Category: Travel and Adventure

Outdoors at the right time: Michigan destination offers ideas for future adventures

Forest around Munising MI

The waterfalls are running from the spring snowmelt and the forests on the shores of Lake Superior are blooming, but in the grip of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan residents are missing the comforting sights and sounds of the season change.

In Munising, Cori-Ann Cearley understands that sense of loss. Like other communities, Munising is weathering the impact of the coronavirus and the social distancing that has upended lives since the statewide stay at home order began on March 24.

“This has been a time to really hit pause, reflect, relax and look forward to the days that we can again take advantage of the natural beauty of Pictured Rocks, our hiking trails and our waterfalls,” said Cearley, the president of the Munising Visitors Bureau. “But the most important thing is that we do it when it’s safe and when people are healthy.

“The outdoors, going on an adventure, and seeing things that bring you joy or doing something that you never have before are great stress-relievers. I think everyone will be ready once that time comes, and we’re going to be here when it does.”

While it’s unclear when state shelter orders and travel limitations will be lifted, the ability to laugh, connect with nature and breathe in fresh air will return.

Here are five suggestions to dream about and plan around during this difficult time.

Pictured Rocks hiking

There’s no shortage of awe-inducing wonder at the 73,000-acre Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which offers 100 miles of trails along 42 miles of Lake Superior’s shore. Take in the multi-colored sandstone cliffs – dazzling displays of red, orange, green and blue – from various vantage points and get your daily steps in at the same time, a win-win for mental and physical health.

Hikes vary in degree of difficulty, but there’s something for everyone with a variety of boardwalks, hard-packed trails and natural paths to discover and enjoy. The self-guided and self-paced walks lead visitors through old forests, former logging areas, sandy dunes and wetlands. There is an abundance of wildlife, isolated lighthouses and exposed shipwrecks dotting the shoreline.

Waterfalls

These stunning phenomena are alive and well any time of the year, offering spring rejuvenation, summer’s lush landscapes, fall’s gorgeous colors and winter’s icy marvels that feel like one of the most beautiful places on earth.

“They will really take your breath away,” Cearley said. “The water’s noise is balanced by the quiet of nature. There’s really nothing like it.”

She recommends taking in these six sights:

Wagner Falls: A short walk on a gravel path takes you to a peaceful spot where visitors can see the 20-foot drop of the Wagner Falls. This is one of the most photographed falls as it features stepped areas with multiple rock ledges.

Miners Falls: The impressive 50-foot fall is a 20-minute walk from a parking lot of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There are two platforms for viewing and the park service advises to take the time to enjoy the views of the Miners Basin.

Munising Falls: In the city of Munising, this 50-foot waterfall is only one-quarter-mile into the woods and is accessed via a paved trail and a viewing platform. Highlights include interesting rock formations and a dramatic drop. are

These more challenging hikes bring well-deserved rewards:

Chapel Falls: One of the larger straight drops, the 60-foot falls are at the end of the Chapel Road Drive and about a 2 1/2 mile hike to Lake Superior, where the famous tree and rock formation is found. Pictured Rocks boat tours are available to this majestic setting, one of the few where falls cascade into the Great Lakes.

Bridalveil Falls: A one-of-a-kind view is found on the 140-foot sandstone cliffs of Pictured Rocks and is part of an eight-mile loop that will also take you past the previously mentioned Chapel Falls. Boat trips from Munising will also grant you looks that will last a lifetime.

Spray Falls: A 70-foot waterfall located along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can be observed by land or water. The remote area requires walking the trails along the cliffs and the Spray Falls are located 1.75 miles Northeast of Chapel Rock. If guests aren’t up for the hike, the falls are best viewed from a tour boat, kayak or personal watercraft.

Kayaking

Cearley has long maintained that the water is the place to be for visitors looking to find the best views of the Pictured Rocks.

“If you want the best experience and the most incredible views of the cliffs, you’ve got to get out on the water to see them,” she said. “Think about it. When you’re on a trail – and I absolutely think you should get out and hike – you’re only seeing it from the top down, or from a certain vantage point that has limitations. Kayaking in Munising MI

“If you’re on the water, you’re looking at the whole thing and getting all of that beauty.”

The cliffs, which climb between 50 and 200 feet and flash stunning shades of red, orange, green and blue, stretch roughly 25 miles along the lakeshore. There are multiple Pictured Rocks kayak tours available and all feature the stillness and beauty that will be a highlight of your trip.

Experienced kayakers can head out on their own or there are guides who lead small groups and place visitors as close to the base of cliffs and caves as possible.

Grand Island

Hop aboard a narrated bus tour and learn about the 3,000-year history of Grand Island, a 13,000-acre bit of paradise in the Hiawatha National Forest that sits only a half-mile from Munising. The southernmost island in Lake Superior, this natural area is ideal for hiking and biking to white-sand beaches, stunning elevated vistas and an “I’m all alone in the woods” secluded sites that offer silence from the rush of daily life.

