By Christy Walcott
Is it time to start planning your next Michigan vacation? In a state overflowing with sparkling lakes, clear rivers, untamed wilderness, an assortment of themed festivals, unique attractions and unending charm around every turn, choosing just one location can be a daunting task. We’re here to help you narrow down your search. Set your compass for Gaylord, Michigan and find everything you’ve been looking for!
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If you’ve done your research, then you already know a little about us. Sitting smack dab on the 45th parallel, Gaylord is (quite lovingly and literally) the heart of the northern Lower Peninsula. Easy access off I-75 makes getting here a pinch, and once you’ve arrived, we’re quite sure you’ll never want to leave. An outdoor lover’s paradise, our four seasons each offer distinct recreational opportunities for visitors of any age, ability and thrill-seeking level! The best part? While we exude the rustic up north charm you’ve been searching for, our community is filled with all the comforts you desire – shopping, restaurants, spas and resorts. Basically, we’ve got it all covered.
What will make you fall head over heels in love with our Alpine Village are the extra details you may not know about us…so here are a few talking points:
Gaylord might just have the most stunning scenery around. We pride ourselves on being the city with the highest elevation in the Lower Peninsula and that means hills and valleys galore! If you’re looking for a little slice of the UP without the extra drive time, you’ve come to the right place. From our vantage point 1,348 feet above sea level, trails throughout the Sturgeon River Valley and Pigeon River Valley will thrill hikers and mountain bikers. Feeling a little low-key? Grab a glass of wine or cold Michigan-brewed beer and take in the views from the lavish patios outside of Treetops Resort or the Otsego Resort.
And speaking of the Pigeon River… a short drive from our bustling downtown district is over 106,000 acres of pure wilderness just waiting for you to venture out and do some exploring. This is the untouched slice of nature you’ve been waiting for – dirt roads and two tracks taking you past stands of pine, dense hardwoods, fascinating sinkhole lakes, sinuous rivers, miles of hiking and biking trails, rustic campgrounds and bountiful wildlife. If you want to step off the grid, try backcountry camping as you explore over 80 miles on the High Country Pathway by bike or foot. For those with little ones or just a few hours to spare, enlighten yourself at the Pigeon River Discovery Center, then head to one of the elk viewing areas for an opportunity to see the free-roaming elk herd calling these parts home.
While touring The Pigeon, make time to visit one of the sinkhole lakes located within the forest. These picturesque lakes have a unique backstory, clear waters and a stunning turquoise hue that will make the perfect backdrop to any photo. While The Pigeon is ripe with water, our entire county seems to have a lake around every turn. With over 90 inland lakes, the Gaylord area is a water-lover’s dream come true. Anglers can’t get enough of the fishing and our waters are stocked with everything from panfish, walleye, pike and trout to the ever-elusive and prehistoric lake sturgeon. If fishing’s not your gig, rent a kayak or SUP from one of our local outfitters and skim along the shorelines for hours. Our friends at Up North Paddlesports offer convenient delivery and even have towels if you left yours behind. And of course, for all you beach lovers, we’ve got stretches of white sand to drop a towel on and sun yourself all day. A few of our faves are Thumb Lake and Otsego Lake, the largest in our county.
All that’s fine and dandy during the warmer months…but what about winter?! If you’ve never considered yourself a “winter person,” we’d like to take a stab at changing that. Whether you’ve tried and failed or just never attempted to discover your cold-weather passion, Gaylord offers up a little bit of everything. Get an adrenaline boost tubing or skiing the slopes at Treetops Resort or the Otsego Resort, ride a sled 62 groomed miles north to Mackinaw City on the North Central State Trail, raft the Sturgeon River with 5 friends and your own personal guide or rent a pair of snowshoes from White Birch Outfitters and lose yourself along the hushed pathways of 100-acre Aspen Park. Cross country skiers will also find miles of groomed trails for both diagonal and skating, and Forbush Corner even makes their own snow if you’ve got the itch before we’ve been hit with our annual 152 inches of powder. To cover all our bases, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the recent addition of the Alpine Igloo Village to the Alpine Tavern and Eatery. If you’re set that you will NOT enjoy winter, tell us that after comfortably dining on some of the best eats in the area in a WARM igloo while you take in the starry sky.
Our Foodie Scene
If experiencing local cuisine tops your travel must-do list, Gaylord will not disappoint! Newly breaking onto the foodie scene, our community is thriving when it comes to locally-owned eateries serving up often locally-grown delicacies. Gourmet aficionados need to put Bennethum’s Northern Inn at the top of their list. This family-run establishment boasts some of the finest dining you’ll ever find and keeps it fresh with a revolving monthly-themed menu. Upscale atmosphere is also a staple at the Bearded Dogg Lounge, where they even grow some of their own ingredients right outside the door. If you’re hungry and have a hankering for a cold microbrew, check out our hometown breweries, Snowbelt Brewing Company and Big Buck Brewery. On top of that, expansion in recent years alone has included Belle Iron Grille, Porter Haus, Pine Squirrel, Iron Pig Smokehouse and CRAVE, just to name a few. So why not venture out on a culinary road trip and get a taste of what our local flavor really is?
Even once your stomach is full, you might not be ready to hit the sheets just yet. Evolving into a foodie destination and having a vibrant nightlife scene seem to go hand-in-hand. Entertainment is no longer something you need to seek out…it’s around every corner! Tap Room 32 is your stop for fresh sushi and live music, while the Pine Squirrel gives you a reason to LOL with regularly scheduled comedy shows. If you’re feeling like a smarty pants, get a seat at Snowbelt Brewing on Thursday nights for trivia. And sometimes you just need a “go big or go home” concert, which is when Belle Iron Grille steps up to the plate and delivers in their outdoor entertainment pavilion. The bottom line – you’ll never be looking for something to do after the sun goes down.
And Then There’s Alpenfest
Some may argue that Alpenfest couldn’t possibly fall within the “unexpected” reasons to visit Gaylord. But perusing the artisan booths, taking a quick spin on the Ferris wheel and spending a few hours grooving to a headline performer isn’t all Alpenfest has to offer. Become a local for the week or even just a day and truly experience what brings our community together each July! Don a dirndl and lederhosen (check out the selection at White Birch Outfitters just before the festival) and go all in. Watch your worries go up in flames at the Burning of the Boog, savor some freshly brewed coffee at the World’s Largest Coffee Break, show your strength at the Stone Throw Contest, heck, you can even show your dog off in the Pet Parade! Our point is, these events aren’t just for locals and there’s no better way to experience a community than to become a part of it.
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