In 1902 Ephraim Shay, famed for inventing the Shay locomotive that revolutionized the logging industry, built an ultra-light rail line – the Hemlock Central – to test his locomotive tinkering and haul lumber to area sawmills. Come summer, resorters climbed aboard in Harbor Springs for 25 cents a ride. Though Shay’s “Baby” stopped steaming from forest to shore decades ago, folks still flock to this old-timey town on Little Traverse Bay.
The best way to arrive these days? Pick your pleasure: Motor down from the north through M-119’s famed Tunnel of Trees. Bike up the Little Traverse Wheelway (trailscouncil.org). Or drop out of a plane with the parachuting pros at Skydive Harbor Springs (231-330-3483, skydiveharborsprings.com).
Once you’re standing downtown, stroll the flowerbox-lined sidewalks and a bevy of chi-chi boutiques – everything from modern art and antiques to furniture, clothes and books. Shop (or covet) till you drop, then aim for great eats: at Cornichon’s European Market (248 State St., 213-242-0020), the Gobbler sandwich, and from tiny Tom’s Mom’s cookies (267 State St., 231-526-6606), a hunk o’ homemade Chocolate Chunk. It’s time for a woodsy hike and beach picnic at Thorne Swift Nature Preserve (M-119 north 4 miles to Lower Shore Drive, 231-526-6401).
At day’s end, sup on a strip at the 1904-established The New York (101 State St., 231-526-1904). Then, when the sun starts sinking into the cobalt-blue bay, do as they’ve done in Harbor Springs for the last century: head to the shore. – L.T.
Stay the NightBirchwood Inn: Comfortable lodge surrounded by birch trees. Old-type shuffleboard court and heated retro swimming pool. 231-526-2151 or birchwoodinn.com
Highland Hideaway Resort: Bright, contemporary hilltop B&B with on-site winery. Buffet breakfast and afternoon aperitif. 231-526-8100 or highlandhideawayresort.com
Lynda Twardowski is travel editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.[email protected]
Note: This article was originally published in May 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.