From Chicago: The Best Weekend Trip to Traverse City, Michigan

weekend trip to traverse city from chicago
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When I first moved to Chicago, the only thing that I had heard repeatedly was that I needed to make it a priority to visit Traverse City in Northern Michigan; and thank God I listened.  Northern Michigan rivals anywhere else I’ve visited in the United States (even California), but lacks the crowds and hefty price tag.  It’s stunning, serene, and comes with miles of Great Lakes shoreline and vineyards.  It might even be America’s best kept secret… until now.

 

Everything You Need to Know About Spending the Weekend in Traverse City – An Easy Road Trip from Chicago

Traverse City is the largest city in Northern Michigan, off the coast of Lake Michigan.  It’s known as the “cherry capital of the world”, producing over 75% of the world’s tart cherries.  It’s also the center of wine production in the Midwest, has been named the second best small town travel destination in the US by TripAdvisor, and was on U.S. News & World Report’s top 10 best places to retire in the country list.

 

How to Get to Traverse City from Chicago

 

BY CAR

Traverse City is located 300+ miles northeast of Chicago.  It’s an easy road trip, taking about five hours (depending on traffic), going south around Lake Michigan, and looping up crossing through Indiana into Michigan.  If you drive, there are toll roads along the way, totaling about $10.

If you don’t have a car in the city and need to rent one, I suggest searching for rentals nearest to you.  While you can also pick up a car from the airport (Midway or O’Hare), make sure to factor in the costs and time of getting to the airport from home.  Chicago also utilizes ZipCar, but in my experience the cost to rent for the weekend is more than renting a car from a rental agency.  Lastly, you can also search for a rental car on the app Turo, but make sure to check the location of the car before renting.  Although it’s generally cheaper, the cars on Turo might be far away making it not feasible to rent.

 

BY PLANE

If you’d rather fly into Traverse City from Chicago, the flight is a little over an hour (non-stop) and the airport to fly into is Cherry Capital Airport (TVC).  While you can fly from either Midway (MDW) or O’Hare (ORD), the flights from O’Hare are non-stop and more plentiful.

If you decide to fly, I highly recommend renting a car once you arrive so that you can properly explore the area.

 

The Best Time to Visit Traverse City

Located in Northern Michigan off of Lake Michigan and near the Canadian border, this area of Michigan sees all four-seasons but has a shorter period of warm weather and long, cold winters.  The warmest months are June-August, a time when the city really comes alive with boating, walks along the lake, and days spent outside at the wineries.  The weather generally turns cold from November to April, with December-February being the coldest months of the year.  It’s this time where the snow falls, the bay ices over, and you can’t partake in most outdoor activities.

I personally recommend visiting Traverse City in the summer months, however if you’re looking for a winter destination then go for it!  (Of note, this itinerary is strictly for the summer months and the activities listed are not winter friendly).

 

Where to Stay in Traverse City

Traverse City is a dream destination in terms of beautiful, unique places to stay.  Not only can you find your share of chain hotels, but more impressively there’s an extensive amount of boutique hotels and quaint B&B’s to stay at.

When I visited Traverse City, I booked a room at the Old Mission Inn, 20-miles north of downtown Traverse City.  This Inn has been around since 1869 and has welcomed guests like Babe Ruth and Joe Louis.  It’s a beautiful property right on Lake Michigan and near tons of wineries, old grocery stories, antique stores, and more.  I highly recommend staying here if you have a car and want to be in a quieter, more remote area.

 

Day 1:  Torch Lake + Traverse City

If you’re driving to Traverse City from Chicago (or even if you’re flying), start your morning early so that you can make the 5+ hour drive to Northern Michigan and spend your afternoon at Torch Lake.

