As the trees take on the fiery hues of autumn, the pilots at Grand Traverse Balloons help guests watch the transformation from the best seat in the house—a basket. For the last 25 years, the Fall Color tour soars above the tree line, awarding hot air balloon passengers a view of the forest at heights between 2,000 and about 3,000 feet. The tours aren't limited to the season, either, as the Federal Aviation Administration–certified staff flies its inflatable fleet year-round.
Group rides take up to 10 people for one-hour jaunts over Traverse City and the surrounding countryside of northern Michigan. The seven-story balloons float over scenic stretches of lakes, bays, vineyards, and woodland.
In addition to group flights, the pilots also host private charters and tethered rides, for which a balloon is tied to the ground and soars up to 150 feet and down again on a vertical path. But no matter what, every aerial errand ends the same way—with the captain celebrating a successful landing by sharing champagne and razzing the nearest flightless bird.
Great Lakes Children's Museum celebrates youngsters' innate curiosity by providing them with interactive exhibits that encourage exploration and use engaging, hands-on activities to teach visitors about everything from natural science to regional history. To learn about the water cycle, kids can mimic the path of a raindrop by climbing a set of stairs, crawling across a cloud-like platform, and then sliding back down to the ground while learning about evaporation, condensation, and precipitation.
At one of the museum's most popular exhibits, the water table, parents can work alongside their children and discover how to use insertable pieces to redirect the water's flow, create standing waves, or form swirling eddies. Encouraging this sort of interaction between family members helps foster a lifelong passion for learning by allowing adults and children to work together as they gain new knowledge about the world around them.
Founded by Traverse City natives Sam Porter and Abby Walton Porter, Porterhouse Productions operates several festivals and special events in the northern Michigan region. The company has run the annual Microbrew & Music Festival, an Evening with Mario Batali, and other recreational events, from concerts to culinary events.
T.C. Paintball gives wannabe warriors the opportunity to practice trigger pulling and ambushing with day-long paintballing passes. Armed with 500 colorful capsules and paint-spewing machinery, soldiers battle friends and enemies in the great indoors or traverse the natural elements in the flourishing outdoor battleground, which teems with sandbag walls, empty oil barrels, and motivational Patton lookalikes at every turn. Corporal casings can successfully shield themselves from incoming pellets with protective goggles and face masks that are included in the Groupon and should be worn throughout the day. Particularly trigger-happy gunners can visit the on-site store to restock ammunition, peruse guns, or hide from paint-splattered carpool moms.
The course at Crystal Lake Golf Club is filled with wide fairways and a blend of doglegs that move both right and left to give advantage to golfers who can shape their ball flight off the tee. Eight holes bring water hazards into play, including a particularly meddlesome pond on the par-five tenth hole, where long-hitters run the risk of rolling their ball into the water (clearing the pond would take a Herculean tee shot). From there, golfers have to play their second shot from a tricky downhill lie as the pond ripples ominously in the foreground. Elevated tees and multi-tiered greens add extra challenges to the course, which nestles in the shadows of mature trees. Before embarking on their par-hunting odyssey, golfers can warm up their swings or practice their earthworm impersonations from the grass hitting bays at the driving range.
As the winds pick up across the surface of West Grand Traverse Bay, they occasionally catch the roughly 1,000 square feet of sail that towers above the deck of the Nauti-Cat, allowing the catamaran to smoothly cruise through the water at speeds of up to 14 knots. The crew leads as many as six outings each day depending on the weather conditions. During these day trips, as many as 40 passengers can savor views of the sunset or the Old Mission Peninsula's luxurious homes while they relax on a vessel complete with modern amenities, including two restrooms and an on-board cash bar. On select Friday and Saturday evenings, the Nauti-Cat hosts lively musical performances as local bands or DJs set up on a custom-designed stage on the vessel's bow.