Not a beach day? Your complete guide on what to do with the kids

By Linda Alice Dewey
Sun contributor

We all love to take our children and grandchildren to lakes and rivers on “beach days.” But when the weather turns cold or rainy, kids can get tired of stay-at-home activities. We wondered where the “locals” here take kids in the summertime. These are some of the answers we got when we put the question to Glen Arborites who know the area.

On cool sunny days, suggests Carrie Ballou of Glen Arbor and Williamston, “we go on hikes or have picnics.” Obvious choices are the hiking and/or biking trails and the Dune Climb followed by an ice cream cone.

Glen Arbor’s Karen Van Nort likes a spot that’s a little more secluded. She takes her grandchildren to the sand bowl at Pyramid Point. “It is gorgeous and a huge big bowl of sand dunes. Our kids love running up and down the dunes. I love it there!” How do you get there? “It’s a little path at the top of Pyramid Point to the right as you’re facing the lake,” she answers “Stay on it about 10 minutes, and you get there.” By the way, don’t count out hiking just because it’s raining. Try a rainy day hike in full rain gear.

There’s more than a day’s worth of activities in and around Empire, which is home to North and South Bar Lakes, which you don’t want to miss on swimming days. The channel at North Bar Lake (off Voice Road, two miles north of Empire) is perfect for little ones and for skimming along the shoreline. South Bar Lake features a family friendly beach with water play equipment at the water’s edge. You’ll find it at the southeast side of Empire Beach.

Too rainy or cold? The Empire Area Museum is filled with fascinating historical artifacts from this area, and curator Dave Taghon is the guy to bring history to life, if you’re lucky enough to catch him at the museum. Just ask Dave a question: what follows will be magic. Plus, you can visit a schoolhouse and blacksmith shop, see fire equipment and a saloon from way back. The museum is open daily from 1-4 p.m., but closed on Wednesdays.

You might also visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s welcome center in Empire. (See companion article on the National Park’s offerings for kids.)

Looking for something more organized? Lee McAninch suggests the children’s weekly program at the Glen Lake Community Library, also in Empire. The library also offers tons of books and DVDs available for checkout, or stay for the children’s program on Thursdays at 11 a.m. Just drop in. This isn’t your normal “story time.” Kids will be making sun prints or learning dances or creating African music or listening to a real park ranger and more. Older children are invited to sign up for the summer reading challenge. Win prizes like free books. Sign up at the library. For more, visit

Pamela Houtteman, a parent volunteer, keeps the Glen Arbor Township’s day camp running. Children ages 3-6 are invited to show up at the park in Glen Arbor on Tuesdays and Thursdays for day camp. “It was started about 20 years ago and my son participated in it for several years,” says Houtteman of this nonprofit camp run by Glen Arbor Township. To reserve a spot, email the camp counselor at¬. Drop-ins are welcome but be advised: space is limited. Rate: $20 per visit or $240 for the summer.

Periodically, the Leelanau Conservancy offers guided activities specifically for kids. Docent Becky Hill takes parents with infants to toddlers on a “Hike-it, baby” (although this is really for the parents). A kids’ scavenger hunt will kick off on July 30 at the Clay Cliffs Natural Area at 10 a.m for children ages 6-12. Parents are welcome to come along or to hike elsewhere on the property. Susan Fehrenbach and Laura Paine will teach young ones how to be nature detectives searching for items. Otherwise, children are welcome on every guided hike unless it says specifically for adults — which is rare. For a schedule, visit and look under “Hikes and Events”.

