Twinkly storefronts, brisk lake air, sweet eats and kicked-back fun wait for you in Glen Arbor during the holiday season. Spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in the sweet Northern Michigan town.
Christmas floats into Glen Arbor, on a 14-foot rowboat that the owner has had since he was a boy, and atop a lake he has swum in since he was a child. People in this tiny town, slipped between Sleeping Bear Bay, the Glen Lakes and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, are fond of simple traditions…
This story is featured in the December 2018 issue of Traverse Magazine. Get your copy.
The owner of the boat, Frank Siepker, lives with his wife, Tracy, on Big Glen Lake. Over Thanksgiving weekend Frank and Tracy don waders, wrap a fresh-cut Christmas tree in lights, prop it in an aluminum frame that Frank built for his old fishing boat, stabilize the tree to the boat with guide wire, then wade in and drag the boat some 600 feet offshore where they anchor it in four feet of water. The lake is icy by then, the wind is usually whipping and sometimes they have to fight waves. But the couple relishes the effort: “It’s pretty cool to wake up to every day,” Franks says of the tree.
Fortunately for folks crossing the bridge between Big and Little Glen Lakes, the Christmas tree is in easy view. After the sun goes down the colored lights shine on icy black, often moonlit, water. Oh, holy night.
Photo by Angela Brown
A couple miles away in downtown Glen Arbor at the iconic Art’s Tavern, owner Tim Barr does his part to welcome the holidays. Imagine a guy who looks a little like Santa and a lot like ZZ Top. That’s Tim, and in the days before Thanksgiving he oversees extensive decorating of his classic red brick tavern, the pièce de résistance being the words Merry Christmas and Happy New Year spelled out in man-sized letters lit up by white bulbs across the roof. But as sure as Art’s Tavern only takes cash and checks, the lights don’t go on until the wee hours of the day after Thanksgiving. Which means that the bed-headed shoppers heading out at 6 a.m. for the annual Black Friday Shop in Your Pajamas event are welcomed into the otherwise dark town by the glowing orb emanating from Art’s.
That Friday evening, Glen Arbor formally kicks off the holidays with the lighting of the town Christmas tree and a Holiday Marketplace (that continues on Saturday) in the town hall. By the time holiday week arrives, the town is brimming with spirit. Read on for how to make the most of the holidays in Glen Arbor.
Photo by Jesse Green
Things to do in Glen Arbor During the Holidays
Snow or no, there’s plenty of outdoor fun to be had in and around Glen Arbor at the holidays. Here’s your guide to gettin’ out there.
The Homestead Resort
This resort’s intimate, family-friendly ski area has 13 runs that range from easy to difficult, a ski school, ski rental, a pony tow and a ski tow. It also has a jaw-dropping view of Lake Michigan from the top of the ski hill.
Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
Stretching 27 miles from the town of Empire to Bohemian Road, this trail is a great place to immerse in a winter wonderland. Most sections are groomed for cross-country skiing. Snowshoes and fat tire bikes welcomed too.
Palmer Woods Preserve
Four miles of often-groomed trails wind through 721 acres on a ridge above Glen Lake. Bring your cross-country skis, snowshoes or fat tire bikes. From M22 north of Glen Arbor turn on Wheeler Road and proceed 3 miles to the trailhead.
Sleeping Bear Bay Beach
Stay below the high water mark (where the stones and sand end and the grass begins) and you can walk the beach along the bay. Those are the Manitou Islands on the horizon, Sleeping Bear Point is west, Pyramid Point is north and those shiny rocks with the honeycomb pattern are ice-covered Petoskey stones. Access the beach at the end of South Lake Street and South Manitou View Boulevard. Or head down to Glen Haven Beach, which is also on the beautiful bay.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
If it’s a snowless holiday week, any of the dozen or so trails of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore make for exhilarating hikes. Enough snow to head out on skis or snowshoes? The 8-mile looped Bay View Trail that winds through the farmsteads of the Port Oneida Rural Historic District is inspirational. Find the trailhead off Thoreson Road about 3 miles north of Glen Arbor.
Photo by Jon-Paul Allgaier
The Cyclery at Crystal River Outfitters
Cross-country skis, snowshoes, fat bikes and ice skate rentals // 6249 River Road, 231.334.4420
The Homestead Resort
Downhill and cross-country skis, ice skate rentals, snowboards, snowshoes // 1 Wood Ridge Road, 231.334.5000
BEST SLEDDING HILL EVER
No trees. A whopper of a slope grade. A cushy landing if you fall off your sled. Yep, the Dune Climb in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore—the park’s biggest attraction in the summer—is equally awesome in winter. To know: Wear goggles because no matter how deep the snow, the sand finds its way to your face; stay within the boundaries the park has marked for sledding; sledding or skiing of any type is prohibited unless there is snow (and if there isn’t it is still a blast to hike up and run down!) and you’ll need a park entrance pass. Find the Dune Climb on M109 about four miles southwest of Glen Arbor.