Visitors can get to the island via personal boat or ferry. The wilderness area offers unmatched scenery where travelers can see black bear and white-tail deer. Be sure to check out Echo Lake and bring a fishing pole.

Lighthouses

Navigational advances may have diminished the need for the primary function of lighthouses, but the uniquely built structures remain a beacon for people interested in history and beauty on the shores of the Great Lakes.

Munising is the home of eight lighthouses, including the Au Sable Point light that can be toured and climbed from mid-June through Labor Day. Other lights have been renovated and can be seen up close while serving as the center for memorable vacation photos. Some lighthouses have been converted to dream-like private residences.

‘Take your time’

After such a hectic start to 2020, Cearley encourages visitors to explore, unwind and recharge.

“When you’re in Munising, you can really take your time,” she said. “If you’re looking for a nature zen moment, this is how and where you find it.”

Visit the Munising Visitors Bureau website to plan your trip today.

Michigan’s Best Magazine, Spring 2020

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Dear Friends,

It was not so long ago that Michigan’s Best comprised only stories of our great state’s flavors. The food searches led by the energetic John Gonzales and Amy Sherman have proven to be a source of appreciation and inspiration for hundreds of thousands of readers. You spend so much time with this content on our website that we felt compelled to bring you more of what you clearly love!

In 2019, Michigan’s Best expanded to include stories of the Arts, nonprofits, Michigan’s businesses, and more. Innovations, adventures, and initiatives were waiting to be discovered by our team and shared with readers. This expansion, featured both on MLive.com and at ThisIsMIBest.com, gave us a chance to tell more stories about the people, places, and happenings in the State, produced both in digital and print formats.

winter rafting in Gaylord, MIYou may have been following this movement that Michigan’s Best has in your Sunday newspaper. Each week, we feature just a few of our favorite stories in the section you’ll find wrapping your advertising content. But there were so many stories to tell!  We needed to share more.

What you hold in your hand is just one more way these stories have been collected and packaged. This “magazine” represents a collection of the stories we’ve told so far. We sincerely hope you find it informative, perhaps intriguing or inspiring.

Eric Hultgren checks out Project 1If you’d like more of this content, you’ll find it on the sites mentioned here. But you can also follow along in real time by connecting through social media. We hope you join us along our journey to uncover Michigan’s Best stories and the people that bring them to life.

Sincerely,

The Michigan’s Best Team

(Comprising Journalists, Videographers, Photographers and the dozens of unsung team members that shape this content into its digital, print, graphic, animated, or visual form.)

Download the Michigan’s Best Magazine, Spring 2020

‘Most sensory-friendly city in Michigan’ continues opening activities to families

Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, MI

Cathy Blatnik felt isolated, like a prisoner in her home, after her youngest son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and epilepsy before he turned three.

A bright or flashing light, a loud noise, any unexpected turn of events of the day could trigger an outburst, and then a life-threatening seizure.

Going to the movies as a family? That was not an option.

Heading to a ballpark for a game? Couldn’t do that, too many external stimuli existed.

How about a visit to a museum? Again, the unknown lurked around every corner.

“It was very lonely. We did absolutely nothing,” said Blatnik, of Okemos. “We couldn’t even take him to the grocery store because it was so exhausting.”

Wharton Center for Performing Arts in Lansing, MI

The Wharton Center for Performing Arts helped lead the Lansing-area’s dedication to sensory-friendly events when it brought a production of “The Lion King” to the stage in 2018. In April, “Junie B. Jones” will also have a performance that caters to those on the autism spectrum.

Today, the options for the Blatnik family and others living with sensory issues have opened up. The Lansing region has embraced and become a statewide leader as a sensory-friendly center for people with autism and other disabilities.

In less than two years, Lansing has transformed into what Blatnik calls the “most sensory-friendly city in Michigan.” Leaders at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts, the Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Mid Michigan Autism Association have trained more than 1000 people across regional attractions, restaurants and hotels on how to create supportive and welcoming environments.

April’s designation as Autism Awareness Month serves as a point of pride for those who have taken the lead on meeting the needs of neuro-diverse guests. “The collaboration between private and public entities has created a jammed calendar of sensory-friendly events for the month and the rest of the year,” said Julie Pingston, executive vice president of the visitors bureau.

Here is a sampling of experiences from 2019, available to families with a member on the autism spectrum, or with developmental disabilities, sensory processing disorder, and other conditions:

  • Sensory Friendly Show of Dumbo at both NCG Cinema or Celebration Cinema
  • Autism Friendly event at Jumpin’ Jax hosted by Comprehensive Early Autism Services
    Lions at Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, MI

    Potter Park Zoo recently became certified as the only AZA certified sensory-inclusive zoo in Michigan, and the center holds monthly events that are focused on serving neuro-diverse guests.

