Tackling Cedar and Maple City with youngsters

Palmer Woods near Maple City is a mountain biking paradise, though you and your kiddos don’t have to catch air off the jumps like Chad Jordan. Photo by Sheen Watkins.

By Chris Loud

Sun contributor

Tucked away in the hilly heart of Leelanau County are two under-the-radar, off-the-beaten path towns that need to be moved up on your list of destinations. Maple City and Cedar are especially great Leelanau hubs if you’re a family with younger children looking for a more relaxed vibe, but still plenty to do.

Cedar and Maple City are only about five minutes apart, so when it comes to where you might stay, or start your day trip, it doesn’t make a huge difference. However, Cedar is a bit more of a walkable town, with a few more options located right downtown, or nearby. So for starters, if you had to choose where to stay or establish a home base, it leans toward Cedar.

Outdoor action is easy to find here, but there are two main activities that set these two towns apart from others, especially if you take into account their accessibility to younger adventurers. First, Victoria Creek that flows right through Cedar (also called Cedar River) is a relaxed yet spectacular waterway for paddlers of all kinds. It’s slow moving and very open in spots, making it perfect for young or beginner paddlers. Plus, because of the slow current, you can paddle up and down the river, eliminating the need to coordinate a pickup. There’s a spot to put in your watercraft just up the road from downtown on the main drag. If you paddle east, the Cedar River Preserve offers some incredibly diverse vegetation and landscape, and it’s a great place to spot wildlife. If you’re not bringing your own gear, there are plenty of spots to rent in Traverse City, Glen Arbor, or Empire.

Don’t forget to bring the bikes (or rent as mentioned above) because one of the best trail riding experiences in the entire region is only about five miles from Maple City. Palmer Woods Forest Reserve has specifically designed trails for kids and beginners, with varying levels of options to test those burgeoning skills, and have a blast in the process. If you’re more advanced, there are plenty of intermediate to expert trails, with heart-pumping routes full of flowy bumps, jumps, and features that will not disappoint. The trailhead is located on South Wheeler Road. For more information on both Palmer Woods and the Cedar River Forest Preserve, check out the Leelanau Conservancy website, the prolific conservationists charged with stewarding these large swaths of protected land.

If you’re looking for some easier-going playground and park fun, there are a few nearby but you kind of have to track them down. In Cedar, there’s a small playground near the sports fields a block east of the main road that goes through town, just off of Railroad Road behind Cedar Hardware. Out near Maple City is a spot called Myles Kimmerly Park along County Road 616. There are a few play structures scattered around more sports fields, and a lot of space to run around. It’s often quiet, and feels like your own secret country escape at times.

A great picnic and playground spot called Old Settlers Park is probably your best bet all around if you’re ok with driving about 10-15 minutes. It’s located right on hyper-gorgeous Glen Lake, on South Dunns Farm Road. There’s a playground, lots of picnic tables, a gazebo, and really fascinating history to take in. For picnic purposes, down the road from the park is Laker Shakes Burdickville Market, with sandwiches, pastries, coffee, ice cream, and a general store with a good selection of beer and wine.

With some serious activity ahead of you, if you’re looking for a hearty breakfast, a couple excellent options come to mind. Pegtown Station in Maple City has a classic menu with great food. It’s an historic staple in the Maple City community that won’t burst your wallet. It couples well with a trip to Palmer Woods Forest Reserve. They’re also a solid lunch and dinner option, with subs and pizza.

Voted “Best Breakfast in Leelanau,” Foothills Cafe & Motel on South Dunns Farm Road is a real hidden gem, with super delicious and hearty diner-style breakfasts. It’s also open early at 7 a.m. for those families with young kids who haven’t yet learned the art of sleeping in. Combo this breakfast with a visit to Old Settlers Park, just down the road, and you have a nice morning under your belt already.

For dinner plans, Broomstack Kitchen and Taphouse in Maple City is one of the more unique dinner options in the region, located in an old schoolhouse building just down the street from the main intersection. They have a high-quality, something-for-everyone menu that features nice tavern fare with pizzas, great salads, sandwiches, tacos, classic and unique share plates, and an eclectic list of delicious burgers that includes a peanut butter and bacon burger. They also have a nice list of beers, cider, mead, wine, and mixed drinks. There’s a kids menu and plenty of other kid-friendly full menu options.

However, it’s not the variety in the menu that makes Broomstack one of the most unique options in the region, it’s the curling. That’s right, curling. You can sign up for a learn-to-curl session, and once you learn the ways of the stone, you’ll be able to use the rest of your time curling away. It’s a great alternative activity when the weather isn’t working for outdoor activity, or just to say, “I went curling,” and watch the reactions from your friends.

Also for dinner, Cedar offers one of the best taco stands in the area, called Cedar Sol Tacos. It’s still considered a hidden gem, despite how long it’s been around, and its loyal following of locals and travelers alike. It’s located just south of town on the main road. Just a heads up, all tacos are served with traditional toppings of cilantro and onions with a wedge of lime, so if your kids aren’t into that, make sure to ask about a hold or substitution, if possible. There are other more kid-friendly toppings you can add instead like cheese, sour cream, black beans, and rice.

Other food options include the Cedar Tavern, a classic and welcoming small-town bar and restaurant open for lunch and dinner. Also, if you need more food options near Maple City, about five minutes north up 667, and a quick right onto M22, you can find Market 22, a great place for takeout food that includes pizza, sandwiches, hot dogs, and other delicious fare. I suggest calling ahead to make your order, and keep in mind they are currently closed Monday through Wednesday, and only open for breakfast and lunch on Sundays. Other days their hours are 11am to 7:30 p.m., so plan accordingly. Right down the road from Market 22 is the Little Traverse Inn. This is a stately Leelanau classic with amazing food, but while they do have a nice big kids menu, this might be more of a special occasion meal, or a date night option if possible.

If you’d like just a casual wander about town, check out the history and culture at the Polish Art Center in Cedar. They have an impressive collection of old-world, traditional items for sale, gifts, and Polish food to purchase. It’s a great way to learn about and celebrate the Polish heritage of Cedar. Then, wander down to Blue Moon Ice Cream Shop, an old school order-through-the window spot within walking distance of the playground and river, which are both excellent places to scarf down some ice cream and enjoy the relaxed Leelanau vibe.