Michigan Spring Bucket List: Cherry Blossoms in Traverse City

Michigan has an abundance of beautiful spots spread out across both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. But in the springtime, there’s nothing more bucket-list worthy than heading to a corner of Northern Michigan known as the Cherry Capital of the World. Hundreds of thousands of cherry trees burst into bloom during the month of May, and their soft white petals create such a picturesque display that the sight has been known to stop visitors and send them reaching for their cameras. Ditto for drivers, who can be spotted pulled over on the side of the road and angling for that perfect shot. If you’re ready to experience this dose of springtime beauty, we’ve got some tips on where and when to see the profusion of Up North cherry blossoms. 

The Traverse City area has long had the cherry moniker all wrapped up. Michigan produces about 75% of all tart cherries grown in the U.S., and more than 20% of all sweet cherries, according to Michigan State University’s Extension service. Much of this production is concentrated across the northwest Lower Peninsula. By July and August, the bright little tart fruits are being shaken off trees and rolling into fruit processing facilities. The darker, sweet cherries become a sign of high summer at farmer’s markets and roadside stands. Their lush flavors are best enjoyed when eaten right out of your juice-stained hands.  

Nearly a century ago, a spring ceremony called “Blessing of the Blossoms” was first held in Traverse City, according to Traverse City Tourism. It’s since become the popular National Cherry Festival, paying homage to the area’s most well-known fruits and the farmers who produce them. 

But all this magic actually starts over a few weeks in May when the cherry trees first begin to blossom, creating an annual invitation for a road trip to experience blossom time. The trees blossom in waves, depending on their location. Each blossoming batch lasts about five days. Leelanau, Benzie and Grand Traverse counties all boast plenty of eye-catching orchards. Want to catch the early bloomers?  Spots that are inland tend to have early-blooming trees because they are farther away from the cool breezes coming off the waters of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan. The northern edges of the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas tend to be among the late blossom areas, according to the tourism staff.  

The month of May has become its own niche season for blossom travel in this area. There are guided tours available, bike routes that have you pedaling along blossom-flanked trails, and some wineries offer special events during blossom season. If you’re doing a self-guided tour, it’s recommended you gas up your vehicle, take water and snacks, and make sure your phone is fully charged.  

Here are a few of Traverse City Tourism’s tips for some great Up North cherry blossom drives: 

  • Old Mission Peninsula: Hop on M-37, the state highway that runs the length of the peninsula. As you drive north, you’ll get views of both the East and West arms of Grand Traverse Bay. You’ll roll past a handful of landmark vineyards – and lots of cherry orchards. Have a little extra time? Pack a lunch and drive to the tip of the peninsula where you’ll find Mission Point Lighthouse. There’s also an historic log cabin on the property and lots of bayside trails through the woods. 
  • Leelanau County: Make the interior trek along County Road 633. It runs north of Suttons Bay and connects to the famous M-22 near Northport. Plenty of fruit farms line this route. Want to stretch your legs? Both Suttons Bay and Northport are great for strolling.
  • Benzie County: With its western edge hugging Lake Michigan, tourism staff recommend a couple interior roads for blossom peepers. Try Joyfield Road between M-22 and U.S. 31, a stretch that is south of Elberta and Benzonia.  Another route to take is Herring Road located in Blaine Township, which is in the county’s southeast corner. Farms, orchards and lots of Up North scenery can be found along both roads.  

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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