A Perfect Day on Michigan’s Northwest Coast

Bill & Denise Semion
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What’s your idea of a perfect day on the road? Is it the day you venture to a new place? A day you discover something unexpected? Or is it a day spent traveling along familiar paths to familiar places in your home state, a day in which you take the time to savor one of last, and best, days of summer, a day when Mother Nature teases you into thinking the season isn’t really ending. Bill and I had such a day this past September, just a few days before the calendar told us that autumn was arriving.

We started our morning waking up at the Platte River State Forest Campground near Honor, Michigan. It’s a forested spot where towering pines provide such a thick canopy in the sky that not much grows underfoot except mounds of moss covering long-ago fallen trees. The Platte River meanders along this place, and Bill hoped he might catch a few salmon, either chinook or coho.

Our campsite at the Platte River State Forest Campground

He donned his waders and walked to the river, while I readied for the day and prepped a fresh tomato-feta-spinach-mushroom omelet. I fed our cats, Muka and Sadie. “No feesh,” Bill declared upon his return, stating that we are either a week late or a week early to see any fish in the river.

Breakfast and cleanup completed, we set off for St. Ambrose Cellars, Beulah. Just a scant four miles down the road, this meadery and winery makes draft meads, beer, red wine and white wine. Mead, a honey-based wine, is a trending beverage, and St. Ambrose’s innovative meads combine their own honey with unique flavors for gold, delicious beverages, either “still” or carbonated (draft).

Located along a rural road, the tasting room features 12-foot tall church windows from the Traverse City Playhouse, a former church, and a 17-foot long cypress plank table created by local craftsmen from a single tree hundreds of years old. Bees are the decor here and can be found on the carved bar and on the wall art and at a bee-friendly flower garden. The patio hosts outdoor seating, and an adjacent 1800’s post and beam red barn is available for events. Nearby sister business Sleeping Bear Farms beekeepers maintain more than 6,000 hives for pollination and honey.


Bee-utiful bottles of mead


After tasting stills and on-tap drafts like Razzmatazz, John Lemon, Black Madonna and a few more, we bought six bottles (only $6 each, what a deal) and set off for Frankfort, one of many “up north” beach towns that dot Michigan’s West Coast.

Lake Michigan sugar sand beach, Frankfort


With its Victorian homes, tree-lined streets, specialty shops and galleries, pristine dunes, and steelhead and salmon fishing, we chose Frankfort for lunch as it has some great eateries and is also the starting point of the Betsie Valley Trail.

The Fusion, with its Pan-Asian cuisine and patio seating overlooking the marina looked like a good choice. We did not sample their sake or small plates; I instead selected yummy Honey Sesame Chicken and Bill went for his go-to, General’s Chicken. A light egg drop soup started our meal.

After lunch, we set off on our bikes east on the Betsie Valley Trail. This 22-mile pathway curves around Betsie Lake toward Elberta, and then crosses M-22 east to Beulah and then southeast to Thompsonville.

Bill rides the Betsie Valley Trail


Starting in Frankfort, we peddled over two pedestrian bridges with picturesque views over Lake Betsie, with Frankfort to the west and muskrat lodges in the wetlands to the east. Goldenrod and other wildflowers brought along colors of autumn, and the spent milkweed pods reminded us of summer’s passing.

We followed the trail another mile or so, and returning back, we cycled past the Cabbage Patch restaurant, where I dined several years ago. We rode a bit further west to Elberta’s Railroad Point Park, a tribute to the influence of the Ann Arbor Railroad and Steamship lines, which once provided rail service from Toledo, linking the East and Midwest to the West, as goods were shipped to Milwaukee and Kewanee, Wisconsin and beyond. Bill, ever the Michigan historian, mused about the Pet-Ritz factory located in Frankfort, and the frozen pies and cobblers made there before it shut down in 1991. George Petritz also was active in founding nearby Crystal Mountain resort.

LTV owner Buff Bumford with Denise and Bill Semion


As we rode back to Frankfort, Bill noticed two women standing near our Leisure Unity MB parked on the main street. We soon met and shared stories with Buff Bumford, another LTV owner, about her Serenity and our Unity.

One of the M-22 stops along Lake Michigan, near Arcadia


Ready to leave town, we took M-22 down to Orchard Beach State Park. M-22, one of Michigan’s most beautiful byways, offers Lake Michigan beachfront views and stunning canopied tunnels of trees, along with great restaurants nestled therein, or nearby along the way. This gently winding road, with its scenic overlooks is definitely worth the trip. If you go on the same tour, anytime you see on a map something called Scenic Drive, take it. Because it will be.

At Orchard Beach, we chose a site with a view of Lake Michigan; we dined with a bottle of red wine and shared a steak as we watched the sunset from our campsite.

A few hours later, we walked in the darkness to the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The warm air, stars above and gentle waves below provided the perfect end to our perfect day. Many more are yet to come.

Lake Michigan sunset at Orchard Beach State Park campground
Bill & Denise Semion

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