Guest contributor Laura Kelly describes some of her favorite things to do in Northwest Michigan Lake Country.
We could have spent a week alone just exploring Walloon Lake by hiking, driving around, and renting a boat from Tommy’s Michigan, but we only had one full leisure day for this visit to the region, and our list of “50 Things to Do — Summer” from Hotel Walloon beckoned us away from beauteous Walloon. (Note: Apparently there’s another “50 Things to Do” list for fall/winter, two more big seasons in Michigan for leaf peepers and skiers.)
We had heard that the local farmers markets were worth checking out, and thought that would be a good start to our one-day exploration. Soon we were headed out to Boyne City, six miles directly south of Walloon Lake Village. Boyne is a cute boating town, situated at the foot of huge Lake Charlevoix and their Wednesday farmers market was right next to their sailboat-filled marina.
After buying two pints of early strawberries at the market, we walked around the town (its tagline is “Where Life Meets Lake”), which has a river running through its gazebo-graced lakeside park.
On this gorgeous mid-week day, the town was markedly uncrowded and we had fun checking out the boutiques and various restaurant menus. Red Mesa Grill on Water Street had a mouth-watering Latin American menu (and great TripAdvisor reviews). We also perused the windows of the numerous real estate offices and found that there were no Walloon Lake cottages for sale for less than $2 million (this gives you some idea of what these “cottages” look like). Another house fantasy dashed.
Then we had to make a choice: should we go to Charlevoix (to the west) or Petoskey (to the north) for lunch? We had heard that there were great shops and a nice river walk from Charlevoix to Lake Michigan, but the hotel concierge had been a little hazy about how long a drive it was to Charlevoix (it turned out to be only 30 minutes away). She urged us to visit Petoskey and walk along its waterside parks, and even gave us a map of the town, so we headed north. (To read about what we missed at gorgeous Charlevoix, situated right next to huge Lake Michigan, see the Visit Charlevoix link at the end of this article.)
Heading off to Petoskey
We headed 20 minutes north to Petoskey (which made Smithsonian Magazine’s list of “America’s Best Small Towns”), a much larger town than Boyne City but still small at less than 6,000 residents, and famed for its shopping, restaurants, and Little Traverse Bay (a large U-shaped indent of the vast Lake Michigan coastline). We checked out all of the above, with a special focus on the wonderful McLean & Eakin Booksellers (see novelist Ann Patchett’s 2015 New York Times essay about this store) and the nationally renowned American Spoon artisanal foodie shop.
Just wandering around on some hilly side streets above the waterfront, we came across two great-looking side-by-side restaurants with outdoor patio seating—The Twisted Olive and the much smaller Palette Bistro.
We picked Palette because we liked the interesting list of sandwiches and salads. We made a good choice. The sandwiches on chewy grilled sourdough bread were scrumptious—I got a delicious grilled veggies sandwich dripping with romesco sauce, feta, and herb aioli, and Warren enjoyed the pan-fried hake filet sandwich with a tomato bacon remoulade. My little side salad of a creamy balsamic fresh pasta salad was unexpected and tasty.
The best part about Palette was the under $10 price for the sandwiches, a nice respite after our break-the-bank meal at the Walloon Lake Inn the night before. (As we left the restaurant, we saw that they have a “creative cocktails” happy hour every night.)
If we’d had time, we would have also rented bikes and ridden a bit of the gorgeous new 26-mile Little Traverse Wheelway along the bay. Instead, we drove down to one of the bay parks to walk the rocky seashore searching for the famed but elusive “Petoskey Stone.”
These ancient rocks are smooth glacier fossils that bear the lacy traces of a coral reef that once existed in these waters. The local shops sell polished specimens of the stones, but I wanted to find one of my own.
My husband had doubts about this quest, especially after we had fruitlessly searched the stony beaches in the strong sun for 30 minutes. And then, eureka, I somehow spied a small Petoskey stone amongst all the other rocks! With a bit of polish our find would make a great pendant for a necklace.
We had heard about beauteous nearby Harbor Springs and its famed Fourth of July festivities, but, alas, that was two weeks away. It was time to head back to Hotel Walloon, and we decided to take the more winding scenic drive back, along the Bay and Lake Michigan, past sparkling new Bay Village (filled with upscale condos, shopping, and dining) and the Crooked Tree Golf Club, a luxury golfing destination. (Northwest Michigan is a well-known golfing mecca, with its courses often ending up on national “Best of” lists.)
What we missed
I later asked a Petoskey resident what we’d missed in our short visit, and she quickly rattled off the following list, which might be inspiring if you’re headed to the area:
- On M-119, drive the Tunnel of Trees from Harbor Springs to Cross Village, and lunch or dinner at Legg’s Inn in Cross Village
- Wilderness State Park, north of Cross Village—beautiful beach and views
- Dark Sky Headlands Park , east of Cross Village, just a bit west of Mackinaw City. A unique place for stargazing—one of only 10 in the world
- Meandering, shopping in Harbor Springs, lots of good restaurants (same for Petoskey and Boyne City)
- Charlevoix ditto but traffic problems there because of the bridge going up all the time
- Lavender Hill lavender farm
- Boyne Highlands, a ski resort with summertime chairlift views
- Petoskey State Park, at the end of Little Traverse Bay, nice beach
- Traverse City’s Cherry Festival and Film Festival (at different times in July)
I’ll add three more far-flung destinations to her list: Mackinac Island, particularly if you can go before or after the July and August crowds. (The leisurely bike loop around this gorgeous island is not to be missed.) And seeing/climbing the huge sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes Park (90 minutes south of Walloon, near Traverse City, along the shores of Lake Michigan ) is a real once-in-a-lifetime Michigan experience. Finally, the famous Interlochen Center for the Arts (if you love music, you’ll have already heard about this place) is 30 minutes south of Traverse City.
My itchy camera finger is wishing we’d had more time in Northwest Michigan Lake Country to do all the above so I could share more photos here!
IF YOU GO
Resources for Travelers
- Petoskey Area Visitor’s Bureau (231-348-2755)
- Boyne Area Chamber
- Charlevoix Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Official Website of Mackinac Island
- Traverse Magazine (My North Vacation Guide)
- West Michigan Tourist Association
Also by Laura Kelly on More Time To Travel