Tour of Northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula – First Stop Traverse City

As we decided to begin the 2021 travel season with a trip from Florida to central Michigan to visit family this was a good opportunity to camp Up North in Traverse City. And then drive further over a 20 story high bridge to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Traverse City is the first stop along our twenty-four day journey encompassing northern Michigan. The photo above is to get your attention. This is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore located a short drive from our campground near Traverse City.

The trailer brake wiring issue detailed in my last post is now a memory and well behind us. I went back and edited the post for clarity. We are currently camped in northern Minnesota. I’m happy to report the trailer brakes have performed good as new. I was even able to lower the gain on the truck brake controller. I highly recommend those using a trailer fulltime should have their brakes and wheel bearings inspected annually. My friend Ray from Traverse City, who helped with the repair, will be happy to hear the report. Maybe I can return the favor with your assistance.. He has a class A motorhome and twice has had the front windshield replaced because of a flaw where in his line of sight, as he looks through the windshield to the left of the driver’s side, there is a blurry area in the glass. His eyes refocus as he looks at road signs and then back ahead. Searches for information will state to replace the windshield with an original part (windshield). Any readers here that have worked through the same issue with their motorhome windshield have any ideas? My two cents are worth less than a penny on this one. Seems to me the issue is a flawed windshield during manufacture.

Trip planning had to include where to stay for the fourth of July weekend. We intended to be just south of the Mackinac Bridge on the fourth but were delayed. Are you getting the same question? How far out are you planning given the number of people now Rving? My answer to the question has become: The locals get the good spots way before us as they book them the day the campground opens reservations for the new season. I plan further ahead during the summer when kids are out of school or there is a holiday. I also plan further out if we want a spot for a week or more, and certainly for a monthly stay. I plan further out for our destination spots, in other words, where we intend to end the last leg of the trip such as at a key National Park. I often plan further out if we are going to be camped near a larger city where there is more demand for camping spots. That’s a long answer for sure. You get used to factoring in all this the more you route plan. It somewhat becomes second nature. And as I have written before. No worries if you don’t get he exact campground you want. No matter where you land, there is an RV campground in the area because there is something to see or do. Some of our best discoveries are near campgrounds we had not planned to stay in.

A couple points for new fulltimers: Leave unscheduled space every now and then on your calendar. For example, later on this summer trip we have two weeks to get from Buffalo Wyoming to northern Kansas. I’ve not scheduled those two weeks of campgrounds which allow space to adjust our plans if we want. I read an article recently where a fulltimer said he has no problem with getting a hotel room if the weekend camping spots are full. Personally, I’m discovering city parks, fairgrounds and might take a swing at a casino campground. Later in this post I’ll write about a few items we purchased to help with flexibility when selecting a campground. But now on to the visit in Traverse City.

Traverse City is the county seat of Grand Traverse County although a small portion extends into Leelanau County which also has much to offer. It is the largest city in the area as well as the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. It is estimated 500,000 people visit the National Cherry Festival which was being held during our visit. We did not go to festival but did drive around town where it’s hard to take a left turn because of all the traffic. Locals says the roads are busy all summer long and visitors drive like they are still in the big city they came from ๐Ÿ™‚ I enjoyed reading up on the local history with picture books friends loaned us. This is a great area to enjoy Lake Michigan.
I’m not about to spend big money on a campsite just to be four miles closer to town. Especially as we did not intend to be home much. We camped at Northwest Michigan Fairgrounds. Most of the spots were empty as you just take the one you want upon arrival. Food vendors for the Cherry Festival were here and described the festival and their travels.
Here is a map into the campground. Follow the red line off Blair Town Hall Road. They are constructing a new roundabout on the highway at the Blair Town Hall Road turn. Fairgrounds and City Parks sometimes require more advanced driving skills as you negotiate city streets or gravel drives. We drove US and State Highways to Traverse City where you will meet other RVs on two lane roads, also followed by a line of impatient drivers wanting to speed past you. The State does a good job of building passing lanes where needed. We walked within the fairgrounds wonderful buildings. I looked in on a horse show and a BMX bike race.
$2.50 a pound for the best cherries one will ever eat.
Satellite photo from a public domain website.

