Michigan Day Trip: Empire

Michigan Day Trips - Empire

Located just thirty minutes from downtown Traverse City, the village of Empire is a charming small town brimming with attractions. Many visitors come to Northern Michigan specifically to experience Empire, making it an ideal destination for a day trip, whether solo or with family and friends. Whether you're interested in a scenic driving tour or seeking spots to spend the day, you'll discover that Empire offers far more than it initially appears. 

The Sleeping Bear Dunes is undoubtedly the most popular destination within the limits of Empire, and you could spend an entire day exploring all that the national lakeshore has to offer. From scenic drives with lookout points, to hikes of every caliber, take this as your opportunity to do some sightseeing or just enjoy the beautiful natural landscape. 

View our page on the Sleep Bear Dunes here!

If you’re spending a few days in the Empire area, be sure to check out one of the gorgeous public beaches that are situated right on Lake Michigan. 

Empire Beach Village Park - Niagara Street, Empire

The Empire Beach Village Park is a very popular beach located right in the heart of Empire. With a play structure, boat launch, and fire rings this spot has it all. Purchase some firewood from a local gas station or road-side stop and enjoy the gorgeous Lake Michigan sunset at this sandy beach.

North Bar Lake

North Bar isn’t easy to get to, but it’s worth the trip! From M-22, take a left on West Voice Road, then a right turn onto North Bar Lake Road. This is also the location of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, making it easy to take a dip in Lake Michigan after a hike. Keep in mind, the trail to the beach is sandy and can be steep, but there are plenty of other, more easily accessible beaches in the area. 

Esch Beach - Esch Road, Honor

Esch Beach is truly a hidden gem, but is becoming much more popular in recent years, so enjoy it while you can! Right between Honor and Empire, take M-22 until you reach Esch Road, you’ll follow it all the way to the shoreline, where you can park along the side of the road. This is a vast beach with plenty of space to set up for the day.

Empire is a very popular spot for hiking, especially since The Sleeping Bear Dunes offers so many trail options. With easier, paved trails, to something a little bit off the beaten path, there are options for everyone. Check out some of the most popular hiking spots in Empire!

Empire Bluff Trail 

This 1.5 mile trail leads to breathtaking views of the dunes and Lake Michigan. On the shorter side, this hike is very popular among locals and visitors looking to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and our National Lakeshore.

Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

Whether you’re looking to travel by foot, bike, or snowshoe, the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a great option for anyone looking to get their steps in. Commit to the twenty-mile hike or park somewhere along the way and turn around to head back, regardless, you’re bound to see plenty of wildlife and natural scenery.

Otter Creek Loop

The Otter Creek Loop is a 4.7 mile lap that takes you through the woods and across Lake Michigan’s sandy beach. Part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, this well maintained trail could take an hour and a half to complete, or you can take your time to explore your surroundings.

After a day of hiking, biking, and swimming, you’ll be sure to work up an appetite. Whether you’re looking to dine right in Empire or explore some of the surrounding towns and businesses, there are plenty of options within about 20 miles of downtown Empire.

Empire Village Inn - 11601 S Lacore Road, Empire

The Empire Village Inn is your classic small town establishment, offering American dining options and TVs to catch the game. With positive reviews and a large menu, this could be a great option if you’re looking to stay right in Empire.

Joe’s Friendly Tavern - 11015 W Front Street, Empire

This bar is located within walking distance of the Empire Beach Village Park. Open since 1946, Joe’s Friendly Tavern is an Empire staple. Call in your order to go or have a seat inside to enjoy your meal.

Western Avenue Grill - 6410 W Western Avenue, Glen Arbor

A quick drive from Empire, the Western Avenue Grill offers a large menu and a diverse wine selection that is worth the trip. Explore the shops and happenings of Glen Arbor while you’re at it, you’ll find plenty to see and do!


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