  • Sensory-Friendly evening hours at Impression 5 Science Center
  • Sensory-Friendly show at Abrams Planetarium
  • FALCONERS program at Potter Park Zoo
  • Junie B. Jones at Wharton Center for Performing Arts

The Lansing region has a full calendar of neuro-sensitive events for April 2020 and beyond, found by clicking here, and the area was recently recognized with the Governor’s Award for Innovative Tourism Collaboration at the 2019 Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

“No one put this on a to-do list, but it has become a cornerstone of our community to make all of our attractions sensory-friendly,” said Pingston. “We want to elevate our community so that there’s more awareness, more understanding and more ability to serve and welcome families.

Impression 5 Museum in Lansing, MI

The Impression 5 Science Center is a fun hands-on experience for family members of all ages.

“Our message is that Lansing is open to you and we will continue to work to make this the best experience visitors to our community can have.”

Blatnik said her advocacy began with her family – Dominic is now 14 – and continues because she doesn’t want others to go through what she did when her son was young. Studies show 1 in every 59 children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

“The satisfaction comes from seeing a family smile, from seeing the relief on their faces that they can live and that people care about them,” she said. “Recently, a family was looking for help after their 2-year-old was diagnosed with autism. They were looking for resources, and I was able to hand them a whole book of things to do and where to go.

“That didn’t exist when we were starting out. We didn’t want to keep Dominic in a bubble, but at the same time, we had to know what we’re walking into and what the risk was. It was and still is really a matter of his health and his life.”

Laura Zeller, the director of communications for Impression 5 Science Center, said the facility has worked with experts from Michigan State University and the autism association to conduct two audits to understand how to be a more welcoming venue.

Impression 5 Museum activities, Lansing, MI

The Impression 5 Science Center is a fun hands-on experience for family members of all ages.

Changes have included developing a special sensory-friendly night once per month and implementing tools to help prepare families for a visit during regular hours. There are social stories, which vividly describe and guide guests around the museum before their visit, as well as new signage indicating potential sensitivities at exhibits. The center has also created sensory backpacks equipped with fidget spinners, headphones and other methods of assisting neuro-diverse families through the hands-on experience.

“We want people to feel that we are open and accessible,” Zeller said. “What we’ve seen from families is just a huge sense of gratitude and appreciation. They just want to be able to participate and have an entertainment and learning option that is welcoming.“Families can be themselves and be comfortable here and across Lansing now, and we think that’s a great feeling to provide as a community.”

Pingston agrees: “There’s nothing better than doing something that helps others,” she said.

Learn more about the Lansing area’s sensory-friendly commitment here.

Ready for spring? Kick start the season during Traverse City Wellness Month

Traverse City Wellness Month - spa

No doubt, winter in Michigan can be a beautiful time of year. But the cold and snow season also can feel so dark and dreary, making us just want to hole up indoors like a bear in hibernation. In the winter we tend to eat more and do less. No wonder it’s the unhealthiest season of the year!

Well, now winter is coming to an end. Finally! And that means it’s time for us to spring into action and get healthy.

Spring brings longer days, giving us more time to be outdoors. More time to enjoy the natural beauty all around us. More time to re-engage the outside world and be social. And guess what? More sunshine. Get ready for a healthy dose of Vitamin D!

Seriously, we should make our New Year’s resolutions in the spring, not in the middle of winter. That’s why many places to stay in Traverse City are teaming up to offer special Wellness Month packages during April. In addition to discounts at participating hotels and resorts, you’ll get a package of coupons for deals on everything from massage and yoga to chiropractic screenings and healthy dinners. Plus, you’ll get a free bag of delicious Lulu Fuel Granola!

How are you going to break out of the winter doldrums and make the most of Michigan’s spring this year? Here are just a few ways you can kick-start the season on a trip to Traverse City during Wellness Month:

Traverse City Wellness Month - yogaNestled in a gorgeous setting high above the bay near the tip of Old Mission Peninsula, Chateau Chantal is one of Traverse City’s most iconic wineries. During Wellness Month, the winery will also be a yoga haven. Come stay at Chateau Chantal’s B&B from April 17-19 for the Weekend Yoga Retreat. You can unwind with private yoga sessions, wonderful wines, delicious dinners and downtown shopping.

If you can’t make it to the yoga retreat that weekend, no problem. When you stay at a participating hotel, your Traverse City Wellness Package includes coupons to Yen Yoga & Fitness that you can use any time during April.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National LakeshoreSpring is a great time to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It will feel like your own slice of paradise to immerse yourself in America’s Most Beautiful Place before summer crowds arrive.

You can let the lake breeze wash over you as you walk the beach and come face to face with returning migratory water birds like the cute little piping plover. Maybe you’ll even find a coveted Petoskey stone. In recognition of Wellness Month, admission to the park is free on Saturday, April 18.

