Nestled along the glittering shores of Little Traverse Bay, Harbor Springs is a beloved northern Michigan vacation destination. With its historic downtown area, miles of pristine beaches, and wealth of outdoor recreation, Harbor Springs offers the perfect blend of small town charm and natural beauty.
1. Wander Through Downtown Harbor Springs
The charming downtown area of Harbor Springs centers around Main Street and the lively harborfront. Start your visit at Harbor Springs City Beach Park adjacent to the jetty to enjoy views of the harbor and beach. Walk out on the pier to watch boats coming and going. Let kids burn off energy at the playground.
Stroll west down Main Street to reach the main shopping district. Pop into boutiques like Northern Michigan Candle Company and The Finishing Touch to find unique local gifts. Stop into art galleries like Art at the Louvre or Cottage Gallery of Art to admire works by area artists.
Grab a coffee, sandwich or ice cream at colorful eateries like Tom’s Mom’s Cookies or JoJo’s Coffee & Ice Cream. For lunch or dinner, dine alfresco at restaurants like New York Restaurant or Cabbage Shed alongside the bustling sidewalks. Don’t miss Stafford’s Bay View Restaurant for harbor views.
On the northeast side of downtown, visit the Harbor Springs History Museum inside the old train depot to learn about the area’s past. Nearby at Zorn Park you can access the Little Traverse Wheelway trail. End your downtown exploration back on Main Street ducking into shops like Sock Monkeys and Kilwin’s for sweet treats.
2. Hike the Scenic Trails in Petoskey State Park
Just a few minutes north of downtown Harbor Springs lie the wild forests and windswept shorelines of magnificent Petoskey State Park.
Spanning over 1,300 acres, the state park encompasses over 24 miles of superb hiking trails past sheer limestone cliffs, wooded ravines, trickling streams and wildflower meadows.
For an easier hike surrounded by gorgeous nature, head out on the scenic 4 mile round-trip Little Traverse Wheelway. Winding past wetlands and the sparkling waters of Little Traverse Bay, the wheelchair-accessible paved trail rewards hikers with sublime vistas.
For a more challenging hike, tackle a portion of the hilly North Country National Scenic Trail, which extends from New York to North Dakota. The trail’s rugged 10 mile round-trip section within Petoskey State Park traverses secluded forest and rocky ridgelines.
3. Paddle Through Tranquil Beauty on Little Traverse Bay
Gliding across the shimmering turquoise waters of Little Traverse Bay by kayak or stand up paddleboard allows you to fully soak in the peaceful beauty of Harbor Springs.
Launch your boat downtown from the public boat launch along Bay Street and paddle towards the unspoiled shoreline of Petoskey State Park.
Along the way, gaze at the impressive historic summer cottages and lush forests dotting the hillsides sloping down to the bay.
Don’t forget your camera to capture perfect photos of the harbor’s waterfront homes and boats. For a unique perspective, book a guided clear kayak tour.
Top Places to Kayak & Paddleboard: Public boat launch – Address: Bay St, Harbor Springs, MI 49740 Petoskey State Park – Address: 2475 Hathaway Rd, Harbor Springs, MI 49740 Harbor Springs Kayak – kayak rentals & tours Little Traverse Bay Kayak – kayak & SUP rentals
4. Sunbathe and Swim at Harbor Springs City Beach
Nestled right along downtown Harbor Springs, the City Beach provides a delightful spot to soak up the sun and take a dip in refreshing Lake Michigan.
Spread out your towel on the beach’s soft sandy shoreline, or situate yourself in the grassy areas if you prefer. Umbrellas and beach chairs can be rented if desired.
The adjacent jetty creates a tranquil swimming area within the harbor, protected from waves and currents. Wade into the clear waters or swim out further once past the shallows. Float lazily about while boats pass in the distance. To cool off, dunk your head underwater and gaze at the sandy bottom below.
Kids will enjoy splashing around by the beach’s swim raft. Rentable stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and pedal boats allow you to cruise along the harbor shoreline. Volleyball nets are set up on the beach for pick-up games.
5. Spend a Day on Iconic Mackinac Island
One of my favorite easy day trips from Harbor Springs is venturing out to famous Mackinac Island. Accessible only by boat, this iconic island paradise prohibits vehicles, creating an idyllic getaway into the past.
Two ferry companies offer regular service from Harbor Springs across Little Traverse Bay to Mackinac Island. The ride takes around 40 minutes, allowing you to relax on deck and enjoy the views.
Once on Mackinac, take in the Victorian-style downtown or ride around in a horse-drawn carriage. Don’t miss stopping for the island’s world-famous fudge! Before departing, hike or bike at least a portion of Mackinac’s 8-mile perimeter road loop while admiring Lake Huron’s shimmering blue waters.
