Overlooking the bright blue waters of Little Traverse Bay, Harbor Springs is a quintessential Northern Michigan destination.
This tiny town is home to just more than 1,200 residents, but its population booms during the summer travel season when visitors arrive in droves to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and spectacular views.
Our guide will tell you everything you need to know to make the most out of your stay in Harbor Springs Michigan.
About Harbor Springs and Its History
Rich in natural resources and offering some of the most spectacular views in the Great Lakes State, Harbor Springs has long been a place that people have called home.
The first residents were of the Odawa Tribe. For thousands of years, they survived using fishing, trapping, hunting, agricultural, and carpentry skills.
The first European settlers arrived in Harbor Springs Michigan in the late 17th century. Many of them were French missionaries who worked closely with the natives who lived in the area.
Throughout the 19th century, there remained a high population of Native American residents and European settlers, and the community grew and prospered.
Travelers Come for Respite
By the late 1870s, Harbor Springs was already considered a holiday destination by many throughout Michigan because of a resort that offered respite from the harsher elements of city life.
Travelers passing through came to the city to soak up the fresh air and bountiful views in hopes of achieving physical and mental relief. Within 50 years, the city was home to more than 10 hotels, and it was firmly established as one of the best travel destinations in Michigan.
The City Embraces Its History
Modern visitors will find that not much has changed over the past century in Harbor Springs. Many of the historic buildings that were constructed during the city’s growth and development remain in use today, and there are still a handful of locally-owned hotels and resorts in the city.
These businesses allow people to enjoy Harbor Springs Michigan as it should be — a quiet town with plenty of space for everyone to enjoy.
Harbor Springs Welcomes Guests All Year
Harbor Springs Michigan is a year-round destination, with travelers coming to this tiny corner of the Northern Lower Peninsula regardless of the season or weather conditions. Given its location off the shores of Little Traverse Bay, the city is often subjected to extremes.
Spring can be wet, with cold weather lingering into late April and early May. Summer is simply idyllic, with plentiful sunshine and comfortable temperatures throughout each month.
The fall is one of the most popular times to visit Harbor Springs because the weather is still moderate and the changing colors transform the landscape into a living work of art. Winters are cold, icy, and filled with snow — which is ideal for those who want to spend their free time skiing.
Outdoor Things to Do in Harbor Springs
For more than 100 years, people have been coming to Harbor Springs to breathe in the fresh, rejuvenating air, so it’s not surprising that many of the best things to do can be found outdoors. Here are a few of the best outdoor activities to try in Harbor Springs.
Drive Through the Infamous Tunnel of Trees
Scenic route M-119 — better known to Michigan locals as the Tunnel of Trees — is one of the most impressive displays of natural beauty in the state.
This historic highway stretches for about 20 miles between Harbor Springs and Cross Village, and along the way, the trees form a canopy that covers the roadway.
Best Time for a Scenic Drive
The Tunnel of Trees is a grand adventure no matter the time of year, but the best time of year to take this drive is during the peak fall color season. The colors will typically peak anytime between late September and late October depending on the weather.
Even when there is only a bit of color on the trees or some of the leaves are beginning to fall, you will be amazed at the hues of orange, yellow, crimson, and brown along this route.
In addition to leaf-peeping, you can stop at several small towns and points of interest along the way. In many respects, the Tunnel of Trees is one of the best choose-your-own-adventure activities in Michigan.
Enjoy a Visit to Pond Hill Farm
Found along the Tunnel of Trees route, Pond Hill Farm is quickly becoming known as one of the best attractions in Harbor Springs. There are plenty of ways to spend your time at the farm, no matter the season you visit.
During the spring and summer months, you can visit with the animals, let the kids play at the playground, and go biking on the groomed trails. In the winter, you can stop in the livestock barn, go snowshoeing along the trails, and try out the farm’s iconic sled hill.
And, don’t forget to finish your day with a slice of pizza, which is made fresh daily on the farm.
Experience the Thrill of Nub’s Nob
One of the best places to enjoy downhill skiing in Michigan is Nub’s Nob in Harbor Springs. This seasonal ski resort typically opens in late November and closes by early April, but the exact dates vary based on the weather.
Since 1958, skiers of all skill levels have been coming to this family-owned ski resort to enjoy a premier experience. Featuring three peaks, 53 runs, and a free area for beginners to develop their confidence, it’s easily one of the most inclusive and accessible ski resorts in Michigan.
Spend a Day on the Bay at Zoll Street Beach
If you are lucky enough to be in Harbor Springs on a fantastic summer day with warm breezes and abundant sunshine, then the best place to go is Zoll Street Beach.
This small, family-friendly beach is located in the heart of the city and gives you an opportunity to dip your toes into the cool, refreshing waters of Little Traverse Bay. If you are looking to get out onto the calm waters of the bay, the beach is a great launch spot for kayaks and paddleboards.
Zoll Street Beach is a dog-friendly beach too, so feel free to bring your favorite four-legged friend.
Indoor Things to Do in Harbor Springs Michigan
Whether it’s a dreary day in Harbor Springs or you simply want to spend some time inside, you will find a few top indoor activities in the city. Here are a couple of our favorites.
Sample the Local Fudge
Fudge is a Northern Michigan staple, and Harbor Springs has the perfect place for fudge tasting. You can spend an entire afternoon trying the delectable treats at Howse’s Fudge, which is an old-fashioned fudge and candy shop in the city’s historic downtown area.
This shop features more than 20 flavors of fudge, all of which are made fresh on-site. In addition to its fudge selection, Howse’s has a wide variety of specialty chocolates, cream caramels, turtles, and gourmet caramel corn.
Catch a Flick at the Harbor Springs Lyric Theatre
When you are in the mood to see a movie and munch on some popcorn, go to the Lyric Theatre. This one-of-a-kind movie theater is a nonprofit organization that specializes in showing first-run, family-friendly films for an affordable price.
