Harbor Springs is one of the prettiest places to travel within Michigan, and its proximity to incredible beaches, sand dunes, skiing, and sailing means there’s something to do in this charming Great Lakes coastal town all year long, no matter one’s interests. Famous around the world for its natural beauty, ice cold, fresh water springs, breathtaking beaches and sand dunes, and pristine hiking trails, even people we spoke with in Japan had heard of Habor Springs’ beauty. Read on to discover why Harbor Springs is one of the most popular places to summer in North America.
Where to Stay
Some of the most popular places to stay in Harbor Springs are the Colonial Inn, Boyne Highlands and Trout Creek Condominiums. There are also a number of great places to stay in nearby Peotskey or Bay Harbor, which are less than 30 minute drives around the bay from Harbor Springs. We loved staying at the Bay View Inn, the Inn at Bay Harbor, and we’ve heard wonderful things about Stafford’s Perry Hotel as well. Read about the hotels we’ve stayed in, below.
Review of Inn at Bay Harbor (24 minute drive from downtown Harbor Springs)
Review of Bay View Inn (13 minute drive from Harbor Springs)
While it may seem inconvenient to stay outside of a town as beautiful with as much to do and see as Harbor Springs, the Petoskey Area is full of simply stunning landscapes, beaches, shorelines, and drives, so trust me when I tell you that the drive will be a scenic one, no matter where you’re headed in the area.
What to Do
In the spring time, as the snow is melting and being replaced by gorgeous green undergrowth, take special care to look under trees, and around densely forested hills for beautiful Trilliums in bloom. Ranging in colors from a deep ruby red to brilliant white, these gorgeous flowers are very rarely found anywhere outside of Northern Michigan, and are most common around the Harbor Springs Area.
Should you be visiting from April to early May, you just might be able to find some morel mushrooms, which are some of the most expensive , delicious and elusive mushrooms in the world. In the likely event that your search doesn’t go as expected (they are quite hard to find after all, but it’s fun to try nonetheless), local restaurants serve morel mushroom based dishes on a very limited, seasonal basis, so rest assured you can still have a shot at tasting them. You’d better be quick though, once the mushrooms are gone for the year, they’re gone until the following spring.
If boating and waterspouts is what you’re after, the Harbor Springs marina has ample docking and launching opportunities for all manner of watercraft. A short walk past the docks is the perfect beach area to take a swim in gorgeous Little Traverse Bay. The waters are extremely clear and the shades of blue have to be seen to be believed. Scroll down to the section on “safety” for tips for staying safe in the waters of the Great Lakes and enjoying your time to the fullest.
Thorne Swift Nature Preserve is one of my favorite places to walk, enjoy nature, and hike. It’s a beautiful place to visit and explore a taste of what Harbor Springs has to offer visitors, and its the perfect place for bird watching, plant identification, or nature photography. It may seem counterintuitive, but my very favorite time to visit is when it’s still chilly in the early spring, ideally on a rainy day. The contrast between the dark, moist soil and the beautiful young foliage peaking through the ground makes for stunning photographs, and it makes spotting rare wildflowers easier. Just be sure not to pick any flowers, as many are protected by law, and picking wildflowers is often a crime punishable by hefty fines.
Another incredible place to drive through is the Tunnel of Trees in Harbor Springs. This drive offers breathtaking views of the water, sailboats floating on the water’s surface, lush, dense vegetation and forrest, and the beach line. Many places along this path are private property, so it’s quite common to see rocks or signs preventing people from pulling off the road and trespassing, trust me, you’ll be tempted to do so when you see how beautiful it is, but be respectful and keep an eye out for beach access signs and pull offs made for visitors. It’s a drive best done at sunset, sunrise, or in the rain when the colors are more dramatic. It’s especially gorgeous in the fall when the leaves are changing colors.
Where to Eat
Some of the best food in Northern Michigan can be found in Harbor Springs. Although it’s a smaller town that’s mostly full of seasonal dwellers, the food scene in Harbor Springs is surprisingly amazing for it being so far north of larger cities. Neighboring cities of Bay Harbor, Bay View, and Petoskey also have lots of amazing food options, and are at most 25 minutes away, which isn’t such a challenge when you consider the breathtaking views of Little Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan along the way.
This cozy Asian dining spot is one of the highest rated eateries in Northern Michigan. We asked people for dining recommendations, and Chang’s was always one of the first places locals recommended.
The Depot Dining Club
I dined here once when I was younger, and I was blown away by how delicious everything was. While this isn’t a restaurant in the traditional sense that just anyone can waltz into and order food, this place is unique in that it is a private dining that requires a membership in order to dine. It’s only open for select meals based on membership level. You can visit there website for more information, here.
The New York Restaurant
This delightful eatery is just across the street from the Depot Dining Club, and is one of the most elegant places to enjoy classic American and European fare in Northern Michigan. Read my full review of the restaurant, here.
The Paper Station Bistro
This bistro is the best spot for lunch in Harbor Springs. It’s small and unassuming, but the food served here is some of the most flavorful and aesthetically pleasing dining in the state. I recommend making a reservation during the spring and summer months, as it can be very crowded.
Stafford’s Pier Restaurant
Another one of my favorite places to eat in Michigan, Stafford’s Pier Restaurant is a fantastic spot to dine on the water, and it has some of the freshest seafood and fish in Northern Michigan. Click here to read my full review of this Harbor Springs classic.
Sam’s Graces Café and Bakery
This cozy brunch spot is located in downtown Harbor Springs, and serves up locally sourced dishes such as Honey-Almond Granola, soups and salads, sandwiches, and breakfast classics like Benedicts, pancakes and more. Their motto is “Always from Scratch, Always with Love!”.
