11 Top-Rated Things to Do in Petoskey, MI

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Dec 1, 2022

Petoskey, Michigan has a certain something that will make you want to stick around for a while. Tucked up in the northwestern corner of the state, right on the shores of Little Traverse Bay in Lake Michigan, this historic lake town is charming, picturesque, and packed with attractions and things to do.

It's certainly not a big town, with less than 10,000 residents. But it packs a punch for travelers who come to stay at the lovely lakefront resorts that run up and down the shoreline.

Petoskey holds onto its 19th-century heritage in the form of its Victorian architecture and historic Gaslight District. But it is thoroughly a city built for the 21st century, with ample amounts of park space, a bustling marina, a high-end shopping and restaurant district, and plenty of hotels.

Of course, the main feature of Petoskey is Little Traverse Bay, one of the most beautiful sections of Lake Michigan. Visitors can get their fill of lake life either on one of the many boat tours, or by biking along the Little Traverse Wheelway. Many of the parks overlook the bay, as well, which is a real treat come sunset.

No matter your interests, Petoskey has something to entertain you. Read on to discover the best things to do in Petoskey, Michigan.

1. Explore the Historic Gaslight District

Historic Gaslight District in downtown Petoskey | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

The Historic Gaslight District of downtown Petoskey is one of its most beautiful assets. The century-old historic district is like stepping back in time, but with a decidedly 21st-century edge.

The historic building facades and streets harken back to a golden age of small town Midwest, peppered with parks, lined with brick buildings, and, of course, lit up at night with dozens of historic gaslights.

The shopping district dates back to the 1890s, when specialty shops sprung up geared towards the wealthy vacationers who would stay nearby. These were the early days of the Gaslight District, and in many ways, the area still retains its historic vibe and charm.

But behind these historic details are more than 170 modern-day shops and fine-dining restaurants that bring Petoskey into the 21st century. The Gaslight District is famous for its shopping, and pulls in travelers from all nearby communities, like Bay Harbor, Bay View, Harbor Springs, and beyond.

2. Explore Petoskey State Park

Sand dunes at Petoskey State Park

Visiting Petoskey would be incomplete without a trip to the powder-soft sands of Petoskey State Park. With a prime location right on Lake Michigan, the beaches of Petoskey State Park are among the most beautiful beaches in Michigan.

Overlooking Little Traverse Bay, the beach at Petoskey State Park is about a mile long and features two campgrounds and loads of trails.

The Old Baldy Trail is a half-mile loop that leads to the top of Old Baldy Dune, while the Portage Trail is a mile-long, out-and-back trail that winds past wooded areas and dunes.

Petoskey State Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

In addition to the beach, Petoskey State Park has 303 acres to explore, home to hiking trails, biking paths, areas for picnicking, a playground, and volleyball courts.

The park has two campgrounds, as well. Tannery Creek has 100 campsites, while Dunes has 80 campsites.

You will need a Recreation Passport to enter the park, and parking is $15.

Address: 2475 M-119, Petoskey, Michigan

3. Bike the Little Traverse Wheelway

Little Traverse Wheelway

Anyone looking to drink in the beauty of Little Traverse Bay and the natural beauty of Petoskey will want to take a trip along the Little Traverse Wheelway. The 26-mile wheel way, also known as the "Bike Path" among locals, runs from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs and is one of the most beautiful bike paths in the state.

One of the top sections of the entire wheel way runs right through Petoskey, along the Bayfront park all the way to Petoskey State Park. The majority of the path hugs the water, giving dramatic views over Little Traverse Bay. Half a mile of the trail goes along a boardwalk over wetland areas between Bayfront Park and Petoskey State Park.

The path follows the original Little Traverse Wheelway, which was constructed in the 1880s. While it has certainly been brought up to modern-day standards, it's a great way to get in touch with the past of northwestern Michigan.

4. Explore the Bear River Valley Recreation Area

Bear River Valley Recreation Area | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

One thing cannot be denied about Petoskey, Michigan – it is not short on natural beauty. The Bear River Valley Recreation Area is yet another spot where locals and visitors like to get outside and experience the unspoiled nature in this part of Michigan.

The 36-acre park underwent a $2.4 million renovation and has reemerged as one of the best places to experience nature in northwestern Michigan.

A 1.5-mile path follows along the Bear River and is a popular place to visit for walking, biking, and cross-country skiing.

In the summer months, you can even ride the rapids down a quarter-mile-long whitewater course, which is one of the only ones in the Lower Peninsula.

Among the natural features within the recreation area are cliffs and unpaved trails, as well as plenty of paved paths and boardwalks.

Bird-watchers love to stroll the many paths with their binoculars and keep their eyes peeled for the dozens of species that fly through the skies around the Bear River Valley.

5. Wander around Bayfront Park

Bayfront Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

For some of the best views of Little Traverse Bay, be sure to schedule a stop at Bayfront Park. This prime stretch of lakefront stretches for 25 acres, including 7,800 feet of public shoreline.

The long park hugs the coast of Lake Michigan and is a beautiful place to visit for a stroll. From the park, you have views of the breakwater, the lighthouse, the bay, and some parts of the lovely city. You'll also find walking paths; a fishing pond; a waterfall; and, of course, plenty of shoreline, with a 144-slip marina.