You know me, I’ve got to throw in a short history lesson. If you want more here is a link to a fascinating video regarding how the Great Lakes were formed. I’m loving Lake Michigan the more we visit it. The water clarity and color is amazing. It’s not cold along the shore in the summer either. The area was once an ocean. Did you know the entire lake and more have the largest salt mine in the world beneath it. The ground above a limestone layer has harder rocks which were shaped in a bowl as the glaciers receded during the last ice age about 13,000 years ago. The harder rock remains in place as they mine all the salt under the lake.

Lake Michigan was formed by glacial activity while Lake Superior was shaped by volcanic activity. Water drains to Niagara Falls. In simple terms, deep lake dives revealed a river system which made it easier for the glacier to carve out a few of the lakes. I’ve visited the falls from the Canadian side. The rock at the edge of the falls is being broken off at a rate of three feet per year. The landmass that separate the falls from the lakes will eventually erode and the Great Lakes will suddenly drain. Geologist can predict the future based upon past events. They say no worries, another ice age will come and will carve out even larger lakes. Well, maybe the north half of the United States will worry because it will be covered by ice again. We passed a sign on the drive up which welcomed us to the 45th parallel “halfway between the equator and north pole.” The ice that formed most of the Great Lakes was as deep as a mile. That was enough weight to crush layers of earth. The current landmass is still growing in elevation as the earth underneath rebounds from having been crushed. The lakes drain roughly from west to east, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean through the St. Lawrence lowlands. Except for Lakes Michigan and Huron, which are hydrologically one lake, their altitudes drop with each lake, usually causing a progressively increasing rate of flow. Man-made locks have been built which enable ships to enter and be lowered or raised to the next lake level while coming to and from the St. Lawrence Seaway. I’ll probably mention it further in my next post, but many of the ships we saw passing are hauling iron ore from the mines out west. Geological events that formed the Lake Superior region, which now holds 10% of the earths freshwater, also produced iron and copper mines. About 85% of the iron ore used domestically come from the area.

We would discover radical differences in water, sand and rock color while traveling through areas of Lake Michigan towards Lake Superior. I can’t wait to tell you in a future post about spending time in the pristine wilderness remaining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Hundreds of miles of different tree species, unlike any masses of forest we have experienced in the past. We came here to see different topography and Pure Michigan did not disappoint.

Mother Nature provided fascinating places to visit. There were several driving tours from Traverse City we did not have time for. We did seek out a couple sandier beaches and of course the huge Dunes at Sleeping Bear. Our friends suggested we check out the Grand Traverse Commons which is an old state hospital being converted to shopping and living area.

South of Sleeping Bear Dunes is a town called Empire. They have a great public beach with extra parking.
Empire City Beach is partial sand and these rounded smaller rocks. Glacial activity and flowing water I presume shaped the rocks. The water clarity is amazing.
There are an abundance of light houses to tour in northern Michigan. This is a model on Empire Beach. I included the photo so no one can ask why I did not tour a light house ๐Ÿ™‚

We found a sandy beach in Traverse City which is located on a bay. North Beach only had about 20 parking spots. We arrived early and get a spot. You can also park elsewhere and take a walk through a grass lined path running from the downtown area.

View from North Beach in Traverse City. Dog friendly… Glad we stayed a few extra days as many were spent waiting for the rain to leave.

Here is a link to a video I took of a guy riding a hoverboard over the water at North Beach in Traverse City. He rode it out about 75 yards and returned to shore.

This is a photo of our friends, Ray and Charlotte’s yard, outside Traverse City. Beautiful place they have and we really appreciate the time we spent having meals in the backyard. It was also nice for our dog Wyatt to experience for the first time being able to run around a large yard off leash while chasing his friend Dixie whom he still remembered from our winter stay in Florida. These trees are typical of Michigan. Folks live on smaller lakes in the area which I learned were man-made to stop flooding into Traverse City. We were invited to their longtime friend’s home for an annual cookout. Ray and I drove to the cookout while Charlotte and Karen remained behind. Glad we all know it’s okay and necessary in this lifestyle not to do everything together.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore

Located to the west of Traverse City over a scenic drive through the country is Sleeping Bear Dunes. Portions are actually a National Park where we used our America the Beautiful Pass for free admission at two locations. Legend has it that a momma bear and two cubs set out swimming across Lake Michigan. Unfortunately the two cubs tired and drowned. Mom made it to shore where she now rests looking out over the water for her cubs who would eventually rise forming two islands.

