the Farmers Market Cooking Classes

Reservations required.Led by award winning Chef/Owners Jen Blakeslee and Eric Patterson of The Cooks’ House, these Saturday morning classes are an educational and delicious way to experience the region’s food scene. Each class starts at 9 a.m. at the Cooks’ House in Traverse City.

Ongoing: Farm Dinners at Cherry Basket Farm

Table

Photo courtesy of Brian Confer

New for 2015, private dinners will be held on the award-winning and historic grounds of Cherry Basket Farm in Omena, with a local menu created by Chef Andy Schudlich of Epicure Catering. Contact them to book your own dinner!

Reservations required.

Ongoing: Hillside Homestead Historic Dinners

During this unique local food experience, proprietress Susan Odom will prepare a traditional menu from 1910 at her historic farmhouse in Suttons Bay. Contact her to book your own traditional farm dinner. Reservations required.

May 13: Morel Dinner at Black Star Farms

Jon Dayton is one of my favorite chefs in the region. His inspired farmstead cuisine is as beautiful as it is delicious. Check Jon’s schedule for other special dinners all through the season at The Inn at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay.

Reservations required.

Mainstream events (any size group) Be Spontaneous!

May 15- 17: Empire Asparagus Festival

This is a quintessential small town festival celebrating the asparagus harvest. It’s also a local favorite! There’s a pig roast, an asparagus cook-off and a big tent filled with asparagus eats. (Including asparagus beer!)

May 16: Wineries of Old Mission Blossom Day

Spend the day sipping the new releases and noshing on spring-inspired food pairings among the cherry blossoms in the Old Mission Peninsula wine country.

Food Truck

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

May 24: Little Fleet Kickoff Party

The Little Fleet is Traverse City’s only food truck hub, featuring eight tasty truck options. The season opener to Little Fleet’s Lot 448 event series, this lively party celebrates the region’s eight best summer beers with live music and delicious food truck fare.

June 6: Rare Bird Brewery Nest Fest

A celebration of the one-year anniversary of Traverse City’s newest microbrewery. Live music, food from the Rare Bird kitchen and tasty brews are sure to make this a fantastic event!

LeelandWineFest

Photo courtesy of Meggen Watt

June 13: Leland Wine & Food Festival

In its 30th year (it’s the longest-running food festival in Michigan) this is an anchor event for the local food and wine community and a welcome summer opener.

June 20: Traverse City Wine & Art Festival

Held on the beautiful lawn of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, this big festival features 200 local wines, food from eight regional restaurants, and lots of music and art.

Taste the difference and see why Traverse City is a Condé Nast Traveler Up-and-Coming Food City as well as one of America’s five top foodie towns (Bon Apetit Magazine).

Cammie

Photo courtesy of WeberPhoto

Cammie Buehler is the managing partner/co-owner of a local-foods catering company and historic farm event venue, Epicure Catering & Cherry Basket Farm. With co-owner and Chef Andy Schudlich, she works to bring contemporary local cuisine to events in and around Northern Michigan. 

  

Cross These Seven Traverse City Activities Off Your Snow Day Bucket List

Winter is on its way, and Traverse City is ready for snow! Today, guest blogger Mike Norton from Traverse City Tourism shares some suggestions for your next Traverse City snow day. 

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

I know there are people who aren’t big fans of winter. But personally, I can’t wait to see those first fat flakes of snow come spiraling out of the sky.

Maybe it’s because I live in a place where there’s so much to do in the wintertime – especially in the Great Outdoors. I like to be outside as much as possible, and Traverse City is full of opportunities for outdoor winter fun. Each winter, this region’s gently sculpted landscape (carved 15,000 years ago by the last retreating glaciers of the Ice Age) becomes a playground for skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoe hikers. Like me, they consider it one of the country’s most beautiful winter destinations.

