August 27, 2018

Outdoor Adventures In Decorah

I wanted a weekend getaway this summer that included being active and seeing beautiful scenery. And I needed it to be drivable from Omaha. My choice? Decorah, a small town in northeastern Iowa tucked in the Driftless Area of the Midwest. 

Disclosure: My stay was hosted by Visit Decorah and I partnered with Karst Adventures for the outdoor excursions. All opinions, thoughts and typos are my own.

When I started planning my weekend to Decorah in northeast Iowa, I had two things on my agenda to see: Dunning’s Springs and the Upper Iowa River, which I had seen included on a National Geographic list of the 100 Greatest Adventures in America. After seeing it on that list, how could I not go there?

While it’s quite easy to have a family-friendly getaway to Decorah, this time around, it was a kid-free, girls weekend for me. To make the most of having just 48 hours in Decorah, I partnered with Amber from Karst Adventures to guide my group through a bike ride and moonlight float down the river.

Dunning’s Springs

I’m a sucker for a good waterfall on vacation. This 200-foot waterfall is right in downtown Decorah in Dunning’s Spring Park, and so easy to get to. There is parking available, but you can do as we did, too, and simply bike to it. 

My friend Amy and I climbed up the waterfall at Dunning’s Springs Park in Decorah, Iowa. 

Wear decent climbing shoes if you’re going to attempt to go up the waterfall. The water is cold and we saw children playing in the stream.

There are stairs, making an easy route to get to the top of the falls. The park has trails, including mountain bike trails. This was just a quick stop for us, so we didn’t explore beyond the waterfall.

The arch stone bridge at Dunning’s Springs Park was made without any mortar.

While you’re there, check out the stone arch bridge. It was designed to be similar to one that was there more than 100 years ago, and the interesting thing is that no mortar was used to build it.

Biking the Trout Run Trail

Our group consisted of three women of varying abilities, and none of us had experience on mountain bikes, so the awesome mountain bike trails in Decorah were out of the question. We opted for tackling Trout Run Trail, a paved loop of about 10 miles that rides along the Upper Iowa River through cornfields, and past the fish hatchery and bald eagle nest.

This is what bike riding in Iowa is all about. It was beautiful riding along the Trout Run Trail in Decorah.

With Amber as our guide, we learned about the terrain the Driftless Area is known for, including the fascinating algific talus slope in the limestone walls where we could feel a cold breeze coming from the rock.

Driftless Area, in case you were wondering, is a region in the upper Midwest, that had glaciers. 

Amber started Karst Adventures in the summer of 2018. She was our guide both on the Trout Run Trail and, later that night, on the Upper Iowa River.

She was a good motivator for us, warning us of lengthy inclines and how to handle the switchbacks in the cornfields. And, she knew where exactly to look for the famous bald eagles nest in Decorah.

Feeding the fish at the Decorah Fish Hatchery. This place is a hit would be a hit with my kids.

With pit stops to rest, and one to feed fish at the hatchery, our ride took up nearly the four hours of our rental.

Where to get your bikes: Amber met us at Decorah Bicycles, where we rented hybrid bikes for a four-hour span. In case you’re wondering, there are also mountain bikes and kids bikes available there.

The entire Trout Run Trail may be too difficult for young children, especially with some of the hills. They were a little grueling for us. If you do want to try it with kids, you can do an out-and-back from the bicycle shop to the fish hatchery. It’s flat (and you can look for the bald eagles nest while you’re out there).

A fisherman at a stream by the Decorah fish hatchery.

The location of Decorah Bicycles is convenient. It’s near the Trout Run Trail, first of all. But, it’s also a short ride from the waterfall at Dunning’s Spring Park. If you’re comfortable riding on the street, it’s easy to tack on a visit to the falls before getting on to the trail.

And conveniently, it’s near both The Whippy Dip and Pulpit Rock Brewing Co., so if you’re craving ice cream or beer after your ride, you’re covered.

Related post: Get dining suggestions for Decorah here.

Pulpit Rock Brewing Co. is within walking distance of Decorah Bicycles, where we rented our bikes for the trail ride.

Kayaking the Upper Iowa River

If you don’t have a guide like Amber, it’s a good idea to check the water levels of the river before setting out on the Upper Iowa River. There are outfitters to rent kayaks, canoes or tubes. We got our kayaks from Off The Driftless.

We took a break during our moonlight float to snack and sit around a fire. Photo courtesy Vidar Skrede

We were fortunate enough to be in Decorah on a gorgeous full moon-lit night, so we had made plans to have a moonlight kayak float with our guide Amber, who runsKarst Adventures. The three of us in my group, again, had varying levels of kayaking abilities. We had all kayaked at least once, so we had that going for us. But it had been years for a few of us. If you’re going to do one of these nighttime floats, it’s pretty important to not be completely new to it.

