It’s the cornerstone to every trip to Traverse City: A must-see-swim-soak-sun day on Grand Traverse Bay. Dive in to learn why this two-lobed bay, separated into East and West Bays by Old Mission Peninsula, is your headquarters for summer fun.


This article was featured in the 2021 Traverse Magazine Vacation Guide. Download your free digital issue today to experience the full guide for yourself. 

Swim in Grand Traverse Bay

It goes without saying, Clinch Park near downtown TC is a must. There are SUP and kayak rentals, ice cream and dreamy turquoise blue Adirondack chairs overlooking the marina. Oh, and 1,500 feet of sandy beach along gorgeous Lake Michigan water. The little ones can play at the splash pad, and the adults can sink into those Adirondacks. The perfect family day all in one.

Sail in Grand Traverse Bay

Traverse Tall Ship Company offers excursions on the Tall Ship Manitou, a replica of an 1800s cargo schooner, similar to those that sailed the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. (If you’re onshore, watch for it in the bay—it’s cool just to see it sail by!) Consider the daily 10 a.m. “Bloody Mary Cruise” or the “Manitou Moomer’s Ice Cream Sail” offered twice a day for families all summer long.

Did you know? Grand Traverse Bay is 32 miles long and up to 620 feet deep in places—making it one of the deepest, cleanest freshwater bays on the planet!

Soar Above Grand Traverse Bay

Do you dare? Try flying high over the bay with a parasail. Grand Traverse Parasail and Traverse Bay Parasail offer packages that include 60 to 90-minute boat rides with 10 to 15 minutes of soaring. Bring a support buddy if you’d like—solo, tandem and triple flyers are welcome. Standby passengers are welcome, too, if they can’t be convinced to join in!

Camp Out on Grand Traverse Bay

Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park is a short walk (on a pedestrian bridge over US-31) from the bay. Spend your nights roasting hot dogs at the 75-acre campground (with electric hook-up sites and heated bathhouses) and your days lounging on the quarter-mile-long sandy beach. The campground backs up to the TART trail—bring your bikes and pedal to ice cream or pizza.

Paddle Board on Grand Traverse Bay

You can rent a SUP at Clinch Park or at a number of local shops like The River Outfitters. Don’t feel up for the challenge of trying a paddleboard? Take heart—you might consider just sitting on your rump on the board and paddling around enjoying the cool breeze, the stunning views and your companions. These outings are about the moment, not the mileage!

Boat Around Grand Traverse Bay

Rent or trailer your own boat to Duncan L. Clinch Marina or Elmwood Township Marina. Cruise out to Power Island, an uninhabited tiny island in West Grand Traverse Bay with a hiking trail and a small herd of resident whitetail deer. Or motor up to Apache Trout Grill, West End Tavern, Boathouse Restaurant or Mission Table for a bite. If you’re farther out, put in at Suttons Bay Marina in Suttons Bay or the Edward C. Grace Memorial Harbor in Elk Rapids.

More Ways to Play in Grand Traverse Bay

Play beach volleyball at West End Beach; rent a kayak or paddleboard at Clinch Park.

See the bay from the Nauti-Cat, the largest commercial sailing catamaran on the Great Lakes.

Dive Grand Traverse Bay with a dive guide from Scuba North.

Photo(s) by David Weidner