Trying to cram as much Northern Michigan vacation into one Memorial Day weekend? Read on to discover 10 certified-fun travel ideas that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults—from biking, boating, golfing, and more, we’ve got all the bases covered.
A cool freshness still lingers in the air, but if sunshine is on tap for the weekend, warmth is sure to be found anchored on Torch Lake’s notoriously blue waters. On the way, pick up a packed lunch from The Moose. The deli/convenience store in downtown Elk Rapids boasts a wide variety of sandwich, pizza, and salad options, along with plenty of snacks that will keep you fueled up for a day on the lake. Rent a boat at Torch River Marina and spend the day exploring Michigan’s deepest and second largest inland lake. If you are in the mood for some activity, dock in Alden in time for its Memorial Day Parade (at 1 p.m.) or toss over the anchor at the famous sandbar on the lake’s south end, a popular party spot. No worries if you are searching for a more peaceful outing, Torch Lake is known for its solitude, with plenty of sublime scenery.
Relax on the Beach in Elk Rapids
Elk Rapids is a small town, but it packs a remarkable number of options for shopping, dining, and recreation. Kick off summer with a beach day in this Northern Michigan town, with an economy and lifestyle built around the water. Take a look at the unique art galleries, River Street boutiques, renowned marina, and pull out the fishing rod at the town’s Kid Fishing Pond if little ones are along. It’s a holiday weekend, so why not indulge in Southern comfort foods at Pearl’s New Orleans Kitchen like cheesy grits, crawfish eggs benedict and hush puppies. The restaurant serves brunch on Sundays and lunch all other days of the week beginning at 11 a.m. After being lulled into a food coma, pass the afternoon at a Lake Michigan beach in Elk Rapids: lounge with a good book on the sand or pull out the racquet for a game of tennis at Veteran’s Memorial Park located near downtown.
Pedal along Lake Michigan
Northern Michigan’s winding backcountry roads are a mecca for bikers, but the Little Traverse Wheelway is a great option for families or those wanting to avoid car traffic. The 26-mile paved trail follows the Lake Michigan shoreline from Charlevoix all the way to Harbor Springs. A great way to experience the trail, and the towns that it crosses, is to do a round trip bike ride, starting from Charlevoix and turning around at Petoskey. Leave the car in Charlevoix and pedal the scenic trail less than 20 miles to the lakeshore town. Take some time in Petoskey to poke into some local shops and don’t miss Cormack’s Deli for lunch before heading back, known for its sandwiches and soups. “Rachel’s Reuben,” with turkey instead of corned beef, or “Dean’s Double Temptation,” with homemade chicken salad and bacon, will give you more than enough energy for the ride back. Once back in Charlevoix, take a leisurely stroll down Bridge Street, the main shopping area, meander by the park-lined waterfront, and take a look at some of the town’s historical Victorian homes.
Attend a Morning Memorial Service
Keep the real reason for the holiday in mind, and attend a Memorial Day Service.
Bike or Hike Mackinac Island
Even though Mackinac Island is quite small, there are a plethora of trails to explore by foot, horseback, or bike. Hike through the interior of the island, being sure to check out sites like Arch Rock and Skull Cave, or rent bikes at The Mackinac Island Bike Shop for a trip around the island’s perimeter. Follow M-185, the only state highway that does not allow car traffic, eight miles all the way around to experience gorgeous views of the surrounding turquoise water. Because of the holiday weekend, Mackinac Island will be busy, but that shouldn’t deter you from wandering around the village’s shops and restaurants. Be sure to stop by the historic, and magnificent, Grand Hotel, and stop at Chuckwagon Restaurant for its friendly atmosphere and a hearty, home-cooked breakfast or lunch.
Attend the Petoskey Stone Festival
The annual Petoskey Stone Festival at Barnes Park in Eastport has a full line-up of festivities. See a chainsaw artist in action, take part in the 5K fun race, compete in the kids’ stone skipping contest and take part in the stone hunt. After the festival, head north to the Petoskey area to drive by Bayview’s historic gingerbread homes. Or if the Petoskey Stone Festival has inspired you, head over to Petoskey State Park to comb the shore for some of your own beach treasures. Linger to enjoy a stunning sunset over the lake, wet and sandy toes and all.
Hit the Links!
Northern Michigan is touted as a golfer’s paradise, and with the weather getting warmer this time of year, Memorial Day is an ideal opportunity to sharpen your golf game for the summer. Belvedere Golf Club, just outside of Charlevoix, is situated in an idyllic setting, with views of Lake Michigan, a historic clubhouse, and rolling hills. Save on the greens fee by teeing off after 3:30 pm. You can still get all 18 holes in plus the added benefit of afternoon shadows and the peacefulness right before dusk. Belvedere is undoubtedly a special place, but there are many other gorgeous golf courses across Northern Michigan counties, ready to be enjoyed this Memorial Day weekend—check out what’s new at your favorite courses.
Take a Step Back in Time
If you are a history buff, be sure to check out the Fort Michilimackinac Pageant in Mackinaw City on Saturday afternoon, the “longest running, free historical Memorial Day performance in the Nation.” The itinerary is full of fun events for everyone, including a Grand Parade, Fort Michilimackinac re-enactment, and fireworks at dusk. Since you will already be in the area, a great place to hike beforehand, and ease into this bygone era, is Mill Creek Historical State Park. The park opens at 9 a.m. and holds daily reenactments of old sawmills and handsaws in addition to boasting three miles of accessible nature trails. If you have time, the Adventure Tour, featuring a Forest Canopy Bridge and Eagle’s Flight Zip Line, will give you a decent dose of adrenaline and make your trip extra special.
Wake Up and Race!
Get an early start and run the Annual Mackinaw Memorial Bridge Race starting at 6 a.m. on Saturday, May 27. The entry fee is $45 if postmarked by May 1. Entry fees after May 1 are $50, and onsite registration will be $60. Since you’ll be up so early, you could even hop on a ferry to Mackinac Island (less than a 30-minute trip) and enjoy an entire day exploring local shops and historical sites (here are the best things to do on Mackinac Island in one day).
Plan a Holiday Getaway to Beaver Island
Escape the crowds that flock to Northern Michigan for Memorial Day by heading out to Beaver Island, a two-hour ferry boat ride off the coast of Charlevoix. A pristine environment with an intriguing history awaits, that may be just what you are looking for in place of a normally hectic weekend. It is a doable day trip, but if you can, the island is best experienced by spending the night camping or at one of its lodges or bed & breakfasts. Beaver Island Lodge and Brother’s Place make it feel as though you really have taken a step back in time.
Kayak through the archipelago of islands, dipping your paddle in waters that enticed fishermen over a century ago. If you would rather stick to land recreation, spend hours navigating old two-tracks and winding trails, ideal for hiking or biking, and reserve some time to learn more about the rich history of the island at the Marine Museum or Old Mormon Print Shop.
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Article contributors: Jenny Buechel