I am hiking obsessed. That’s no secret. I use every opportunity I get to plan my next adventure. So when my recent hiking trip plans were derailed last-minute by impending storms, I had to think fast on my feet to come up with an alternate plan with enough outdoor appeal to satisfy my adventurous spirit. And what would appeal to me more than being outside AND drinking wine? Not much really! So the choice was obvious, I would head “UP NORTH” as they say here in Michigan, to wine country, where I would have a “fine” adventure.
Traverse City is a Michigan gem. Set along Grand Traverse Bay, the city is lined with sandy beaches, turquoise waters, quaint streets and vineyards and wineries in the nearby rolling hills. There are plenty of great hiking and biking trails including the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. It is clear why Traverse City is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts and why their tourism industry is booming.
One thing that I’ve always loved about Traverse is how easy the city makes it to get outdoors. A vast trail network call the TART (Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation) has eight multi-use trails that can take you around Grand Traverse and Leelanau County or just across town if you wish. What does this mean for you? You can choose your own adventure. I chose to pair my love for being active and outside together with my love for wine, and created a do-it-yourself winery tour of the Traverse area. There are several tour companies that offer supported and guided tours to local micro-breweries and wineries. However, for those who feel comfortable on bike and have the stamina for a full day, you can plan a pretty great adventure yourself. While I’m not a hard-core biker, I knew I was up to the challenge and I most certainly will bike for wine.
The Leelanau Trail is a 17 mile, paved track that runs from the heart of Traverse City to Suttons Bay. Along the route you will pass farmland, ponds, lakes, forests and vineyards. The ride is incredibly picturesque and the trail quite level. This track is the most direct pipeline into wine country. You will have to depart the TART farther north to visit the wineries, so be prepared for some road biking as well.
Using the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail Map as a rough guide, you should easily be able to plan a full day and a route that suits your mood. You may even find yourself sitting on a deck overlooking Lake Michigan, tasting excellent local wines and ciders after a relaxing ride through some of Michigan’s most beautiful countryside.
My planned biking route departed from downtown Traverse City. I picked up the TART along the waterfront and headed north towards Suttons Bay. The TART is marked on the Leelanau Wine Trail map for ease of navigation. I also used Google Maps under the “bike route” option to direct me to the next winery along the route (it directed me to the TART which was perfect!). The trails are well-marked and signed along the entire route. Following the signs for the Leelanau Trail, we rode for about 12 miles (about an hour of biking at a decent pace) before leaving the trail to hit up the first winery.
Plan on hitting up about 5-6 wineries for a full day so that you have some time to relax and enjoy your time at each one. Remember that most of the tasting rooms don’t open until around 11 -12.
Traverse City (via TART Leelanau Trail) – Shady Lane Cellars – get off TART to back roads – mild uphill– L.Mawby – moderate uphill – Ciccone Vineyard – steep downhill – Suttons Bay Ciders (not on map)- Willow Vineyards – steep downhill – Chateau de Leelanau – biking along wide shoulder on M-22 – Hop Lot (BEER) – Suttons Bay.
Remember if you bike down a hill, you will likely have to bike back up it to return to the TART to head home, so plan your day accordingly. To make the most of the day and avoid having to find accommodations in Suttons Bay (and to avoid a hill climb back + another 17 miles of biking) we decided to use the Traverse Bike and Ride Bus from Suttons Bay to Traverse City. Schedules are located on their website. One bus has room for two bikes while another has room for 11 bikes, depending on which one you catch. It could be busy in the middle of summer so leave yourself plenty of time; once the bike rack is full, you will have to wait for the next bus. The fare is only 3$. It’s worth using to make the most of the day.
I recommend stopping for an early dinner in Suttons Bay. Hop Lot has a sweet outdoor seating area and awesome food for more casual fare and beer. Think backyard BBQ scene complete with smores roasting! I also have enjoyed 9 Bean Rows if you prefer a fresh sit-down, restaurant meal (with locally farmed ingredients).
If you are more adventurous and want to bike beyond Suttons Bay (or stay there for the night and make it a 2 or 3 day adventure), there are plenty more wineries just beyond Suttons Bay that are well worth exploring but require a bit more effort to get to (45 North, Tandem Ciders, Aurora Cellars to name a few).
The thing about adventure is that it can be whatever you want it to be. It can be rugged and ambitious. It can be a short trip or a long trip. It can be as fast paced or as leisurely as you prefer. It can involve wine, chocolate, nature and everything in-between if you desire. I best enjoy the finer things in life with a healthy dose of outside to go with it. This trip fits the bill for all of that. I bet you won’t have a hard time convincing your friends to join you on this adventure either 😉
It goes without saying that you should never ride a bicycle while intoxicated. Be safe out there and enjoy your wine tastings responsibility. Cheers.