A #PureMichigan Pandemic Adventure

A “Trips With Pip” Story

I guess I didn’t plan very well. I picked the strangest time to begin traveling with my dog – in the middle of a pandemic. Of course, I’d been thinking about it since I brought her home two years ago. First things first, though: I needed to train and socialize her. I don’t think traveling with an unruly puppy would be much fun! 

Prepping Pippi

Pippi is energetic and bossy. It’s taken a lot of work to get her to play well with others. She has come a long way in how she responds to other animals and strangers. She takes time to warm up to people she hasn’t met, so I don’t worry that she will wander off to be taken in by a  stranger’s proffered treats. She does love people, though, and once Pip lets down her guard, she’ll be a friend for life! She is incredibly affectionate – and a generous giver of sloppy kisses. She is smart and eager to please, too. Pippi has learned a lot about how to behave in public: walking well on a leash, leaving things she finds interesting (most often) with a single command, and often taking care of business on command, too (So fabulous, trust me!). She is tiny so can be a bit skittish in busy, crowded places – but I can’t blame her. If I was in danger of being stepped on or eaten at any moment, I might be a bit on edge myself!

In Search of a Cure For Quarantine Cabin Fever

So, with the basics mastered, and the pandemic making me stir-crazy, I decided to book us a little adventure to test the waters. I am always drawn to the Great Lakes. Being a life-long Michigander, I have dipped my toes in all of them at least once (except Ontario, if I’m not mistaken), and many times in my favorites – Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. The “west coast” of the lower peninsula is gorgeously rimmed with white, sandy beaches, quaint small towns and scenic hikes and drives. Every season offers something to enjoy. In July I began looking at late August options, hoping that most schools would be back in session and the beaches would be less crowded. 

Pippi sizes up the bed at our AirBnB

Clearly, there were many others who had the same idea. It took a while, but finally AirBnB came through. I found a little studio apartment in Grand Haven. The listing mentioned that it was pet-friendly but didn’t list extra fees, so I contacted the host. Rachel was quick to respond with a friendly, “There is no additional charge. Dogs deserve a vacation, too!” I clearly had found the right place. Rachel continued to offer suggestions for places to go and things to see and do during the weeks leading up to our getaway. I couldn’t have asked for a better AirBnB experience, and highly recommend Rachel’s place to anyone looking to spend some time in Grand Haven with their pet!

Our #PureMichigan Pandemic Adventure Begins

The drive to Grand Haven takes about two hours. I made arrangements to meet a friend for lunch mid-trip. We sat outdoors (the only option on offer in Michigan at the time) at Zeytin Restaurant in the charming town of Ada. Our waiter was welcoming and offered Pippi a bowl of water since it was a hot, sunny afternoon. At one point, Pippi was startled by traffic noise. She spilled her water, which then sent her skittering out of the way and I temporarily lost hold of her leash. I recommend making sure you have your dog’s leash secured before diving into a delicious bowl of lentil soup. If you don’t, you may end up with much of your soup on the sidewalk! Just a tip.

During the drive, we made a necessary pitstop at a roadside rest area. I have to say that one silver lining to this pandemic is that public rest areas are sooooo much cleaner than usual. Despite that, making a stop like this with a pet can be a bit tricky. I couldn’t leave Pippi in the hot car while I went inside. Suffice it to say, the experience was manageable but not ideal. I highly recommend forming a tag-team for this sort of thing, if at all possible.

Day 1 – Grand Haven

We arrived in Grand Haven in the early afternoon. After getting settled in our home away from home, we set out to explore the town. It was a short walk to the business district, which sits right on the Grand River and Lake Michigan. Restaurants had commandeered the main street for outdoor seating. The town was, to my delight, active but not overcrowded. We did some window shopping and went into Must Love Dogs, an adorable pet boutique. The shop has an active Facebook page filled with pet-friendly opportunities – meet-ups with like-minded folks for walks around the area and other activities. I recommend checking it out. 

Pippi and I walked to the lighthouse pier and just enjoyed the fresh air and views of the water. All told, we logged about 3 miles in the heat of the day. The nice thing about traveling solo with a pet is that you find all kinds of opportunities to interact with people you meet along the way. Making connections with strangers is so easy when you have a dog – especially a tiny dog. So many oohs and aahs and inquiries. 