The scenic seven mile drive inside the park is worth the trip. Located off Michigan Highway 119 north of the visitors center which is closer to Empire Michigan. There are pull-outs where you can park and walk to views or quiet places to eat a sack lunch. We have started packing lunches when we take tours just because of how many picnic spots we stumble upon. Following are a few photos from the driving tour. These dunes are tall and steep. Signs warn if you try and run down to the lake shore and can’t climb back up the fee is $3,000 to rescue you.

Karen was born in Missouri while her father was in the Army. Her family settled a town in Wisconsin and migrated to Michigan. Traverse City and much of north Michigan were her stomping grounds and places for family vacations. If you ask someone from Michigan where they are going on vacation you are likely to hear “up north.” I listened as she described the area while we passed through, noting the differences from when she visited as a child. Roads that were once narrow lanes now have become heavily traveled tourists routes. Other than a developed parking lot, one place has stayed the same. The Dune Climb which is also part of the National Park, includes a long developed bicycle and walking path. Karen’s family also spent a lot of time in the Crystal Lake area and recommends anywhere along the coast of Lake Michigan as a place to visit. We spent a little time back in 2015 touring the the southwest portion of the lake.

I took a video where after kids make it to the top of the dune, they line up for a race down. Here is a link.

A Few Items That Might Increase Flexibility When Selecting a Campground.

I mentioned campground crowding and how I answer the question “how far ahead do you plan.” Flexibility is something to add to the comments. When we selected our fifth wheel we did so with the idea of avoiding a trailer that would limit where we stay any more than necessary. We could not find a floor plan under 35′ we wanted to live in fulltime. Height is often of more concern than the length but we make due with our tall rig which is 13′ at the top of the air conditioners. We went with a gas/electric fridge which so far we have not depended on for camping without electricity. Our truck holds a 3500 watt generator that we hardly ever use. But there are now items we depend upon in allowing us to book electric only sites. This increases the chances of getting a spot in an area we want to stay. Well, at least two of the items help. The other is just for safety and piece of mind.

We own a 30 amp, 25′ foot extension cord but have never used it. Our rig is 50 amps and we have booked spots in the past that warned in the reviews bring an extra cord. Our main electrical cord is 30′ long and located in the center of the RV. I can run it to the generator in the back of the truck without the extension cord as well as to campground electrical boxes located at the back of the trailer.

I generally advise when you first start out to buy as few camping items as possible until you figure out what you actually need. Plus others you meet will have great ideas. You will start to notice those around you that are big time researchers based on the accessories they have selected. One item I use somewhat frequently is a 30 gallon collapsible water bladder. Place it in the back of the truck, drive to a source and fill up. I drive home and use a 110 volt water pump and hose to fill the camper. No more worries about getting a campsite with a water connection. I went with the Aquatank brand because of it’s durability. Our combined black and grey tank capacity exceeds our fresh water tank size by 30 gallons which is why I went with the 30 gallon model. That way I can top off the tank without moving the RV.

I should mention a goal we had was to finally prevent us from moving the RV to add water or to dump our waste tanks while being able to book two week or longer stays in parks without sewer and water hookups at the camping spot. We have had a system to stay for nine and eleven day periods without having to dump our waste tanks. But those methods are not enjoyable such as always using the public shower and bathroom or washing dishes outside at the utility side of the trailer. Storage space and weight are always a concern. But sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and buy something to make life a little easier in this lifestyle.

So I finally bought a portable sewer tote. Some call these blue boys which is the color of the original tote made by Barker. There are several brands to select from. I’ll skip writing about my research other than to say I wanted something easy to move when full, of reasonable size compared to our trailers waste tank capacity and something that would fit in the back of the truck. Initially I thought about mounting the tank on the back of the trailers ladder but the sides of the tote would stick out beyond the sides of the trailer and create wind drag. Also totes are ugly. I could only find two brands where we happened to be stopped. I went with the Barker brand with four nomadic (inflatable) tires. Ours is 32 gallons and I can easily drag it to the truck to use the hitch, hauling the full tote to the dump station. If the dump station is near, I can wheel the tote to the dump station without using the truck. On a paved road when full I can move the tot with two fingers. It’s that easy to move.

