How to Take Spooky Tour of Former Asylum in Traverse City 

Shandra Martinez

| 4 min read

Traverse City is one of the top travel destinations in Michigan. Situated on the shores of both East and West Grand Traverse Bay, this spot has become a huge draw for craft beer lovers, wine tasters and outdoor enthusiasts who love its waterfront, beaches and wooded trails. But did you know Traverse City’s west side has an area that’s really a little city within itself?
Tour at the Village Commons
Grand Traverse Commons has been developed on the site of the former Northern Michigan Asylum, later known as the Traverse City State Hospital. Much of its historic architecture and gracefully-designed buildings remain intact. In recent years, its main building has been reimagined as a shopping and dining destination. But its brick-tunneled underbelly and several vacant buildings nearby that for years housed asylum residents are the backdrop for some pretty interesting – and slightly scary – tours of the property.
Grand Traverse Commons now offers several guided tours in which small groups are led through the main complex, empty (or are they?) outbuildings and cottages that have not yet been renovated, and the dimly-lit steam tunnels that run like a maze under the main building. The tours have expanded in recent years, based on visitors’ feedback about what they love to learn about. Some tours are more architectural and focus on the Victorian-Italianate building’s history dating back to 1883 and the asylum’s ahead-of-its time programming that keyed in on good food, clean air and exercise. Other tours are designed for foodies. Still others offer ghostly tidbits for those not afraid of a little paranormal adventure.
Tours at the Commons
Here are some of the tours being offered, based on the current descriptions:
Flashlight Tour: You’ll want to keep a small flashlight or your phone light handy for parts of this tour, which navigate the spooky 1885 steam tunnels underneath the building. Your guide may talk about the paranormal investigation teams that have done testing and recordings in this part of the village. They may even show you how to take pictures of the floating orbs that seem to follow tour groups through the tunnels. With this tour, you are likely to log 1,760* steps.
Twilight Tour: Be ready to hear the creaks and groans of the old, empty asylum cottages during this tour, which heads into unrenovated buildings as well as the steam tunnels. Guides will read stories from former residents and workers, giving a feel for what it was like to live there more than a century ago. With this tour, you are likely to log 2,300* steps.
Guided Historic Walking Tour: Learn all about the “Beauty is Therapy” motto that was a foundation for the old asylum’s treatment methods. Get details about the sprawling brick main building, its cottages and outbuildings, and see how Kirkbride Hall has been restored to a gorgeous event venue in the heart of the village. Want to go down in the steam tunnels? They are included, too. With this tour, you are likely to log 2,300* steps.
Explorer Tour: This is a bit of a buffet packed into 90 minutes. A little outside overview of the village campus, a bit of history, and tours of the tunnels and an unrenovated cottage. With this tour, you are likely to log 1,760* steps.
Taste of the Village Tour: History, wine tasting and beer sipping are all included in this tour where the past meets the present. Some of the old asylum’s outbuildings now house Traverse City’s only in-town winery, Left Foot Charley, and craft beer spot Earthen Ales. It’s a tasty tour designed for those 21 and older, and may add up to more than 600* steps.
Private Tours: Coming with a group and want to schedule a private tour with a guide? This can be arranged November through May by emailing [email protected].
*Step count is based on estimated walking per tour.
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