Serious snowbirds may go south for the winter, but Cincinnatians looking for a summer vacation spot need look no further than our neighbor to the north. Whether you relish the amenities of tourist hot-spots or want to escape civilization altogether for a few days, northern Michigan is the best of both worlds.

The stretches of white sand beaches around Lake Michigan may have some guests wondering if they somehow ended up at the Gulf of Mexico — minus the saltwater, sharks and unbearably hot temperatures. One of the most popular beaches is the “Miracle Mile” in Traverse City, where cool lake breezes offer relief from the humidity of the Ohio River Valley. Though its beaches, golf courses, wine country and historical landmarks have attracted Cincinnatians for a century, the Traverse City area hasn’t always been on the national vacation list.

“Not that we’re complaining, really,” says Mike Norton of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Lack of national fanfare has allowed Traverse City to develop its tourism infrastructure without damaging the natural beauty and small-town atmosphere that make it such a marvelous place. Instead, it has gradually transformed itself from a rustic ‘Up North’ resort into a charmingly sophisticated small city whose streets, parks and public spaces harmonize with the magnificent scenery that surrounds them.”

It’s not just the beaches that bring people back year after year. There’s also hiking, fishing, winery tours and golf. Golf Digest ranked Traverse City 12th on its list of 50 best golf destinations because of the plethora of championship courses. “The golf courses of Traverse City range from Arnold Palmer’s King’s Challenge and The Wolverine — the first Gary Player signature course in Michigan — to Jack Nicklaus’ intimidating design at The Bear, Tom Doak’s two-toned tour de force at High Pointe, and Jerry Matthews’ brand new course, Sundance, at A-Ga-Ming,” Norton says.

Another surprise: Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state, and one of the oldest is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, built to protect ships on Lake Michigan from its shallow, rocky shores. A museum established at the Northport site lets visitors step back in time and see what life was like for lighthouse keepers and their families in the 1920s. Those who long for by-gone days can enroll in lighthouse-keeper programs and do light work while staying in the restored lighthouse (with a few modern conveniences).

Summers in Traverse City are filled with annual events such as the Traverse City Film Festival from July 27-Aug. 1; the National Scottish Highland Dancing Championships “Weekend of Dance,” Aug. 11-15; and the Cherry Roubaix Bike Race, Aug. 27-29. A favorite day trip is to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with its natural dunes, islands, coves, beaches and the spectacular blue of Lake Michigan.

Northern Michigan isn’t all a beach party, though. The Little Traverse Conservancy, created by a conglomeration of former landowners and concerned citizens dedicated to preserving Northern Michigan’s natural scenery, boasts nature preserves that encompass both shoreline and inland forest. “They are great places to go away and hide, free of charge,” says Diane Dakins, assistant director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau. The conservancy recently opened a new scenic public trail near the city of Petoskey. “It’s something to do as a family and not pay an arm and a leg,” Dakins adds.

Somehow, the scenic and historic beauty of northern Michigan has not been spoiled by an influx of tourists and cheap souvenir shops, but at the same time visitors are not left to flounder for something to do. Here are a few ideas to get started:


National Cherry Festival

Traverse City is known as America’s Cherry Capital, and for eight days a year it is transformed into a giant celebration. The festival features over 150 family-friendly activities such as concerts, parades, fireworks and games, but the tasty fruit remains the focus of the week, and visitors have the chance to taste test just about any cherry product or concoction. Now in its 84th year, the Cherry Festival is Traverse City’s signature event, drawing as many as 500,000 attendees from around the country. July 3-10, www.cherryfestival.org.

Grand Traverse Resort

The 900-acre resort boasts 54 holes of championship golf, restaurants and lounges, tennis courts, swimming pools, a shopping gallery, 24-hour dog care, a spa and its own beach. Lovers of luxury would be hard pressed to find something to complain about at this full-service resort. The Grand Traverse Resort can serve as a “home base” while exploring Traverse City, or it can also be a place to simply stay put and be pampered. 100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd., Acme. (888) 335-7045 or www.grandtraverseresort.com.

Traverse City Wine & Art Festival

Northern Michigan has quickly become one of the country’s most popular destinations for wine aficionados. The Traverse City Wine & Art Festival serves as a one-stop event to sample from 25 wineries in the Greater Traverse City area. Food, entertainment and working artists round out the day’s events. 1 to 10 p.m. Aug. 21. Tickets are limited and may be purchased online at www.traversecitywinefestival.com. For detailed information, call the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners at (231) 256-2829.

Saugatuck Venetian Festival

This annual festival on the southern Michigan coastline turns the town of Saugatuck into a mini-Venice, complete with a classic boat show and huge art fair. Live entertainment, a lighted boat parade and fireworks create a family-friendly weekend along one of Michigan’s finest beaches. July 30-Aug. 1. www.saugatuckvenetianfestival.com.

Boyne City

Boyne City shopping caters to those looking for a more “artsy” experience. The area is also home to Avalanche Bay, the state’s largest indoor water park. The ski resort at Boyne Mountain offers zipline adventures and scenic chairlift rides during the summer. Historic walking tours of the area add to the small-town charm and make it a good place to slow down and enjoy the natural beauty. www.boynechamber.com (231) 582-6222.

Little Traverse Wheelway

The hiking and biking trails of Michigan offer breathtaking views of the lake and bays, as well as the serenity of northern pine and deciduous forests. The Wheelway is paved, free of motorized vehicles, and provides 26 miles of spectacular shoreline views. Picnic sites and resting spots dot the trail, which includes a boardwalk designed to protect the wildlife in wetlands. www.charlevoixcounty.org/recreation0010.asp.

Oval Beach

Consistently ranked among the top beaches in the country and even the world, Oval Beach in Saugatuck was named as one of the top five beaches in the U.S. by MTV, and one of the top 14 by National Geographic. The nearby shopping, nightlife, sand dunes and golf courses make Oval Beach a perfect smaller alternative to the more active Traverse City area. Saugatuck/Douglas Visitors Bureau www.saugatuck.com or (269) 857-1701.

Mackinaw City

As a less expensive, more casual alternative to Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City provides four exciting National Historic Sites that offer hands-on exhibits and reenactments of the area’s rich history. Though only a ferry ride away from Mackinac Island, Mackinaw City is home to more typical tourist attractions the whole family can enjoy, such as the Garlyn Zoological Park, trolley tours, parasailing, boat tours, Fort Mackinac and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Mackinaw Area Visitors Bureau www.mackinawcity.com or (231) 436-5664.

Beaver Island

Home to only about 600 residents (most of Irish descent, giving the island its nickname of “America’s Emerald Isle”), the island is about 35 percent comprised of the Pigeon River State Forest. Though the island offers a number of outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing and boating, the best thing to do on Beaver Island is, well, nothing. www.beaverisland.org.