When you stay at a participating hotel, your Traverse City Wellness Package includes deals on massage at Living Light, free lotions from Great Lakes Bath & Body and a free stress relief roller ball from Old Mission Lavender. Those are just a few of the luxury spas and salons in Traverse City where you can relax in style.

Traverse City Wellness Month - hot stone massageHave you ever taken a hot mineral bath? Enjoyed a cherry-scented paraffin manicure or a massage with oven-warmed stones? They’re all great ways to get your body and your emotional health in sync for the seasons to come. Another way: Take advantage of Relax and Recharge packages at Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

Speaking of relaxing and recharging, Grand Traverse Resort & Spa is teaming with Black Star Farms on a VIP Wine & Spa Weekend April 10-11. Perfect for couples or for a girls’ weekend, the event combines resort lodging with a behind-the-scenes wine tasting tour, spa treatment and healthy breakfasts each morning.

Traverse City area WineryIn fact, throughout Wellness Month there are wine and cheese tastings, special happy hours and other wine-themed activities happening all over Traverse City.

Open your mind to the historic wisdom of Tibet when the Loseling Monks perform a one-of-a-kind show on Friday, April 17, at the Dennos Museum Center on the campus of Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. Through the mystical and sacred arts of ancient music and dance, you’ll broaden your awareness of Tibetan civilization and contribute to world peace by supporting Tibetan refugees in India. Tibetan Loseling Monks perform a one-of-a-kind show

Special events to nurture your mind and spirit are planned throughout Wellness Month.

With most of winter’s snow melting away by April, the chance returns to lace up your running shoes and get outside. What better way to pick up the pace than to take part in northern Michigan’s premier celebration of off-road running?

runners in the Traverse City areaThe Traverse City Trail Running Festival at Timber Ridge on April 24-25 features a two-person adult 10k relay on Friday, with individual 10k, 25k and 50k runs on Saturday. Plus, there’s a free race for kids, too!

Wellness Month isn’t just about your physical, emotional and spiritual health. It’s also about the health of your relationships! Isn’t it time for a girls’ weekend? Or, how about an intimate getaway, just the two of you? Traverse City Wellness Month couple getaway vacation

Grand Traverse Resort & Spa is offering Carefree Getaway and Do Not Disturb deals during Wellness Month. Or, get the girls together and live it up during a wine weekend in Traverse City.

Let’s not forget to treat your body well with delicious, healthy food. When you stay at a participating hotel, your Traverse City Wellness Package includes the option of a $50 dinner for two featuring an appetizer, two entrees and two desserts. Delivery is free to many area hotels. Or, you can head out to any of the dozens of incredible restaurants in Traverse City that serve healthy, locally-sourced food.

We haven’t even mentioned the free guided group meditation, free eco-fin foot treatment or discounted chiropractic screening at Jovia Wellness that comes with your Traverse City Wellness Package, when you stay at a participating hotel. Or the beautiful northern Michigan golf you can play in the spring. Or the guided walking tours of the largest historical renovation project in the Western Hemisphere.

There are so many ways to get your wellness in gear this spring in Traverse City. Start here and customize a visit that will put winter behind you for good and really get things on track for a healthy 2020!

Where snowsports survive until April, and then weather gives way to waterfalls

After eyeballing sparse seasonal snowfall totals across the Lower Peninsula, Kyle Lafrinere steps outside his office and assesses the crowd at Marquette Mountain, where guests are hitting the hills, riding the terrain park rails and heading out for some backcountry skiing.

“We definitely haven’t had that problem here,” Lafrinere said, with a bit of a laugh, referring to the accumulation of snow elsewhere in Michigan. “We’re using all natural snow, better snow than what the machines make. But we’ve upgraded our snowmaking infrastructure, so when we need it, we’ll have it. New snow guns, new pump system, those will keep us going (later than most ski areas).”

Marquette Mountain opened in mid-November and Lafrinere expects that it will remain open until mid-April, making it a prime attraction for ski-deprived snow-seekers across Michigan. Snowfall is down in Michigan except for the Upper Peninsula, and as usual, winter will last longer in Marquette, providing an outlet for fatbikers, snowshoers and snowmobilers who have been stymied by the lack of storms. Marquette in winter

“If you’re looking to get outside, there’s no better place than Marquette in the winter,” Lafrinere said. “We’ve got everything that you want to do in the area. There’s a lot of variety for skiers of all abilities here to enjoy themselves.

“Plus, there are all sorts of options for people who want to do other activities. It’s pretty amazing to have a spot where you can do it all.”

