"Up North" in Michigan has special meaning for those who live in or grew up in Michigan.  After a visit to the area for the first time, most people long to return for the activities, water, culture and kind people who call this area home.  Generally "Up North" refers to the northern lower penisula of Michigan.  Much of the activity "Up North" centers around the Traverse City/Petoskey/Mackinac Island areas.  Each of these areas offer unique travel opportunities for first time visitors and those who frequent this area for vacation.  This page will focus on activities for families. 


    The Traverse City area offers a host of activities sure to make any family happy.  The Traverse City Zoo is located right on the waterfront.  It is a small, manageable, enjoyable zoo.  It can be easily enjoyed in two hours or less.  The miniature train that encircles the zoo is a hit with most children.  Families have a chance to enjoy the spectacular view of Grand Traverse Bay while relaxing in this small scale train.  Leaving the Zoo, the downtown area of Traverse City offers a wide choice of restaurants and shops.   All of the restaurants on Main Street offer children's menus and warmly welcome children.  Many shops spotlight the "star" local agricultural product, the cherry.  Traverse City is known as the Cherry Capital of the World.  Cherry products galore are offered in the shops.  Some of the products are food related (try American Spoon for great cherry food products or Kilwins fudge for cherry fudge and ice cream).  Some of the products are not food related (Cherry themed pottery, linens, clothing etc.)  There is a eclectic mix of items offered in the shops.  The National Cherry Festival takes place during the first week of July each year.  All things cherry are featured as is a carnival with rides and an airshow over Grand Traverse Bay.   

     Swimming plays a large role in any vacation to Traverse City in the summer.  White sand beaches line Grand Traverse Bay and the water is Caribbean blue.  It is cold but refreshing.  Parasailing is offered at several of the resorts that line the Bay.  Charter fishing is also offered.  The charter companies welcome families and by early to mid August you will catch coho salmon, the prized fish in the area.  The charter companies will clean the fish upon your return and place it with ice in a cooler. 

     Many chain and privately owned hotels and resorts are located in Traverse City.  Hotels and resorts may be found along the water on Grand Traverse Bay.  Chain hotels may also be found along U.S.  31 heading south out of town.  An indoor waterpark and bunk beds for the kids are offered at The Great Wolf Lodge just south of town.  Many chain restaurants may be found in Traverse City.  There are also wonderful locally owned restaurants such as North Peak Brewing Company, Apache Trout Grill, Red Mesa Grill, Poppycock's and Amical. 


    The Leelanau Peninsula is located west and north of Traverse City.  Families enjoy the public climb found at Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes.  The Dunes, as they are called Up North, are a unique geological feature of northern Michigan.  Miles of rolling sand mountains lead the hearty hiker to Lake Michigan.  A wonderful book that explains the Native American legend surrounding the creation of the dunes is called "The Legend of Sleeping Bear."  It is a must read for children visiting the area.  The legend says that the dunes are actually a mother bear sleeping on the shore, covered with sand, waiting for her cubs to swim ashore.  She waits for her cubs that are now the Manitou Islands located off the Lake Michigan coast.  Bring a water bottle, sunscreen and a sun visor or hat.  It is a long way to Lake Michigan but the climb to the top of the first dune provides an amazing view of both Glen Lake and Lake Michigan. 

     Just north of the public climb is Glen Haven, an abandoned town that is now a park.  A public beach with clean changing rooms (no showers) is found at Glen Haven.  Bring water shoes as the beach is sand but immediately upon entering the water, there are nothing but stones.  This is an excellent location to hunt for Michigan's equivalent of the seashell, the Petoskey stone.  These stones are indigenous to the area and are actually fossilized coral pieces from thousands of years ago.  Bring a snorkel and hunt away.  They are also known as magic stones as the fossil is primarily visible when the stone is wet.  When your children remove them from the water and the stoned dry the fossil is difficult to see.  Take some of these stones home to show their friends what happens when the stones are submerged in water; a fossil appears! 

     Leaving Glen Haven, turn to the left and travel up the Leelanau Penisula to Glen Arbor for dinner.  There is a restaurant called Boone's with an outdoor dining deck serving family friendly food accompanied by live entertainment that is sure to please children of all ages. 

     The town of Leland is a fun spot for any family.  The town sits on a strip of land between Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan.  There is a small area known as Fishtown with shops and restaurants.  The marina in Leeland is a harbor of refuge for the great lakes.  This means that any boat that needs shelter from a storm is welcomed into the harbor.  On any given summer day many different types of boats may be found in the marina from 35 foot sailboats and motorboats to huge yachts and sailboats. 

     The Homestead Resort is located between Glen Arbor and Leland.  It offers hotel rooms, suites and condominiums for rent.  It has a pool on the water with a grill restaurant located next to the pool.  It is expensive but offers a full service resort to this beautiful area. 


     Heading north on U.S. 31 out of Traverse City is a picturesque drive.  U.S. 31 travels along the Michigan coast traveling between the inland lakes of Elk Lake, Torch Lake, Lake Charlevoix and Wallon Lake and the Great Lake, Lake Michigan.  Many stops along U.S. 31 offer beautiful views of Lake Michigan and these inland lakes.  Each of these inland lakes is beautiful.  Rental cottages on these and other smaller lakes in the area offer an excellent vacation option for families.  These lakes are centrally located to all activities outlined in this review. 

     The town of Charlevoix is located approximately 30 to 40 minutes north of Traverse City.  The town itself is located on a small lake called Round Lake, Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan.  Lake Charlevoix is such a large lake that very large boats are moored on it.  From Lake Charlevoix boaters may easily move their boats to Lake Michigan through Round Lake, under a draw bridge that is located on U.S. 31, through the Pine River (a small river connecting Round Lake to Lake Michigan) then out to Lake Michigan.  Every family member is sure to enjoy the drawbridge opening every half hour on the hour.  Gorgeous boats cross under the bridge every half hour.  Waving boat riders respond to childrens' waves making it a family fun activity.  There is a restaurant located just north of the drawbridge that offers beautiful views of the drawbridge and a decent children's menu, The Weathervane.  There are quaint shops and restaurants found on U.S. 31.  The public park in the center of town offers free evening concerts one evening a week.  Kilwins fudge shops offers ice cream cones (try Blue Moon, I don't know what flavor it really is but it actually tastes blue!).  From downtown, walk along Pine River to Lake Michigan.  A beautiful public beach may be found.  This is a good location for swimming and more Petoskey stone hunting.  You may also view the beautiful boats sailing in and out of the Pine River.  There are public bathrooms here but no showers. 

      Heading north on U.S. 31 is the town of Petoskey with its Gaslight District.  Shops and restaurants are located throughout this victorian town.  From the Gaslight District you may walk underneath U.S. 31 to the marina.  Frequently fairs, carnivals and craft shows take place in this area.  Petoskey hosts a large very good antiques show in July, check the internet for dates.  Many chain and privately owned hotels may be found in Petoskey.  The chain hotels are located along U.S. 131.  They offer clean lodgings and are a good value for families.  The Perry Hotel located in downtown Petoskey and the Bay View Inn are classic Victorian hotels that continue to welcome guests today.