Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Perfect Northern Michigan (Part I)

Petoskey, Boyne City, Charlevoix, and Harbor Springs make up a beautiful part of Michigan's northern mitten (sometime look at the shape of Michigan's lower peninsula and you'll get the idea!)  These are the types of towns that we love…small harbor towns with gorgeous water views, alluring farmers markets, plenty of flowers planted along the streets, and few chain businesses. We fell in love with these towns from the moment we drove in.  It was quite the change from Traverse City which is larger, has more sprawl, and a feeling of lots of people.  Let’s be clear about something – a town of 5,000 is a perfect size for us.  So Traverse City with a population of 15,000 is not really large but a little big for us.  Oh, and did we mention the cool temperatures!

We opted to stay at Petoskey RV Resort due to the lower price (although not cheap!) than at Hearthside Grove and less kid-infested than the KOA.  There are many other camping options (especially for those of you with shorter RVs) including Petoskey State Park just north of town right on Lake Michigan and Magnus County Park which has a great downtown location.  We really liked the park we chose and settled in right away with a great site.  Since we found so much to do during our two-week stay, there are going to be two blog posts to cover everything.

Eager to explore on our first day we took a drive about 30 minutes north of town to see some tourist sites that were jumping off the pages of every brochure we had - the Tunnel of Trees and Legs Inn.  The Tunnel of Trees is a 20-mile stretch and recognized as one of the most scenic drives in Michigan.  The southernmost part of the drive left us a little under-impressed.  We thought this was going to be a drive through a closed canopy of amazing trees where we felt blanketed by forest but it was more like driving a winding road through a neighborhood.  Towards the end of the drive there was a little more feel that you were being draped with greenery but it still was not what we expected.  However, once you pop out in the little town of Cross Village you head to the only place in town that has a full parking lot (other than the post office) which is Legs Inn.  Named for the inverted stove legs fashioned on the railings on the building's roof, this place draws people from miles away with their tasty authentic Polish food and quirky decor.

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The historic landmark took several decades to complete by a Polish immigrant named Stanley Smolak who settled in the area in the 1920’s.  I’m not really sure how to describe the inside decor – it’s the Black Forest of Europe clashing with Native America Indian culture.  Every inch is adorned with an animal carving or body part mixed with whimsical carvings made from wood or stone.  Burls with faces stare at you while you eat delicious pierogies and goulash.  Your eyes are so saturated with the restaurants decor that you may not even realize the people sitting at the bar are real.

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On our way home we stopped at the Pond Hill Farm.  This farm is just five miles north of Harbor Springs and well worth a stop.  Inside an old barn is where you will find fresh fruits, vegetables and various jarred goods but they also have a restaurant, ice cream shop, winery and brewery.  Outside on the grounds are hiking trails running through fields of produce and barnyard animals and a trout pond to feed the fish.  During the summer the farm hosts a number of events including pig roasts, farm to table dinners, and barn dances.  All are family-friendly and make this place really appealing. 

Since our trip home went through Harbor Springs we decided to stop and take a look around.  This is a beautiful little harbor town on Lake Michigan that seems to swell in the summer when beautiful weather and boating abound.  The main street has nice boutiques and galleries while the harbor provides beautiful views and is a buzz with boating life. 

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One Saturday we headed south along Lake Michigan about ten miles to Charlevoix where an annual art festival was getting in full swing.  Charlevoix is another pretty little coastal town like Harbor Springs where the streets are lined with shops, restaurants that overlook the water, and boats sail in and out of the harbor.  The town feels like Mayberry U.S.A.  The streets are lined with over 65,000 petunias and bring color to what could be very drab city streets.  The Harbor is the heart and soul and where you will find all the annual festivals, fairs, and weekly farmers markets and concerts.  One of the most popular features is the city’s famous 1949 bridge that opens every half hour during the summer to let boats pass thru the Pine River Channel.  The art festival was a pleasant surprise with interesting works by talented artists who obviously find inspiration in the beauty of Michigan. 

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We found ourselves back in Charlevoix a couple of times especially on farmers market days and visiting the library.  The library is housed in an old school that has been lovingly restored and is a gem of the city.  One room houses a wide selection of books for sale operated by the “friends” group.  The most expensive book is $3 and the selection is fabulous.  I drug Betsy in so I could buy some books and she wandered around the building admiring the restoration and historic photographs.  One of the city’s most recognizable features are the mushroom or hobbit houses.  Earl Young was a resident and builder who created 30 whimsical structures with stones, boulders and cedar shake roofs from 1919 until 1954.  These unique structures have become so popular there are guided and self-guided driving and walking tours of them.

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Just south of Petoskey and to the east of Charlevoix is the little town of Boyne City which anchors the southern end of Lake Charlevoix.  We started off with a hike just south of town at Boyne Mountain Resort which is a ski resort in the winter and a nice place to hike or mountain bike in the summer.  We enjoyed the view from the top and the walk up wasn’t to punishing. Since it was lunch time we drove to Boyne City for a bite and beer at the 7 Monks Taproom.  It was Saturday and the place was hopping with live music as they were celebrating their anniversary.  We split a burger, but not the beer, and found it to be exceptionally delicious.  There are a couple of downtown parks winding along the lake and the Boyne River. 

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Our day was pretty full but we had time for one more stop at a highly touted Lavender Hill Farm.  The farm was established in 2003 and is the largest commercial lavender farm in Michigan.  The organically grown lavender has a myriad of uses from aromatherapy, culinary, perfumery, medicinal and floral.  The farm grows some 25 varieties and the fields are beautiful with the spectrum of hues ranging from deep purple and bluish flowers to softer pale.  The farm recently renovated a large barn that is now used weddings and luncheons.  You can also enjoy the farm by walking the self-guided tour and labyrinth or enjoying a lavender lemonade overlooking the fields. 

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In no time we found that there was lots to do in this area of northern Michigan.  Petoskey is a nice place to base out of and puts you within 10-15 miles of lots of other towns that were a great place to walk around and grab a bite to eat.  It was clear we were going to find lots to do during our two-week stay.



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