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Traverse City: One of America’s Top 10 fall foliage destinations






TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Here in Michigan’s summer vacation capital, autumn comes as a relief. It’s a gentle, romantic season -- the crowds have vanished with the summer heat, and by late September the hills are ablaze with color. (In fact, calls Traverse City one of America’s Top 10 fall foliage destinations.)

One of the best places to enjoy this interplay between water, sky and foliage is the Old Mission Peninsula, which juts into the center of Grand Traverse Bay -- 22 miles long and in some places as little as a mile wide.  A beautiful patchwork of orchards, vineyards, forests and villages, it’s perfect for a morning or afternoon drive that combines fall color with beautiful views, visits to wineries and fruit stands, and unforgettable meals at charming restaurants.

The peninsula’s main thoroughfare is Center Road (M-37) which winds north from Traverse City through a landscape of steep hills and elegant homes, hugs the shore of East Grand Traverse Bay and climbs to the top of a high ridge. Here, at the site of a former one-room schoolhouse, is the tasting room of Peninsula Cellars, a winery founded in 1994 by David and Joan Kroupa. Although the Kroupas are cherry farmers, they’ve produced some fine Pinot Blancs, Merlots and Rieslings (and, yes, some interesting cherry and apple wines, too.)

Just past the schoolhouse, turn west down Nelson Road. Tucked away down this quiet country road, a "garden" of vintage gas pumps marks Walt and Susan's AntiquesStroll through the yard, but by all means check out the rustic 1910 barn. (Note the wide plank floors.) Inside are three floors stuffed with treasures: dishes, primitives, vintage clothes and other items.

Back on Center Road, climb to the top of the hill, where you’ll find a scenic overlook with splendid views of the East and West arms of Grand Traverse Bay -- a favorite place for watching sunsets, storms and other natural displays. It overlooks the sprawling vineyards of Chateau Grand Traverse, the first winery established on the Peninsula. (way back in 1974) They’re famous for their Rieslings, and are also open for tours and tastings.

Just a few miles farther north, at Blue Water Road, a quick right turn leads to the Brys Estate vineyard and winery, which opened in the summer of 2005, and has already acquired an international reputation for its wines. Follow Center Road north again through the hamlet of Mapleton, one of the Peninsula’s two small towns, where you’ll find the laid-back Peninsula Grill (great pizzas!) and its even more laid-back neighbor, the Bad Dog Deli, as well as a handy grocery store, the Peninsula Market, with the peninsula’s only gas pump.

From here, the road leads out over a razor-thin bluff known as the Hog’s Back and rises even higher to the site of Chateau Chantal, another winery that also doubles as a bed & breakfast. Even visitors who aren’t particularly interested in wine can appreciate the chateau’s evocative architecture and awe-inspiring hilltop views.

Over the next hill lies the Old Mission Tavern, a charming eatery that evokes the atmosphere of a classic, cozy old world tavern, complete with fireplace and a sunny open air art market. The tavern is a favorite lunch stop, and happens to have its own art gallery, the Bella Galleria, which showcases the works of over 75 artists.

Five miles farther north on Center Road again is Lighthouse Park. The picturesque lighthouse was built in 1870 to warn ships away from the dangerous shoals that can be seen from shore. Although it is no longer in operation, it is open for tours and is the centerpiece of an attractive park with popular beaches, historical exhibits and extensive hiking trails.

Heading south again – you can’t go any farther north without getting wet – turn left on Swaney Road, which curves down to the charming little village of Old Mission. This New England-style harbor town is the oldest permanent settlement in the Grand Traverse area, founded in 1839 when the Rev. Peter Dougherty established a mission to the local Odawa Indians. Many of its nineteenth-century buildings are still standing and in use. (Dougherty’s home, the oldest frame building in the region, is there, as well as a replica of his 1840 log schoolhouse with a small museum explaining the community’s history.)

The Old Mission Inn, built in 1869, is now a bed & breakfast featuring historically themed rooms and spectacular views of Old Mission Harbor. One interesting feature of the Inn is its "Hall of History," whose walls are covered with framed pictures and newspaper clippings from bygone days, including a page from the hotel register showing how Joe Louis and Babe Ruth were once here on the same night. (That would have been quite a dinner-table conversation!)

No visit to Old Mission is complete, however, without a stop at Haserot Beach, consistently named as the “hands-down best beach” in a region known for its beautiful shoreline. The water is swimmable here all summer and into the fall (sometimes as late as October) but even on brisk days it’s a great place to spend an hour sitting on a bench and admiring the view.

Follow the shoreline south of Old Mission along Smoky Hollow Road, which leads through a shady landscape of mature trees. About a mile from the village limits, you’ll see the gates of the 2 Lads Winery, an ultramodern structure of glass and steel that enjoys a splendid hilltop view of East Bay. Owners Chris Baldyga and Cornel Olivier just opened this cutting-edge winery and plan to concentrate their energies on producing “bold” red wines.

Return to M-37 by way of Mission Road and head south to Mapleton again. This time, turn right on Bowers Harbor Road, where you’ll find the cozy  Bowers Harbor Vineyard, and head down to the water’s edge again. From this secluded harbor, Peninsula Drive will carry you back to Traverse City along the shore of West Grand Traverse Bay, with splendid views of the water and two nearby islands – Power Island and Bassett IslandBoth belong to the county park system, and are popular with boaters and picnickers.

Along the way, you’ll see The Boathouse, which boasts a great view of the harbor, and 

the Bowers Harbor Inn, built in the 1880's as a family residence and now an award-winning restaurant, the[Back to Press Releases Main]