Small Batch at the Cupola
Across the street from Sam’s Graces, Small Batch at the Cupola is another fantastic spot to eat in Michigan. The eclectic decor, and garden-like interior drew us in, and the impeccable food, intense flavors, and wide variety of dishes offered got us hooked. We eat here whenever we’re in town.
Located between Petoskey and Harbor Springs, Vernales sounds like a paradox until you experience it for yourself. Fine dining, high-end sports bar, and wine cellar all collide to make Vernales the wonderful place to hang out with friends, family, and loved ones any day of the week. Read my full review of Vernales Restaurant, here.
Getting Around Harbor Springs
Habor Springs does not have any public transportation, but the city can be explored on bike, and the outer region can be explored on foot or by car. There are so many beautiful places to see in Harbor Springs, that I recommend driving to your preferred location and then getting out and walking down to the water, into the woods, or along the shore.
Safety in Harbor Springs
Like much of Northern Michigan, Harbor Springs is an extremely safe area. There is almost no crime, and there aren’t many natural hazards to watch out for. The water is, like all of the Great Lakes, full of beautiful, fresh water, which means it’s salt-free and shark free. Any safety congeners one should keep in mind while in Harbor Springs, are the same safety concerns one would have anywhere where water is present. Swimming, however, can be dangerous if rip tides are present, or the waves are high.
Always wear a life vest and swim with multiple people when recreating on the water. Should a rip tide pull you out away from the shore, don’t fight it or swim against the current, you will only exhaust yourself, no matter how strong of a swimmer you may be. Instead, swim parallel to the shore, and you will eventually break free of the rip tide and be able to successfully swim back to the shore once you’re out of it.
If you plan to go sailing, even if you won’t be the one driving the boat, be sure to take a boater’s safety class to understand the dangers of boat motors, carbon monoxide, diving in shallow water, etc. Essentially, never hang off the back of a boat as that’s where carbon monoxide is most dense, and can cause people to pass out and slip beneath the waves. Never dive into water when you don’t know how deep the water is, and stay far away from a boat’s propellers.
Day Trips from Harbor Springs
14 Mile Drive
This beautiful lakeside town is one of Northern Michigan’s premiere resort towns. Find everything from a yacht marina to clothing stores and fine dining, plus one of the top 500 resorts in the world, The Inn at Bay Harbor, which is a world class retreat on the shores of Little Traverse Bay.
8.2 Mile Drive
Bay View is a neighborhood in Petoskey, Michigan that’s home to a cottage village of beautiful, ornate homes. May through October, cottagers from around the world flock to this historical region of Northern Michigan to enjoy the beautiful bay breeze off of Little Traverse Bay, sailing, tennis, and other facets of the great outdoors, as well as an atmosphere of excitement that can only be found in Northern Michigan.
Boyne City is one of Michigan’s favorite anytime get aways! Find world class skiing in the winter, and beautiful outdoor recreation options in the warmer months.
27 Mile Drive
Known as “Charlevoix the Beautiful”, this small Northern Michigan town is a lovely lakeside retreat. Explore the arts and culture of Northern Michigan, head out on gorgeous Lake Charlevoix, or take the ferry to stunning nearby Beaver Island to feel as though you’ve been transported to another world of pristine waters and beautiful swatches of forest. If you feel like stepping back in time, visit Michigan’s most stunning castle, Castle Farms, and take a walk through gardens inspired by European castle gardens.
194 Mile Drive
Grand Rapids, MI is the art and beer capital of the midwest, and is home of the world’s largest art competition, Art Prize. More than a dozen incredible museums, an abundance of festivals, pop-up restaurants, and proximity to Lake Michigan, as well as more breweries per capita than just about any other U.S. city, Grand Rapids is a wonderful place to spend a weekend, or longer. If you’re craving a taste of nature, head to Frederik Meijer Gardens’ Japanese garden to walk about a garden that expertly replicated from gardens in Japan.
35 Mile Drive + 20 Minute ferry ride
One of my very favorite places in Michigan, and my favorite out of the 20 Midwest travel destinations, this island doesn’t allow cars or motorized vehicles (save for the island’s ambulance and fire truck). Bike, walk, or ride a horse around this beautiful piece of historic land that overlooks the Mackinac Bridge and the crystal clear, vibrant blue waters of the Straits of Mackinac. The best time of year to visit the island, in my personal opinion is during the Lilac Festival each June, when all of the flowers on the island are in full bloom. Stay at Grand Hotel’s Masco Cottage to experience the epitome of luxury in Michigan. Read this guide to 5 of Michigan’s Most Incredible Flower Festivals.
10 Mile Drive
My hometown is famous for its fossilized coral, Petoskey Stones, which are the state rock. This gorgeous town has beautiful stretches of pristine, white sand beaches, massive sand dunes, breathtaking natural springs and woodland hiking paths that transport hikers to a sylvan wonderland. Visit the Petoskey State Park to see all of these things, plus the “Million Dollar Sunsets” the city is known for the world over.
76 Mile Drive
Famous the world over for its abundance of juicy, red cherries and cherry derived culinary specialities, Traverse City is one of the midwest’s premiere wine producing regions, and boasts beautiful beaches along Lake Michigan, as well as a thriving art, cinema, and music scene. Visit nearby Torch Lake, Leland fishing village, or Point Betsie Lighthouse for the perfect week in the Traverse City area.
18 Mile Drive
This small town is home to Hotel Walloon, one of the most luxurious hotels in the state. Get away from it all, enjoy drinks on Walloon Lake, or take in the natural beauty of the north by spending an evening or two in this charming village. Walloon Lake is the coziest of all of these fantastic Midwest travel destinations.
Until next time!
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