25 Best Activities in Traverse City, Michigan for Outdoorsy Families

One of our favorite places in the entire state of Michigan to visit is easily Traverse City and the surrounding area. And it’s not just Michiganders who enjoy this spot. It’s easily one of the biggest tourist destinations in our state, with good reason. There’s such an abundance of activities in Traverse City that there’s sure to be something for everyone!

My focus for the purpose of this article will obviously be all things outdoors during the summertime. Traverse City is characterized by beautiful forests and stunning beaches. It’s also home to gorgeous, rolling farmland, vineyards, and orchards. AND the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore is just a short drive outside of the city.

Convinced yet? Here are 25 of the best activities in Traverse City for outdoorsy families!

Bike Paths In Traverse City

One of the best activities in Traverse City is biking! And there’s an abundance of trails and bike rental shops to choose from. They vary in length, landscape, and location, so check them out and see which is best for your family!

1. TART Trail

This trail gives you access to all things downtown, Lake Michigan waterfront, neighborhoods, and the State Park campground, among many other things. There are also bike shops along the way for easy rentals if you didn’t bring your own. Check here for more info.

Girl standing next to bike looking out at lake- activities in traverse city
Looking out at the bay from the bike path.

2. Leelanau Trail

This trail runs 17 miles between Traverse City and Sutton’s Bay. Among other things, it passes through the DeYoung Natural Area, vineyards and farmland, lakes and ponds, and two food forests. You’ll even pass by a bright yellow caboose along the way, which I know would delight our little guy. For more info on parking, restrooms, stops along the way, and the Bike-N-Ride program, check here.

3. Boardman Lake Trail

This 4-mile trail begins just a bit south of Traverse City and partially circles Boardman Lake. Some stops along the way include the library, parks, Oryana co-op, the Filling Station Restaurant (which has amazing pizza!) and Right Brain Brewery. Check here for a map and parking info.

4. Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

This is a beautiful paved trail that winds roughly 22 miles through the Sleeping Bear Dunes area. Some stops along the way include the cities of Empire and Glen Arbor, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, and several trail heads, including the Dune Climb, Bay View, and Alligator Hill.

Beaches In Traverse City

When choosing activities in Traverse City, beaches are an obvious choice. There are plenty within the city limits and nearby, as well as those located approximately 40 minutes away near the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore. If you’re staying in Traverse City, it’s definitely worth the drive out there! Here’s a roundup of some of the best beach options in or near the city:

5. Platte River Point Beach

Even though this one is a 45 minute drive from Traverse City, it’s definitely our favorite beach in the area. I’m personally not a fan of the beaches located downtown anyway as they’re generally overcrowded during the summer months. The Platte River Beach is also a super popular destination, but with good reason.

It’s located along the beautiful Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore. And even though tons of people head here, the beach is spacious and can accommodate large crowds.

This is also where the Platte River empties into Lake Michigan, which provides a warmer option for swimming if you’re not into the cold temps or rough waves of Lake Michigan. And the view of the dunes along the coastline is unbeatable.

Dad holding small boy while walking out into turquoise water of lake michigan- activities in traverse city

6. Peterson Road Beach

This is a spacious but secluded beach in the city of Honor. The shoreline is a mix of sand and stone, which makes it a great place to hunt for Petoskey stones. You also have a beautiful view of the Empire Bluff and Sleeping Bear Point Bluff along the shoreline in the distance.

7. Empire Village Beach

This beach is located right downtown in the city of Empire. It has a spacious beach area, pavilion, and playground. Fires are also allowed in designated rings.

8. Esch Road Beach

This beach is a little more narrow (depending on water levels) and admittedly harder to locate if you’re not from the area. But there’s plenty of coastline to explore, beautiful views of the dunes, and not as many people to contend with. It’s also a great spot for rock hunting!

Small boy with look of glee on his face standing in water at edge of beach- activities in Traverse City

9. Port Oneida Beach

Tucked away between two points, this is a cozy little beach spot. You’ll have to descend down a steep wooden stairway to access it, but there are generally fewer crowds here.

10. Bryant Park

This is a great beach for families right at the base of Old Mission Peninsula close to downtown. The beach area is wide and sandy, and there’s a picnic area, grills, and playground. There are also mature trees to provide some shade and a beautiful view of the bay.

Water Activities In Traverse City

They don’t call Michigan the Great Lakes State for nothing! Aside from the big ones, there is an abundance of other inland lakes and rives to provide plenty of water recreation opportunities. It’s no wonder that so many of the great activities in Traverse City involve water!

11. Float the Platte River

One of our absolute favorite (not to mention one of the more unique) activities in Traverse City is floating the Platte River! You can also canoe or kayak, but it’s the perfect lazy, scenic river to grab a tube and just float while you relax and enjoy the view.

We brought our own tubes and put in at the El Dorado boat launch and floated for approximately 1.5 hours. If you want an even longer float, you can put in at the Fish Weir, the M22 bridge, or at Riverside Canoe where you can rent a tube and get shuttled back. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to plan ahead for how you’ll get back to your car afterwards!

At the end of the float, the Platte River empties out into Lake Michigan at a beautiful beach! We usually plan to stay here and swim for a while even after floating the river.

Dad and small boy sitting on dock above river- activities in traverse city
One of the put-in spots on the Platte River. Unfortunately I don’t have any pics of us when we actually floated because there’s really no safe way to stash a camera!