We kayaked down the Upper Iowa River on a full moon in August. It was both peaceful and unsettling, especially when the fog rolled in. Photo courtesy Vidar Skrede

Our group was picked up from Off The Driftless and shuttled to a launching point. After a quick refresher on steering and getting into a kayak, we were off. To be honest, it was both unsettling and incredibly peaceful. Visibility was low, especially with the fog. 

It was an adventure, though, and engaged the senses. We were on high alert for anything in the water. We could hear beaver tails slapping the water, watch blue herons flutter away, and muse over the gang of geese walking in the water. The fog helped disguise us so animals weren’t so skittish. 

Fog and a full moon over the Upper Iowa River. Photo courtesy Vidar Skrede

My friends and I were unfamiliar with this river, so I would’ve appreciated having Amber as a guide in the daytime, but she was absolutely essential at night. The river was low in August, so we followed her to avoid shallow waters and fallen trees. 

When I return with my family, I’ll be reaching out to Amber to help customize an outdoorsy itinerary. Her work has largely focused on introducing women and children to outdoor pursuits and skill building. 

Kayaking, biking, and climbing a waterfall in Decorah, Iowa - Here's how to have an active getaway in eastern Iowa #thisisiowa #outdoors #adventure

Plan a trip to Decorah

Stay tuned! I’ll be sharing about our experience staying at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Decorah, as well as all the great places we dined at in town. Norwegian Christmas desserts? We tried them. Wood fire on a farm? We went there. Here are my tips on where to stay and where to eat in Decorah 

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Kayaking the Upper Iowa River, biking, and climbing a waterfall in Decorah, Iowa - Here's how to have an active getaway in eastern Iowa around the Driftless Area #thisisiowa #outdoors #adventure
August 20, 2018

Things You Should Know Before Taking Kids To The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford is a large museum outside of Detroit full of artifacts and exhibits about America’s history and innovation. It’s a huge, three-building complex. I was a tad overwhelmed when I planned a visit during my family’s great Michigan road trip, to be honest. To save you a little worry, here are some things to know before your visit.

Disclosure: I received complimentary admission to The Henry Ford as part of a hosted visit through Visit Detroit. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What to epxpect

What is The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford is a complex of three spaces: The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation (which I’ll refer to as The Henry Ford from now on), Greenfield Village, and Ford Rouge Factory Tour. We made it to two of the three places on our one-day visit. And that one-day visit? That could’ve been (should’ve been) two days.

A mill at Greenfield Village, an outdoor living history space with seven areas to explore. It’s part of The Henry Ford complex. 

History is the focus at The Henry Ford, but not in such a narrowly defined experience as “history museum.” This places feels alive. I’ve never been to anything quite like The Henry Ford. It’s not just cars and transportation. Innovation, mathematics, and a fun display on pop culture through generations are all a part of the museum.

The Henry Ford had artifacts from various eras in American history. The blue railcar behind the signs is a restaurant.

Greenfield Village is an epic living history experience with actors, landmark buildings, and cool experiences like riding in a Model T. 

I loved the picturesque Main Street at Greenfield Village. Guests can pay a little extra to ride around in in a Model T.

The factory is the lone place we missed on this visit. There just wasn’t enough time. 

How much time do you need at The Henry Ford

It’s going to depend on your family. We split our visit between Greenfield Village and The Henry Ford. Our visit was in the summer, so we chose to go to Greenfield Village the first thing in the morning.

We peeked in a jewelry store at Greenfield Village.

We last until lunch time before the heat was too much. We had spent about three hours at Greenfield Village, which was not adequate to see everything. It did allow a decent amount of time for playing at the playground, so factor that into your planning if you have young kids.

There’s a large exhibit about flight at The Henry Ford. There’s an area to make your own paper airplane and then test them out.

The Henry Ford was where we spent the bulk of our day, and I feel like we got a good look at everything that interested us in the hours we wandered around there.

What will kids like at The Henry Ford?

This is totally going to be just my opinion. What’s interests your kids could be quite different from mine. 

Greenfield Village is divided into seven districts. My favorite was Main Street, with its shops and lawn games.

Don’t skip the Wright Cycle Shop (the actual place where the Wright Brothers dreamt up their flying machines), the playground, and watching artisans in action (including glass-blowing, weaving, and pottery). 

The Greenfield Village Playground isn’t your typical playground. The kids loved it.

