As a season of long goodbyes, winter in the Petoskey area lets itself out the door slowly. It takes a while for northern Michiganders to peel off the many layers of clothing and embrace the changing seasons.

But when spring finally peeks from behind the clouds, we celebrate. After all, we’ve been stuck inside by our wood stoves, watching Netflix and checking to see how our boots are drying. Heady stuff. A day without a snow blower involved is a good day, indeed.

It’s no surprise that spring in the Petoskey area brings with it ample outdoor opportunities. But there’s something in this season of fresh starts for everyone. So join us for the most joyful time of year, when we throw open our windows and forget all the cookies we ate to keep ourselves sane during the long months of winter.


Celebrate spring outdoors

1. Spring birdwatching

We’re not the only ones excited about the spring: April and May in the Great Lakes area bring warblers, sparrows, hummingbirds, woodcocks, loons, grebes, hawks, thrushes, orioles, and more birds than it’s even possible to mention!

Migrating birds hug the Lake Michigan coastline as they head north towards the Straits of Mackinac. Since Emmet County is part of the Sunset Coast Birding Trail, there are dozens of favorite birding spots. Wilderness State Park, Thorne Swift and Goodhart Farms Nature Preserves, Waldron Fen, and the Headlands International Dark Sky Park are all great picks.

Check with the Petoskey Regional Audubon Society for more tips or even our Bird Watching Guide on our website. And keep an eye out for bald eagles, which have made a magnificent comeback since their days on the Endangered Species Act list.

Birdwatching can be a very calming pastime and there are many opportunities to find beautiful birds in the Petoskey area.

2. Petoskey stone hunting

Every year, rock hounds converge upon the shore to hunt for Petoskey stones, which are ancient, fossilized Hexagonaria percarinata corals. At around 300 – 400 million years old, the stones are relics from a time when Michigan was located beneath a shallow equatorial sea. Their hexagonal, star-like features make them easy to spot. And spring is a great time to hunt for them, after the winter ice churns them up and deposits them along the shoreline.

Did you know about Charlevoix stones? These fossil corals from the genus Favosites have a smaller honeycomb pattern than Petoskey stones. Walk along the Lake Michigan shoreline, and you’re sure to spot one.

You can see the hexagonal pattern that gives the ancient fossilized coral its Latin name on these Petoskey stones. Photo credit: Jen DeMoss

3. Sightseeing the spring ephemerals

There’s nothing like wildflowers to soothe the winter-weary soul. Spring ephemerals bloom early in the season and then vanish, making way for the lush greenery of summer.

Trilliums and trout lilies are two of the most ubiquitous, and early, spring ephemerals, in some places creating a swaying carpet of flowers. There are dozens of orchid species in northern Michigan, from yellow and pink lady slippers to the flamboyant rose pogonia with a bearded tongue.

Whether you’re looking for bloodroot or skunk cabbage, or even just a striking field of wild leeks, you’ll find it in our woods. Check out Little Traverse Conservancy trails, which span a variety of forest types and offer splendid wildflower viewing.

Pink lady-slipper orchids are one of the more stunning spring ephemerals you can find in northern Michigan. Orchids like a wide variety of habits and tend to bloom in late spring. Photo by Jen DeMoss

4. Off to the races

Spring is here! Time to get the blood pumping and the ole body moving!

“But wait,” you say. “I’ve been sitting on my couch covered in cheese doodle dust bingeing old episodes of One Life to Live for the past three months. I don’t know if I can get up.”

Ok, take your transition into spring a little slower. But for those of you who’ve been itching to exercise without fear of black ice, spring is your jam.

For runners, try out some of these annual races:

  • The Festival of Races over Memorial Day weekend along the Little Traverse Wheelway. Choose from 5K, 10K, and half marathon options, with registration fees benefitting the Trails Council.
  • The 5k Dirty Dog Dash with obstacles at Boyne Mountain Resort takes place in late spring, and features live music, a cookout, and beverages.
  • Camp Petosega’s 5K Fun Run in Alanson is a blast. Dates have varied over the years, so check the website for annual details.

For cyclists:

  • May’s Zoo-de-Mack is a cycling party that begins at The Highlands Resort and ends at Mackinaw City. A ferry will sweep you off to Mackinac Island for post-ride parties and live music.
  • Michigan Mountain Mayhem is always the third Saturday in June. Mountain bikers can choose between a 50K, 100K, 160K, or 200K ride with over 10,000 feet of climbing. The event organizers call it “grueling.”

    The Zoo-de-Mac bicycle bash happens each May along a beautiful scenic route through our area. Photo courtesy of Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

5. Hunt the elusive Morel

Morel mushrooms bring a certain type of madness to the area in April and May, as folks check out their favorite spots for fungal delicacies. Of all the advice we can offer about hunting morels, this is the most important tip—make sure it’s really a morel before you eat it! There are morel mushroom look-alikes out there.