Barker 32 gallon portable sewer tote stored in our truck – no more worries if the campsite has a sewer connection if we are staying more than six days.

The next item might seem trivial but it gives me piece of mind when parked at campgrounds with a lot of foot traffic from outsiders or maybe folks visiting others in the campground – locks… I can honestly say we have never stayed in a campground where we felt unsafe. But, especially now that we are staying at fairgrounds and city parks close to town, I use our locks more often. I have one for the king pin hitch, a 15′ and 6′ cable, secured with round locks that are keyed alike. I also have two other locks where you can set the combination. The photos below depict how I use them. We took a two week break from the camper and left it in storage. I was glad to have the lock for the king pin. We take longer day trips with no worries a random person might walk by and think they can quickly steal expensive stuff left outside. Harden the target (make it difficult to steal) and they will just move on to an easier target. Most don’t carry bolt cutters around a park where everyone can see them.

Rather than hauling yet another propane tank, I simply use one of the spare two already held in our campers propane storage areas. I should add I almost never put the grill on the campgrounds picnic table as it’s something most campgrounds do not allow. I place the grill on a portable table or just set it on top of the large plastic tote I store it in. Chain it all together with a six foot cable and lock. Good luck stealing any one item without dragging the rest with you.
This is how I sometimes secure our portable electric power surge protector connected to the campground electricity. I could have bought a hardwired model that’s kept in the basement area and avoided any chance of it being stolen. Portable and hardwired units have reasons to buy each type or not.

We are currently camped at a city park in Crosby Minnesota. Heading out to Brainerd Minnesota to shop and do the laundry. Thanks for reading our blog.

10 thoughts on “Tour of Northern Michigan and Upper Peninsula – First Stop Traverse City

  1. Lots of good information in this post. You are doing it right, slow down and enjoy! We loved Michigan and it’s a state we will surely visit again!! I barely recognized you behind that stuff on your face!! Lol!! Tell Karen hello. Hope we run into you someday!!

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  2. Glad to hear your brakes are working well again. Thanks for the mention about my windshield issues, I am still working with the insurance company trying to resolve the issues. But any suggestions would be appreciated. Charlotte and I enjoyed having you over and spending time together.

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    • Thanks again Ray for lending a huge hand in the repair. Made the entire situation a lot less stressful. Have not heard anything back yet on the windshield idea but will let you know. Good you are still working with the insurance company. I’d have to think you will win the case with them. It was nice to be part of your family and friends. Karen and I felt like we were home during the visit.

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      • The insurance company agreed it was a manufacturing deficit and will be replacing it with a new windshield from a different manufacturer.

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  3. I started planning our winter travels last winter as AZ state parks take reservations a year out, right now trying to get the last of our winter reservations. The regional parks in Maricopa County have a 6-month window, I just have to get a couple more and I’ll have our reservations thru March. I’ve worked some wiggle room into the reservations and there is so much boondocking in AZ so we’ll never be without a site during the winter. We’ve enjoyed nights at fairgrounds, never know quite what you’ll get into, especially in some of the smaller fairgrounds. You’re right we all find what works best for ourselves regarding campgrounds and planning. We tend to some type of government campground, from national all the way down to the city campgrounds. I’m a planner and enjoy it, I’m always planning at least one trip.

    We can’t wait till we can be in Michigan during cherry season. Looks like a beautiful area, thanks for the tour.

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    • Told Karen I’d like to consider weekly and monthly stays as much as possible on a trip someday just to see if it works. Although we rarely stay less than three days, the moving gets old and there never seem to be enough days in the season before we need to move out of an area.

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    • Your welcome. Unfortunately we were later cut to six nights in the upper peninsula, but enjoyed the extended stay in Traverse City. I’ve been reading your posts all along. For some reason, on several blogs, when I post there is a note that pops up stating my comment will be posted after review. I’m hoping they are showing up.

      We are in North Dakota now.

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