At the end of a gravel road west of Traverse City, at the bottom of a wooden staircase that goes down to the edge of Lake Michigan, is a sandy beach so secluded that it doesn’t even have a name. Despite the pristine beauty of the shoreline, this “No Name Beach” attracts few visitors even on the busiest weekends of a typical summer.
There are beaches like that all over the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. They are uncrowded and unsullied, and it’s almost unbelievable that each and every one is both open to the public and yet can feel like a private paradise.
“What’s really nice about Sleeping Bear is there’s over 60 miles of shoreline,” park ranger Merrith Baughman said. “There’s a lot of park to enjoy.
“Even at the height of a normal year there are always beaches you can find that aren’t crowded.”
Although Michigan’s stay-at-home order has been lifted, the coronavirus is still out there. Fortunately, some travel activities offer an especially safe opportunity for summer recreation. Going to the beach, swimming in a lake and strolling along the shore are low-risk relative to many other popular summer activities, according to an NPR survey of health experts.
And it’s important to note that not all beaches are created equal. Less crowded beaches that have room for social distancing are the safest option, Michigan health experts say.
That’s true for many outdoor activities in Traverse City, in fact. Hiking through Sleeping Bear Dunes, biking along the TART Trails or kayaking in one of the area’s many beautiful rivers and lakes are all safe because there’s adequate ventilation to disperse the coronavirus and significantly reduce the chance of transmission.
“That’s one of the great things about Traverse City is there’s lots of recreational space, so social distancing is not difficult when you have as much shoreline and acreage as we do,” said Derek Melville, Traverse City parks superintendent.
“When people are going to the beach I think they kind of naturally distance themselves a little bit from other groups. Just the ability to do that is one of the most positive things.”
While many traditional summertime events and activities have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, beaches and other outdoor amenities such as hiking and biking trails are open in the Traverse City area.
Some Sleeping Bear trails that closed briefly this spring are now open along with boat ramps, picnic areas and the iconic Dune Climb. Beaches have stayed open throughout the pandemic, and you can find them listed on the new Sleeping Bear mobile app.
Beaches in downtown Traverse City also have stayed open during the pandemic for the public to get outside and enjoy the city’s 1.5 miles of shoreline. The city is encouraging social distancing on beaches and trails, reminding the public to wash hands often and is increasing the frequency of restroom cleaning.
In some cases, beaches are smaller due to high water levels. For example, the beach at the popular Clinch Park, which has about 1,500 feet of waterfront, is not as deep as it has been in past years. But as you spread out and go west there’s a lot of greenspace for people to relax near the water, Melville said.
“People might have to find a new favorite space,” he said.
To help you find a new happy place this summer, here are some of the Traverse City area’s most popular (and most secluded) beaches where you can pack a picnic and stay for the sunset: