The amazing variety of colors in the waters around Traverse City – from deep cobalt blue to turquoise, teal, and jade green – is caused by sunlight reflecting up from the sandy bottom through the crystal-clear water. And the beaches here are almost entirely made of fine “sugar sand” that glows with a tawny fire under the summer sun – perfect for sunbathing, beachcombing and swimming.
The most magnificent example of this breathtaking beauty can be found just a short drive to the west at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a symphony of water, sky and towering sand dunes on the Lake Michigan shoreline that’s been part of the national park system since 1972. Its grandeur can be sampled from well-placed overlooks along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive -- but it’s even better to see the park close up and personal by visiting its fascinating museums, hiking its trails, climbing the 150-foot Dune Climb or even taking a ferryboat ride to the unspoiled Manitou Islands.
Sleeping Bear has 64 miles of beautiful public beaches, including lots of places where you can bodysurf the waves, make some sand castles, or take a long walk down the shore. Esch and Good Harbor are particularly good beaches. Another is at the mouth of the Platte River, where kids love to ride the swift current out into the lake. If the big lake is too cold, try the warmer water at North Bar Lake just north of Empire.
But Traverse City has plenty of other beaches. Many are located on West Grand Traverse Bay, just a block from the shops and restaurants of the city’s downtown shopping district. Clinch Park features over 1,500 feet of sandy shore with picnic tables, lifeguards, restrooms and a miniature steam train. Just to the west is Volleyball Beach, where the young and athletic gather, and West End Beach. West-facing Bryant Park offers a fine shady beach with a playground where children can be easily supervised. (It’s also the best place in town to watch the sunset.)
East Bay, just outside the city limits, is home to Traverse City’s “Sugar Sand Miracle Mile,” a collection of handsome upscale resorts and condo developments that’s a wonderful place for an early-morning run or an evening stroll. At the foot of Three Mile Road, the Traverse City State Park offers 700 feet of splendid sandy beach near the mouth of Mitchell Creek. Another splendid East Bay beach, Haserot Beach, can be found 18 miles to the north in the picturesque village of Old Mission.
Gather up your beach chairs and towels, your masks and fins, your boogie boards and rafts. The water is waiting!