“I wish it were in my backyard,” said Ron Macy, a downstate resident visiting the Traverse City area.
He was standing at the Old Mission Point Park overlook after a recent hike.
“It’s so pristine hiking up here. It’s why I keep coming back. I envy you living up here,” he told me after I said I lived less than a half-hour away.
If your backyard is close, don’t let summer pass you by without checking out these three special spots.
OLD MISSION POINT PARK
The viewing area, marked with a memorial bench, is about halfway between the two trailheads for the upper trail system. They are located off Murray Ridgewood roads and connected by a two-and-a-half-mile graveled trail.
The trail crosses over the peninsula highlands, offering some jaw-dropping views, including views of both bays.
Old Mission Point Park is one of three parks and natural areas located on Old Mission Peninsula that offer a varied collection of trails. The other two are Pelizzari Natural Area and Pyatt Lake Nature Preserve.
Old Mission Point Park contains around 560 acres, which includes Lighthouse Park. The township has a long-term lease on 500 acres of state-owned land, after a state park plan there failed. Lighthouse Park has a few miles of trails on 60 acres at the tip of the peninsula.
The additional state property has allowed the township to connect trails, offering more than six miles of hiking opportunities there.
Pyatt Lake, located just north of Bowers Harbor off Neahtawanta Road, offers a short hike through some of the most botanically diverse natural areas in Grand Traverse County, according to Brad Gerlach, Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy stewardship coordinator.
“It was one of the Conservancy’s first land protection projects in the early 1990s, and still remains one of our most important acquisitions,” he said. “The dune ridge is home to more than 250 plant species, and each spring orchids and trillium carpet the forest floor in a sea of color.”
Gerlach said that spring and fall are the the best times to visit, “before the mosquitoes start showing up in great numbers,” he said.
PELIZZARI NATURAL AREA
Pelizzari Natural Area, just off Center Road, a mile from the peninsula’s base, was partially an old family orchard. The orchard is gone, but there are open meadows and beautiful woods to hike through.
Trails meander from Center Road to just above East Shore Drive and East Bay. In the summer you mostly hear songbirds in the meadows and woods, Gerlach said.
An old growth stand of rare climax hemlock trees towers above East Shore Drive. The Lower Meadow Trails, surrounded by tall hills, are also filled with hemlocks, many more than 100 years old.
“There’s about three miles of trails crisscrossing the property, and they are getting a lot of use. In fact, it’s one of our most visited trail systems,” said Gerlach, a conservation specialist. “It’s like an oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of [an area] that houses a lot of people.”