There’s also working farms, a steam locomotive, and a ton more historic buildings (obviously). We missed Thomas Edison’s lab and I imagine that was a mistake. I was hot and wanted out of the summer sun, please forgive me.

The Henry Ford has so many stellar artifacts that bring American history to life. We got to sit on the same bus that Rosa Parks protested on, and pose in a Model T.  If you love cars, trains, agriculture, history, or design, this is your kind of place.

In “Made In America: Manufacturing,” the kids and I joined an assembly line to make cars. It was a fun way to learn about manufacturing for the kids.

Being at the museum with kids, though, I’d have to say the more hands-on an exhibit was, the more they liked it. The “Heroes In The Sky” exhibit had a space for kids to make model airplanes and test them, for instance. “Made In America: Manufacturing” was another good one – we participated in an assembly line to build toy model Ts. And if you have a train fanatic, there is a miniature railroad to watch.

Tips from a parent

Resting in the women’s suffrage exhibit jail.
  • – Bring a stroller or wagon if you have young kids. The complex is huge.
  • – You park at one place and can get to the museum and Greenfield Village by foot. 
  • – You can bring a small amount of food and drinks with you. You’ll definitely want water bottles. There are restaurant options in the complex. Some restaurants have themes to them, which is fun, but I was a little underwhelmed with our experience at the 1940s diner called Lamy’s Diner.
  • – The frozen custard at Greenfield Village is to die for.
  • – There’s a playground at Greenfield Village by the carousel. It’s a lot of fun for them, though a little word of warning, they can get a little wet there. 
  • – There aren’t a whole lot of buildings with air conditioning at Greenfield Village (you’ve got to love authentic history, right?). Cool off in the gift shop.
  • – Plan on spending a little extra. My kids loved riding the train, for instance, but it’s extra, as is the Model T rides. 
  • – It helps to know when demonstrations begin in Greenfield Village. And then, if you’re like me, disregard those times and just try to keep up with your kids.
  • Greenfield Village is a seasonal attraction, so know that it’s closed from Jan. 1 through April 14.
Things to know before taking your kids to The Henry Ford & Greenfield Village #Detroit #Michigan #museum #familyvacation #familytravel #tips

If you go

The Henry Ford Complex

Where: 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, Mich.

Find out about special events here.

Read more about things to do in Detroit

Planning a visit to Detroit? Start with the Detroit Bucket List, and then check out these posts for further details about Detroit museums:

Detroit Museums For Families

“Star Wars and the Power of Costume” At Detroit Institute Of Arts

What To Expect At The Motown Museum – Oct. 5

August 15, 2018

The Great Michigan Road Trip

Until this summer, I knew two things about Michigan: The state had some of the most Instagrammable lakes in the country and it’s home to Mackinac Island. Two good points, but there’s more to explore in the state. If you’re ready to road trip through Michigan, but have no idea where to begin, this post is for you.

This itinerary covers a little more than a week of exploring mostly the Lower Peninsula. The Upper Peninsula is going to be a trip in itself someday. Read my Michigan Bucket List to see what’s missing from this trip. 

A fun road trip through Michigan itinerary with details on where to stay, what to do, and where to eat. Stops include Grand Rapids, Ludington State Park, Traverse City, Petoskey, Mackinac Island, & Detroit

Disclosure: A portion of our stays and experiences were sponsored by convention and visitor bureaus and hotels. Many of our experiences were paid out of pocket, too. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Road Trip Through Michigan

What I loved about this road trip is that it provided a chance for city exploring with wonderful museums and restaurants, as well as plenty of outdoor adventures. And beaches, we got plenty of beach time. The places we visited were (in order of stops): Grand Rapids, Ludington State Park, Traverse City, Petoskey, Allanson, Mackinac Island, Frankenmuth, and Detroit.

Lakeside parking in Michigan. Traveling nearly 1,000 miles was pretty comfortable in the Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring.

We were fortunate to partner with Mazda for this road trip! The 2018 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD was a comfortable fit for our family of four.

In case you were wondering, we did not drive from Nebraska to Michigan. We took a direct flight from Omaha to Detroit. 

Grand Rapids

We spent two days exploring Grand Rapids. The highlights included the John Ball Zoo and Grand Rapids Public Museum (which we did not leave nearly enough time to fully explore). If you go to the zoo, you can pay a little extra to do a ropes course or zipline through the zoo.

My whole family did the ropes course at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. My youngest was 6 years old and decided it wasn’t as fun as she thought it would be.

Since our kids are still pretty young, we also visited the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. If your kids are younger than age 8, I’d say it’s good to include on your itinerary.