Boyne City’s annual National Morel Mushroom Festival can offer you a taste of these delectable morsels without even having to step foot into the woods. In May, folks come from all over to experience the Morelfest Wine & Dine and participate in the Competitive Morel Hunt. For the kiddos, there’s a carnival at Veteran’s Memorial Park. Local chefs will be competing to produce the tastiest morel-infused dishes in the Taste of Morels, and you can try them.

Morel mushrooms in the Petoskey Area

The morel mushroom is a foraging delicacy in northern Michigan and many other places. If you don’t want to hunt for them there are many opportunities to enjoy them at the Morel Mushroom Festival in Boyne City. Photo courtesy of Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau.


Around Town

6. Spring Wine-Tasting Tour

Sure, northern Michigan is known for cherries. But what about our grapes? The Petoskey area boasts several wineries where you can sit and sip or grab a bottle to go. So why not take a wine tour with Vine Ride and visit some of them? Vine Ride transports private groups of up to seven people to three or four Petoskey wineries. It’s a safe and easy way to sample the local terroir.

Or how about trying one of the area’s spring winery events? May’s Petoskey Uncorked is a sensory experience, with tastings of wines from over a dozen different locations at the Odawa Casino. Another unique opportunity is Walloon Lake Winery’s Winemaker’s Tasting happening in March and April of this year. At this event, the winemaker, Matt, will select four different wines paired with cheeses for you to enjoy.

Resort Pike Cidery and Winery is one of the locations you can visit with Vine Ride. There’s quite a large selection of sparkling wines and ciders. Photo courtesy of Jen DeMoss.


7. Chill at the Back Lot

A super burrito at Happy’s Taco shop. Mim’s Mobile Grill’s falafel gyro. Blackrocks IPA on tap. Your bestie grabs a pilsner. You sit on the patio with the sun on your face, basking in the warmth. The buzzer goes off: your food is ready. As you’re chowing down, a wedding party descends upon the place. They’re all wearing cowboy boots and pink for some reason, and it’s awesome. It’s just another Friday at The Back Lot.

When it’s cold outside, everyone misses the Back Lot patio. Yeah, sure, the bar is open all year round, but there’s nothing like enjoying the warm weather with a delicious beverage. Tucked back from downtown’s main drag, the place feels secluded yet inviting. And don’t even try to resist the food trucks.

The Back Lot in Petoskey is an open-air dining experience with several food options to choose from in the form of food trucks and two bars open in the warmer months. Don’t skip on the “frosé” if they’re offering it!


8. Get your art on

Crooked Tree Art Center in downtown Petoskey is an absolute gem. There’s room after room of stunning art exhibits, flanked by displays of pottery, jewelry, prints, paintings, and other creations by talented local artisans. Award-winning musicians regularly perform in the gorgeous theater.

Many CTAC classes take place over a day or an afternoon. Adults can take one-off classes in jewelry, figure drawing, creative sculpture, and more. CTAC holds Free Play studio sessions to help burgeoning artists get into the creative spirit. There’s a youth arts festival in the spring, and families are encouraged to drop by on Saturdays between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. for the free, drop-in Open Studio.

Djangophonique performs on stage at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey. Photo credit: Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

9. Stroll the Streets

Starting in early June in Boyne City, you can Stroll the Streets of downtown and run into live music and children’s entertainment. Every Friday through Labor Day, residents and visitors alike head out into the fresh air to experience entertainment right by the shores of Lake Charlevoix.

There’s no fee to enjoy any of the evenings’ activities, and there’s live music on just about every corner to serenade you into the sunset. It’s a family-friendly event, with festivities from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.


10. It’s dinner time

Have you ever wanted an excuse to try a new-to-you restaurant in the Petoskey area? Look no further. Restaurant Week and Boyne Appetit are here for you.

Boyne Appetit is a week-long Boyne City event in April featuring epic food at affordable prices in the charming northern Michigan town. You get spectacular views of Lake Charlevoix from just about anywhere in the downtown area, and an array of dishes prepared just for the event.

Restaurant Week organized by the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce happening May 3 – 12, with area restaurants offering special menus and discounted pricing. Participating restaurants have included Barrel Back, Palette Bistro, Rusty Saw North, Roast and Toast, NOMAD, and more. Keep an eye on their website and Facebook for more information as they develop the event.

Palette Bistro often participates in restaurant week and they offer stunning views of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay. Photo credit: Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau


We look forward to seeing you enjoying springtime in our northern paradise!

About the Author: Jen DeMoss is a newcomer to the Petoskey area and loves northern Michigan. You can catch her paddling a canoe, hiking a trail, or swimming in Lake Michigan as often as the weather cooperates. She’d love to help you make the most of your time in this paradise she now calls home.