Cherry Republic offers a day camp program for older kids, age 8-13 with a Junior Leaders program for teens aged 14-17 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. all summer through August 12. Prices are listed on Cherry Republic’s website, and scholarships are available. According to the Cherry Stompers brochure for 2016, “It’s all about having fun while learning everything there is to know about the national lakeshore and Leelanau County.” Each week has a different theme. Download the pdf brochure here:

Nurture your child’s creativity with art classes through the Glen Arbor Art Association (GAAA). Peg McCarty reminds us that the GAAA offers classes of all kinds throughout the summer for adults and kids, from working with clay to painting, drawing, metalsmithing and drama. For details, visit

Feel like hitting the road? “We’ll also take day trips to see a movie Suttons Bay or Traverse City or go to Beulah and Benzonia,” says Ballou. What’s there, you ask? How about lunch at the Cherry Hut? (Don’t skip their fabulous cherry pie!) Visit Gwen Frostic’s and watch them make botanical prints, cards and wrapping paper. Drive out to the Point Betsie lighthouse or take in a movie in Frankfort. Or take a day trip in the opposite direction to Northport for lunch and bowling at Tucker’s. A little closer is Leland’s Fishtown with its shops, the pier with all the boats and the playground — if it isn’t raining. Or swing over to Elmwood Township, adjacent to Traverse City, and visit the Children’s Museum where you’ll find lots of movement-friendly equipment inside for active kids.

Back in our neck of the woods, right next to the Sportsman’s Shop on M-22 in Glen Arbor is Smocks, a nonprofit open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday and run by volunteers. For an $8 admission, kids can stay as long as they like, as long as they have an adult of caregiver with them. This creative, hands-on environment offers a free choice of projects to make, from easel painting to dough play, collages to working with construction things. Kids at Smocks always study a famous artist; right now the subject is Jackson Pollack, so they’re creating paintings on the floor. Open until Labor Day, Smocks encourages the inner creativity every child possesses. “They just have a good time,” says volunteer Bonnie Kay. Find Smocks on Facebook for more information and pictures. We hear good word of mouth on this place, now in its fifth summer.

What to do on those summer evenings? Aside from campfires on the beach — always a favorite — the Glen Arbor Art Association’s Manitou Music Festival will host several special concerts this summer. On July 3, be sure to attend the Northport Band concert in front of the old schoolhouse in Glen Arbor. One week later, on July 10, head to the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb for the annual concert. Then, on July 20, take your chairs to the Glen Haven Maritime Museum. All concerts begin at 7 p.m.; BYO chairs.

From now until August 5, enjoy the Beach Bards bonfire on Friday evenings at a campfire near the Leelanau School beach. Enjoy the oral tradition of by-heart poetry, storytelling and music hosted by Norm Wheeler and beginning at 8 p.m. (The first hour is for kids. Later on, it’s adults only.)

And of course, on any summer evening, enjoy live music on the deck at Boonedocks while you eat your ice cream cone, and the little ones dance up close to the musicians.

Cherry Republic offers Stompers Day Camp, Orchard Tours

CherryRepublicKids3From staff reports

Cherry Republic is proud to announce its second summer of Cherry Stompers: a nature-filled, activity-based day camp in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Cherry Stompers crams an entire summer of fun into a single day. Kids will explore the dunes, swim in the rivers and lakes, learn about wildlife, play games, and develop leadership skills. Licensed camp professionals hired by Cherry Republic will lead the outdoor adventures. It’s all about having fun while learning everything there is to know about the National Lakeshore and Leelanau County, not to mention riding on the Big Red Bus. Your kids will even be able to show you some secret spots at day’s end.

Cherry Stompers runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until August 12 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and is open to kids ages 8 13. Sign up online at or email for more information.

Traverse City Orchard Tours

Tuesdays in July, join Cherry Republic at its flagship Traverse City location for a six-hour tour aboard the Big Red Bus into the heart and soul of the “Cherry Republic.” See first hand and learn how farmers harvest, wash, and pit cherries. Watch the Cherry Republic crew turn those ruby red morsels of joy into Original Cherry Salsa at the cherry factory in Empire. Taste a product fresh off the assembly line. Eat, drink, and be cherry because lunch at the famous Glen Arbor headquarters is included in the ticket price. Hear first hand from the President, Bob Sutherland, the endearing and humorous stories surrounding this heartfelt company. Round out the day by visiting a few favorite spots in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Tour dates are on Tuesdays from 9:15 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. through the month of July. Sign up on the Cherry Republic website:

Call 231-334-3150 or email