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Enjoy the Outdoors in Northern Michigan (but Watch out for the Dogman!)

Article & Photography by by Jennifer Merrick

Everyone’s heard of Scotland’s mythical beast, the Loch Ness Monster, and of course, there’s Big Foot AKA Sasquatch. But Northern Michigan has a legendary creature of its own, which we learned about one very dark night. On a shuttle bus coming back from Bellaire, a village located approximately an hour north of Traverse City, our bus driver named Al (and you can call him that) blared the stereo. A documentary words-put-to-music song dramatically recited sightings and evidence of a dog-like creature that stands upright on two paws, reaching heights of seven feet four inches.

“Everyone around here’s heard of the Dogman,” a local resident told me. Does he believe? “Well, the story’s been around for years.”

Other interesting trivia about Michigan is that the state borders four of the five Great Lakes, has over 10,000 lakes and claims the world’s largest freshwater shoreline. Also, people from Michigan are called Michiganders.

And Michiganders, Dogman or not, love to go Up North and enjoy outdoor activities, not to mention craft brews, wineries and a food scene that’s come into its own in recent years. After visiting Traverse City and a couple of the resorts all in northwest lower Michigan….Let’s pause for a moment. I know that location sounds confusing: How can a place be northwest and lower? Let me explain. Michigan consists of two separate peninsulas that jut out into the Great Lakes: the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula. People who live in the U.P. (what Michiganders call the Upper Peninsula, pronounced ‘You Pea’) are referred to as Yoopers. Not to be outdone, Yoopers call people who live in the Lower Peninsula Trolls, as they live ‘under’ the 8km Mighty Mac, which is the 8km Mackinac Bridge that connects the two peninsulas.


Anyway, after visiting Traverse City and a couple of resorts in northwest lower Michigan, I began to wonder if perhaps residents invented the Dogman as a means to keep too many visitors from discovering this captivating outdoor playground. And come to think of it, that may be why they speak in code as to where it is.

But it’s well-worth taking the time to figure it all out and taking a chance on the Dogman to visit. Here are some of the top experiences to try:

Outdoor Activities at Crystal Mountain

Located 45 kilometers southwest of Traverse City, the four-season property was named by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the 10 best resorts for families in North America. Designed for pedestrians, all amenities, accommodation, spa and restaurants are in convenient walking distance, which makes it easy to enjoy Crystal Mountain’s smorgasbord of activities. In winter, it’s a snowy playground with downhill and cross-country skiing, skating, sleighing and fat tire biking. Summer brings golf, a waterpark, obstacle courses, mountain biking and hiking. Ramble the on-property trails or venture out to nearby conservation areas like the Betsie River Pathway in Pere Marquette State Forest. A 30-minute drive away is Sleeping Bear Dunes known for its jaw-dropping views of Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

The Michigan Legacy Art Park combines wilderness and art into one memorable experience. Located on 30 acres within the resort, the non-profit outdoor gallery tells stories of Northern Michigan. “Artist David Barry wanted it to be a place where people could enjoy nature and make their own personal connection to art,” says the park’s director, Renee Hintz. And being outdoors in the woods among these works of art was indeed an impressive connection to make.

A massage at Crystal Spa combined with their infra-red sauna and eucalyptus steam room soothed muscles fatigued from all the invigorating outdoor activities. This LEEDS-Certified facility has everything you could wish for in a spa and is a blissful must on your Crystal Mountain itinerary.

Crazy about Traverse City

You might think that an abandoned 19th century asylum would make a better horror flick setting than a local hotspot, but Grand Traverse Commons, once the Northern Michigan Asylum, has been transformed into a thriving enclave of specialty shops, restaurants, condos and offices.

On the thick brick walls of the Victorian buildings hang pictures, depicting scenes of the building’s historic past, and a large collection of paintings. “Art on the walls and music in the halls,” is the philosophy of the restorers who saved the complex from demolition in 2002, we learned on a tour led by Krystal Fluette. We also found out about a labyrinth of tunnels that lies beneath its floors. Surely, there must be some hair-raising tales about these impressive underground passages? “We don’t do haunted tours,” says Fluette. A shame I thought, but there are other stories to dig into, like the entrepreneurial success story of Left Foot Charley Winery, housed in the former laundry facility.

Wineries in the Traverse City area have taken off in recent years, and there are now more than 40 commercial wineries. Left Foot Charley was in the vanguard of this movement, but winemaker and owner, Bryan Ulbrich, admits it was tough at the beginning.

“People were slow to appreciate what they had; and for a while, it was easier to sell to New York than Michigan,” says Ulbrich. Evidently, it’s not the case now as the winery was packed with locals enjoying Left Foot Charley’s well-respected wines (they’re especially known for their Rieslings) and ciders. Cinnamon Girl cider is their delicious best-seller and is shipped throughout the States.

As we drove into the core of downtown Traverse City, the first building that caught our eyes was the brightly lit up Bijou By the Bay Theatre. Michael Moore, the famous documentary filmmaker and Michigan native, was behind the renovation of the historic building that now hosts community events and film festivals. We dined nearby at Amical Restaurant, where we relished their signature Olive Twist puffed pastry, seafood mains and decadent desserts.

Shanty Creek Resort

“Michigan has a we go outside and play mentality,” says Larry Hale, a spokesperson for the Shanty Creek.

And that’s exactly what we did at this 5000-acre resort, situated an hour northeast of Traverse City. The all-season property spans three villages: Cedar, Schuss Mountain and Summit, each with their own lodging, dining, golf, skiing and trails. Winter adventures include over 50 runs and 12 lifts for downhill skiers, extensive Nordic skiing; and for thrill seekers there’s alpine tubing, fat-tire biking and even dogsled rides for kids. In summer, their focus turns to golf and their courses have received many accolades, including #1 resort course in the Midwest by Golf Digest.

After a full day of outdoor activity we took the shuttle bus to the town of Bellaire, where we found one of the state’s brewing stars that put craft beer on the map for Michigan –Shorts Brewing Company. The place was hopping in more ways than one, and we enjoyed both the lively atmosphere and the creative libations, like S’mores Stout served with a marshmallow.

Speaking of unusual, it was on this bus that we heard about the Legend of the Dogman, so be sure to keep a lookout (NB: the likelihood of glimpsing the creature increases with each Short’s brew you sample).

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