I start this ride at a small city park, East Bay Park along East Bay Boulevard on the shores of….ta da…East Bay. There are other places to park all over the peninsula (noted on the map) and you can even begin this ride from downtown Traverse City if you’re into good hearty rides. This East Bay Park location lets you get the full peninsula in one loopy sweep without excess, but it’s only a suggested starting/ending point.
The ride heads out along East Bay, swings through the community of Old Mission, out to the tip of the peninsula at the Old Mission Lighthouse and the Old Mission State Park, then back along the west side, past Bowers Harbor, winding along West Bay. It’s hard to get lost when they name the bays with orientation points on the compass.
Let me give you the basic gist of the peninsula. First, traffic is quieter at the north end. It gets busy as you get closer to Traverse City. Next, Center Road is a main through-route. Traffic moves fast and it’s busier than other roads. It also has relatively wide shoulders, though there are sections in poor condition. The shoreline roads are relatively flat. Inland it gets hilly fast. Be prepared to do some climbing. The villages tend to be at the mid to north end. Vineyards and orchards are all over the place.
If you want to hang around the peninsula to stop into a pub or restaurant after your ride, or if you want to do a wine tasting tour, you should consider parking in a place like Bowers Harbor and do your loop from there. Jolly Pumpkin is a short way from the Bowers Harbor boat launch parking area (again, see map for parking options). Peninsula Grill or Bad Dog Deli is also a short trek from there in Mapleton on Center Road. The Old Mission General Store on Mission Road is a fun place to check out along the way. Be aware, the general store is quirky and that’s what makes it interesting. As mentioned above, there are many wineries a stone’s throw from most places you’re riding.
Now for a little history. Native Americans wandered here for many years before the Europeans arrived in the 1830s. Old Mission, settled by a couple of missionaries in 1839, was the first community in the region. The Mission was moved in 1852 to Omena on that other peninsula to the west, Leelanau. That made the first mission “old.” The name stuck. The New Mission one didn’t, hence Omena. The Old Mission community is a small, pleasant place tucked around Old Mission Harbor. There is a replica of the mission itself on Mission Road near the General Store.
The peninsula is known for various fruits. It’s part of Michigan’s major fruit belt. Viniculture is big, and growing. With the new interest in cider, an increased number of apple orchards are sprouting up. It’s been a key part of the cherry industry for years.
There are a number of major wineries splayed along either side of Center Road all along the way, such as Chateau Grand Traverse, Chateau Chantal, Two Lads, and Bowers Harbor Vineyards, and more. These offer tastings during the warm season.
There’s also a lighthouse included on this route. The Mission Point Light is situated on the 45th Parallel. It looks more like a house with a beacon on top than the statuesque Grand Traverse lighthouse on the tip of Leelanau County, but it’s still quite quaint in its setting. It’s open to visitors. There’s also an 1856 log house, the Hesler House, nearby that’s worth checking out as well.
Most of all, though, this area is scenic. Between the vineyards, the orchards, the topography, the farms, the lighthouse, and the views over either or both bays, it’s beautiful. Though development still takes place in the area, this was one of the early regions that adapted conservation easements, so there have been strategies put into place to help retain its character.
For further information on accommodations, markets, wineries, food, and other highlights, go to www.oldmission.com. They do a nice job of laying it out for you.
As for the route, in order to make the full ride work, there are a couple of areas on the south end that are more suited to the cycling enthusiast who is not shaken by busy roads or unique cut-throughs. If this seems too daunting to you, I recommend that you head to a parking spot farther out the peninsula and spend your day riding out at that end. You’ll experience the peninsula at its finest either way. See Route by Miles info on the map sheet for a further explanation.