This year marks the 100th anniversary of Michigan’s State Parks and several state parks will host special events this summer to celebrate!
Events include campfire storytelling nights, geocaching, and a Memory Map being built online by visitors all over Michigan. Be sure to visit the 100th website and add pictures and memories of your own. This might be a fun one to ask your kiddos what they remember most and post their words online!
Traverse City has four state parks in our area including the Traverse City State Park, Leelanau State Park, Old Mission State Park and Interlochen State Park. Here’s an insider’s view of the best of the best at each state park as we celebrate 100 years together:
Traverse City State Park
The Traverse City State Park is the most popular and most centrally located. The park offers two of the best gems in the area: Grand Traverse Bay and the TART Trail.
Their .25-mile-long beach offers a picnic and day use area that is built for family fun with a playground and a sandy beach to dig your toes into. The beach sits on the north side of the road with public parking areas, while the campground itself sits on the south side of the road. Visitors can safely cross US-31 using the pedestrian bridge and, for most kids, the crossing is a must-do just to watch the traffic whiz by below!
A bike or hike on the 10.5-mile paved TART trail that passes along the far side of the 47-acre campground is another family favorite. You can take the TART all the way into downtown Traverse City, about 3 miles away, or head the opposite direction and make your way down to get ice cream at Dairy Queen and ride go-karts at Pirate’s Cove.
And if you have a rail fan in your family, the tracks run out behind the campground, and Great Lakes Central trains can be seen about twice a week. You might get lucky and hear their horns or see their blaze of blue as they pass behind the trees.
And last but not least, look for the Traverse City Bear Company on the corner by the beach – there’s a giant bear out front for the kids to marvel over!
Leelanau State Park
Leelanau State Park is north of Traverse City, located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. And it’s a must-see for lighthouse lovers and rock hounds.
There are over 1,300 acres and the park includes the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, a rustic campground, two mini cabins, 8.5 miles of hiking/skiing trails and a picnic area.
The word "Leelanau" is the Native American word for "A Land of Delight" and it lives up to its name. Be sure to look for the famous Petoskey stones found along the Lake Michigan shoreline. A Petoskey Stone is a rock composed of a fossilized coral. The Petoskey stone (and city of the same name in Michigan) was named for the Ottawa Chief Pe-to-se-ga (Rising Sun) because the stone’s pattern looks like the rays of the sun. When dry, the stone looks unremarkable, but when wet, the distinctive Petoskey stone pattern emerges.
After a search for stones along the shoreline, look up and visit the lighthouse, where you can view the restored keeper’s dwelling and climb the tower for a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan, Cathead Bay, Grand Traverse Bay and the Manitou Passage. There is also a Shipwreck Exhibition to visit and a chance to drive the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) on Saturdays in June, July and August.
And just 10 miles away sits the charming town of Northport – a perfect spot for dinner and drinks.
Old Mission Lighthouse Park
The centerpiece of this park is the lighthouse and the bonus is the gorgeous drive getting there! Follow M-37 to its very end and you’ll find yourself at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula in the heart of Grand Traverse Bay. This drive was named one of the Top 10 Coastal Drives by USA Today and it’s easy to see why!
Mission Point Lighthouse is located at the peninsula’s northernmost point and, there, you’ll be standing nearly on the 45th parallel. The lighthouse is closed to the public from December through April, but the park, beach and trails are open year around.
The lighthouse is a classic piece of Michigan history. While it no longer guides boats through West Grand Traverse Bay as it did from 1870-1933, it offers visitors a peek into what life was like around the turn of the century. Enjoy self-guided historical tours, a climb to the top of the tower, a reconstructed historic log cabin and miles of trails to explore in the forested area.
Be sure to enjoy the beach areas along M-37, and make a stop at any one of the wineries along the way for the grown-ups in your group!
Interlochen State Park
South of Traverse City is the Interlochen State Park. Just 15 minutes southwest of Traverse City, this park sits between two inland lakes: Green Lake and Duck Lake. Both lakes are go-to spots for fisherman, while Duck Lake offers a open, sandy beach for families. The park has two different campgrounds, one on each side of M-137, and offers both rustic and modern camping.
The campground has 490 campsites and three cabins, but the heart of this state park is the little store next to the beach on the Duck Lake side. It’s just small enough to afford your family a little freedom. Kids can be found standing in line with their money for ice cream, then running back to the swing sets or the playground, all under Mom’s watchful eye. SUP and canoes can be found dotting the calm lake too. And keep your eyes out for the loons in the area.
For those who love art and music, Interlochen Arts Academy, a world-renowned music camp, is right next door. Visitors can take in national performance acts all summer long.
When it’s time to call it a day, head up the road to the tiny village of Interlochen. Enjoy lunch at the rustic-themed Bud’s Café or take in dinner at the Hofbrau, a local landmark restaurant with a full bar.
Check online for more
Watch the 100 Years website for updates on events coming this summer, and be sure to visit Traverse City to celebrate what nature has to offer!