Harbor Springs
Men's Journal, August 2000

Locals call it two-tracking. And here in the fingertips of Michigan's mitten, where hundreds of miles of gravel fire roads trace the forests above Lake Michigan, exploring these trails by mountain bike, four-wheel drive, or snowmobile means never having to say you're bored. Leave the paved highway on a two-track and you never know where you'll end up. Recently, as I pedaled a narrow, sandy road through some woods, the trail nosedived into a moraine, where a tea-colored trout stream waited. Another track emerged from a stand of timber to cross the fields of an abandoned farm. As the meadows returned to forest, I came across a black-bear sow and two cinnamon-colored cubs ripping apart downed trees in search of grubs.

All this sits just beyond the front door of Harbor Springs, Michigan. A strip of Victorian houses tucked into the spot where the tall, glacially gouged ridges of northern Michigan meet the deepest natural harbor on the Great Lakes, the town became a summer haven for wealthy Midwestern families in the late 1800s. Today, many of the same Detroit and Chicago families continue to summer there. And because they're Midwesterners - people who love outdoor fun and typically don't shoot their mouths off - well, word of the town just never achieved escape velocity.

Which doesn't mean harbor Springs is snooty. Like a freshwater Maine or an Aspen with a waterfront, it's always up for a good time. In summer, water-skiers slice across the harbor's protected calm, and sailboats heel on the breeze toward the big lake beyond. Come winter, the freeze hits hard, and snowshoeing, ski-touring, and snowmobiling take over. Any time of year, as the day winds down, locals fetch up at the town's pub, Bar Harbor, which sits next to Harbor Springs' docks. Anyone not in attendance is assumed to be out in the woods.

Perfect breakfasts draw Locals to the 1940s soda fountain at Mary Ellen's Place. For lunch and dinner, the Pier and the New York have memorable food and a good wine list; but neither can touch the North Woods glory of the Legs Inn in Cross Village, 25 miles north on Highway 119. There you get authentic Polish food - sausages, and golabki cabbage rolls - prepared from scratch. The place's architecture alone, sort of log-cabin-meets-Maurice-Sendak, makes dinner worth a trip.

-Donovan Webster