Bay Harbor Northern Michigan

Discovering a summer playground in and around Northern Michigan resort area

They came by the thousands every summer.

Wealthy city dwellers from Chicago and cities as far as the East Coast traveled to Northern Michigan to escape the choking smoke, stifling heat and industrial grit plaguing urban areas at the end of the 19th century. Lake steamers docked along Little Traverse Bay, south of the Straits of Mackinac, and when the railroad arrived in 1873 the population of the tiny town of Petoskey took off. By the turn of the last century it had grown to 6,000 full-time inhabitants, swelling to 125,000 in the summer as trains unloaded as many as 5,000 passengers a day.

And they’re still coming.

The preferred mode of transport isn’t a boat or train these days, but the family auto loaded with golf clubs, beach blankets and other gear needed for a summer getaway in one of Northern Michigan’s most popular resort areas.

While the epicenter lies in Petoskey, this vacation playground encompasses a cluster of resort communities, some still sporting their Victorian roots in graceful mansions and grand hotels, others showing off modern resort amenities.

Take Bay Harbor, for instance. This luxury community sits on the site of a cement factory that churned out 80 percent of the concrete in the Mackinac Bridge. The factory came down in 1995 in what was the nation’s largest land reclamation project at the time. Up went a yacht club and marina, upscale shops and restaurants, and the Bay Harbor Golf Club, one of the top three public courses in Michigan. The Inn at Bay Harbor, part of Marriott’s prestigious Autograph Collection, looks like a grand Victorian hotel sprawled along the shoreline, but it and its rental cottages sit squarely in the 21st century. Travel & Leisure magazine lists it among the top 500 hotels in the world.

On the opposite shore of Little Traverse Bay, Harbor Springs dates back more than a century. This old-money community, built by the captains of industry back in the day, remains an affluent enclave. Its private neighborhood on Harbor Point is so exclusive, motorized vehicles are banned. Even in this day and age anyone permitted onto the point must take a horse and carriage. In Harbor Springs’ small downtown the hoi polloi are welcome to browse the shops but won’t be grabbing lunch at a fast-food restaurant — they’re not allowed.

Petoskey’s larger downtown takes a step back in time at its Gaslight Shopping District where real gaslights illuminate summer nights. Independent shops and boutiques beckon, including the Rocking Horse Toy Company, Symons General Store housed in the town’s oldest brick building, and Ward & Eis Gallery where the fine handicrafts of Native American artisans figure prominently in displays. The gallery gives a portion of its sales to local charities.

Just one of 20 of Petoskey’s grand old hotels still stands a short walk away. Stafford’s Perry Hotel dates from 1899, but its 79 rooms have been updated with such modern amenities as air conditioning and Wi-Fi. An old-fashioned trolley departs from the hotel on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in summer for free tours of Petoskey with a stop at Bay View a few miles east of town.

Chautauquas, those traveling shows and cultural assemblies that were all the rage in the 19th century, live on in Bay View. Founded in 1875 as a Methodist campsite, the community’s 440 Victorian cottages make it a National Historic Landmark. Visitors take self-guided walking tours to admire these colorful painted ladies. Two museums open to the public during the summer when the Bay View Association hosts its music festival and program of lectures, concerts and adult education classes. The eight-week season includes music from classical to pops, jazz to opera with the musical “Pippin” and opera “Carmen” on the program this summer.

Of course, summer means trips to the beach and in the Petoskey area vacationers divide their time between lolling in the sand and hunting for Petoskey stones. Michigan’s official state stone looks like the surface of the moon in miniature, but the circles on its surface aren’t craters, but bits of fossilized coral. One of the best places to search for them is the 1,000 feet of Little Traverse Bay shoreline at Magnus City Park Beach, walking distance from downtown Petoskey.

Visitors who leave Little Traverse Bay behind for other forms of recreation find a pair of ski resorts, Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands, that turn to horseback riding, hiking, biking and, of course, golf in summer. Michigan tops the nation in numbers of golf courses and more than half in northwest Michigan have a PGA slope rating of 120 or above.

