Hard as it may be to believe sometimes, spring is upon us – and with spring comes one of America’s most wonderful and least hyped floral displays: the mid-May blossoming of the cherries in the orchards surrounding Grand Traverse Bay.
If you’ve never seen it before – those two million blooming cherry trees climbing the steep glacial ridges like battalions of tidy white clouds, their soft lines contrasting with bright new grass, acres of yellow dandelions and the deep blue waters of Grand Traverse Bay – you’re in for a special treat.
Most of the cherries in these parts are grown on the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, as well as a long strip in the drumlin country of western Antrim County. It’s all beautiful scenery, surrounded by deep glacial lakes and inlets – which, of course, is what creates the mild “microclimate” that makes it possible to grow such delicate fruits here in the first place. The bloom usually takes place in the middle of the month, depending on the weather. Plus there are lots of ways to get out and enjoy them during a visit to “America’s Cherry Capital.”
Most people tour cherry country by automobile, and that’s understandable. This is a renowned wine region, after all, and blossom season is a perfect time to combine the visual treat of the bloom with the tasty treat of a wine-tasting tour. Just a few days away, on April 30 and May 1 the wineries of the Leelanau Peninsula hold an event called the Spring Sip & Savor, where you can wander among 17 wineries trying wine and food pairings, and on May 14, the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula have a similar event called Blossom Day. (You can devise your own tour, too!)
Spring makes you do crazy, unpredictable things, right? You could roll down the car windows, put the top down – or even get that motorcycle out of the garage and take it for a spin. Motorcyclists love spring rides, and there’s really nothing like taking to the backroads of Traverse City cherry country to enjoy the blossoms and feel the warm spring breeze in your hair. In Leelanau County, some of the best areas are north and west of Suttons Bay, where the winding roads and steep valleys are particularly scenic.
Those of us who don’t own our own Harleys – or who probably shouldn't be trusted with one even if we did – might try a bicycling tour of the cherry blossoms instead. Fortunately, that’s easy to do – the Leelanau Trail, which runs between Traverse City and Suttons Bay, includes several sections that go past beautiful cherry orchards in the interior of the Leelanau Peninsula. On the northern tips of both the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas, as well as the area east of US 31 on the mainland, there are miles of rural roads where you can glide past the orchards while getting some great exercise along the way. If you don’t have a bike of your own, it’s easy to rent one from any of several local cycling shops.
Blossom time tends to bring out crowds of walkers and runners, too. The 34th Annual Bayshore Marathon on May 28 follows the eastern shore of the Old Mission Peninsula, between blossoming orchards and East Grand Traverse Bay. However, you can easily program your own blossom-time walk or run. (Just remember to stay out of the orchards; trespassing is discourteous, illegal, and sometimes even dangerous.)
Finally, if you prefer looking at all those flowers from a distance, you can even observe the blossoms from the cockpit of your own kayak, paddling along the surface of the Bay or one of the larger lakes that parallel it (Elk Lake to the east and Lake Leelanau to the west are good candidates for blossom-viewing paddling expeditions.) It’s not exactly close-up and personal, but it’s an interesting way to enjoy the big picture of it all!