This August we celebrated one year of marriage - my how time flies! We knew we were planning to go back to Hawaii next winter, so for our anniversary trip we were in search of somewhere within driving distance that wound still have plenty of adventure and beautiful scenery. Thankfully, we live in the Great Lakes State and we didn't have to look any further than simply driving north. I may be a bit biased, but if you haven't experienced northern Michigan (particularly in the summer or fall) you are really missing out. There are SO many sites to see and the upper peninsula is truly like its own little world. For this trip we planned to explore Sleeping Bear Dunes, Traverse City, and Bellaire.
Day 1: Sleeping Bear Dunes/Sutton's Bay
Our adventure began at Storm Cloud Brewery in downtown Frankfort. My husband dreams about their Thai One On pizza so this was a great start to the trip. From there we continued north until we reached Empire. Sleeping Bear Dunes lakeshore is HUGE and there are so many ways to explore it. We had planned four different stops in order from south to north. The first was Empire Bluff Trail - a 1.5 mile roundtrip hike with stunning views of the dunes. The trail is very moderate with minimal elevation and trust me it's so worth it. There is a small parking area with picnic tables and a bathroom. It will likely be full if you go midday, but we just parked along the street and it was only a short walk to the trailhead.
Next up was North Bar Lake - a small lake with shallow, clear water and a sandy bottom. There is also a small trail over the nearby dunes which leads directly to Lake Michigan if you're looking for access to a bigger body of water. Something to note - don't listen to your GPS when it tells you you've arrived. We made the mistake of hiking through the woods and over the dunes trying to find it. Keep driving until you hit North Bar Lake road and then turn left. You will see a parking lot and bathrooms. We relaxed here for a bit before heading on to our next stop.
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive can't be missed when visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes. This is a seven mile drive (in a loop) with multiple overlooks and stunning views of the lakeshore. There is a $20 cost to get in but don't let that scare you away. The entry fee is good for all of Sleeping Bear Dunes State Park (and will also get you into the dune climb). Shortly after you start the drive, you'll come upon a covered bridge which is totally Instagram worthy. From there we pulled off at a few different overlooks along the way.
However, we were really holding out for stop #9 which is 450 above the water and feels like you're looking straight down to the water. There are signs posted all around advising you not to climb down because the rescue fees if you can't make it back up are steep. We opted not to climb it and simply enjoyed the views but after we left we wished we would have given it a try. A short walk to the right is stop #10 which offers a wooden overlook you can walk out on for even more breathtaking views.
Our last stop was the famous dune climb. Your entry fee to the scenic drive will get you in here as well. Make sure you take plenty of water with you and then just start climbing. This hike does gain elevation rather quickly and we had to stop a few times on the way. You could hike all the way to Lake Michigan if you wanted but it would likely take all day to get there and back. We kept going until we could see the lake and simply enjoyed the views from the top.
After exerting all that energy we were in search of some good food (and a beer). Originally I had wanted to stop at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor but we ran out time (we still made it to their Traverse City storefront). Instead, we continued north toward Sutton's Bay. The drive in itself is half the fun and we passed so many gorgeous sites throughout the countryside. My favorite was a giant field of sunflowers which I made my husband turn the car around for. I'm not sure of the exact address but it was off highway 204 (on your way from the Dune Climb) shortly before turning on M22.
Our next stop was Hop Lot which is a craft beer lover's dream. This place had such a cool vibe with on-site hop garden, beer garden, patio and tasting room. They also had a bonfire pit with smokes kits available for purchase. I could have stayed here forever sipping their cherry cider - so so good! After a few hours here we continued our drive along M22 toward Traverse City to check into our hotel for the night. There are so many stops left unexplored in Sutton's Bay/M22 so we will definitely be heading back sometime soon.
Day 2: Traverse City
Today was all about exploring Traverse City and Old Mission Peninsula! We ate breakfast at our hotel (my hubby will never stay somewhere that doesn't offer free breakfast) and then headed downtown to wander around. Front street is lined with cute little shops and boutiques. Like I mentioned earlier, we made sure to stop at Cherry Republic. They offer free samples of many of their most popular products including their wines and homemade sodas. They all make great souvenirs too.
We stopped by North Peak Brewery to let my hubby try some of the local craft beer before hitting up the wineries, but unfortunately we weren't impressed with their selection. We've also heard great things about The Workshop Brewery but they weren't open yet the day we were there. After grabbing a quick lunch at the deli next door it was on to the Old Mission Peninsula. This area offers countless wineries so it's best to do your research ahead of time and choose two or three you want to stop at. Bry's Estate and Winery was top on my list because...frose! This is the cutest spot with great views of the vineyards, patio seating, and yard games. We spent a couple hours playing bocce ball and sipping our delicious drinks before heading down to their secret garden which has a lavender and sunflower field and the cutest gift shop with all kinds of lavender infused products.
We kept driving (again an adventure in itself) to the top of the peninsula where we stopped to stretch our legs at the Old Mission Lighthouse. This is a great place to cool off and there were lots of people lounging on the beach and swimming in the crystal clear waters. On our way back down we stopped at Black Star Farms. The original farm is located in Sutton's Bay but this tasting room still carried all of their delicious wines and we ended up doing a tasting and took home a bottle of their hard apple cherry cider.
On our way back into the downtown area we stopped at Clinch Park which has a small beach area on Grand Traverse Bay with paddle board rentals, restrooms and a snack bar. We soaked up the sun for a bit and when we got hungry we walked down the street to the Little Fleet - an eclectic mix of food trucks with something for everyone. And for dessert - Peace Love and Mini Donuts!
Day 3: Bellaire
The second half of our trip was in Bellaire. We've stayed at Shanty Creek Resorts multiple times when we go up north and always have a great experience. We had been going non-stop for the past few days so today gave us some time to slow down and we spent the morning relaxing by the pool. Later in the afternoon we had a foot golf reservation. This was our first time playing and it was a lot of fun. You play on the golf course but instead of clubs and a golf ball you use your feet and a soccer ball. It was a great workout too!
On our way to dinner we stopped at Torch Lake Cellars. This patio area overlooks Lake Bellaire and you can purchase a bucket of golf balls and hit them in the ravine. Wine and golf a perfect combination for our marriage! Next, we headed to Dockside for dinner - one of our favorite waterfront restaurants located right on Torch Lake. This place can have a very long wait on weekends during peak season but luckily we went on an off day so we were seated right away.
Day 4: The Legend
My husband and I both like to golf - even though he is much better than I am - so often when we're on vacation we try to squeeze in at least one round. The Legend is a championship course located right on the grounds of Shanty Creek. It offers beautiful views at every hole and most holes are playable even for an amateur like myself. After golf we stopped for happy hour at the Pelican's Nest which is located right on the grounds of The Chief golf course.
Later that night we headed to downtown Bellaire to one of my favorite spots of all time - Short's Brewery! I love Soft Parade so anytime we are in the area we make sure to stop here. They have flights so you can try multiple beers off their extensive draft list and a full menu of food. Downtown Bellaire isn't very large but they do have a few shops, and ice cream parlor, and a bakery which has delicious pastries.
Who else is lucky enough to call the Mitten State home? Or do you just like to visit every summer? Either way comment with your favorite Michigan stops. I've got a running list going for the next time we decide to get behind the wheel and head north!
I love creating detailed travel guides to ensure you get the most out of your time. On this blog I'll be sharing some of my past trips in hopes that it helps you plan your next adventure. Pack your suitcase you never know where I'll be heading next!
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