Here’s a rundown of what to experience in Marquette, including a primer on where to grab brunch to fuel your adventures:

Noquemanon Trail Network

skiing in Marquette, MI

The all-purpose 50K trail system with point to point journeys or looped adventures can be used for snowshoeing, hiking and cross-country skiing. The fast trail features flowy terrain, steep descents and large bermed turns at different points on outings. Ski and snowshoe rentals are available at the Forestville Trailhead, which is popular among first time visitors. Users on foot or snowshoe should avoid trails that are groomed for skiing. Dogs are welcome, on-leash, on many of the trail routes.

Winter Hiking

Trails up Sugarloaf Mountain and Blueberry Ridge remain popular in the winter.  Snow-covered views of the Marquette region and its features are breath-taking. The half-mile trail will be slower-going with snow, but the terrain is manageable for people of all fitness and skill levels. The city’s 12-mile multi-use trail is another great option to get those steps in. The Eben Ice Caves, Yellow Dog Falls and Hogsback Mountain are other potential outings.

Fatbiking

Marquette is home to more than 60 miles of bike trails that can be used during the winter months, showing that the riding doesn’t have to wait for the warmer months (although the trails are great then, too.) The Noquemanon network is known for its ability to challenge all users while also offering rides for beginners. Meanwhile, the Range Area Mountain Bike Association in Ispheming has 20 miles of groomed winter trails among its 77 total miles of handbuilt singletrack. There are multiple trailheads that can be found here.

Snowmobiling

The U.P. is a snowmobilers Mecca with 58 trails covering more than 400 miles, all maintained by various clubs and organizations. There are stops for good food and fuel along the way as you travel through dense forests, wide open ranges and experience up to 3,000 feet of elevation change. Find all the resources, including maps, trail conditions and regulations to learn before your travels.

Waterfalls

There are 11 amazing waterfall options around Marquette. The changing seasons give waterfalls a unique look whenever visitors travel north to explore, but the late winter and early spring produce water volumes that peak with the snow melt. The mesmerizing views and sound of rushing water will make visitors feel like they’ve stumbled upon one of the most beautiful places on earth. Family and pet friendly options include Wright Street Falls in Marquette and Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park in nearby Alger County. Morgan Creek Falls is another great choice, but the trail is open to snowmobilers until March 31 so hikers may want to wait until April 1.

Visit Travel Marquette to learn more about the region and plan your visit.

Spring Break idea: Have America’s ‘most beautiful place’ all to yourself!

When it’s Spring Break, you’re not headed south and it’s not quite beach weather in Michigan, what do you do? Check the movie listings!

Of course, you can go see a movie any time. So why not make this Spring Break special by visiting the No. 1 movie theater in the entire world?

Historic State Theatre in downtown Traverse City

The State Theatre in downtown Traverse City

The historic State Theatre in Traverse City will show free movies throughout Spring Break from Friday, March 27, through Thursday, April 2.

Even if your school’s Spring Break doesn’t match up with that week, you can still experience State Theatre at a bargain. That’s because tickets to matinees every Wednesday and Saturday cost just 25 cents each, with late-night cult classics every Friday only $3.

“It’s an old, small-town movie palace with some touches that evoke what going to the movies used to be like when going to the movies was a real event,” said Louis Dickinson, manager of the historic movie house. “We’re right downtown. We have a beautiful old marquee. We have deliberately low concessions prices.

“We aim to make it as affordable as possible for working families and people who aren’t traveling (out of state) for Spring Break. We try to be the staycation capital of northern Michigan.”

State Theatre will screen up to five movies per day for free during Spring Break. Of course, seeing a movie is far from the only thing to do on Spring Break in Traverse City. The area offers a great mix of indoor-outdoor family fun that’s perfect for a weekend getaway, or even the entire week.

Here are five more things for Michiganders to put on their Spring Break staycation bucket list this year:

Go to a water park – The Great Lakes are still too cold for swimming during Spring Break. But the water’s fine at Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City. The resort makes for an active, fun family getaway with a gigantic indoor water park, huge arcade and the innovative MagiQuest 3D interactive game that invites families to solve mysteries by working together.

Get outdoors and enjoy the Mitten State! – Depending on the weather, you can probably still hit the slopes for downhill skiing and tubing on Spring Break in Traverse City. Ski resorts can often make snow into April. There might still even be some snow on the ground during Spring Break, which means you can get out and do cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. Even if the snow is all melted, you can still enjoy a last blast of winter by heading to one of the area’s indoor ice rinks for ice skating.

Great Lakes Children's Museum in Traverse City

The Great Lakes Children’s Museum in Traverse City features interactive exhibits geared for children ages 1 to 10

Send the kids to Spring Camp – Lots of kids go to summer camp. Did you know that Traverse City has spring camps, too? Your kids can track animals, build campfires and tap maple trees at the Grass River Natural Area Spring Camp. You can also find special Spring Break activities for kids at other Traverse City attractions including Crooked Tree Arts Center and Professor Qwbli’s. While the kids are busy at camp, it’s a great time for the adults in the family to relax at one of Traverse City’s dozens of wineries and breweries. Enjoy discovering a new favorite while roaming the scenic countryside of the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas.