There are three screens within the theater, and on any given day, a blockbuster hit may be showing on one screen while a classic film is being showcased on another.
Affordable ticket prices combined with a nostalgic experience make this one of the best places to spend an afternoon or evening in Harbor Springs.
Additional Attractions Near Harbor Springs Michigan
Harbor Springs may be a small town, but there is so much to do that you can easily fill your itinerary. If you want to extend your Northern Michigan adventure, though, consider heading to some of these destinations that are just a short drive from Harbor Springs.
Go Petoskey Stone Hunting in Nearby Petoskey
For a low-key yet memorable day trip, drive along the water’s edge to Petoskey Michigan. It is just 10 miles from Harbor Springs, and it’s one of the most picturesque drives in the Northern Peninsula.
Once you arrive in Petoskey, head to the shores of Lake Michigan to hunt for the state’s iconic Petoskey stones. You will have the best luck finding them at Magnus City Park, the Petoskey breakwall, and Petoskey State Park.
There is no better souvenir from any Northern Michigan trip than a genuine Petoskey stone that you found on your own.
Visit the Cross in the Woods
About 20 miles from Harbor Spring is Indian River, another small town in the Lower Peninsula that offers spectacular views and interesting attractions. The most famous attraction in Indian River is Cross in the Woods, a Catholic shrine known for featuring the largest crucifix in the world.
The outdoor crucifix stretches 55 feet into the air and spans more than 22 feet wide. It was carved out of an Oregon Redwood tree and has become a beloved destination among Catholics and visitors of all faiths.
The grounds of the shrine are accessible every day of the year during daylight hours.
Take a Day Trip to Mackinaw City
While you are in Mackinaw City, consider enjoying the city’s top attractions, which include Michilimackinac State Park, McGulpin Point Lighthouse, and Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. If you have even more time, consider hopping on a ferry and spending a few hours on Mackinac Island.
Dining in Harbor Springs Michigan
For more than a century, Harbor Springs Michigan has been known as a charming tourist town, which means that local flavor has always reigned supreme. These are some locally-owned restaurants in Harbor Springs to enjoy during your visit.
Casual Restaurants in Harbor Springs
Some of the most famous casual restaurants in Harbor Springs are actually the most unassuming locations.
Polish Kitchen would be easy to drive by, but you would be missing out on some of the best pierogi in Michigan. This family-owned restaurant has been operating in Harbor Springs for more than a decade, and it specializes in authentic Polish cuisine.
The New York Restaurant
Another family-friendly restaurant to check out in town is The New York Restaurant. This restaurant was established in 1904, making it one of the oldest restaurants in the city.
With a comfortable yet elegant dining room that offers waterfront views, this restaurant has an unparalleled atmosphere. Combined with fresh-made menu items, it’s a must-visit while you are in Harbor Springs.
Harbor Springs Upscale Restaurants
When it comes to fine dining, no other town in Michigan does it quite like Harbor Springs. Stafford’s Pier Restaurant, for example, is one of the most well-known upscale restaurants in the community.
Situated directly on the waterfront, and featuring both indoor and outdoor dining areas, there is simply no better place to enjoy a meal in the city. Its menu features mouthwatering meals crafted from fresh, local seafood, so it’s a great place to experience the flavors of Harbor Springs.
Ice Cream & Coffee in Harbor Springs
Ice cream and coffee are two must-have treats when you are in Northern Michigan, and Harbor Springs will not let you down.
Small Batch at the Cupola
For a caffeinated pick-me-up, consider stopping by Small Batch at the Cupola. When you step into this cafe, which is located inside a Victorian home in the heart of Harbor Springs, you will feel as if you have walked into a friend’s living room.
The comfortable furnishings and home-like setting are designed to encourage guests to sip, savor, and appreciate the work that went into crafting the artisan coffee or treat they are enjoying.
Yummies of Harbor Springs
For a refreshing, frozen treat on a warm, sunny day, head straight to Yummies of Harbor Springs. This seasonal ice cream shop serves more than 60 flavors of ice cream and is a favorite among summer travelers who are just passing through.
Where to Stay in Harbor Springs
As a longtime resort town, there is no shortage of options when it comes to Harbor Springs hotels and more. Traditional accommodations have long been the most popular option among travelers looking to enjoy the fresh air and spectacular views, but alternative lodging is also available.
Those who are looking for a resort experience will be thrilled with the options available at The Highlands. It is the most well-known, all-season resort in Harbor Springs, and it is a favorite among skiers and summer adventurers.
Another hotel to consider is the historic Colonial Inn. Established in 1894, it is one of the original resorts in the community, and it has long been known as the best place to stay to make the most of your time in Harbor Springs Michigan.
With sprawling grounds and charming amenities, this family-owned hotel stands apart from other locally-owned boutique hotels in Michigan.
While the hotels and resorts in Harbor Springs are unbeatable, travelers searching for peaceful and private lodging may want to consider vacation rentals.
For example, this spacious Harbor Springs vacation rental is located within walking distance of the city’s downtown area and can sleep up to six guests.
Another vacation home to consider is 6 Bells, a downtown apartment in a historic building. This unit has two bedrooms and sleeps up to four guests. Plus, it is the ideal option for travelers who want to immerse themselves in local life during their stay.
Harbor Springs Michigan
Harbor Springs is the kind of place that allows you to get away from it all — yet you are still so close to all of the best things to do in Northern Michigan.
When you are looking for the breathtaking views that Traverse City has to offer but want to escape the Cherry Festival-sized crowds, Harbor Springs is the perfect option.
From weekend winter getaways to week-long summer vacations, Harbor Springs is one of the best places to visit in Michigan.