Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Fall 2019 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.

Teasing and pleasing in their own right, fall and spring stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their celebrated sun-soaked sibling, summer.

And while summer traditionally has been the season that lures area residents and vacationers to a labyrinth of northern Michigan lakes, river, campgrounds and more, those shoulder seasons — fall and spring — have their embracing qualities, too.

“We absolutely do see the popularity of the shoulder seasons,” said Jenny Jenness, media and public relations specialist for Traverse City Tourism. “People already know what we have to offer up here in the summertime, so we’re working real hard to promote (what we have to offer) during the shoulder seasons, too. During the fall we see more couples getting away for a romantic getaway.

“The tourism industry is comprised of so many businesses — travel, hotel and motel, restaurants and more. We’re really trying to let our own residents know about (the shoulder seasons), too.

“From a birds-eye view, we try to make Traverse City a year-round destination,” said Jenness.

Tom VanderLeek, a representative with TC Helicopter Tours, said the shoulder seasons definitely enjoy their own popularity with both tourists and local residents.

“In autumn, you have all those colors,” said VanderLeek. “And you always have the beautiful blue waters of Lake Michigan. (From 1,000 feet up), it’s all pretty spectacular.”

Two helicopters — one that can lift three passengers and the other up to five passengers — carry sightseers on any of a number of distinct tours over the bays, Old Mission Peninsula, Sleeping Bear Dunes, sunset tours and more. VanderLeek, said the tours can last up to 45 minutes or so and can be altered to suit the passengers’ interests.

The sunset tour, which the company touts as the “ultimate tour,” takes you over Grand Traverse Bay and the southern part of Old Mission Peninsula and continues northwest toward Sleeping Bear Dunes, Glen Lake and the quaint town of Glen Arbor. All as the sun casts a warm glow over our beautiful region.”

VanderLeek said business “usually starts to pick up in the spring and goes through late fall. We have a good mix of clientele, a lot of people from downstate.”

More information is available at 231-668-6000 or tchelicoptertours.com.

Joanne Bartley, executive director of the Frankfort-Elberta Area Chamber of Commerce, said she sees more and more visitors descend on the state’s smallest county — a longstanding destination that is wildly popular with camper and tourists — during the shoulder seasons to avoid the heavy traffic that summer brings.

“Summer is always shoulder-to-shoulder, as it is,” she said. “Absolutely, some people come in during the shoulder seasons just because summer is always busy. We’re constantly trying to develop ideas to get people to come and visit during those shoulder seasons. We have our spring craft show, car show, farmers market, and our fall festival — all popular.”

Bartley said the shoulder seasons are “definitely for the older crowd who don’t want to stand in line.”

“And yet we get a lot of people who are maybe on their way to the Cherry Festival, or somewhere else, and they just have to stop in here because that’s what they’ve always done,” she said. “Lot of people, families, come back year after year, no matter the season.”

To learn more, visit Frankfort-Elberta.com.

Cherie Fuss, president of the Central Lake Chamber of Commerce, said of the four seasons, “they’re all important to us.”

“Of course, summer is our busiest, but spring is when all the snowbirds come home, when our seasonal businesses open their doors and everyone — residents and visitors — just want to get outside and enjoy the weather,” said Fuss. “A lot of people come to see the return of the loons that are starting their nesting.

“Fall is when all the people get out to experience the colors — very popular.”

Nestled among the many lakes and rivers of Antrim County, the Rockwellian village of Central Lake has not seen a population in excess of 1,000 since the very first years of the 20th century.

“It’s definitely a much slower pace up here,” said Fuss. “And that’s what I think everyone likes about it — lots of elbow room.”

More information is available at CentralLakeChamber.com.

There is, of course, a fourth season, one that is lived in a wondrous snowglobe — a winter wonderland of a season that shoulders autumn and spring — and that has its own embracing qualities.

But winter in the Grand Traverse region — with all its snowmobile and cross-country ski trails, downhill ski resorts, ice fishing getaways and more, is a story all its own and best told at another time. 

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