Photo by Jesse Green
WALKABLE WINE TASTING TOUR
BEST LITTLE PARK IN AMERICA
Just this year, Glen Arbor unveiled a magnificent renovation of the township park located between M22, South Lake and State Streets. Bundle the kids up and turn them loose on 10 universally accessible, state-of-the-art pieces of play equipment. Holiday bonus: the big climbing feature in the center even looks like a Christmas tree.
Jingle all the way through the wooded trails of Black Horse Farms. Three sleighs that fit up to 12 well-bundled people can handle large groups. Sleighs stop at a trailside warming house for hot chocolate.
Photo by Cherry Republic
Check your list twice at a handful of creative and hardy shops that stay open through the New Year…
Location: M22 (Western Avenue)
Smack in the middle of town, The Totem Shop has long been known for its toy section—but adults can shop its fabulous outerwear with brands from Patagonia to Keen. 6521 Western Ave.
Find a fresh, fun and eclectic mix of home elements, toys and clothes at Coastal, a beachy-style building located in the Crystal River Recreation District along with Crystal River Outfitter and the M22 Cyclery. 6324 W. Western Ave.
Location: South Lake Street
Pick up your favorite cherry-themed products from preserves to pies, wine to T-shirts at Cherry Republic. Outdoor fire pits on the pretty Republic grounds are made for winter s’mores. 6026 South Lake St.
Browse bestsellers and books about the region and by regional authors in the Cottage Book Shop, an authentic log cabin. 5989 South Lake St.
Find gems, rocks and minerals in exquisite and creative settings at Becky Thatcher Designs. 5795 S Lake St.
Location: South M22 (Ray Street)
The Sportsman Shop will outfit for everything you need to go ice fishing from the gear to styling outerwear from Woolrich, Columbia and Toad & Co. 5914 S Ray St.
Glen Arbor logo wear and other souvenirs and gifts live side-by-side enlightenment for your soul at Cabin Fever and Evolve in the Village Sampler shopping plaza. 5917 Ray St.
Glen Arbor Artisans features the ink and watercolor visions of Kristin Hurlin and fine woodworking of Paul May. Closed Monday–Thursday. 5956 South Ray St.
Photo by Jesse Green
EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY
Burgers, tater tots to write home about and late night shotski (shots mounted on a ski) fun at Art’s Tavern (6487 Western Ave.), great tavern fare with a cherry accent and craft beer at Cherry Public House (6026 South Lake St.), burgers, steaks, pasta and whitefish in an Up North ambiance at Western Avenue Grill (6410 Western Ave.), a crackling fire, well-stocked bar and great burgers, steaks and onion rings at Boone Docks (5858 Manitou View), don’t miss the burger with the egg on top, live music nights and more at the Little Traverse Inn (149 E Harbor Hwy.), 10 miles north of Glen Arbor on M22.
Linger over upscale New American cuisine and the view of Sleeping Bear out the window at Blu (5705 S Lake St.); rave about the veal saltimbocca, lasagna bolognese and other pasta choices to at Trattoria Funistrada (4566 W. MacFarlane Rd., Maple City); feel (and eat) like you are in a French country restaurant at La Bécasse (9001 S Dunns Farm Rd., Maple City), indulge in authentic Italian from Italian-born Chef Piomba at The Homestead Resort’s Nonna’s (1 Woodridge Rd.).
Bear Paw Pizza in the center of town kills the hangries (6444 Western Ave.), Riverfront Pizza & Deli slings fab pizza and sandwiches to go on one side of the building and is outfitted with a small but mighty lunch deli open Tuesday through Friday on the other (6281 River Rd.), Market 22 makes real-deal Detroit-style pizza and sandwiches 10 miles north of Glen Arbor on M22 at (497 E Harbor Hwy., Maple City), the deli counter at Anderson’s Market (6545 Western Ave.) is a sure-bet for roast chicken and can’t stop-eating-it mac ’n’ cheese.
Bring a pizza or anything else your appetite desires and order up a glass of local wine to go with at Glen Arbor Wines (5873 South Lake St., 231.835.2196).
NEW YEAR’S EVE
There will be loads of holiday cheer, libations and live music at Boone Docks. But you have to reserve a table for one of two seatings at Art’s Tavern to see the ball drop … hint: a ladder, a rubber ball and aluminum foil.
Photo by Jesse Green
A Glen Arbor Christmas Story
Curl up with the fam in front of a crackling fire and Margaret Day Travis’s beautifully penned memoir of her family’s annual Christmas-shopping trip to Traverse City from Glen Arbor out loud. Margaret was one of lumberman D.H. Day’s five children. Anyone who has ever scaled the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb will recognize his legacy, the Victorian-style Day barn and farmhouse that so elegantly marks the vista from the top of that huge sand pile.
As we sped across the snow between the black and white winter hardwoods, our nerve ends literally vibrated with the sweetness of the Russian harness chimes … The whole forest seemed to throb with a silver ecstasy. Read the full story.
Click the cover to read MyNorth Holidays and discover more Up North traditions.
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