Explore a museum – Whatever the ages and interests of your kids, Traverse City has fun and educational museums right up their alley. The hands-on exhibits at the Great Lakes Children’s Museum in Traverse City are ideal for children ages 8 and under, while older kids will appreciate the artistry on display at the Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College. At the Music House Museum, the whole family will get a kick out of antique automated musical instruments.

Experience a national park – This year is the 50th anniversary of the Most Beautiful Place in America: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Even if you’ve been to Sleeping Bear in the summer, you’ll be amazed at how the park takes on a whole different kind of beauty in the spring. Many trails are open for hiking or biking in late March and early April. And, of course, the views are incredible all year round.

RELATED: Tips for planning a Spring Break getaway to Traverse City

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the Spring: Hike the Empire Bluff Trail that rises to a tremendous view high above Lake Michigan or take your family back in time by visiting the old farms in historic Port Oneida.

One perk of visiting Sleeping Bear in the spring: it’s much less crowded than during the summer.

“You don’t have to fight for a parking spot this time of year,” said Merrith Baughman, the park’s chief of interpretation and visitor services.

Plus, migratory water birds, including the endangered piping plover, start returning to the dunes in the spring. And it’s a great time to scour the beach and see what rocks and other treasures have washed up during winter storms, she said.

Another perk of visiting Sleeping Bear this spring: The park is celebrating its 50th anniversary! Spring Break activities include a film festival March 21 and March 28 at the Visitor Center in Empire. The visitor center is also the place to find the park’s new junior ranger booklet for kids, new 50-mile Trail Trekker Challenge maps and a 50th anniversary scavenger hunt that will take you to some of the less familiar parts of the park.

RELATED: 5 unexpected ways to enjoy Sleeping Bear Dunes in the winter

Whatever you choose to cross off your Spring Break staycation bucket list – and whether you can get away for just a couple nights or even the entire week – you can take advantage of TC Escape Packages during your stay. The Escape packages include lodging discounts and coupons on everything from dining, movies and spa services to wine purchases and entertainment.

Michigan high school students ‘open up new worlds’ at renowned flight school

View from an airplane cockpit

Once Regan Lezotte completed Crosswinds Aviation’s high school flight program and then earned her private pilot’s license, she knew her next move was to share the excitement by becoming a flight instructor.

Crosswinds Aviation student explaining an airplane dashboard“Teaching is awesome because I’m taking my passion and bringing it to somebody else,” said Lezotte. “I can open up new worlds to them. (At Crosswinds) I’ve seen a lot, I’ve experienced a lot and it’s fun knowing we’re training the next generation of pilots.”

“Once you get into the air, that’s when the fun starts to happen.”

Matt Dahline, owner of Crosswinds Aviation and a 20-year pilot, said the look on students faces the first time they are in the air and at the controls of an aircraft is the inspiration behind the flight school.

“They love it, and that fascination with flying takes another step,” he said. “It’s about the smiles on their faces and opening up opportunities to them.”

“We are passionate about exposing as many kids to aviation, and we are committed to helping to make a positive impact on the aviation industry’s pilot shortage by producing as many qualified pilots as possible.”Crosswinds Aviation logo on an airplane rudder

“We know that any committed high school student looking to get into the aviation can do it. It takes dedication, hard work and a passion for the skies.”

Crosswinds high school programs, which are open to juniors and seniors, are available at Livingston County, Oakland County International and Bishop International airports. Students from high schools in Livingston and Genesee counties, where Crosswinds has partnerships, typically spend a majority of their day at their home school and then two hours at Crosswinds for ground and flight instruction over two consecutive semesters.

“We love partnering with our local schools and communities and showing the students the future flying provides,” Dahline said. Crosswinds Aviation instructor and student

Crosswinds instructors prepare pilots with a firm base of flying fundamentals that launch a lifetime of success in aviation, either as a professional or recreational pilot. The curriculum readies students to complete their written exam while also providing:

  • Exposure to many aspects of the aviation industry
  • Meet with industry experts
  • Free 10 hours of simulator time per student ($250 value)
  • Computer-based ground training ($200 value)
  • EAA will reimburse students that take and pass FAA written exam ($150 value)

 

 

Commercial airline pilot Ryan Lawrence got his start at Crosswinds after enrolling in the high school program as a senior. He and his parents scouted various flight schools and determined the modern fleet of aircraft and the family atmosphere at Crosswinds was the perfect fit.

“It was a no-brainer,” Lawrence said. “Earning my private pilot license was the best head start I could possibly get. The instructor set me up for success. It was a professional environment and learning experience the entire time. It was very one-on-one, and it was great every time we went up for a flight and every time we met in the classroom.”

