Traverse City Family-Friendly “Bucket List” for Spring
March has been a bit wintry here in Traverse City, so it was a great relief to wake up Sunday morning and see that Mother Nature was going to be granting us a bit of a reprieve. I’m a big skeptic of the iPhone weather app – been burned too many times – but I was willing to buy into the 48 degrees and sunny forecast for the day.
With the mercury rising, and the official start of spring only a day away, the kids and I decided to head out for a hike while Heather headed out to run errands (or, sadly, what we call “personal time” these days).
We have a bunch of favorite trails within close proximity of town, and so I left it up to the kids to decide what we’d tackle. They wanted to hit the Fairy Trails.
We drove over to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons and parked at the trailhead of the Cedar Cathedral Trail, which is the main entry point into the Fairy Trails. It wasn’t long after we entered the trail that all three kids were caked with mud, as the melting snow revealed a soft, mushy mess underfoot. But I’ll hand it to them – they all soldiered on despite the sloppy footing. It wasn’t long before I joined the mud party after stumbling up a slippery slope.
After checking out a few fairy houses, we headed for higher, drier ground, and continued on our journey. There are a few noteworthy landmarks along the way. One is an old concrete structure – we are unsure of its origin or original purpose – that is covered with cool graffiti. It’s pretty striking – a stark creative contrast against the natural backdrop.
As we hiked deeper into the system, we reached the “Hippie Tree,” which lies just beyond a natural spring that the kids enjoying watching bubble up from the ground. The Hippie Tree is a huge fallen tree that has been crowd-painted by visitors in vivid colors and is a great spot for climbing and exploration for kids.
Each season welcomes new delights to the trails – soft blankets of wildflowers emerging in spring, lush green landscapes in summer, vibrant canopies of color in fall, and snow kissed trails in the winter.
But there’s no doubt that spring is our favorite time to hit the trails at the Commons. We love to see the landscape awaken, and it’s a relief to be able to navigate the terrain without the assistance of snowshoes. Plus, spring is the time when we, and many others, are able to start re-populating the Fairy Trails with new homes for our fairy friends. (As an aside, stay tuned in the near future for an exciting announcement about a “fairy” big event in the works for later this spring.)
Spring is the time to get out and get active in the Traverse City region. We’re in the process of creating our family “bucket list” of kid-friendly spring activities. I’ve listed out some of our planned activities below, and also asked some of our friends in town to add their perspectives. If you’re looking for some great ideas for fun and fulfillment with your family this spring, here’s a bucket list you can freely borrow from.
Hike Pyramid Point
Head over to Sleeping Bear Dunes and take on the challenge of hiking Pyramid Point. Enjoy the blooming wild flowers as you cut through meadows before reaching the maple-beech forest that lines the trail. It’s not a difficult hike for most adults, but presents a challenge for little ones who enjoy scampering up the ascending trail. The payoff at the top is worth the effort, however, as the scenic overlook point offers massive views of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands.
Grab a Cone at Moomers
Moomers, which was recently voted the best ice cream parlor in the country by USA Today, is celebrating its 20th year serving ice cream. Head over to Moomers with the kids to check out the cows and sample one of its three new flavors: Michigan and Again, Strawberry Whip, and Chai. Or get a cone topped with a classic favorite such as Cow Tracks or Cherry Pie Ala Mode.
Get Out and Gather Morels
Okay, maybe “look for” is more apt than “gather” as these tasty mushrooms are notoriously hard to find. Morels appear in spring, typically starting in mid-April through late May. You never know where you’ll find morels – we traipsed all over the woods last spring with no luck, and then found a bunch growing under some small pine trees in our backyard. Even if you come home empty-handed, the fun is in the hunt!
Park 2 Park: A Traverse City Bicycle Adventure
Read maps, ride bikes, explore Traverse City, and play at its many parks! Norte!’s Park 2 Park is a choose your own urban bicycle adventure that encourages families to discover and play at all 34 Traverse City parks (and the two in-town Grand Traverse County parks). Can you pedal to them all this spring? Here’s a list of parks to visit: elgruponorte.org/parks.
This awesome idea is brought to you by Ty Schmidt of Norte!. Norte!’s mission is to help build a stronger, better connected and more walk/bike-friendly Traverse City.
Race Like a Hero – April 15
There’s so much to like about the Big Little Hero Race: getting outside! superhero costumes! face painting! This mile long fun run is free and truly open to everyone. It has all the excitement of bigger races and includes a countdown to start, running across a finish line, and an awards ceremony. The event benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan and you can register for the 5K or 10K if you’d like. In addition to supporting a great cause, we are always heartened to see families and friends of all generations coming together at this race to celebrate spring. It’s a great opportunity to show our children how much fun getting outside and exercising can be. Learn more about the race here.