Where to eat: Grand Rapids is known as Beer City, U.S.A., so I thought it was pretty necessary to find one that was family-friendly just so I could be a part of that scene. Since we were staying downtown, the Grand Rapids Brewing Co. was an easy walk from our hotel. There were several families there, and while they didn’t have a kid’s menu, they did adapt the regular menu to our kids’ preferences (no fancy stuff in the mac and cheese, please).

Chez Olga was in Eastown in Grand Rapids. The restaurant serves Caribbean food.

We had dinner in a very unique restaurant called Chez Olga. While my kids were less than enthused by the flavorful Caribbean cuisine (it was SO good), they did like the unique look of the building. I wish we had more time to explore the neighborhood it was in. It was near the yummiest place for breakfast, too – Wolfgang’s.

Another great restaurant for breakfast is Anna’s. There was quite a bit of a wait because we had a late start to the morning. However, once seated, the service was quick.

The historic lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel had a fountain my daughter liked to watch.

Where to stay: The Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids was a combo of great location and great amenities. This hotel has a historic side with charming lobby and a modern side with a huge tower and family-friendly pool.

Related posts:

Ludington State Park

Our next overnight destination was Traverse City, but on the way there, we decided to enjoy a pit stop at Ludington State Park.

Part of our hike around Lost Lake passed by campgrounds and a dock.

We enjoyed an easy hike around Lost Lake, taking a dip in the cold water about half-way. This park could easily be an overnighter (or two) for families.

If you want to swim in Lake Michigan, this has the beach you’re looking for (though the water was very cold when we were there in June). The beach by Lake Michigan Beach House is expansive.

Traverse City

Traverse City was our next stop, and we planned two days to explore the area. We ended up spending a lot more time around the hotel because of the view.

Pretty sunset at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City
Sunset at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City, Michigan.

Where to stay: Our hotel, Cherry Tree Inn & Suites, sits right on Grand Traverse Bay, and between the waves, the outdoor pool, and the pirate ship play set, our kids didn’t want to leave.

But we did. 

Bike riding in Traverse City
We biked along the T.A.R.T. in Traverse City. There’s a great, family-friendly brewery known for its pizza on the route called The Filling Station.

There’s a trails system in Traverse City called the T.A.R.T. and it’s not far from our hotel. We walked to a bike rental shop, and then hopped on the trail. It did cross over some city streets, so I’m glad our youngest was on a tagalong bike.

The view of Lake Michigan from atop a 450-foot sand dune at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

We also took a little side trip to Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. We allotted just enough time to climb a dune and take the scenic drive through the park. 

If you have more time, plan for more of it, because it is a gorgeous, scenic lakeshore.

Glen Haven Beach is picturesque but when we visited, the water was freezing cold and the waves were high (for a lake).

The kids really wanted some lake time while we were there, but the lake itself isn’t that accessible inside Sleeping Bear (unless you’re willing to deal with climbing back up a 450-foot sand dune). Instead, we drove just a few miles away to Glen Haven Beach on Sleeping Bear Bay. The water was extremely cold and the waves were high. But the kids got their chance to play in the water.

Where to eat: During our T.A.R.T bike ride, we stopped at The Filling Station Microbrewery for lunch. They’re known for pizza, and for having a family-friendly atmosphere – there are little sand boxes set up for kids. The beer was good too.

Food and drinks were ordered at the Filling Station’s outdoor bar. The family-friendly brewery/restaurant was located along the T.A.R.T. Trail in Traverse City.

The most memorable meal was at 7 Monks Taproom in charming downtown Traverse City (we did a little shopping before sitting for dinner). Even as a taproom, it’s a very family-friendly place with a kids menu. My husband ordered a burger that he says is a serious contender for the best hamburger ever. We stuck to the complimentary breakfast provided at the hotel. It was nothing special, but it was quick and convenient.

Moomers ice cream in Traverse City
You can enjoy Moomers ice cream while looking at dairy cows in the distance.

A trip to Traverse City is incomplete without a stop at the famous Moomer’s, an ice cream shop located on a dairy farm. We went there after our afternoon at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.

Related posts:

Petoskey Area

Our route to Petoskey along US-31 was dotted with roadside food stands, and on impulse, we stopped at one offering freshly-picked strawberries and strawberry donuts.

A fresh strawberry donut from a Michigan farm stand.

Properly fueled for the rest of the trip, we arrived in Petoskey in time for lunch. After a brief walk along the bay, we walked to the picturesque downtown area to find our next stop: City Park Grill.

The City Park Grill is an old Hemingway haunt in Petoskey, Michigan. He usually sat in the second seat from the end of the bar.