12. Canoeing/Kayaking

There are plenty of options if you’re a fan of canoeing or kayaking. As mentioned above, the Platte River is a beautiful spot about 40 minutes outside of Traverse City.

If you want something closer, you can chose to go right in the bay of Lake Michigan. You can rent at Paddle TC right downtown at Clinch Park. Just be prepared for some waves! Another option within the city is the Boardman River or Boardman Lake.

13. Paddle Boarding

Paddle boarding is one of the activities in Traverse City that you have to try at least once! It’s such a unique experience to glide over the water while balancing upright on a board. And even if you don’t feel confident about standing or you want to try it with younger kids, you can always sit and paddle!

Paddle TC at Clinch Park downtown right on the bay has rentals available. The River Outfitters on Boardman Lake also have rental options. Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak in the city of Empire is another option.

Hiking Trails In Traverse City

Another great choice for activities in Traverse city is hiking! There are plenty of trails to chose from for varying skill levels. Some are close to the city, but head out to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore for the best ones! These are some of our favorites plus more that we want to try!

14. Brown Bridge Quiet Area

This is a nice option about 25 minutes outside of the city. You’ll stroll through beautiful evergreen woods and rolling grassland hills with a view of the river and pond. Check here for different trail options.

15. The Dune Climb

Located within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, this is one of the more strenuous activities in Traverse City! You’ll climb a steep dune with nothing but loose sand underfoot. Once you get to the top, enjoy a beautiful view of Glen Lake and surrounding farmland.

A REALLY old picture of my husband and I (before we were married) at the top of the Dune Climb.

16. Old Indian Trail

There are two loops you can choose from on this one, each about 2.5 miles long. You’ll hike through forest and end on top of some dunes with views of Lake Michigan below. This is one we still have yet to try, but I’ve been told that even though these loops are longer, the hike is a little easier.

17. Empire Bluff Trail

This is one of our favorite hikes that we do over and over again! It’s a moderate 1.5 miles round trip. Like many trails in the area, you’ll hike though forest and end with a beautiful view from the top of a dune right above Lake Michigan. We did this one with our little guy when he was two (almost three) years old.

Family stands at top of cliff overlooking lake and bluffs in the distance- activities in traverse city
Girl standing on sandy boardwalk trail leading up side of dune- activities in traverse city

18. Bay View Trail

This trail winds through fields, meadows, and historic farmland. It’s considered an easy hike, and a portion of the trail is handicap accessible. If you choose the High Bay View Trail, there is a bit of a climb to reach views of Lake Michigan at the top. Check here for a map and info about different portions of the trail.

19. Alligator Hill Trail

Alligator Hill has 9 miles of trail options, but they’re divided up into three loops so you can choose shorter routes. We just recently did the 1.5 mile hike from Stocking Road Trailhead up to Island Lookout.

The hike is moderate with one decent climb through sand, but we managed it while I was six months pregnant with our almost four-year-old in tow. You’ll primarily hike through forest and end at the top of the hill with a view of Lake Michigan, the Manitou Islands, and coastline below.

Dad holds small boy at the top of cliff looking out over lake-activities in traverse city
small boy rides on dad's shoulders while hiking down wooded path- activities in traverse city
mom holds small boy on top of overlook- activities in traverse city

20. Pyramid Point Trail

One of the most popular and highly rated trails in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area, this is a moderate 2.7 mile loop. You’ll hike through forest, meadows, and end on the dunes with a beautiful panoramic view of Lake Michigan.

Campgrounds In Traverse City

When it comes to activities in Traverse City, I couldn’t leave out camping! A lot of people may opt for the hotels and resorts, but there are plenty of nice areas for camping nearby if that’s your thing!

21. Traverse City State Park

This campground is located right off of the main drive that leads you into downtown Traverse City. This is the option for you if you’re looking to camp close to town. And you’ll be right across from Lake Michigan, although you do have to cross a bridge over the busy road to get there. It tends to be crowded during the summer, but it’s still a pretty, tree-filled spot.

campground in the fall with colorful foliage- activities in traverse city
As you can see, the state park campground empties out considerably in the fall.

22. D.H. Day Campground

Located close to the little town of Glen Arbor, this rustic campground is a popular choice. It’s situated on a beautiful spot on the Lake Michigan coastline. During the summer, there are ranger programs you can attend. You also have access to several attractions nearby, including the Dune Climb and Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

23. Platte River Campground

This is one of the most popular campgrounds in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area. It’s within walking distance of the Platte River and a short drive from Lake Michigan beaches. You also have access to several trails from the campground.

Parks and Playgrounds In Traverse City

When it comes to choosing activities in Traverse City, I had to include parks and playgrounds! Here are a couple of the best:

24. F and M Park

We just discovered this one by happenstance on our last visit! It’s located a block away from Lake Michigan in the middle of an adorable neighborhood. The playground is shaped like a train, which was an instant hit with our little guy.

There are picnic tables, a gazebo, and a lot of open space. Simple, but we spent a couple hours here and had a great time. I’m just kicking myself for not taking a picture!

25. Clinch Park

One of the most popular activities in Traverse City is Clinch Park, which is located right by the Marina a block from downtown. There’s a kid’s water park and beach area. TC Paddle is located right here, so you can rent canoes, kayaks, bikes, etc. It’s also fun to watch all the boats that sail across the bay! This is literally in the middle of everything, so expect it to be busy during the summer months!

And that’s our summary of the best activities in Traverse City, Michigan! If you want some travel ideas and insider tips for another beautiful northern Michigan destination, check out our recommendations for the city of Petoskey!

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