This awesome idea is brought to you by Kate Farmer of Farmer Foot Drums, which creates beautiful instruments for musicians around the world.
Stroll the Outdoor Farmers Market
Just like spotting the first robin in the yard, springtime here is marked by the arrival of the Sara Hardy Farmers Market in downtown Traverse City. Opening day is Saturday, May 6th.
Nothing compares to getting your first taste of Norconk Farm’s amazing asparagus for the season. (It’s so good, the nearby community of Empire hosts a party in its honor – the Asparagus Festival, set for the weekend of May 19-20.) A stroll through the farmers market is an exercise in wonder and possibility: What plant starters to buy for your home garden? What colorful Easter egg radishes will catch your eye? What dinner you’ll make with your fresh findings?
Walking among the farmers’ tables you’re sure to see food grown with love and friendly, familiar faces. Loma Farm will bring its “fancy” vegetables, Providence Organic Farm will have beautiful parsnips displayed on red and white tablecloths, and Bareknuckle Farm will no doubt try a few farming experiments for our northern climate (maybe ghost pepper or artichokes this year?). You never know who you’ll see or what you’ll find at the farmers market. So grab your basket and get going. This is what community looks like!
This awesome idea is brought to you by Lisa Maxbauer Price, author of the award-winning children’s book, Squash Boom Beet: An Alphabet for Healthy, Adventurous Eaters. The book, which features food grown at 50 local farms, is available at www.squashboombeet.com and on Amazon.
Old Mission Peninsula Family Road Trip
One of our favorite spring family traditions is to load up the family into the car, including Grandma, and take a drive out on the Old Mission Peninsula to check out the cherry blossoms. We usually stop for lunch at Bad Dog Deli in Mapleton and always end up at the Old Mission General Store. Owner Jim will entertain the family with grand historical stories and his wife Marcy will graciously scoop you some ice cream or bring out a warm cream cheese filled soft pretzel while you play checkers in the old post office next door.
G.T. Butterfly House and Bug Zoo
We visited the G.T. Butterfly House and Bug Zoo last spring, just after my son turned one. He loved the butterflies. He rode around on his daddy’s shoulders flapping his little arms like a butterfly the whole time. He also loved wearing the compound eye vision glasses to see what a fly sees. We were even able to see the largest moth in Michigan that had just emerged. The staff members were all so friendly and knowledgeable. The G.T. Butterfly House and Bug Zoo is located in Williamsburg off M-72. They are opening again for the season on May 1.
The previous two awesome ideas are brought to you by Carrie Drier, local mom and founder of Traverse City Kid. Traverse City Kid is an online resource of events and opportunities for families in and around Traverse City
Visit the Farm Animals at Black Star
Drive up M-22 to Suttons Bay and visit the family owned, 160-acre farm located on the same property as the renowned Black Star Farms Winery and Tasting Room. Your little ones will love the petting zoo where they can get up close and personal with sheep, chickens, goats, turkeys, and horses. The property is also home to some fabulous hiking trails that wander through the woods, orchards, and vineyards. After working up an appetite, you can grab a bite to eat at the Hearth and Vine Cafe featuring a variety of farm-to-table menu options and some well-deserved beverages for the adults.
Take a Road Trip to a Maple Syrup Farm
There aren’t many things more delicious and unique than Michigan-made maple syrup. The only time of the year to harvest the maple sap needed to make the syrup is in the early spring, so don’t wait too long to put this one on your list. Our favorite place to visit is Parsons Centennial Farm in Charlevoix. They offer a variety of maple syrup products and you can call ahead to schedule a tour of the farm and maple syrup operation.
The previous two awesome ideas are brought to you by Casey and Lauren Petz. Casey is a local entrepreneur and Lauren is a local realtor with Century 21 Northland. Join us in following Lauren on Instagram @lauren.petz.
Rockhound In Leland!
Our family loves to enjoy the beaches of Leland in the spring. We like to search the lakeshore for Leland Blue and Petoskey Stones that the melting winter reveals! After searching we always head to the Village Cheese Shanty for the best sandwich ever.
Wine and Soda Pop Taste at Cherry Republic
When the April showers start to bring May flowers, we head to Cherry Republic in downtown Traverse City to let the kids play at their indoor ball pit and tree house. Then we belly up to the tasting counter and sample local wines and soda pop! Little and big hands alike love all the samples of local products around the store.
The previous two awesome ideas are brought to you by Stephanie Greiner. Stephanie and her husband Ryan own and operate Never Wonder Studio, a unique art sticker business. They recently completed an epic, year long RV adventure around the country with their two young kids.
Looking for even more fun ideas for spring activities? Check out this “Free and Almost Free: Fun Activities in Traverse City” video from our friends at Traverse City Tourism. Also, M22 has a bunch of awesome “Microadventures” listed on its website that provide great guidance and inspiration for exploring all that this region has to offer. Check them out here.