6. Immerse Yourself in Nature Along the Tunnel of Trees Drive
One of the top scenic drives in northern Michigan stretches along M-119 from Harbor Springs to Cross Village, showcasing stunning Lake Michigan shoreline.
Dubbed the “Tunnel of Trees”, this narrow winding road passes through dense forest and soaring pines, making you feel ensconced within nature.
Start your drive heading north from downtown Harbor Springs. Stop first at the Sturgeon Bay Scenic Turnout just past Bay View to admire expansive views of the wooded shoreline. Continue along M-119 as it hugs the cliffs looming over the lake.
Driving the legendary Tunnel of Trees showcases the diverse landscapes of the Lake Michigan shoreline, from steep bluffs to lush woods to pastoral farms. Immerse yourself in the scenic beauty found along this stretch of M-119 highway.
7. Step Back in Time at the Harbor Springs History Museum
Address: 349 E Main St, Harbor Springs, MI 49740
To fully appreciate the rich history of Harbor Springs, spend some time at the Harbor Springs History Museum located downtown.
Housed within the town’s original train depot built in 1905, the museum chronicles how Harbor Springs transformed over time into the popular summer resort town it is today.
Inside the museum, you’ll find an extensive collection of artifacts, photos, furniture and documents organized into fascinating displays. Learn how Native Americans and early settlers subsisted from the land and waters. See how the railroad opened up Harbor Springs to resort tourism and development.
The museum also features temporary exhibits that delve deeper into specific aspects of Harbor Springs history and culture. Previous special exhibits have covered railroading, sailing, prominent families, architecture, Bixby leather company and more.
Before leaving, browse the gift shop filled with interesting books on local history and unique souvenirs. The Harbor Springs History Museum provides an illuminating look at how this community developed over time and makes history come to life.
8. Relish Harbor Springs’ Lively Nightlife Scene
While quaint and relaxed during the day, downtown Harbor Springs springs to life after dark with a surprisingly vibrant nightlife scene. Start off an evening out with craft brews and brick oven pizza at Petoskey Brewing, just a short drive from downtown.
Back in downtown, begin with creative cocktails at the cozy Lodge Bar nestled within Stafford’s Perry Hotel. Chat with friends in the bar’s warm interior or people-watch from the streetside patio.
Work your way to Seven Monks Taproom, a trendy gastropub offering Michigan-made brews, wines, and spirits. Savor their wood-fired flatbreads on the patio by the bustling marina. Stop for gelato at Colonial Pies and Provisions next door.
End your night back on State Street Pub’s patio listening to acoustic music as you sip one last cocktail beneath twinkling lights. With its walkable downtown and vibrant venues, Harbor Springs nightlife impresses.
9. Tee Off on Spectacular Harbor Springs Golf Courses
With its rolling terrain and beautiful natural scenery, the Harbor Springs area offers some of the finest golf in northern Michigan. Play a round on courses designed by acclaimed architects like Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones Sr.
For sheer beauty and challenge, golf The Heather course at Boyne Highlands Resort. Consistently ranked as a top course in Michigan, The Heather overlooks Little Traverse Bay with the rocky cliffs of Petoskey State Park as a backdrop.
Test your game at Harbor Point Golf Club, which hugs the coastline and offers panoramic views of the harbor and surrounding bluffs. This links-style course features undulating greens and deceptive doglegs. Finish right alongside the bay on the signature 18th hole.
Also part of Boyne Highlands Resort, the Donald Ross Memorial course is a parkland-style classic originally designed by renowned golf architect Donald Ross in 1930. Tree-lined fairways, small greens and strategic bunkering characterize this historic course.
10. Cheer at the Popular Harbor Springs Festivals
One of the best ways to experience Harbor Springs is by attending some of the lively festivals hosted here throughout the spring and summer.
The fun kicks off in early June with the Taste of Harbor Springs, where you can sample bites from local restaurants while listening to live music downtown. In late June, cheers on paddlers competing in the intense competition of the annual Harbor Springs Paddlefest.
July brings the energetic Harbor Springs Ice Cream Social, featuring activities for kids, live entertainment, and indulge in unique flavors. The downtown streets fill with over 100 artists during the popular Harbor Springs Festival of the Arts showcasing paintings, jewelry, photography and more.
August sees food booths, children’s activities and folk artists convene at the Solstice Arts and Crafts Fair. Nearby Petoskey rocks during the late August Blissfest music festival, with outdoor performances by regional and national acts across multiple stages.
With its charming small town vibe, wealth of outdoor recreation, historic downtown and cultural festivals, Harbor Springs provides everything you could want for an idyllic northern Michigan retreat.