Iconic Outdoor Attraction: Old Mission Peninsula
Old Mission Peninsula is a 22-mile-long skinny finger of land that begins just east of downtown Traverse City and divides Grand Traverse Bay into its east and west arms. There’s something almost island-like about the place, given that it’s surrounded by so much water, has its own microclimate, and at times feels completely remote, despite only being 30 minutes from downtown Traverse City at its farthest point.
But the peninsula is certainly a little world unto itself, boasting miles of beachy coastline, rolling hillsides, cherry orchards, wineries, vineyards and breathtaking views. Many know it first and foremost as Traverse City’s little wine country, with eight wineries calling this place home. The moderating effect of the bays, the rich, glacial-tilled soil, the placement along the temperate 45th parallel: Old Mission was gifted with a climate and location tailor-made for growing some of the world’s classic wine grapes: chardonnay, riesling, pinot grigio, pinot noir, merlot, gewürztraminer, sparkling varieties and even ice wines.
The microclimate and terroir that makes Old Mission so hospitable for grapes also lends itself to fruit-growing. In spring, Old Mission’s orchards become a blanket of white blossoms—a sight so gorgeous to behold that Blossom Day is now an annual event, when many of the wineries reveal their new releases.
Spring is lovely but Old Mission is stunning any time of year, and there are lots of opportunities along those 22 miles to get out and enjoy the beauty up close. All the way at the very end of the Peninsula, where the rocky shore tapers off into the bay, you’ll find Old Mission State Park: home to the 1870-built Mission Point Lighthouse, miles of hiking trails, and a sprawling, pebbly beach perfect for rock picking and catching sunsets. Pelizzarri Natural Area is a new 62-acre preserve near the base of the peninsula, with three miles of trails winding through meadows, woods and stands of hemlock. Pyatt Lake is a small but unique preserve that’s one of the most botanically diverse properties in the county. Bowers Harbor Park has a picnic area, playground and boat launch. And there are two great beaches here: Bryant Park, with picnic tables, a playground, grills and a huge swimming area (plus an ice cream stand across the street) and Haserot Park, a pretty spot that’s close to the historic Old Mission General Store for snacks and picnic provisions.
Old Mission is also a paddling paradise, thanks to the sheltered nature of the bays and so many spots to explore on the peninsula’s shoreline perimeter. The boat launch at Bowers Harbor Park is a favorite starting point for kayakers, since it’s about halfway up the peninsula on West Bay and just five miles (round trip) from Power Island, where there are trails, campgrounds and beaches to explore. There’s also a boat launch on East Bay, at Haserot Park on Old Mission Harbor, a pretty and protected inlet that’s fun to poke around in a kayak.