Where to eat: Petoskey boasts connections to Ernest Hemingway, so I wanted to dine where Hemingway once drank. If you go to City Park Grill, you can actually sit in the same barstool as Hemingway. I was with my family, so we got a dinner table, but it was tempting. 

We walked around the downtown area afterward, stopping in a bookstore and then venturing to a trail for a quick walk. The kids were preoccupied by a quest to find Petoskey stones, we so left the small town and headed to Petoskey State Park to search for them.

My son’s rock collection from Petoskey State Park. The two rocks on the far right are Petoskey stones, which are fossilized coral known in the area.

We lucked out and found a few small ones at the state park. The water was very cold, so there was no actual swimming at the lake. 

Petoskey Brewing Co. is near Petoskey State Park, so once we left the park, we headed there for a late afternoon snack. They have tasty little ice cream bars the kids liked, and the beers were refreshing for the adults.

Dusk at Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge in northern Michigan. Shortly after I took this picture, staff made a fire in the hotel’s fire pit.

Where to stay: We stayed one night in the Petoskey area, in a lodge on a river called Stafford’s Crooked River Lodge & Suites. It’s a short drive from Petoskey, and feels a world away. The spacious suite was great, though we wanted to spend as much time as possible at the pool and, later, outside.

Related posts:

Mackinac Island

Our only stop in the Upper Peninsula was on the tiny, car-free island of Mackinac Island. We had only 24 hours to explore it, and while that was sufficient time, it was so idyllic that we wished we had more nights to stay.

Soaking up the view of Mackinac Island while at Fort Mackinac.

To get to the island, most people travel by ferry. Time it right and your ferry may take you up close to the iconic Mackinac Bridge.

The best way to see the island, if you’re an active family, is by bike. It’s flat, the trail is wide, and you can’t beat the views.

We also spent time at the massive pool at the Grand Hotel, and had a very memorable experience at Fort Mackinac – we helped fire a cannon!

Where to eat: Our best dining experiences were at Grand Hotel restaurants (though we didn’t try the famous lunch buffet). Breakfast was a multi-course affair with multiple options to order, or a buffet to indulge in. 

Dinner was even more special – five courses, dress code enforced, and live music. The kids loved it – and they had a children’s menu. 

Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor had its own entrance in the Grand Hotel.

We had sweets while we were there, of course, There are several fudge shops to choose from on Mackinac Island, so you should try their famous fudge. Ice cream was also in order, so after our morning at Fort Mackinac, we walked back to Grand Hotel to have some cone at Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor. The kids earned their free cones by completing a kid’s fitness program.

Speaking of Fort Mackinac, Grand Hotel runs a little cafe there. The view is astounding, and while we only had coffee and hot cocoa, it was a memorable experience. 

The street that leads to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Where to stay: The most famous hotel on the island is the historic Grand Hotel. We were fortunate to stay this all-inclusive resort. There’s plenty to do there for the entire family, from complimentary lawn games and kid’s programs, to more elaborate affairs like afternoon tea.

Related posts:

Frankenmuth

The plan was to make a lengthy pitstop in the very German town of Frankenmuth, located on our route between Mackinac Island and Detroit. We’d dine on some must-try fried chicken I’d heard about and we’d enjoy some German beer.

Frankenmuth was a town in Michigan that felt more like a German village.

However, we had a bit of a family medical emergency. So, while I strolled along one of the main thoroughfares with the kids, my husband visited their minor medical center.

Detroit

Our final stop was Detroit – a large city that that needs a few days to explore. 

The frescoes by Diego Rivera are one the highlights of the Detroit Institute of Arts. My kids stood still for about 5 seconds to let me admire them.

Given the oppressive heat of June, we stayed indoors mostly, visiting great museums like the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Motown Museum, and the Michigan Science Center.

I loved the picturesque Main Street at Greenfield Village. Guests can pay a little extra to ride around in in a Model T.

We also spent a full day at The Henry Ford, with just a couple early morning hours at Greenfield Village. Both could be a day in themselves. Both were big hits with the kids.

Where to stay: Detroit is sprawling and you have an abundance of choices. The place we stayed at is in Troy, Mich., a Fairfield Inn & Suites nicely located near the interstate, and a convenient drive to Beaumont Hospital (long story). Frankly, though, it would not be best for visiting all of the key Detroit attractions.

An awesome road trip itinerary through Michigan - Tips on where to eat, stay & play in cities like Grand Rapids, Detroit & Mackinac Island #roadtrip #vacation #familyvacation

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August 12, 2018

Where To Stay In Traverse City

We had two days to explore Traverse City, Mich., this summer. The itinerary included dune climbing, drinking craft beer, and gazing dreamily at lakes (that last two things were just on my schedule – the kids had other plans). Given what we wanted to do, we wanted to find a hotel in Traverse City that got us close to the water but still had a convenient location.

