Day Trip: Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan

up north old mission lighthouse 1Located at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula and at the end of M-37, a scenic heritage route that winds through cherry orchards, vineyards and farms, the Mission Point Lighthouse stands on the 45th parallel – halfway between the north pole and the equator. With plenty of marked trails, this is a wonderful destination for hiking, cross-country skiing, picnics and birdwatching.

up north old mission lighthouse 3Built in 1870, the lighthouse originally used whale oil (and later kerosene) to light the 5th Order Fresnel lens that refracted and magnified its modest light source into an intense beam that could be seen by mariners up to twelve miles away. In 1933 the lighthouse was decommissioned and replaced by an offshore light buoy. In 1948, local residents raised enough money to purchase the lighthouse and adjacent grounds. Admission fees, gift shop purchases and a matching grant awarded by the Michigan Lighthouse Assistance Program have all helped fund the ongoing restoration. The lighthouse is open daily 10-6, April to October and on weekends in November and December. Admission: $5 Adults, $3 kids aged 6-12 (kids aged five & under are free).

up north old mission lighthouse 2

Twenty years ago, this rocky foreground was covered with two to three feet of fresh water. Lake Michigan’s drastically low water levels should remind visitors and residents alike to conserve and protect this incredibly precious resource. Excellent swimming and a sugar sand beach can be found at nearby Haserot Beach Park on beautiful Old Mission Harbor.

up north cherriesOn your way up the peninsula, be sure to stop at the roadside cherry stands to stock up on locally grown sweet and tart cherries, washed and ready to eat.

up north Two Lads Winery

Located just off scenic Smokey Hollow Road, 2 Lads Winery – the northernmost winery on the peninsula – offers breathtaking views as well as small bites and tastings. We love their deliciously crisp 2011 Sparkling Pinot Grigio. Situated between the east and west arms of beautiful Grand Traverse Bay, Old Mission Peninsula is home to eight wineries, each one benefitting from the unique microclimate created by the deep water that surrounds this narrow peninsula.  

up north daisys

up north scenic overlookThis roadside scenic overlook, with views of both bays, is located midway up the peninsula on Center Road (M-37). With gently rolling hills and spectacular views, Northern Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula is a favorite destination of both car enthusiasts and cyclists alike. Cyclists especially like Bluff Road and Peninsula Drive – both hug the water and have lower speed limits.

up north barn 3

up north barn 1up north barn 2up north Stoney Beach FarmStoney Beach Farm was closed on the day of our visit, but freshly laid eggs and delicious, freshly picked Amelanchier alnifolia saskatoons were still available for purchase …

up north honor system… via the honor system.

Good Eats: visitors & locals head to Bad Dog Deli for inexpensive made-to-order sandwiches. Those craving a more substantial sit-down meal should make a point of visiting the Jolly Pumpkin Restaurant, Brewery, and Distillery (serving lunch & dinner), as well the Mission Table (dinner only, after 5pm). Known for menus focusing on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, both restaurants are located on the historic estate formerly known as the Bowers Harbor Inn.

Visitors looking to extend their stay have several small Inns and B&Bs – both historic and contemporary in style – to choose from, but be sure to book ahead as rooms are limited and in high demand during the peak summer season. Other nearby attractions include the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC’s Good Morning America) and Mackinac Island. Located just one hour by air from Chicago, northern Michigan’s Cherry Capital is the perfect destination for nature lovers of all ages.

As lovely as Sonoma, Napa and the west coast can be, my heart belongs to Michigan’s beautiful “third coast.”

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