Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Northern Michigan is My Happy Place

I grew up in Michigan, spent 9 years in the hustle and bustle of New York City and now reside in the western metropolis of Denver and spend my days toiling at a computer in the center of 25 square miles surrounded by reality, otherwise known as Boulder.

My Grandparents and parents, instilled in me a sense of wanderlust. I remember sitting in my grandparents basement watching slide shows of their recent travels, attending travelogues and carefully inspecting their giant wall map covered in colored push-pins indicating the 90+ countries and countless cities they had explored. My absolute dream job would have me traveling the globe as a travel writer or photojournalist, meeting interesting people in far off locales, running through historic cities, hiking idyllic country sides, and digging for treasures in street markets.

While reality is far different from my dream, thankfully I had enough smarts to marry a man who also loves to travel and wants to explore the world. We balance our desire to travel with our need for financial stability, by taking only one week-long vacation a year supplemented with a few long-weekend trips. While I have loved exploring cities like Montreal, Seattle, Charleston and Basel, Switzerland, and our must-visit list is long, there’s one region that will never get crossed off no matter how many times we visit.

My happy place, the place we visit every other year, is our family cottage and Northern Michigan. I was 3 months old the first time I visited. It’s not the most modern of cottages, having been built in 1954 (yes, this year we celebrated the 60th anniversary of Mill Point), but nevertheless, I know exactly how lucky I am to have this place.

We spend lazy days here – filled with kayak trips around the lake, walks in the woods, hours reading on the porch or by the water, and many games of scrabble. We also use it as our home base to explore other areas of the region. There are so many great places to visit and explore. Often, people who aren’t familiar with the area don’t realize how fantastic it is. So… I wanted to share with you a few pictures from our vacation and tips for creating a fantastic visit.

Mill Point

Traverse City is the largest city in Northern Michigan. There are plenty of flights in and out of the Cherry Capital Airport (TVC) every day on multiple airlines so it’s not that difficult to get here.

While I love Traverse City and can spend several hours perusing the shops along Front Street, enjoying ice cream from Moomers and running along the TART Trail or The Boardman Lake Trail, the region is dotted with charming little towns, all with their own reasons to visit – many situated along inland lakes or Lake Michigan. Here are a few of my favorites (from SW to NE along the coast):

  • Glen Arbor
  • Leland
  • Suttons Bay
  • Harbor Springs
  • Petoskey
  • Charlevoix

There are endless opportunities for outdoor adventures. Hiking, trail running, road biking, kayaking, boating (sail, pontoon, power, take your pick!), SUPing, whatever you like to do, you can do it Up North. Two years ago we did the Dune Hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes, which was hot and a bit tough, but rewarding. This year after the Running Bear 5k in Glen Arbor, we rented kayaks from Crystal River Outfitters right in town and went kayaking on the shallow, perfectly clear river for a relaxing, yet quality upper body workout.

Crystal River Kayaking

While Woody went golfing twice (there are likely more than 200 golf courses in Northern Michigan), I went running – the Boardman Lake Trail in Traverse City and around Alden on the shore of Torch Lake with a few miles on the Coy Mountain Trail.

Boardman Lake Trail

And beyond Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Northern Michigan is dotted with one beautiful lake after another. A few favorites, beyond our own little lake:

  • Crystal Lake
  • Elk Lake
  • Glen Lake
  • Lake Leelanau
  • Torch Lake

Torch Lake

The fun isn’t relegated to the water and the woods though. The Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas are known for world-class wines. The diverse microclimates in the region allow for a variety of wine grapes. With more than 30 wineries on the Peninsulas alone (there are many others throughout the area) producing award winning varietals including Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc, the wine tasting party options are pretty much endless. There are several wine events each year but the tasting rooms, many with breathtaking views, are open no matter when you’re in town. You’ll find that most of the wineries have varietals incorporating the regions fruit beyond just grapes – mostly cherries. I personally find these to be a bit too sweet, but we recently found one from Cherry Republic – the Great Hall Riesling – that is 90% Riesling, 10% cherry wine, perfect for a hot summer day. Unfortunately, due to state regulations we can’t ship Michigan wines to Colorado. Which just means we have to enjoy them while we can! A few of our favorite wineries, plus one of many great breweries in Michigan:


So, now you know a bit more about Northern Michigan and why I’ll forever be drawn to this little neck of the woods. If you’re ever interested in visiting, I’m happy to answer questions and help you create an unforgettable trip!

Tell me a bit about your happy place.


Lisa said...

it is beautiful, I would love to visit there someday and explore a bit. I pretty much live in my happy place.. the ranch I grew up on in Montana. I left for ten years and then moved back once I got married. I feel so blessed. My world always feels right when I am here. Lots of places to run, family all around to help with kids, cousins for the kids to play with and all the happy places of my youth.

Lisa said...

Your photos look so peaceful and serene. No wonder it's your happy place. My happy place has to be NYC on an early weekend morning in the summer when no one is here. It feels like I have the city all to myself.

I would like to travel more and started off the year doing that with a trip to Mexico. I would like to do more of this rather collecting vacation days that I may/may not use :)

While it's a bummer that you can't ship the wine, it's nice to know that it's something you can savor only in Northern Michigan. Perhaps it brings more tourists. Or perhaps it just adheres to the rule that food should be eaten local. I don't know. Or perhaps it's that much more special because you can only get it in Northern Michigan.

Lisa said...

I'm going back up to Glen Arbor in September and cannot wait!!!! Northern Michigan is 100% the best, hands down. I'm glad someone else understand the love for up north! I hadn't heard of the Running Bear 5k but I'm going to have to add it to my race bucket list. They have a sleeping bear half marathon I really want to do, too!

Lisa said...

Of course I understand! The Running Bear 5K is a fun time, but the course isn't very scenic. I like it because it's on a Tuesday and fits in nicely with our vacation. Holly (@TCSpartan) told me about the Sleeping Bear Half when we had coffee in Traverse City last week - that sounds tough but I'd like to hope that the scenery is a nice distraction! I hope you have a great time in Glen Arbor.

Also - can't wait to meet you at BirdCamp!

Lisa said...

I also loved NYC early in the morning on the weekend, when the streets were still quiet!

I think many states have trade regulations on the wine industry to help bolster sales and tourist dollars associated with it. I wish we could enjoy the wine more often, but we do definitely enjoy it when we visit!

Lisa said...

Christy, your happy place sounds amazing! I love that you get to live it every day!

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