Since we loved the idea of a place with a view, we ended up at at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City. What a view!

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Visit Traverse City. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

About Cherry Tree Inn & Suites

Cherry Tree Inn & Suites has a lot going for it: Private beach, themed play set, and an outdoor pool. Plus, their complimentary shuttle takes you all over the city (though, really, it’s pretty easy to navigate on your own).

There are more than 20 room and suite options at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City. Our room had two queen-size beds, a little kitchenette with fridge, and a balcony.

The hotel has several different room options. Whatever you pick, request water view. I spent more mornings on the balcony writing and watching the sunrise. 

And the sunset view was lovely too, though, it’s better to be down on the beach for them, in my opinion.

Pretty sunset at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City
Sunset at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City, Michigan.

Cherry Tree is located in a touristy strip of hotels on one side of the street, while on the other side, you’ve got chain restaurants, putt putt, and gas stations. We did find a bike rental shop within walking distance of our hotel, making for an easy bike ride excursion with the kids.

A complimentary hot breakfast at a hotel is always a nice amenity. It wasn’t the best complimentary breakfasts I ever ad, but it got the job done.

The hotel has a complimentary hot breakfast, as well as a little sweet shop where you can buy candy and pints of Moomers. Moomers, if you haven’t read about it, is a very well-known ice cream shop in Traverse City. I recommend going there since it is on a picturesque dairy farm, but if you can’t, might as well buy the ice cream at your hotel, right?

What the kids love at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites

They rope kids in with cookies on the counter and then from that point on, they have made fans of your kids. 

Cherry Tree Inn & Suites outdoor pool
The Cherry Tree Inn & Suites’ outdoor pool and hot tub had a nice view of the bay. My kids preferred it to the indoor pool.

The biggest hits for my kids were obviously the pools – one indoors and one outdoors. The outdoor hot tub is nice, too, especially at sunset.

The the second popular spot to find kids is on the pirate ship swing set. 

Pirate ship playground at Cherry Tree Inn & Suites in Traverse City
Cherry Tree Inn & Suites has a pirate ship playground on its private beach.

The kids attempted to play in the lake, but it was not the best experience. The water was cold and full of weeds that creeped the kids out. 

Cherry Tree Inn & Suites has a private beach. It’s not bad for playing in the sand, but my kids weren’t fans of the water. Too much seaweed, they tell me.

If we had more time, we would’ve considered renting some watercraft, which is available on the property (for a bit of a hefty price, though).

If you have older kids, try staying up late for the bonfire each night.

What’s near Cherry Tree Inn & Suites

Read up on our two days in Traverse City for a list of things my family did while visiting Traverse City. The closest thing on that list (besides the private hotel beach), was ride bikes on the nearby trail. 

From the hotel, you’re also within walking distance of Pirate Cove Adventure Park, which has putt putt, bumper boats and that sort of thing.

Front Street and the surrounding streets were my favorite places to window shop in Traverse City. Besides restaurants, the shops were almost all closed when we visited one evening.

For food, I’d recommend heading downtown for great dining and breweries. I talk about restaurants, breweries and the best place to get ice cream this post.

If you go

Cherry Tree Inn & Suites

Where: 2345 U.S. 31 North, Traverse City, Mich.

Website

Where to stay in Traverse City - Review of Cherry Tree Inn & Suites, a waterfront hotel in Traverse City #Michigan #review #famllytravel

Plan a Traverse City vacation

I started planning this vacation in the form of a bucket list. Check out the Traverse City Bucket List to begin your plans. This stop was part of a larger road trip through Michigan.

Family-friendly things to do in Traverse City, Michigan

Read more about some of the things we did in Traverse City:

48 Hours In Traverse City With Kids

Taking Kids to Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore (TBD)

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August 8, 2018

5 Things For Kids To Do At Fort Mackinac

Mackinac Island was one of our favorite stops on our Great Michigan Road Trip. There’s much to love about Mackinac Island–there’s natural beauty and zero cars. It’s a fun family vacation destination steeped with military history. And there’s one place on the island go that combines fun things for kids to do and military history: Fort Mackinac.

Disclosure: Mackinac State Historic Parks provided complimentary admission and a complimentary cannon firing session so that I can write about it. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

The view from one of the cannons at Fort Mackinac in Michigan.

Fort Mackinac is part of Mackinac State Historic Parks. Built in 1780, it served as a military outpost, home for soldiers and their families, and later, was the headquarters for Mackinac National Park. Now, it’s bustling destination for history buffs and families, featuring 14 buildings, costumed interpreters, and possibly the best view found on the island.