Later that evening, a friend joined us for a visit to nearby P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. It was about a 10-minute drive rewarded by gorgeous sunset views on the beach. I found that most, if not all, parks were welcoming to dogs after the busy daytime hours. I prefer quiet beaches and avoiding the heat of midday, so this suited me just fine.

Sunset at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park

Day 2 – Nature Walks and Some Serious R&R

Day Two was filled with visits to a variety of nature preserves and parks and a fitting finale to the busy day. First, though, we enjoyed breakfast, including some great coffee chosen especially for me by our AirBnB host – just one of many special touches we experienced here. We picked up a picnic lunch at The Toasted Pickle, a terrific little sandwich shop in town. 

Ottawa Dunes (dog-friendly) and North Beach Park (not so much)

We took our picnic to the beach – North Beach Park, which doesn’t technically allow dogs. We parked there and walked through a small part of the Ottawa Dunes, which does allow dogs on leash.

Pippi really loved exploring here. It was hilly, but with stairs, so we didn’t have to slog uphill through the sand. Near the top you get great views of the lake and beach below.

On Ottawa Dunes looking out to North Beach Park and Lake Michigan

After wandering around there for a while, we grabbed a picnic table near the water for our lunch. Our sandwiches and salads were fabulous! Recharged, we headed to the next stop. 

North Beach Park – Great place for a picnic!

Hofma Preserves Nature Trails

This is an inland preserve with trails though a diverse wetlands and woodsy area – perfect for finding all sorts of wildlife. Pip enjoyed this one though the floating bridges made her a bit nervous. We saw birds, turtles and water lilies and found this to be a very peaceful place. The trails here were flat and fairly short. The preserve does connect to Hofma Park for more trail options. It was here, at Hofma Preserve, that I took the signature photo for my Trips with Pip series. This was my favorite trail of the trip.

Duncan Woods

Our last trail of the day was Duncan Woods. I had high hopes for this one – billed as “40 acres of unspoiled virgin forest.” There were more people wandering here but trails were not marked well and we made our best guess. We ended up on a paved “trail” that ended up taking us through a cemetery. I like cemeteries as much as the next guy – they can be pretty interesting – but this was not what we were looking for. By that time, we’d had enough of nature and headed back to town. 

The Pier, Ice Cream and Dinner on the Beach at Sunset

We took another walk to the pier and lighthouse. As I mentioned before, having a pet invites interaction with the people you meet. Most interactions are pleasant and friendly. We did meet up with one lady, though, who made no secret of her opinion as she approached us – “That’s an awfully long walk for a little dog!”, she muttered loudly. Now, mind you, Pippi was pulling me at that point as I had begun to slow down. And, of course, I had her travel water bowl and a bottle of water (necessary accessories for outings with your pet). Oh, well. Some people…

Pippi enjoying the view from the end of the lighthouse pier

What’s a trip to the beach without a delicious ice cream cone, right? We stopped at one of the many  options along the walk to the lighthouse. Plenty of folks were out and about despite it being a weekday. As the sun began its descent, we saw many sun-kissed families trailing home from the beach, with sleepy, water-logged kids heavy in their arms, or juggling umbrellas and coolers as they navigated the sandy paths back to their cars. 

Once again, my AirBnB host, Rachel, came through with a great recommendation. Noto’s at the Bil-Mar sits right on the beach. Any spot in the outdoor seating area provides amazing views of the water and a front row seat to gorgeous Lake Michigan sunsets. Once again, Pippi was a welcome guest. We ordered drinks, tucked our toes into the soft, white sand and settled in for an unhurried evening. The food is very good – but the views just can’t be beat.

 The official Dog Beach, part of the Grand Haven City Beach,  is just to the south of the restaurant. We were able to watch puppies frolicking in the surf, kids putting the finishing touches on their sand castles and couples laying out blankets anchored by picnic baskets laden with romantic dinners-for-two. It really was a great finish to a perfectly lovely getaway. By the way, the sunset really was a stunner.

The End of a Successful Trial Run

The next morning, Pippi and I had a nice lazy morning and then packed up to head home. I found a bag of fresh farmer’s market peaches perched on the hood of my car – yet another thoughtful gesture by our host, Rachel! I arrived home relaxed, refreshed and feeling like I had really gotten away for a bit – a necessary thing this summer, we all know. And, I felt encouraged – knowing now that Pippi will make a great travel companion and a wonderful conversation starter when I visit new places in the future.

Pippi, exhausted but happy, dreaming of her adventures in the sand and surf