Skiing, Snowboarding and “Silent Snow Sports”

For skiers and snowboarders, our premiere winter destination is undoubtedly Shanty Creek Resorts, a 4,500-acre recreational complex in the beautiful Chain of Lakes region, about 30 miles northeast of town. Shanty’s two ski areas, Schuss Mountain and Summit Mountain, provide 53 downhill slopes, six terrain parks, 30km of cross country Nordic trails, and a multi-lane alpine tubing park. (Ski Magazine rated it the Midwest’s number-one destination in value, dining, lodging, weather and après ski activities.)

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

But lots of other skiers and snowboarders have discovered the fun of staying closer to town, taking advantage of low lodging rates and a broad choice of shopping, dining and entertainment options while skiing at TC’s two day ski areas, Mt. Holiday and Hickory Hills.

Still, for me (and for many others) this area is loved mostly for the quality of its winter “silent sports” — snowshoeing and cross-country skiing — thanks to its vast acreage of forest and parkland. Just one example – and one of my favorites: the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has eight marked trails, some leading up to panoramic overlooks high above Lake Michigan.

And there are so many other marked trail systems that you couldn’t explore them all if you stayed here all winter. There’s the Lost Lake Pathway near Interlochen and the Vasa Pathway, one of the finest cross-country ski trails in the nation. Within the city, the 300-acre Grand Traverse Commons features superb snowshoeing among century-old, castle-style buildings and stands of old-growth pines.

Snowmobiling

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Snowmobilers tend to head south and east of town to more than 200 miles of the country’s finest and most diverse snowmobiling. The Boardman Valley Trail, just minutes from downtown, is an 81-mile trail system in the Pere Marquette State Forest, where sightings of turkeys, eagles, deer and other wildlife are commonplace. The Jordan Valley Trail, about a half-hour to the northeast, is a network featuring over 130 miles of spectacular trails not far from Shanty Creek and the picturesque village of Bellaire.

Snow Biking and Snow Tubing

Traverse City is also becoming a hub for one of the newest winter sports: fat biking. Fat bikes are specially-adapted mountain bikes with large tires that can actually allow you to ride over the snow, and over the past two years they’ve become part of the local winter landscape. We’ve always been a favorite year-round destination for all kinds of outdoor sports enthusiasts; given the opportunity to add cycling to their repertoire of winter sports, they’ve wasted no time embracing the Fat Bike phenomenon.

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

Photo courtesy of Traverse City Tourism

But you don’t have to be an athlete to enjoy winter recreation in Traverse City. Lots of us have discovered that there are plenty of thrills to be had in snow-tubing. Tubing has all the thrilling speed of a toboggan or sled – but you get to sit in the middle of a big soft inner tube and ride down a groomed hill where there are people keeping an eye on you. And when you get to the bottom, there’s a towline waiting to take you back to the top so you can do it all over again.

As it happens, the largest tubing hill in Michigan is at TimberLee Hills, a former ski resort in the hills just northwest of town. (On clear days, it has breathtaking views of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Leelanau.) Lots of local ski resorts also have tubing hills; Shanty Creek Resorts, for instance, has a sophisticated tubing park just above their Cedar River lodge. Mt. Holiday Ski Area also has a dedicated tubing park. All three have mechanical lifts, which helps you make the most of your allotted time. These things are popular, especially on weekends and school snow days, so they can get busy!

Winter Ziplining

Mt. Holiday has yet another winter activity available for winter fun: a new zipline system that lets you soar through the air above the ski slopes. Its “Green Zipper” is a two-station zipline (the first leg is 288 feet and then second is 306 feet) and its new 10-station zipline has a total of over 4,000 feet of cable. You have to make advance reservations for both of them, and you need to be part of a group of at least four people.

Sound like fun? Of course it does!

Mike on SbnowshoesMike Norton spent 25 years as newspaper writer and columnist before starting a second career as media relations manager at Traverse City Tourism. An avid cyclist, kayaker and snowshoer, he lives in the village of Old Mission.