Over 500,000 people are about to flood the streets of Traverse City, Michigan, as the 97th National Cherry Festival kicks off eight days of celebration on July 1. This annual Northern Michigan event is one of the country’s favorite summertime festivals.
Festival goers are expected to bring a welcome boost to the local economy as they enjoy all the attractions and activities associated with the festival.
Discover the Cherry Capital of the World
The U.S. cherry industry produces more than 650 million pounds of sweet and tart cherries annually, with most of its production concentrated on the West Coast (California, Oregon, and Washington) and Michigan.
Michigan grows about 75 percent of the tart cherry crop, and the five counties surrounding Traverse City (known as the “Cherry Capital of the World”) produce 40 percent of the United States’ annual tart cherry crop. The Traverse City region is home to more than four million cherry trees that produce a yearly average of 150-200 million pounds of tart cherries.
About the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Michigan
The first “Blessing of the Blossoms Festival” occurred in May 1925 when local businesses partnered with the area’s cherry farmers to promote the growing industry. The festival gained national attention when the Michigan Legislature passed a resolution in 1931 to rename it and make it a national celebration.
Over the years, Super Cherry and the Festival of Races have joined the traditional festival favorites like crowning the Cherry Queen and devouring plenty of farm-fresh cherry products, in addition to carnival attractions, parades, cherry-themed delicacies, well-known performers, and so much more.
Today, the National Cherry Festival boasts over 150 events throughout its eight days of festivities, and most are free! Visitors can participate in popular activities like pit-spitting, pie-eating contests, turtle races, and more without spending a dime.
For a small fee, festival attendees can feast at the Very Cherry Flying Pancake Breakfast, cruise along the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, and ride the Ferris Wheel on the midway. Evening performances by big-name artists require tickets, which are available on the festival website.
Popular National Cherry Festival Events
Cherry Royale Parade: This parade is a staple of the festival and is not to be missed. Featuring floats, marching bands, and of course, plenty of cherries, this parade is a celebration of all things cherry.
Cherry Pit Spit: This event is a crowd favorite and has been a part of the festival for over 40 years. Participants compete to see who can spit a cherry pit the farthest, with the winner taking home a prize. This popular festival event even influenced the name of the local amateur baseball team, the Traverse City Pit Spitters!
Air Show: The festival’s air show is a thrilling event that features aerial acrobatics and stunts. Visitors can watch planes soar through the sky, performing daring maneuvers and tricks.
Cherry Pie Eating Contest: This event is not for the faint of heart. Participants compete to see who can eat the most cherry pie in a set amount of time. The winner takes home bragging rights and a full belly.
Concerts: Each evening, the Bayside Music Stage will feature performances by local and big-name artists. The 2023 festival lineup includes Three Doors Down, Chicago, and Flo Rida. Comedians Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy will also perform.
Even though the festival is mostly free to enjoy, the local economic impact of the festival is staggering. A study conducted on the 2016 festival by Grand Valley State University reported the average out-of-town visitor stayed 3.5 days in the area and spent roughly $86 per day, boosting income for the restaurants, attractions, and lodging in the greater Traverse City area.
More to Explore in Traverse City During the National Cherry Festival
Looking for more things to do in Traverse City, Michigan, while taking in the festival?
During the weeks leading up to and following the National Cherry Festival, visitors to the area can experience the joy of picking up a pint of freshly picked cherries from any number of roadside cherry stands. The dark, tart cherries are a refreshing snack as you explore the nearby Traverse City attractions.
Fun Fact: The most common variety of tart cherry is the Montmorency. These Michigan-grown fruits are perfect for baking as they hold their shape better than the sweet cherries grown on the West Coast. But that won’t keep us from popping a handful in our mouths fresh from the roadside farm stand!
Don’t miss other popular Traverse City area attractions! From climbing Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to boating on Great Traverse Bay, the Lake Michigan coastline is full of adventures.