Things Kids Will Love At Fort Mackinac

Firing The Cannon

Each morning at 9:30 a.m. sharp, the cannon is fired from the bluff overlooking the City of Mackinac Island and Haldimand Bay. Usually, it’s costumed interpreters doing the daily task, but guests can reserve the chance to fire it, too.

The kids and I got a history lesson while we helped prep and fire the cannon at Fort Mackinac.

I got the chance to fire it on the morning we visited, and it was a thrill. It was actually quite a ceremony, and with my kids in tow, we learned a lot. They were too young to fire it–you must be at least 13 years old–but they were old enough to help clean, load and prime the cannon. 

While I was the only one who got to fire the cannon at Fort Mackinac, my kids (ages 6 and 8) were able to help prep the cannon.

By far, this was the highlight of our visit, as we felt that we became a part of a centuries-long tradition. It helped that we also got souvenir hats, to boot. The kids wore them for the rest of the day.

The experience is $50 for one person, which includes admission into the park and the souvenir hat. Only one person gets to have the experience each day. More details and reservations here.

The cannon is fired a couple times a day, but it’s only the 9:30 a.m. salute that could be fired by the guest.

Costumed Interpreters

It’s one thing to read about history on a sign while you pass through historic buildings. It’s something all together different to hear about history through a character from that era. 

There are demonstrations performed by costume re-enactors every day at Fort Mackinac. One of the most popular ones is the rifle firing demonstration, which is held several times a day during the summer.

Fort Mackinac has interpreters in the park who regularly perform demonstrations like a court martial, rifle firing, or a bayonet demo. The rifle firing is pretty loud, so be alert and cover ears.

It’s not just soldiers at the fort now, just as it wasn’t just soldiers back in its day. Look for ladies strolling in costume, as well.

Kids’ Quarters

The Kids’ Quarters is tucked inside the Officers’ Stone Quarters, built in 1780. Here, kids can touch exhibits meant to teach through play. They can pull a cord to fire a cannon, dress up like a soldier, practice morse code, and learn how to carry a rifle.

The Kids’ Quarters at Fort Mackinac includes interactive displays like this dress up corner where kids can dress up like soldiers and their families.

If your kids are under age 8 (probably even under age 10), they’ll like this place.

Walking through history

There are more than a dozen buildings to explore at Fort Mackinac. While some keep guests back from the exhibit to preserve items on the display, others are completely open. 

There are 14 buildings to tour at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, Mich.

Our tour guide pointed out the bathhouse, which dates back to 1885, as an example. 

Fort Mackinac is also home to the oldest building in Michigan. Use that fact to impress your kids.

Treats With A View

The Tea Room, a cafe operated by the Grand Hotel, is located in Fort Mackinac. Of all the places I had a meal on the island (or in this instance, had coffee), this place had the best view.

The kids loved the hot cocoa with whipped cream at the Tea Room, located inside Fort Mackinac. The view can’t be beat.

Most of the day, they serve snacks, desserts and beverages. Lunch is available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Fun things for kids to do at this historic Fort Mackinac #Michigan #MackinacIsland #familytravel #familyvacation #travel

If you go

Where: 7127 Huron Road, Mackinac Island, Mich.

Hours: Fort Mackinac is a seasonal state historic park, so it’s best to double check the hours before going. Here are the 2018 hours:

June 9 – Sept. 2, 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (last admission 6 p.m.)

Oct. 8-28, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (last admission 3 p.m.)

Sept. 3 – Oct. 7, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last admission 4:30 p.m.)

Admission: $13, adults ($12 online), and $7.50, children ages 5-12 ($7 online). Note: Admission also includes The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum during the 2018 season and the Historic Downtown Mackinac buildings through Aug. 25, 2018.

Beyond the fort

Your admission into Fort Mackinac gets you into the art museum on the island. It’s housed in the historic Indian Dormitory.

Kids can paint, cut, and draw art inspired by Mackinac Island history at the kids’ studio in the Mackinac Art Museum.

It’s three stories of permanent and temporary exhibits, though we didn’t get to explore much. We spend all of our time in the downstairs art studio. Kids could work on different types of art projects there and either take them home, or hang them up with others. The art studio is only open during the summer.

Through Aug. 25, there are four other historic buildings you can tour that are connected to the island’s history as a fur trading depot. Those buildings are the Biddle House, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, American Fur Company Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum, McGuilpin House, and Mission Church. 

Read more about Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island inspired an entire road trip through Michigan (more on that to come). To plan your own awesome road trip through Michigan, I’ll be sharing a road trip recap soon featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay. You can start planning now with this ultimate Michigan Bucket List.