Visitors who’d prefer to take in the scenery on a drive rather than walk a fairway head into the countryside. They might motor along Walloon Lake where Ernest Hemingway spent much of his boyhood in a summer home still in the author’s family. An old-fashioned general store in nearby Horton Bay has memorabilia related to the novelist, a frequent customer.

Up the road, Lavender Hill Farm makes a worthwhile stop in July and early August when its 25 varieties of lavender usually reach full bloom.
Guests tour the grounds, walk a seven-circuit labyrinth, sip lavender lemonade and enjoy scoops of lavender ice cream. The gift shop stocks all manner of lavender items, including essential oil made with a still on site. During Fridays on the Farm, through Aug. 25, visitors can try their hand at making a lavender handicraft and enjoy live musical performances on Friday, Aug. 4.

A drive along Lake Charlevoix ends in the city of Charlevoix on Lake Michigan. Among its claims to fame are the Hobbit-like Earl Young houses. A brochure from the Chamber of Commerce takes travelers past about two dozen of these distinct buildings dubbed “mushroom houses” for their undulating lines, curvy cedar shake roofs and rustic stone walls. Young studied architecture in college for just one year before moving on to a 60-year career in real estate, designing the whimsical homes on the side. Most date from the 1930s to the 1950s.

Drivers on the main route through town can’t help but notice the petunias lining the roadside. When the weather warms in late spring between 800 and 1,000 Charlevoix residents launch Operation Petunia. In just a few hours they put 70,000 of the plants into the ground along five miles of U.S. Route 31. The idea grew out of a 1982 beautification campaign and enthusiasm for it shows no sign of wilting these many years later.

Planting petunias, it seems, remains just one of many traditions in the Petoskey area.

For more information about Bay Harbor and the Petoskey area, please get a complimentary copy of Explore Bay Harbor Magazine, here.

Original content published by Katherine Rodeghier, Daily Herald Correspondent

There is simply nothing better than a warm summer day on Lake Michigan. The boat is cruising along providing a fresh, crisp breeze, your favorite tune is jamming over the speakers and your favorite beverage is in hand. Surrounded by friends and family, the laughs are nonstop and the good times are rolling. This is how we live every day at Bay Harbor.

Three tips for boating on Lake Michigan:

1. Make a List & Check it Twice
There’s nothing worse than setting out for your destination and having to turn around. Make a list, check it twice, and make sure you have all of your necessities. Plenty of snacks and water are always must-haves. Other beverages, adult or otherwise, are a nice touch, too. Towels, extra clothes, water toys and a great playlist are a good start.

2. Safety, Safety, Safety
Make sure your boat is up-to-date with required paperwork and all of the necessary safety measures are on board. A healthy number of life jackets, and an emergency driver are the first two boxes to check off on your list.

3. Leave Your Worries on Shore
Now that all the necessary safety precautions have been taken and all your favorites are on board, it’s time to let loose and have a great time. The beauty of Lake Michigan is truly amazing and provides a perfect setting for fun with friends and family. Kick back, relax and enjoy the day.

The fun doesn’t end when head back to shore, in fact at Bay Harbor, the fun is just beginning.

Nestled amongst the western shoreline of Bay Harbor, discover the world-renowned Bay Harbor Yacht Club. Recently named a Distinguished Emerald Award recipient as one of the finest private clubs in the world, the Yacht Club serves over 500 members and their guests.

The social center of the Bay Harbor Community, the Clubhouse and adjacent Lange Center is the scene of all sorts of fun, from weddings to birthday celebrations, swimming parties and holiday festivities. A year-round calendar of more than 1,000 social events, programs and activities is offered for the entire family. From the Quarter Deck to the eclectic Marina Lounge or the laid-back Beach House, the Yacht Club’s restaurants offer delicious dining options. The Club’s private sandy beach allows ample opportunity to swim, sail, paddle-board and kayak. Members enjoy our newly renovated fitness center, pool, pickle ball and tennis courts and other award-winning amenities as well.

Whether it’s a pair of toddlers splashing in the shallows, a weekend regatta or a family setting off to cruise the Great Lakes, the Yacht Club is where it all happens.

If you are interested in learning more about a Bay Harbor Yacht Club Membership and the lifestyle that comes with it, contact Megan Nickerson at 231.439.2123 or