Northern Michigan’s Tunnel of Trees: Where to splash, play, and eat along the lakeshore this summer

. May 1, 2017.
Photo Credit: Aimee Grant Eldon
Photo Credit: Aimee Grant Eldon

Tooling along M-119, a four hour drive from Ann Arbor, you will find the Tunnel of Trees. Traversing the shoreline of Little Traverse Bay from Harbor Springs to Cross Village is a 16-mile long route known for its dense canopy of trees and sweeping views of Lake Michigan. Although summer is the most popular time to visit, the road in spring buffered by pastel flowers, while in fall, gold and red leaves frame the alluring vistas.

Harbor Springs

For a taste of local history, pop into the Harbor Springs History Museum on Main Street. Visitors can learn about the native Odawa Indians, Great Lakes, and in more recent developments, the local ski industry.

Just north of Harbor Springs, Thorne Swift Nature Preserve is our favorite hiking spot in the area because of the variety of ecosystems and the access to Lake Michigan. The trails are meticulously maintained (and relatively wheelchair accessible), the surroundings are beautifully preserved, and it’s only $5 per car to enter.

Stop at Pond Hill Farm, north of Thorne Swift, just off M-119, to feed the fish in the trout pond and visit the animals. Bring lots of quarters for fish food and listen to your kids squealing as the trout gobble up the spray of pellets.

Good Hart

Continuing along the Tunnel of Trees, you’ll encounter a hairpin turn named Devil’s Elbow, which according to Odawa legend is full of spirits and mysterious voices. Your next stop is Good Hart. This tiny hamlet possesses a sandy public beach perfect for avoiding the crowds. Church Beach has a huge parking lot which is just a short jaunt to Lake Michigan. The kids and I like combing the beach for stones as much as we like going in the water. We always hope to discover the most-prized find: the Petoskey stone, Michigan’s official state stone. To find Church Beach, take North Lamkin Road in Good Hart down the hill and continue south until you get to the gleaming white 1880s church. The well-maintained path to the beach is just north of the church and well marked.

Cross Village

Further north is Cross Village; that’s where you’ll find Legs Inn, a fieldstone building you can’t miss. This landmark is renowned for its eclectic one-of-a-kind architecture, expansive views of the sparkling Big Lake, and authentic Polish food. From the huge patio on a bluff high over the lake, you can easily see both Skillagalee Lighthouse and Beaver Island on clear days. I always order the sauerkraut pierogi, and the Polish sampler platter is delish too. Head across the street to Three Pines Studio while you wait for a table or take your cold drink to one of the wooden swings overlooking the bluff.

Bliss

Although the Tunnel of Trees ends in Cross Village, take a short side trip northwest to the tiny town of Bliss. There you’ll find an old timey general store and Bliss Polo, a surprisingly accessible (it’s free!) and entertaining match to take the kids to during the summer. You don’t need to know a thing about polo to appreciate the stunning horses both on and off the field. Another bonus: all spectators get to take the field at halftime to replace grass divots, an activity sure to please the kids in your group. Bring chairs or a blanket to sit on as there are no seats or stands for spectators.

No matter the season, you will have a grand time at these tried-and-true spots that are little known to ordinary tourists.