For Mackinac Island highlights, read these posts:

My Mackinac Island Bucket List

24 Hours On Mackinac Island With Kids

Family Guide To Staying At The Grand Hotel

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August 6, 2018

Staying at Amway Grand Plaza With Kids

The Amway Grand Plaza is more than a century old and credited for revitalizing downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. Grand Rapids was our first stop on our epic road trip through Michigan. I had a lot of plans, and luckily, Amway Grand Plaza was centrally located for our adventures in the city.

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Experience Grand Rapids. All opinions, thoughts and typos are my own.

What to expect at Amway Grand Plaza

Amway Grand Plaza has two sides to it: There’s a grand historic side and then there’s the modern luxury side. It really does feel like two separate hotels, where one tower (the tall, glass one) has modern amenities like the pool, outdoor tennis courts on the roof, and a restaurant by Wolfgang Puck. And on the other side (the historic hotel side), there are chandeliers, upholstered furniture, a fountain and dim lights.

The Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids was once the Pantlind Hotel, and its historic lobby has maintained the early 20th century charm.

When you check in, the lobby is modern, bustling and connecting the two sides. I mention this because I was envisioning entering the building and stepping back in time. Instead, I asked if I was in the right place.

Walk away from the modern lobby and you’ll step into the gorgeous lobby on the historic side. It’s dimly lit by grand chandeliers, and the centerpiece is a fountain. 

The historic lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel had a fountain my daughter liked to watch.

The rooms at Amway Grand Plaza

There are options for rooms, and if it’s in the budget, you can opt for larger suites. We stayed in a room with two queen beds, which worked for our family of four. Understand that a room like that may feel small by modern standards.

A room in the historic Amway Grand Plaza was a little small by modern standards but was just fine for a family of four. The decor was beautiful and fit the historic nature of the hotel.

The bathroom, though, is updated and modern.

One thing to note: If you’re staying on the historic side, and you’re traveling with kids, a pool visit is inevitable. Know that you’ll have to cross through the lobby and take a lengthy walk to the other tower. Bring a cover-up.

Kids and the Amway Grand Plaza

It’s understandable to even wonder if this would be a good hotel for families given the historic nature of the hotel. It definitely is. We saw many families passing through the lobby while we were there, and the pool was a happening place each night.

Related Post: Favorite Historic Hotels For Families In The U.S.

My kids loved the pool area, of course, and I enjoyed the hot tub. There are two hot tubs, usually, though one was closed while we were there.

The pool and one of the hot tubs at the Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.

If the weather had been nicer (and if I knew how to play), we’d take advantage of playing tennis there. How often do you get to play on a roof? There were other lawn games out there, too, like corn hole and that ladder golf game. I couldn’t get my kids out of the pool or we would’ve tested them out.

Adults will like that the fitness center also has locker rooms where the men can sit in the steam room and the women can enjoy the sauna.

As far as the rest of the hotel, both kids were fascinated by the Pantlind lobby, and wanted to take more photos than me. And just try to find me a little kid who isn’t fascinated by a fountain in a lobby.

The hotel has several restaurants ranging from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse to a Starbucks. We didn’t eat at any of them, though my daughter and I did peek at the breakfast buffet at Rendezvous. It was very tempting but a little out of my price range for breakfast. 

Rendezvous is a bar in the evening, but come morning, it’s a family-friendly place for breakfast. It’s located in the main lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids.

If you want to know where we had breakfast during our stay, read this post about our weekend in Grand Rapids

What’s near the Amway Grand Plaza

One of the prime reasons to stay at this hotel is its location. It’s in a prime spot in downtown Grand Rapids, right near the river.

The view of downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., from the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Two of the places we visited, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and the Grand Rapids Public Museum, are about a half-mile from the hotel. It’s also near the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum.

Read about all the things you can do in Grand Rapids in the post 48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids.

We would’ve walked to them if our kids were a little older and a little less whiny. 🙂

It’s also near great restaurants and breweries.

Parking is expensive in downtown Grand Rapids, and while you can self-park at the hotel, note that that is also expensive ($29 a night).

Staying at the Amway Grand Plaza with kids #familytravel #grandrapids #michigan #experiencegr

Read more about Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids was the first stop of an epic road trip adventure through Michigan (more on that to come). To plan your own epic road trip through Michigan, check out this Michigan road trip recap featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay.

For Grand Rapids highlights, read these posts:

My Grand Rapids Bucket List

48 hours in Grand Rapids with Kids

Adventures at John Ball Zoo 

Exploring Grand Rapids Public Museum

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