You can also climb the stairs to reach Sunset Park, which is another beautiful lookout spot overlooking Little Traverse Bay.

The only thing missing from Bayfront Park is a swimmable beach, but visitors overlook that one downside because the views are pretty spectacular. If you really want a beach, there is a rocky beach near the Petoskey Breakwall.

Address: 101 E Lake Street, Petoskey, Michigan

6. Watch the Boats at Petoskey City Marina

Petoskey City Marina | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

It's undeniable that life revolves around the lake in Petoskey, Michigan. With such a fantastic location on Little Traverse Bay in Lake Michigan, why wouldn't the lake be a main source of entertainment for its residents and visitors?

Within Petoskey, the Petoskey City Marina is the best spot to watch this lake life in action. With 144 slips, this is the spot where Petoskey residents dock their boats before taking them out on wonderful lake adventures.

If you are in the mood to dock up at the marina, it has 72 slips for transient dockage that are open from May to October. You can make reservations up to six months in advance.

The marina is located in Bayfront Park and is connected to the historic Gaslight District via a pedestrian tunnel. Anyone visiting Petoskey by boat for the day will have direct access to the dining, shopping, and beautiful parks of downtown Petoskey.

Address: 101 E Lake Street, Petoskey, Michigan

7. See a Performance at the Crooked Tree Arts Center

Crooked Tree Arts Center | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Culture comes alive in at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey. One of two campuses (a second one is in Traverse City), this community-based arts center is all about bringing a dose of culture to the residents and visitors of Northern Michigan.

Among the activities at the Crooked Tree Arts Center are art exhibitions, classes, performances, lectures, gifts, holiday markets, and more. The Crooked Tree Arts Center is also home to a School of Ballet, which was founded nearly 20 years ago. It offers professional training in valet and other dance styles.

A long list of classes is available to people of all ages, including culinary arts, visual art, summer art camps, and summer workshops.

The center's building is particularly interesting. It lives within the bones of a church, which dates back to 1890. The Crooked Tree Arts Center acquired the building in 1979 and restored the building to hits former grandeur.

Address: 461 E Mitchell Street, Petoskey, Michigan

8. Sprawl at Pennsylvania Park

Pennsylvania Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

As if downtown Petoskey was not charming enough, take a walk though Pennsylvania Park and be prepared to snap some pictures. Nestled right in the heart of downtown, Pennsylvania Park offers a "commons" style, surrounded by historic buildings, overlooking the century-old streets of the Gaslight District.

The wide park has a lovely gazebo at its center, which is a popular spot for locals and visitors to take pictures in, open a good book, or enjoy the foliage around it. The park and gazebo are often used for outdoor concerts, movies, festivals, picnics, and other community events.

The park has three memorials, as well, dedicated to the Civil War, Vietnam War, and Operation Desert Storm. It is a place for reflection and enjoying the natural beauty of one of the most quaint sections of Petoskey.

9. Say Hello to Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway statue in Pennsylvania Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

If you're strolling through Pennsylvania Park in Petoskey, you may inadvertently run into a literary legend. In 2017, the city of Petoskey brought Ernest Hemingway to the park in the form of a bronze statue, so he could forever be in one of the original places that captured his heart.

The Nobel Prize-winning author, Ernest Hemingway spent the first 22 summers of his life in the Petoskey area. In fact, he married his first wife in 1921 in Horton Bay. One of the first main characters in his writing, Nick Adams, carried out his adventures in Northern Michigan.

Though his travels certainly took him far and wide around the world, it's no doubt the landscape and culture of Northern Michigan was integral to the shaping of Hemingway's creativity. He is honored forever in Petoskey, making Pennsylvania Park a stopping point for literary fans from around the world.

10. Little Traverse Historical Museum

Little Traverse Historical Museum | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

The seasonal Little Traverse Historical Museum has history baked right in. That's because it lives in the bones of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Station, an old railway depot that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The railway history of Petoskey is rich, with the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad kicking off service to Petoskey as far back as 1874. A second railroad was added in 1891, and this depot was constructed in 1892. Located on the edge of Little Traverse Bay, the Victorian-style house overlooking Bayfront Park showcases a collection of historic items that have been donated.

Among the collections are exhibits dedicated to historic maps of the area, photographs, paintings, and artifacts.

Keep in mind that the museum is seasonal and closes for the fall and winter months. It reopens in spring and summer.

Address: 100 Depot Ct, Petoskey, Michigan

11. Catch the Views at Sunset Park

Sunset Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

With a name like "Sunset Park," it's easy to know what to expect. With a perfect perch on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay, and Bayfront Park below, Sunset Park is, in fact, one of the best places in Petoskey to see the sunset.

During the day, it's a lovely viewing point, with a picturesque gazebo and a viewing platform that overlooks the lake below. You can even find a staircase that leads down the hill to Bayfront Park.

The park is located just off U.S. 31, and part of the Little Traverse Wheelway skirts around it.

Address: 101 E Lake Street, Petoskey, Michigan

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