Now, Lawrence looks around airports and sees the industry’s growth threatened by a shortage of available pilots prepared to replace a wave of veterans who will soon be hanging up their wings. He knows Crosswinds can change the trajectory of students’ futures.

“If you’re interested in aviation, now is the time to get started,” said Lawrence, who is flying regionally and plans on becoming a captain. “At Crosswinds, everything is laid out for you and there’s a great support system to show you how to get to where you want to be.

“Crosswinds was able to help me make my dream of being a career pilot come true.”

Picture your magical winter wedding in northern Michigan

Jenna and Daemian Koehler

Living just a block away from Stafford’s Perry Hotel, Jenna and Daemian Koehler would pass by weddings pretty much every summer weekend. Seeing all the joyful brides and grooms at the downtown Petoskey venue, they knew that they wanted to have their own wedding there, too. So, when Daemian proposed, Jenna called Stafford’s right away to check on availability.

The only challenge was that Daemian manages a bike shop, and that makes his summers in the northern Michigan tourist destination really busy. As a result, the couple decided to get married in March.

Wedding rings on bicycle wheel

(Photo by Marissa Dillion Photography)

In Petoskey, March is still very much in the thick of winter. And when Jenna and Daemian got married in March 2019, it was cold outside and there was still snow on the ground – lots of snow! But their wedding day dawned with bright blue skies and Stafford’s helped make the occasion a wonderful, memorable experience that a year later still brings Jenna tears of joy.

“I really wasn’t sure how it was all going to come together, but it turned out beautiful,” Jenna said.

“It was like wedding fairies were putting everything together. I still can’t believe how easy a winter wedding was.”

A lot of couples get engaged in the winter. In fact, the most popular time of year to get engaged is between the holidays and Valentine’s Day.

But have you ever considered a winter wedding?

Stafford’s hosts weddings at Stafford’s Perry Hotel and a couple miles outside of Petoskey at Stafford’s Bay View Inn. Each venue has unique character: Stafford’s Perry Hotel is close to downtown shopping and dining, while the historic Stafford’s Bay View Inn is a more intimate event space with only 31 rooms and no TVs or phones.

At both locations, Stafford’s provides full on-site event coordination with exclusive catering that lets brides and grooms focus on each other instead of worrying about multiple moving pieces of the party.

Plus, during the value season from November through April, weddings at Stafford’s get deep discounts on room rentals for the reception and guests get deals on lodging, too. At the Perry Hotel, larger weddings can reserve the gorgeous H.O. Rose Dining Room, and smaller parties can reserve the more intimate Reycraft Room, for 50-percent off. Or, you can reserve the entire Bay View Inn at special off-season pricing for the wedding of your dreams!

“What really sold us was the Rose Room with that huge view out over the bay,” Jenna said. “It’s just beautiful. And the price difference was a no-brainer.”

RELATED: 2020 and 2021 Value Season Weddings – Now Booking!

Not only is winter the value season for weddings at Stafford’s, but it’s a lovely time in northern Michigan that makes for distinctive and stunning wedding photos. See just how perfect a winter wedding at Stafford’s can be…

 

RELATED: More photos of winter weddings at Stafford’s

One of the unique things about Jenna and Daemian’s winter wedding is that instead of lots of flowers, the ceremony and reception featured natural items for decorations.

Jenna & Daemian's wedding display

Photo by Marissa Dillon Photography

Jenna had her bridesmaids collect sticks, stones and pinecones in the months leading up to the wedding.

“We both love the outdoors and are very into outdoor adventures,” Jenna said. “All our decorations were from the outdoors. I really wanted to bring our love of the outdoors into our wedding.”

Mutual love of the outdoors is actually what brought Jenna and Daemian together. When Jenna moved to Petoskey for a teaching job, she stopped at High Gear Sports to ask for recommendations on where to ride her bike. That happens to be the shop where Daemian works! He took time to highlight a map of different roads and routes for Jenna to ride.

High Gear Sports turned into Jenna’s go-to bike shop, and she visited quite a few times over the next few weeks for help with mechanical issues. After a few months, Daemian finally got the hint and asked her out.

“Luckily, I had a spoke that was going through the rim of my tire and I kept getting a flat,” she laughed. “It worked out really well!”

When Daemian proposed, it was on a hike at Sleeping Bear Dunes. They took a break under a tree on top of a dune, and he popped the question. It was a beautiful view and a perfect day, just like their winter wedding at Stafford’s!

Getting married a block from where they live at a place they often see is special to Jenna and Daemian because the excitement and happiness of that day can be recalled so easily.

Jenna and Daemian wedding dance

Photo by Marissa Dillon Photography

“Stafford’s Perry Hotel will always have a special place in our hearts,” Jenna said. “You can look out (from the dinner table) and see all of your friends and family celebrating your wedding. Everyone was just so joyful and loving, and to have all of that in one room it was like magic.