Torch Lake is located about 30-miles east of Traverse City and is Michigan’s longest inland lake and second largest inland lake.  With crystal clear waters and white sand beaches, it’s the perfect way to start your weekend trip.  The highlight of Torch Lake is walking to the middle of the lake where you’ll find a sandbar with tons of boats around playing music, people drinking and playing games, and there’s even a boat that sells food.  To access the sandbar put “12906 Cherry Ave, Rapid City” in your GPS.  This will take you to a small parking lot (if there aren’t any spaces available there is street parking) where you can park and walk to the beach to access the sandbar.  You’ll then walk across a small bridge to “Lake St”, where there’s public access to the lake.  On your way, there’s a small grocery store where you can stock up on alcohol to take to the sandbar.  If you’re planning to spend the day at Torch Lake, don’t forget to wear sunscreen, bring koozies for your drinks, purchase a waterproof phone case for photos, and maybe even bring a floatie and/or some sort of water game to play.  Also, make sure to leave all belongings in your car as there isn’t anywhere to put your stuff unless you leave it laying on the beach.

If you want to boat around Torch Lake you can rent boats from multiple different places, but if you want to be near the sandbar, the closest rental is from the Torch Lakes Rental.

After spending the afternoon at Torch Lake, drive 30-miles southwest to Traverse City to check into your hotel.  For dinner, head downtown to eat at The Little Fleet – a collection of food trucks serving a variety of foods like tacos, BBQ, pizza, and more.

 


For more information on visiting Torch Lake, don’t miss 10 Things to Know About Visiting Torch Lake in Michigan


 

Day 2:  Exploring Traverse City

On your second day in Michigan, explore the beauty of Traverse City!  I suggest starting your day at the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula (or the 45th parallel, the point halfway between the equator and the North Pole) where you’ll find an old, charming lighthouse that has been restored.  The Mission Point Lighthouse sits on the tip of the Old Mission Peninsula, meeting Grand Traverse Bay.  It was built in 1870 and today you can tour the lighthouse by paying a $5 fee.  Near the lighthouse you’ll also find The Hessler Log Home, built in 1854.

From the lighthouse, head to lunch at Bad Dog Deli, a simple – but delicious – sandwich shop, before wine tasting.

Chateau Chantal

Wine tasting in Michigan was quite the treat.  Not expecting great things, I was thoroughly surprised by the wine.  The most commonly grown grape in the area is Riesling, and the area is on the same latitude as Germany, a fact that the locals were more than happy to share!  And while Michigan wine isn’t the best wine I’ve ever had, the quality of the wine was a pleasant surprise and the vineyards views were beautiful.  So while wine tasting in Michigan is nothing like wine tasting in Napa Valley, it’s still worthy of your time and attention.

For your first wine tasting head to Mari Vineyards.  The property at Mari is beautiful, overlooking the lake and having tons of space to lay back and enjoy some wine.  The wine at Mari was very unique, along with classics resembling Bordeaux-style wine and Italian-style wine.  After wine tasting at Mari, head to your second tasting at Chateau Chantal Winery and Inn.  Chateau Chantal is another exceptionally beautiful property sitting up on a hill overlooking the lake.  (If you like antique shopping, there’s a beautiful three-story barn between Mari and Chateau Chantal called Walt & Susan’s “Old Barn” Antiques that is worth the stop).

Once you’re done with your second wine tasting, stop in at the Old Mission General Store for ice cream and treats before heading to dinner or back to the hotel.

 

Before leaving Traverse City to head back to Chicago, make it a priority to stop in town at the Grand Traverse Pie Company to try delicious homemade pie.  I highly suggest the cherry pie, seeing as it’s a local specialty!

 

Trip Additions

If you have extra time, I highly recommend checking out some other areas in Northern Michigan.  Unfortunately, due to time and weather I was unable to see everything I had originally planned.

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes – 28-miles east of Traverse City
  • Charlevoix – 50-miles north of Traverse City

 

Traverse City, Michigan was not only the perfect weekend trip from Chicago, but the area is wildly underrated.  Traverse City is beautiful, affordable, has tons of activities, and is truly a one-of-a-kind destination.  I highly suggest visiting given the opportunity.

 


For more on this part of Michigan, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel and search, “#ppinmichigan” or for the “Michigan” highlight.


 

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passportsandpreemies
passportsandpreemies

Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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