Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a popular place in Michigan with a lot to see and many activities. In 2011, it was voted the most beautiful place in America by viewers of ABC’s “Good Morning America” show. So, I felt we were pretty fortunate to get an RV spot so close to the National Lakeshore since it was the middle of summer and I didn’t make reservations way in advance. This was the second time though in our travels when we had to move during our stay at a campground. The first time was in Virginia which was okay because for a few days we got to be right next to a creek. On this visit at Indigo Bluffs RV Park, we had to move just several spaces during the middle of our ten day stay. But all in all, this was one of the nicer campgrounds of our travels. The sites were shaded by lots of trees and the location was great – about three miles to the cute town of Empire on the shore of Lake Michigan. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Visitor Center was also only a few miles away. From the Visitor Center it was not far to drive to all the scenic attractions in the area.
One perk was that a local farm had a stand onsite at the campground where they offered fresh picked vegetables and fruit for sale daily. It was nice on a couple of occasions to get a bag of salad greens from the cooler and tomatoes from the shelf.
A close drive took me to the start of a great little hike on the Empire Bluff Trail that went through the woods to an overlook of Lake Michigan. About four years ago when I visited Michigan with my sister, I was amazed by the color of this Lake. I never expected it to be so turquoise blue. On this trip I continued to be amazed by the color and beauty which I would only expect to see in a more tropical location.
The Empire Bluff Trail is one of the best short trails I have been on. With less than a mile each way and not too much effort, one is rewarded with spectacular, wide ranging views. It was rather hard for me to tear myself away and head back down to the car.
One thing I was looking most forward to in this part of Michigan was the cherries 🍒. Traverse City is nearby and calls itself the “Cherry Capital of the World.” More tart cherries are grown in Michigan than any other U.S. state and the bulk are grown around the Traverse area. Each summer a cherry festival is held in Traverse City. I was hoping to go cherry picking while here but I was told that cherries were late because of the cooler weather during spring and early summer. A few days before we were to leave I saw a sign pointing the way to a farm offering U-pick, so off I went to check it out. The farm had both sweet and tart cherries, but I was only interested in the sweet. When I arrived, I was given a small bucket and instructions to drive my truck through the farm on a dirt track and down into the orchards. When I got to my destination, I found only one other lady picking.
The cherries were small and not that sweet but it was fun to be among the trees and pick the fruit. Cherries just might be my favorite fruit, so I was happy to lose myself in a large cherry orchard.
Fitting with the area, Cherry Republic has stores in both Traverse City and the small town of Glen Arbor. Due to my obsession with cherries, I had to go there a few times because the store/cafe has all things cherry. We went to the Glen Arbor store which has a fun vibe both inside and out. To begin with, they actually have an Olympic sized cherry pit spitting arena for those that want to try out this “sport.” I saw a few people attempt it but I wasn’t sure where they got their pits as I didn’t see any fresh cherries for sale in the store.
If something can be made with cherries or flavored with them it seems to be for sale at Cherry Republic. There are packages of dried cherries, chocolate covered cherries, cherry nut mixes, cherry snacks, candies, honeys, jams, preserves, salsas, baking mixes, fudge sauces, juices, sodas and wines. There are samples of many of these items. The Boomchunka cookies were a hit with Mark and I. Mark is a definite “Cookie Monster.” It is rare for him to pass up a good cookie (or even a bad one). These were large, plump and tasty cookies filled with oats, coconut, dried cherries and chocolate chips.
Although the store is great, the cafe in a separate building is just as good or better. My sister and I discovered this treasure during our Michigan road trip and at that time I had the grilled cheese sandwich. On this trip it was still on the menu and is one of the richest grilled cheese I have ever had. It consists of cherry bread with a layer of cherry jam and white cheddar. The sandwich is covered with Parmesan and grilled. Dessert is not to be missed as they feature a variety of cherry pies as well as ice cream with different cherry flavors made on the premises.
The Traverse City area has another favorite food item of mine. In my opinion there are no better BBQ potato chips than Great Lakes. My sister and I discovered them during our past trip and we haven’t stopped thinking about them. Several times we have ordered some but unfortunately they declined my recent order, reporting that they can’t ship at this time to California 😢 . On this trip I also tried for the first time their cherry BBQ chips which are also fantastic with a slightly sweet taste.
While I am on the topic of cherries, Traverse City claims to have the pie pan that once held the largest cherry pie in the world. On July 25, 1987, Chef Pierre Bakeries (now the Sara Lee Company) in Traverse City baked a cherry pie weighing 28,350 pounds with a diameter of 17 feet, 6 inches. That’s a lot of cherries and dough!
Stay tuned for more on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore area……but no more cherry talk 😊 .