The Family

The Family
Airstream Weekend Warriors

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Labor Day Weekend on Little Traverse Bay

Petoskey KOA
Petoskey, Michigan

     As I was loading the bikes onto the roof rack of my Sequoia in the Mackinac Island ferry parking lot, an older man walked up and said, "that is a Toyota on steroids!"  I just had to laugh.  We are a sight to see with a huge Airstream in tow and four bikes on the roof.  That comment is probably an apt description of our Labor Day weekend in Michigan.  Like our Toyota, we try to travel at full capacity.  This was a weekend getaway on steroids.

    We begin our tale with a quick burst up north from Ohio.  Not being able to escape the obligations at work and school, we are once again forced to travel with the unwashed masses.  We made it up to Wally World near Grayling, Michigan.  We stopped to sleep for the night and a quick morning breakfast before heading to Hartwick Pines State Park. Ethan made an omelet for us to share.  He is becoming quite resourceful in the kitchen.

    Hartwick Pines State Park is close to I-75 and is notable for having the last stand of old growth white pine in the Lower Peninsula.  It is also the largest state park in the Lower Peninsula.  We decided to check out the campground and hike the Old Growth Forest Trail.  I am always scouting out potential future sites to visit.  This area of Michigan was once the center of logging in the midwest.  The Old Growth Forest Trail takes you through 49 acres of untouched timber and a museum dedicated to logging.  The trail was enjoyable and the campground was immaculate.  This might make for a nice weekend spot in the future.

     On Saturday morning we arrived at the Petoskey KOA.  I have previously discussed my reluctance to camp at the KOA campgrounds.  In a sense, they are sort of like the Club Med of the camping world.  I just don’t need all of the enthusiasm and activities they offer.  The grounds were immaculate with a nice pool and a roster of activities.  However, the sites are too close together for my taste and the fire pit was right next to my neighbor and his sewer.  Awesome.  Plus, those yellow shirts give me a headache.  Having said all that, the staff do work hard to make your experience a super duper one.  

     My kids would beg to differ.  They love full hookups (long showers in the Airstream), WiFi, cable television, pools and activities.  I am a good sport and played along because their enthusiasm is contagious.  I made tye-die t-shirts and played Bingo with the kids.  I had to have a little wine to soften the edges of the Bingo crowd.  It was tough to keep up with the blistering pace of the announcer and watch four Bingo cards.  Also, some of my fellow Kampers take Bingo very seriously.  I won a round and my kids got a free Gordon Food Service supplied breakfast at the mess hall the next morning.  Yummers.  I stuck with what was produced in our Airstream kitchen.  Who's the big winner now all you Bingo afficionados?


     The real attraction was not the campground but the great towns that dot Little Traverse Bay.  The town of Harbor Springs is on the north side of the bay and Petoskey is on the southern arm of the bay.  The innermost portion of Little Traverse Bay is the location of Petoskey State Park which is halfway between the two towns.  Next time I will plan ahead and stay there.  The sites are a bit tight but they are close to a great beach.  
Petoskey State Park
Searching for Petoskey Stones
    Petoskey State Park is known as a prime location to gather "Petoskey Stones" which are fossilized coral stones that wash up in the bay.  We found a few small ones walking along the beach.  Looking west from the beach at Petoskey State Park, you can see the mouth of the bay which is connected to Lake Michigan.  To the north is the charming and well heeled community of Harbor Springs and to the south is Petoskey.  This is a touristy area but for good reason.  These towns are further proof of the natural beauty and charm of Lake Michigan that I have come to expect.  From Ludington to Sleeping Bear Dunes to Grand Traverse Bay, the northern Lower Peninsula does not disappoint.  

The selection of delectable goodies in a jar at American Spoon

Melizza at American Spoon in Harbor Springs

Gelato Break

      On Sunday, we drove across the Mackinac Bridge (pronounced just like its spelled) to the Upper Peninsula in order to catch the ferry to Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw).  This island is pure magic.  Everything I said about disliking the kitschy touristy nonsense goes out the door on Mackinac Island.  I have a soft spot for this place.  Once you arrive by ferry, it is like walking down Main Street U.S.A. at Disney.  Every other store seems to be a fudge shop and there are no cars allowed on the island.  Therefore, you either ride a bike or catch a horse drawn carriage.  We brought our bikes over on the ferry.
The mighty Mackinac Bridge

Best Fudge on the island?

The Pour

     The island is located in the Straits of Mackinac which separate the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.  The only way to the U.P. which a vehicle is over the magnificent Mackinac Bridge.  The straits connect Lake Michigan with Lake Huron.  The natural beauty of this area cannot be overstated.

Checking out the local U.P. Pasties (meat pies)

Pastie Time

     We rode around the island marveling at the amazing homes and the natural beauty of the spectacular lakeshore.  The bike path around the island is about 8 miles.  We rode to the British Landing and headed uphill to the middle of the island and visited the appropriately named Arch Rock.  We then proceeded to visit the Grand Hotel.  Melizza and I have visited this hotel before and were excited to return.  It is like stepping back in time.  The front porch is apparently the longest in the world.  I did not verify that but it is a great place to sit on a rocking chair and take in the view of the Mackinac Straits.   Melizza and I enjoyed a cocktail while the kids plays chess on the giant set on the porch.  Our visit coincided with the jazz festival so we had a soundtrack to go with the scenery.  Life definitely does not suck when you can sit on the porch at the Grand Hotel with a cocktail.

Adjacent to Arch Rock

Your move little brother!

The Grand Hotel from the ferry

View from the porch
At the entrance to the Grand Hotel 
Melizza relaxing on the porch
British Landing, Mackinac Island

Arch Rock
Arch Rock 
     After our day on the island, we decided to take the scenic route back to Petoskey and check out Wilderness State Park on the way.  It is located just west of the Mackinac Bridge on the most northern point on the Lower Peninsula.  It is a sleepy area but the lakefront campsites have some of the best views I have ever seen on a lake shore.  I will definitely try to score a campsite on the beach in the future.

The view from our future campsite

    We stopped for dinner at a great restaurant called Leg’s Inn in the small town of Cross Village.  This place is a quirky landmark restaurant serving Polish food.  The food was the best polish food I have ever tasted.  Leg's Inn sits on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.  The kids loved the whimsical woodwork and the old school arcade.  We loved that they could run around on the beautiful lawn overlooking the lake while we enjoyed the moment.  After dinner, we headed south on Michigan 119 toward Harbor Springs.  This road is known as the "Tunnel of Trees."  This scenic drive is frequented by motorcyclists and was a great end to our perfect day trip.
Melizza and I enjoying the view from Leg's Inn

     The kids once again hung out at the pool for the last time of the season.  On Monday, we hooked up the Airstream and drove over to the town of Charlevoix to explore before we headed south.  It was a quick drive-by but we did get to check out a couple of the famous mushroom houses designed by the architect Earl Young.  I snapped a quick photo of one with the Airstream in tow.  Thankfully, Bilbo Baggins did not run out of the house to shoo me away.

    Once again, another great weekend is in the rear view mirror.  We will return in the fall. The folks over at Pure Michigan should take notice of all this promotion from an Ohio resident.  We will return year after year for the charming towns, beautiful scenery and great camping.