GTPulse: Day Tripping at Art Rapids

You may have noticed that some of your favorite cafes and restaurants around the area have quietly closed down for the week. They’ll use this time to get ready for the upcoming summer season that will no doubt be busy. Lingering pandemic protocol mixed with jubilant post-vaccination feelings will lend itself to folks looking in their own backyards for travel ideas.

I think this summer could be the busiest one I’ve experienced in my short time living up here. When the streets and beaches of Traverse City fill up, where do you like to go? Do you stick around town? Or do you like to seek solace elsewhere in Northern Michigan? Last summer, I spent most of my leisure time on day trips to surrounding Northern Michigan charms. The paths less traveled are still frequented come summertime, but at the very least, it’s a slightly less squished escape. Or jaunt, if you will.

A favorite jaunt that I recently went on was to Art Rapids. The Elk Rapids-based nonprofit includes a walkable sculpture park that’s perfect for a nice day when you want to go for a drive and get outside.


The Drive: M-22 is the darling of scenic drives in Northern Michigan, but heading out to Elk Rapids is a relaxing, unsung cruise. Especially if I’m the passenger. You’ll only get quick glimpses of the water in between trees and farmhouses, but the soft hills make it feel like you’re driving close to the sky. In peak summer season you’ll see abundant cherry orchards, and if you’re in the mood for a quick snack – Farmer White’s farm stand is in Williamsburg right on the way.


Art Rapids: For a moment, looked closed. The gates were locked up, but on closer inspection, a pedestrian entrance was open. The trail is broad and splits off in different directions, leaving the visitor to explore the park in a choose your own adventure style. The sculptures are as varied as they are wonderful. Abstract shapes that conjure up deep thought are mixed with whimsical pieces that spark joy. A discreetly placed rabbit leaping through the air almost went unnoticed. The pieces are made from various metals, woods and clay. They’re spread throughout the wooded trail of the walk, but gradually get closer to the shoreline of the Elk Rapids Day Park. A stroll along the beach after the sculpture walk is an added delight. What makes it even better is the solitary tree growing in the sand and an igloo-type sculpture made by Williamsburg artist John Goss. It’s all a vision to behold.


Afterward: You’ve driven the 20 something minutes from Traverse City to get here, don’t leave without a bite to eat or a visit to the historic Island House. The historic house now functions as the local library. It was built in 1865 by a businessman who had turned the property from a sandbar into an island by covering it with clay and dirt. He lived there with his family until his death in 1922, the home later became a library in 1949. From downtown Elk Rapids, a bridge and a set of steps will lead you to the Island House. On this particular day that I went, we stopped in at Blue Owl Antiques where I found an alligator-shaped oven mitt, and my pal found an antique tapestry. There are plenty of wonderful antique, gift, and consignment shops to wander around. Lunch at T J Charlie’s or The Local is cozy and affordable, but if it’s closer to early dinnertime there are wonderful options for that too.


Art Rapids and all the fun surrounding it are definitely worthy of your next sunny day off. As a side note, the public restrooms are still closed. I would have been better off not guzzling water the entire ride there. Nonetheless, it’s a perfect day trip with a mixture of all of my favorite things in Northern Michigan – beaches, trails, and art.

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Categories: GTPulse