Michigan is the world’s leading producer of Montmorency tart cherries, growing 70 percent of the United States’ supply of them. Situated on Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City, known as the Cherry Capital of the World, presents the National Cherry Festival.
You’ll find sweet and fresh Michigan cherries in season from late June through August, while Montmorency tart cherries come in various forms — dried, canned, frozen, or juice. Tart cherries are great for baking in pies and cookies. In dried form, we often use them as salad toppers with a bit of cherry vinaigrette. And, of course, sweet and fresh cherries are perfect for eating as a snack. Growing up, my mom regularly baked cherry pies, and it is still difficult to turn down a slice when it’s on the menu.
What Is The National Cherry Festival?
The National Cherry Festival began as an informal “blessing of the blossoms” in about 1910, when cherry growers held spring festivities in May to celebrate the beautiful cherry blossoms. On May 22, 1925, they celebrated the first “Blessing of the Blossoms Festival.” It was a partnership between the cherry farmers and Traverse City businesses, where they promoted the growing cherry business. They also crowned the first Cherry Queen that year, a tradition that continues today.
The following year, 1926, a Traverse City bakery created a cherry pie 3 feet in diameter that contained more than 5,000 cherries. They presented it to then President of the United States, Calvin Coolidge.
Three years later, the festival continued to grow, and in 1930, it became a 3-day event, where President Herbert Hoover celebrated the opening-day festivities.
In 1931, the Michigan state legislature voted to make the celebration the National Cherry Festival. Seven United States Navy Great Lakes training ships celebrated in Traverse City. In 1964, the festival became a 5-day event, and the week of July 6 became National Cherry Festival Week. Four years later, it became a week-long festival. Today, thousands of people attend, coming from all over the world, to celebrate the cherry harvest.
In 1987, Traverse City baked a world-record-setting pie. It weighed 28,350 pounds and measured 17 feet and 6 inches in diameter.
When Is The National Cherry Festival?
Every year, at the beginning of July, 500,000 visitors descend on Traverse City for the 8-day National Cherry Festival.
What Does The Festival Offer For Visitors?
This family-friendly festival features over 100 events, and 85 percent are free. So, the event is affordable. Activities occur throughout town.
Foodie fun includes a very cherry pancake breakfast to start the day. Then, of course, they have the cherry pie-eating contests for both adults and kids. Finally, they have a Cherry Farm Market offering the bounty of local cherry farmers.
While you’re at the National Cherry Festival, take time to explore the local roadside farm stands that you’ll find in the area. When shopping at these stands, be sure to bring cash, as many don’t take credit cards.
They offer other non-cherry, food-related activities, like beer tents and “Blues, Brews, and BBQ.”
In addition to the foodie activities, the air show is one of the most popular events. In 1978, five T-38 fighter jets from the United States Air Force Thunderbirds entertained the crowds for the first time. In 2022, the United States Navy’s Blue Angels will perform.
You’ll also find parades, a family sand-sculpture contest, fireworks, a classic car show, and a series of ticketed concerts featuring nationally known performers, like Sheryl Crow and Boyz II Men.
Tips For Visiting The National Cherry Festival
American, Allegiant, Delta, and United Airlines service the Cherry Capital Airport (TVC). The best way to get around is to rent a car when you fly in.
During the summer, traffic in Traverse City can be challenging. During the National Cherry Festival, you’ll want to take the shuttle to various events. The shuttle runs about every 15 minutes during the festival. The primary pick-up areas for the shuttle are on the westside, the Meijer parking lot next to the car wash, at Northwestern Michigan College’s Cherry Lot for the central region, and Woodland Creek on the eastside. Check out the shuttle route here.
While the festival has some pet-friendly events, like the Ultimate Air Dogs and the Kids Pet Show, only service animals are generally allowed.
The area offers many farm-to-table dining experiences. The Leelanau Peninsula and Mission Point Peninsula both feature outstanding opportunities for wine tastings. You’ll find several wine trails in the area as well.
For other things to do while you’re in the area, check out these articles: