The Incredible National Cherry Festival to Live in Michigan

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Michigan is the world’s leading producer of Montmorency tart cherries, developing 70% of the United States’ supply. Located on Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City, known as the Cherry Capital of the World, hosts the National Cherry Festival.

You’ll find sweet, fresh Michigan cherries in season from late June through August, while Montmorency tart cherries come in a variety of forms – dried, canned, frozen, or juiced. Tart cherries are great for baking in pies and cookies. In dried form, we often use them as salad toppings with a little cherry dressing. And, of course, sweet, fresh cherries are perfect to eat as a snack. Growing up, my mom regularly baked cherry pies, and it’s always hard to turn down a slice when it’s on the menu.

Cherry Connection cherries at the National Cherry Festival
(Photo courtesy of National Cherry Festival)

What is the National Cherry Festival?

the National Cherry Day began as an informal “blessing of the flowers” around 1910, when cherry growers held spring festivities in May to celebrate the beautiful cherry blossoms. On May 22, 1925, they celebrated the first “Festival of Blessing of Flowers”. It was a partnership between cherry growers and businesses in Traverse City, where they promoted the growing cherry trade. They also crowned the first Cherry Queen that year, a tradition that continues today.

The following year, 1926, a bakery in Traverse City created a cherry pie 3 feet in diameter containing over 5,000 cherries. They introduced him 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 U.S. 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 come from all over the world to celebrate the cherry harvest.

In 1987, Traverse City baked a world record pie. It weighed 28,350 pounds and measured 17 feet and 6 inches in diameter.

When is the National Cherry Festival?

Every year in early July, 500,000 visitors descend on Traverse City for the 8-day National Cherry Festival.

Blue Angels, National Cherry Festival, Traverse City, Michigan.
A crowd watches the Blue Angels perform at the 2018 National Cherry Festival
(Photo credit: Gary R. Ennis Photos/Shutterstock.com)

What does the festival offer visitors?

This family festival offers more than 100 events, 85% of which are free. The event is therefore affordable. Activities take place throughout the city.

Foodie delight includes a cherry pancake breakfast to start the day off right. Then, of course, they hold cherry pie tasting contests for adults and children. Lastly, they have a Cherry Farm Market offering the bounty of local cherry growers.

Fresh fruit stand, National Cherry Festival, Traverse City, Michigan.
Gallagher Farmer’s Market and Bakery held at the National Cherry Festival
(Photo courtesy of National Cherry Festival)

While you’re at the National Cherry Festival, take some time to explore the local roadside farms you’ll find in the area. When shopping at these stalls, be sure to bring cash, as many do not accept credit cards.

They offer other food-related, cherry-free activities like beer tents and “Blues, Brews, and BBQ.”

In addition to gourmet activities, the air show is one of the most popular events. In 1978, five United States Air Force Thunderbirds T-38 fighter jets entertained crowds for the first time. In 2022, the US Navy Blue Angels will perform.

You’ll also find parades, a family-friendly sand sculpture contest, fireworks, a vintage car show, and a ticketed concert series featuring nationally acclaimed artists, like Sheryl Crow and Boyz II Men.

Fireworks in Traverse City, Michigan.
The National Cherry Festival, held in early July, features 4th of July fireworks.
(Photo credit: Sean Patrick Doran / Shutterstock.com)

Tips for Visiting the National Cherry Festival

American, Allegiant, Delta and United Airlines serve Cherry Capital Airport (TVC). The best way to get around is to rent a car when you arrive by plane.

During the summer, traffic in cross the city can be difficult. During the National Cherry Festival, you’ll want to take the shuttle bus to various events. The shuttle runs approximately every 15 minutes during the festival. The main shuttle pick-up areas are on the west side, Meijer parking lot next to the car wash, Cherry Lot at Northwestern Michigan College for the central region, and Woodland Creek on the east side. See the shuttle route here.

Although the festival has pet-friendly events, like the Ultimate Air Dogs and Kids Pet Show, only service animals are generally allowed.

The region offers many farm-to-table dining experiences. The Leelanau Peninsula and the Mission Point Peninsula both offer exceptional opportunities for wine tasting. You will also find several wine trails in the area.

For other things to do while you’re in the area, check out these articles:

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