State Parks Centennial: Traverse City

van and entrance sign at Traverse City State Park beachThe Traverse City State Park is a smaller state park at only 47 acres. What’s really different about this state park is that it’s what the state considers to be an “urban park.” That’s because they tucked it in along the main road in Traverse City among local businesses.

Traverse City State Park is located on U.S. Highway 31, across from East Grand Traverse Bay, which comes off of Lake Michigan. So, you’re technically in Lake Michigan waters, but looking out at a bay rather than the main lake.

The park consists of a campground and beach but it’s a different setup than most parks. For one thing, the beach and water are across the road from the state park campground. You have to cross the road via a pedestrian walkway. That means climbing the stairs to go up and over U.S. 31 with all of your beach paraphernalia. Note, the pedestrian walkway was not set up for folks who use wheelchairs. It’s all stairways going up and down.

Despite its small footprint, there are almost 480 campsites at the campground. That means no privacy because the sites are so close together. We have been there in the summer and it is usually quite full. Traverse City is a very touristy area so you have a lot of people trying to use a little bit of space.

The campsites along the front edge of the campground are across the fence from U.S. Highway 31, so you are going to have traffic noise pretty much all the time — especially in the summer. Some folks have reported that it dies down at night a bit. But it’s still going to be present most hours of the day. The road is even busier in the summertime when tourism season is in full swing since it is a main road in and out of Traverse City.

When booking your site, think about getting further back into the campground if you can. However, this is a very popular park. You need to get those reservations in early if you want to get a prime spot further back from the road (or even a spot at all!). Also, be aware there is a regional airport just a few miles away. So you are going to have some air traffic noise no matter what time of year you visit and regardless of which site you camp on.

The power poles at Traverse City State Park appear to be shared between every couple of campsites. And we found, as in several other state parks, that all the 20 amps plugs are on one side and the 30 amps are on the other.

Also, as we’ve seen in some other state parks, the bathroom building has individual shower stalls where you have your own lockable door and your own shower and changing area. That’s a nice touch to give you some additional privacy when getting cleaned up.

Once nice feature of Traverse City State Park is the heated mini-cabins. If you want to enjoy the Grand Traverse area in the winter, that’s an alternative for you if staying in an RV or winter tent in cold weather isn’t your thing.

If you visit the Traverse City area in the winter there are plenty of places to get away and find snow to have fun. Whether you enjoy downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, or snowshoeing, they get a lot of snow in the winter. When we were up there, we were visiting family that live in the area. When we commented that the forecast called for an inch and a half of snow, Jessi’s aunt said that doesn’t even count as snowfall. That’s a big difference between northwest Michigan versus what we are used to a few hours south in mid-Michigan. We consider a couple of inches of snow these days to be a decent snowfall in mid-Michigan. In Traverse City, it’s hardly newsworthy.

In the summer, there is plenty to do in the area, starting with the beach. However, as we mentioned, it isn’t very private and it’s not real quiet because even the beach is along U.S. 31.

On the beach side of the road is nice playground equipment, as well as chairs and picnic tables. The beach area also is a day-use area that you access with your daily or annual state park permit. So keep in mind that the beach is not just for people staying at the campground.

Part of why the state park is so popular is because it is so conveniently located near Traverse City. It’s just 2 miles from the downtown area. No matter the season there is a ton of stuff to do, like the Cherry Festival,  Film Festival, Beer Week, Chocolate Festival, VASA Festival of Races, and the Bayshore Marathon.  The area is also famous for its wineries – almost 40 in all!

And there are all kinds of different things you can do downtown, from shops to restaurants, to the farmer’s markets and breweries. And don’t miss a stop at The Village in Grand Traverse Commons.

Large restored historic hospital building
The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is an incredible restoration project that has turned the historic state psychiatric hospital into shops with unique northern Michigan flair.

The area also boasts a couple of smaller peninsulas off of Michigan’s main Lower Peninsula with more things to see. There is the Old Mission Point Lighthouse at the end of one. And there also is the Leelanau Peninsula, which boasts more wineries, another lighthouse, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and tons of beautiful scenery.

The whole Grand Traverse area is really beautiful. It’s a great place to hang out in the summer — if you don’t mind some crowds. And while Traverse City State Park may not be the most serene, it does provide a good option for staying near a lot of summertime activity without having to pay for a hotel with summertime tourism rates.

We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about Traverse City State Park published there.) You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.

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