Traverse City Travel Guide

Traverse City, the seat of Grand Traverse County, has a population of over 140,000, is the largest city in far northern Michigan. It is widely known as “the Cherry Capital of the World,” though wines made from locally grown grapes are also a major industry. In the summer especially, but in the winter as well, the city draws many tourists from all over the Midwest and beyond.

History

During colonial times, French traders would make the long journey, or “grand traverse,” up the bay on which Traverse City now sits. This gave the bay its name, and the city gook its name from the bay. The first settlement in the area was made in 1839 on the Old Mission Peninsula, but the heart of Traverse City developed from a sawmill that was founded in 1847 and a post office set up in 1852. When, in 1872, Traverse City was connected by rail line to Grand Rapids, it began to grow much more rapidly.

Things to see and do in Traverse City

Attend the National Cherry Festival in early July. Traverse City is the biggest grower of tart cherries in the U.S., and half a million people come to see, taste, and learn about the cherries. There are fair-like festivities, such as pit spiting contests, pie bakes, and the crowning of the annual National Cherry Queen.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Traverse City, Michigan

People relaxing and para sailing at the Pierce Stocking Lookout Point at Sleeping Bear Dunes outside of Empire Michigan.

Explore the bay area for its scenic beauty. Besides the cherry orchards lining the bay, there are forests, lakes, vineyards, beaches, and more. One of the best places to see the coast is in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. There, you can hike, bike, golf, fish for trout, swim, get out in the bay on a sail boat, or take a ferry ride over the scenic Manitou Islands.

Camp at the 47-acre Traverse City State Park. There are hundreds of electric-equipped campsites, besides a picnicking area and a children’s playground.

Tour the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, where you will learn of the lives of lighthouse keepers in one of the oldest lighthouses in the region. Also stop by the Mission Point Lighthouse on the Old Mission Peninsula.

Go on a winery tour. The most famous winery in the area is the Chateau Grand Traverse, which is famous for its Riesling grapes and wines. However, also see Two Lads Winery and Willow Vineyards.

In the winter, you will find many downhill skiing zones around Traverse City that help make it a winter as well as summer tourist destination.

Climate conditions

The waters of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay have a moderating effect on local weather so that summers are warmer than they would otherwise be so far north. However, winters are very cold, and Traverse City gets 74 inches of snow per year, much of it “lake-effect snow.” July highs average 80 degrees Fahrenheit, January highs average 15 degrees, and 32 inches of rain falls in an average year.