“It was amazing to have our wedding at Stafford’s.”

Start planning your winter wedding at Stafford’s.

Warm up this winter with Traverse City Restaurant Week

Traverse City restaurant week

It happened to be Restaurant Week when Forrest and Nicole Moline vacationed in Traverse City several years ago. They dined together at Trattoria Stella, Michigan’s Best Italian restaurant, sharing a table in one of the hidden alcoves inside historic Grand Traverse Commons. The beautiful encounter is one of the reasons the couple decided to move to Traverse City.

Now this winter the Molines are taking part in Restaurant Week for the first time as restaurant owners, hoping to give their guests the same kind of memorable dining experience. Forrest: A Food Studio is one of about three dozen restaurants offering three-course meals for $25 to $35 from Feb. 23-29.

Forrest: A Food Studio

‘It’s super exciting for us to be a part of (Restaurant Week),’ said Forrest Moline, who opened Forrest: A Food Studio last fall in Traverse City. ‘The goal for the Food Studio is to resemble an Art Studio, but instead of the craft being woodwork, painting or ceramics, the medium is for the culinary arts.’ (J.Zevalkink Photo)

“There are restaurants all over (the Traverse City area) and every town has a different look and feel,” said Forrest Moline, who has worked in Cleveland and Detroit with renowned chef Michael Symon and in Birmingham with charcuterie expert Brian Polcyn.

“It’s so fun to visit each little town, dine at the restaurants and meet the locals and hear their story. That’s what drew us up here, the warm feel you get from the locals.”

Warm might not be the first word that comes to mind when describing Michigan in January and February. After all, the Mitten state is a winter wonderland where you can go skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing, ice fishing, winter hiking and fat tire biking. But winter in Michigan also is a great time of year to warm up indoors and try new restaurants, discover new wines or sample craft spirits.

You can do it all in Traverse City and enjoy the best of Michigan’s winter, both inside and out. Not only is Traverse City the Best Winter Getaway in Michigan, but it’s also

Red snapper

Feast your eyes – and your tastebuds! – on some of the best dishes in Michigan during Traverse City Restaurant Week. ‘We built our small 1,200-square-foot space to feel more like a home kitchen and dining room than a typical restaurant,’ owner Forrest Moline said. ‘Everyone has a seat at the chef’s table.’ (J.Zevalkink Photo)

one of America’s best beer towns, one of the country’s leading wine regions and the No. 1 Foodie Destination in the Midwest.

Traverse City hosts many unique winter events that will whet your appetite for the area’s celebrated food and beverage scene. You can plan your trip around a Vine to Wine Snowshoe Tour, the annual Ice Wine Festival or one of several wine trail events such as Taste the Passion, Romancing the Riesling or the Winter Warm Up.

Michigan’s headline winter event for foodies is Traverse City Restaurant Week, scheduled this year Feb. 23-29. About three dozen restaurants in one of America’s most underrated food towns will offer three-course meals for $25 or $35 all week long.

Restaurants typically offer a few options to choose from for each of the three courses. You can find participating restaurants and menus here. Reservations are strongly encouraged.

“We’re going into our 10th year for Restaurant Week,” said Colleen Paveglio, marketing and communications director for Downtown TC. “The intent is to highlight the restaurants here in Traverse City. A lot of them are local-food focused. Long before it was trendy we were on that path just due to this being an agricultural community.

“It’s grown throughout the years and now we have people that travel to Traverse City for the event.”

While in town for Restaurant Week, you can pair delicious dinners with a tour of the Traverse Wine Coast – either self-guided or led by one of the area’s many wine-savvy tour operators. You’ll find award-winning wines at dozens of wineries nestled in Traverse City Restaurant Week - winebeautiful nooks and crannies all over the region, including the famed Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas. Both peninsulas have been recognized as Top Wine Regions through USA Today’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

Traverse City also is home to more than a dozen microbreweries, and a growing number of craft distilleries that take the fruits of Michigan’s bountiful agricultural harvest and turn it into small-batch vodkas, whiskeys and gins for your pleasure.

When you’re not sipping spirits or sampling fine wines, you can make time to experience Traverse City’s historic movie theatres or to browse downtown shops for unique items you didn’t even know you were looking for.

Exploring Traverse CityAnd, of course, you can enjoy outdoor recreation in Traverse City all winter long, whether by cross-country skiing the rolling hills above Grand Traverse Bay, tubing down one of the area’s thrilling runs or exploring the incredible Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

RELATED: 5 Traverse City Restaurants Sourcing Local Foods Year-Round

Whenever – and for whatever reason – you come to Traverse City this winter, you can take advantage of Traverse City Escape Packages. The seasonal special combines discounted rates on lodging with an assortment of coupons on everything from dining, movies and spa services to wine purchases and entertainment. Escape Packages are available all winter.