Perfectly Petoskey

Crystal Smith Hammon

When summer heat and humidity scorch America’s Heartland, some Midwesterners instinctively know what to do: flee north to Petoskey, Michigan, where average summer temperatures rarely exceed 80 degrees. If you’re open to contrarian thought, wait until the September air turns crisp. You’ll discover a paradise of nature, art, food, history and outdoor adventure that’s restorative in any season.  

Petoskey is flush with lodging options. On a maiden voyage, Stafford’s Perry Hotel makes a smart launching pad for exploring Petoskey and the surrounding area. Located steps from shopping and restaurants in Petoskey’s Gaslight District, the hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places and offers stunning sunset views of the Little Traverse Bay on one side. On the opposite side, a sprawling veranda faces a former train station where a young Ernest Hemingway made his way back and forth from his Chicago home to Windemere, a family cottage built on nearby Walloon Lake. 

Michigan: The Axis of Hemingway’s Formation 

Hemingway spent all summer every summer at Windemere for the first 23 years of his life, except for four years in young adulthood. “This is where Hemingway found his love of adventure, fishing, hunting and the outdoors,” says Christopher Struble, a local jeweler and Hemingway expert who is president of the Michigan Hemingway Society. “It all stems from summers spent in Northern Michigan.” Struble leads a fascinating walking tour of significant Hemingway landmarks in downtown Petoskey.  

In the spirit of Hemingway’s love for the outdoors, we toured SkyBridge Michigan, the world’s longest timber-towered suspension bridge at Michigan’s Boyne Mountain Resort. Regardless of the season, this architectural wonder deserves a spot on your itinerary, unless of course, you’re afraid of heights.  

The SkyBridge experience begins with chairlift ride to the top of Boyne Mountain, followed by an open-air walk across a suspended five-foot-wide walking surface 118 feet above the valley. The bridge has a 36-foot span of transparent flooring for a breathtaking view of the valley below.  

Drive to nearby Boyne City and hike up Avalanche Mountain, an easy trek if you’re reasonably fit and have appropriate footwear. Watch your step: the path is a winding stairway of 462 uneven steps. (My husband bowed out at the last minute and missed an awesome view of Lake Charlevoix from the top.) Return to the bottom by taking well-marked nature trails, allowing one to two hours for the hike up and down. Have lunch or dinner at Café Sante, a favorite après-hike destination in Boyne City. 

For multi-generational family fun, Pond Hill Farm is a non-touristy magnet that lets you tap into local culture. This working farm teems with the creative energy of owners Jimmy and Marci Spencer. They’re constantly innovating with seasonal activities like sledding in the winter and haunted vineyards in the fall. The couple’s entrepreneurial endeavors include a winery, a brewery and a café that serves pizza made with farm fresh produce. They also love hosting tours that educate kids and adults about the origins of our food.  

If You Play Golf 

No matter what sort of golfer you are, if you’re in the Petoskey area during golf season, you ought to play at least one of the 10 championship courses owned by Boyne Golf. Spread across three Boyne Resorts, these striking courses are so treasured among golfers that many make it a goal to play them all. Each course is designed by one of three esteemed golf architects: Arthur Hills, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., or Donald Ross. 

We snagged an early tee-time at The Links and The Quarry, two of the three nine-hole courses at Bay Harbor Golf Club. One of our well-traveled friends, an accomplished golfer whose family owns a nearby cottage, claims these courses are his favorites. Now I know why. Built atop a former rock quarry and cement plant that provided all the cement for Michigan’s Mackinac Bridge, the courses at Bay Harbor are known as the Pebble Beach of the Midwest, with picturesque views of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. 

Yes, the courses are challenging, but their beauty and rigor may summon the best in you. I’ve been playing golf (badly) for almost 30 years. Never has the game brought me such joy as our day at Bay Harbor Golf Club. I surprised myself with some memorable shots that closed my golf season on a high note. Word to the wise: If you go on one of the last days of September, don’t wear shorts.  

Get Out on the Water 

Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay must be felt with all five senses from the water. If you have no other way to do that, then a ferry ride is a must. From May 1 through September 30, you can catch the Little Traverse Bay Ferry in Bayfront Park on the pier marked by a red clock tower.  

While we were aboard the ferry, a former runner boat commissioned in the 1950s by the U.S. Navy, our captain and first mate regaled us with their favorite restaurants and noted points of interest on the horizon, including a one-mile stretch of public beach at Petoskey State Park. 

At certain times of the year, you can board the ferry in Petoskey in the afternoon, cruise to luxurious Bay Harbor, then over to quaint Harbor Springs. Shop for gifts at Howse’s Fudge. You may be served by Mason Howse, a charming sixth grader. The owner unlocked the door and welcomed me five minutes after closing time. He excused himself to close up shop and left me in the capable hands of Mason, the third generation to work in the family business  

I left with a box of gigantic pecan turtles and paused to take a picture of the building, which Howse’s shares with the Harbor Springs Library, christened in 1894. I stood in a reverie, wondering what it might be like to live in such a winsome place. As I turned to leave, a local man sprinted down an adjacent street and fell in step with me. I must have worn the wistful expression of a tourist because he quickly read and confirmed my thoughts. “It’s like growing up in a movie,” he said, before dashing inside the Paper Station Bistro, which was clearly his place of employment. “Next time, stop here and eat with us,” he said. 

My husband waited at The Pier, a waterfront eatery in Harbor Springs operated by the same family who owns Stafford’s Perry Hotel. Afterward dockside cocktails, we moved to The New York Restaurant and ordered broiled whitefish, a regional favorite.  

By the time we ferried back to Petoskey’s Bayfront Park and strolled to our hotel, the sky over our balcony was turning crimson. An alabaster yacht glided out of the bay toward Lake Michigan, leaving behind a trail of white waves. It was our last night in Petoskey, but neither of us wanted to leave. I called the front desk and extended our stay. The next morning, we rinsed and repeated, adding yet another day.