Crystal Mountain Resort in Michigan offers family fun year-round, including spectacular sunsets.

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom
Crystal Mountain Resort in Michigan offers family fun year-round, including spectacular sunsets.

The camera balanced on the arm of an Adirondack chair.

I pressed the timer button and ran to pose with my family.

I was attempting to capture at least one photo of all of us together, following a fun, memorable weekend at the Crystal Mountain Resort in northwest Michigan.
We stood with frozen smiles, as the timer repeatedly failed to go off. My hope for a frame-able keepsake was slipping away when a resort employee raking leaves nearby approached.
“Here, let me take your picture,” she said sweetly, setting down her rake and snapping the photo that would end up on our holiday card.

The staff friendliness is just one reason we love Crystal Mountain Resort, and why I’d recommend it for families at any time of year. DestinationReviewBeing on a mountain (well, a Midwest mountain), it’s a ski resort first. And a great one, from what I hear from fellow skiers. But we visited in the October, before the snow. And found SO much for families to do here — together, as a family.

After months of everyone being busy with their own activities, a long weekend together at Crystal Mountain restored our family bond and lifted our spirits.

Enough about my spiritual enlightenment. Let me tell you what’s fun to do here, and in the surrounding area:

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom Getting ready to go down the alpine slide at Crystal Mountain Resort.

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom
Getting ready to go down the alpine slide at Crystal Mountain Resort.

1. The Alpine Slide.

Everyone’s highlight of the weekend, we took a chairlift up to the top of the mountain, and then rode down to the bottom on small, plastic, fast-moving slides. Going up? Expansive views of the gorgeous fall colors. Going down? Twisting and turning fun. Everyone from senior citizens to little kids rode it. My 8-year-old could go by himself, and two side-by-side slides made it possible to race each other. Or, don’t race — you can go slow, control your speed, even stop mid-slide if you want to.
Tip: Buy an unlimited ride pass, especially for the kids. It’ll save money, and you can avoid standing in line to buy more tickets when the kids whine, “Can we go just ONE more time?”
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom Climbing up the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom
Climbing up the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

2. Climb the sand dunes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.

You’ll probably need to stop and catch your breath at some point while climbing up these large sand dunes. But it’s worth it to get to the top and take in the views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding area. The sand is clean, and fellow climbers are friendly. The best part is running down the dunes — and trying not to lose control or do a face dive in the sand. The dunes are about a 30 minute drive from the resort.

3. Sit on beach bench and watch the sun set behind the lighthouse.

In nearby Frankfort, Michigan, crowds gather nightly for the sunset over Lake Michigan. And for good reason: they’re spectacular. While waiting for the sun to lower, we walked the cement plank out to the lighthouse, past the friendly

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

fisherman (one of whom caught an 18-pound fish while we watched). You can’t go in it the lighthouse, and it’s not much to see up close. But it’s kinda fun to go out there.

When you return, get the camera out and grab a bench on the beach. My kids headed to the regular swing set, and occasionally hopped off to scan the Lake Michigan shoreline for Michigan’s famous, smooth Petoskey rocks. My husband and I sat on a bench together, as the kids played around us, and we all watched the sky turn fiery orange and then darken. It was pure, peaceful, bliss. One of those moments where it hits you how lucky and happy you are.

Afterward, stop at Kilwin’s Fudge and Ice Cream, on Frankfort’s main strip. A square of their creamy homemade fudge or a scoop of their rich pecan praline ice cream will make you moan “Oh my God” out loud after you take a bite.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

3. Take in the fall colors on bikes, hikes and/or kayaks. 

Bright red, orange, yellow and even pink leaves light up northwest Michigan’s forested hills in the fall. At the resort, you can take in the colors while hiking through their art-filled sculpture park, playing tennis, and renting bikes. Good quality mountain bikes were for rent at the resort, and we enjoyed riding on the property. Be warned: there are some tough uphills, and the bike path isn’t designated for bikes alone. The off-road paths were too hard for my 8- and 10-year-olds, although I’d bet teenagers could handle them.

4. Eat cherries.

This area of northern Michigan is known for its cherries. So whenever you can, order homemade cherry pie, cherry pancakes … cherry anything. The neighboring town of Traverse City is the state’s cherry capital.

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

5. Play family laser tag outdoors.

Northern Michigan is a gun-friendly area, but I don’t like guns. Yet I loved Crystal Mountain Resort’s family laser tag. With plastic machine guns (yeesh!), we ran around barrels and haystacks, dodging red-light laser shots from our kids. We immediately bonded with the other families, and played some kids vs. adults games. While fun, it’s tiring. So you’ll be ready for a drink or meal afterward.
Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

6. Scale the resort’s climbing wall (yes, you, grown ups).

The climbing wall was something I considered a kids’ activity. But the resort’s wall is for every member of the family. After my kids scaled the walls like little monkeys, the well-trained climbing wall staff encouraged my husband and I to give it a try. With patience and encouragement (“Come on, Jamie! You got this! Just a few more!”)  we both surprised ourselves by making it to the top and ringing the bell. If we can do it, anyone can.

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom

7. Morning coffee on your screened-in porch (or by the stone fireplace) in one of Crystal Mountain Resort’s fantastic cottages.

Sometimes, rustic cottages are old. The ones at Crystal Mountain Resort are updated, cozy, homey little houses. The bathrooms are new, everything works, it’s very clean, and there’s lots of space. The cabins are nestled in a forested area that’s a 2-minute walk to the resort’s restaurants and pools. They dot a winding stream with colorful, award-winning landscaping. It’s so peaceful to have your morning coffee in the screened-in porch overlooking it, or if it’s cold outside, curl up in a big leather chair near the gas fireplace.

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom The Firefly cottage at Crystal Mountain Resort

Photo by Jamie Bartosch/Suburban TravelingMom
The Firefly cottage at Crystal Mountain Resort

Our cottage, Firefly, had a fantastic bunk bed room that my kids loved. It had 4 oversized bunk beds built into the wall (each with their own little pull-chain light) plus an extra bed, and their own TV and a DVD player. PERFECT for families – and  large enough for two families. We had a fantastic meal at the resort’s Thistle Pub & Grill, a restaurant next to the golf course that also serves kids meals.

If weather ruins your outdoor plans, Crystal Mountain Resort is a short drive from the children’s museum and old movie theater in Traverse City.
Besides cottages, Crystal Mountain Resort has several other types of accommodations, including budget-friendly hotel rooms. For details, see crystalmountain.com.
Disclosure: Crystal Mountain Resort provided accommodations for our stay and 4 alpine slide passes, but the opinions are strictly my own.