Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan Economic Development Corp.)
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Michigan Economic Development Corp.)

Ready for a road trip? Get lost this fall and winter in these nine Up North communities—all just a short drive from Traverse City.

MICHIGAN—Traverse City is just one of many reasons to love Northwest Michigan, but for whatever reason, the others just don’t seem to get as much attention as the Cherry Capital.

Here are a few of our favorite Up North gems worthy of a road trip—right now: 

Old Mission

Photo via Traverse City Tourism

The Old MIssion Peninsula is just northeast of Traverse City, cutting into Grand Traverse Bay. There, visitors can find the Mission Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1870 and now includes a museum. Guests can even apply to stay in the lighthouse, and be its weeklong caretaker. The peninsula is also home to 10 wineries, fruit orchards and farm stands, several restaurants, and plenty of cycling trails—enough for a whole weekend, or maybe six of them. 

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Acme and Williamsburg

Acme and Williamsburg are two small communities east of Traverse City. Acme is home to the Music House Museum, an impressively large collection of antique instruments and radios. The Turtle Creek Casino in Acme is one of two casinos in the Traverse City area. There are also golf courses, fruit farms, and more biking trails along Grand Traverse Bay.

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Interlochen

Photo via Interlochen Center for the Arts

Interlochen is home to the world-famous Interlochen Center for the Arts, which hosts educational programs year round—though the most noteworthy is its summer camp. Many notable alumni have performed there over the years. The Interlochen State Park also offers a bounty of outdoor recreation and camping on its two lakes: Green Lake and Duck Lake.

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Suttons Bay

This village on the eastern shore of the Leelanau Peninsula is famous as Michigan’s own Napa Valley. The town is a close jaunt to many wineries and vineyards, including Black Star Farms, MAWBY, and Ciccone Vineyard. The Eyaawing Museum and Cultural Center is a small museum which documents the history and culture of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and also sells a variety of Indigenous-made art and gifts. Suttons Bay offers a variety of specialty shops—like the famous Leelanau Cheese creamery. 

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Glen Arbor and Empire

Photo via Glen Lake Chamber of Commerce

Glen Arbor and Empire flank the always-gorgeous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Though the park offers plenty of opportunity for camping, outdoor recreation, and beachside views, these two Michigan towns shouldn’t be counted out. Glen Haven is a restored port village within Glen Arbor that once served as a shipping port for firewood and lumber. The historic village includes a general store, a cannery, and a blacksmith. Also be sure to check out local businesses like Joe’s Friendly Tavern, a historic restaurant serving up world-famous burgers and Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate, an ethically-sourced chocolate shop. 

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Leland

Leland is the gateway to North and South Manitou Islands—via the Manitou Transit Ferry Service. But before you leave, check out Leland’s historic “Fishtown,” a collection of fishing shanties and smokehouses on docks along Lake Michigan and the mouth of the Leland River. Carlson’s Fishery has been run by several generations of the Carlson family. It claims to be the home of the original Smoked Whitefish Påté, a delicious marriage of smoked whitefish with cream cheese and spices. Multiple charter boats can take visitors on a tour of Leland’s waters, with special fishing charters for those who take interest in the sport.

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Frankfort and Elberta

Photo via Traverse City Tourism

Frankfort and Elberta are great places to visit for their proximity to both Interlochen and the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort. Both towns surround Betsie Lake, overlook Lake Michigan, and are just a short distance from Crystal Lake—one of Michigan’s largest inland lakes. 

The towns are also known for their Victorian architecture and thriving art community. The Oliver Art Center hosts events and classes in a variety of creative disciplines. The Point Betsie Lighthouse is one of Michigan’s most popular lighthouses. And Crystal Gardens is a perfect place to shine those Petoskey stones you found on the beach. 

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Beulah and Benzonia

Located along the side of Crystal Lake, Beulah and Benzonia are real Up North gems. St. Ambrose Cellars produces some of Michigan’s finest mead, as well as good quality food and entertainment for Beulah. The beekeeping farm BeeDazzled also allows visitors to buy soaps and candles, and also watch the bees in their natural habitat. Science enthusiasts of all ages will also enjoy a stop at the interactive COGNiTION Science and Discovery Center

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Cadillac

Photo via Cadillac Area Visitors Bureau

Cadillac is one of Michigan’s most quintessential Up North towns, and it’s not hard to see why. The waters of Lake Cadillac are ideal for ice fishing, with healthy supplies of pike, walleye, bluegill, crappies, panfish, sunfish, and winter perch. Cadillac is also home to the world’s only KISS Monument, commemorating when the rock band KISS played Cadillac High School’s 1975 homecoming. Another unique piece of public art is the Cadillac Sound Garden, featuring interactive instruments and a human sundial. The Sweet Shop also produces a trademark “Snow Bird” candy, made of pecan pieces and white chocolate.

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