How to Do the National Cherry Festival with Kids

The National Cherry Festival brings countless kid-friendly activities and it is a favorite week of the summer for my family. After experiencing the Kid’s Club, parades, and many events for the past few years, I have learned which events are ideal experiences for younger or older children. I also draw upon the experience of other families to bring the recommendations of events for children five and those ideal for older children. Wondering how to navigate parking, how to handle taking babies to the National Cherry Festival, and where to watch the air show? the parades to the carnival rides from Arnold’s Amusements to the National Cherry Queen Court and Kid’s Club, there is a lot of excitement that overtakes Traverse City during the National Cherry Festival. Find events ideal for children under five and older children here. This also means traffic becomes challenging, walking becomes challenging, and your normal stroll through Clinch Park, F&M Park, Darrow Park – or anywhere will be different. How do you do the National Cherry Festival with Kids? Here are some tips based on the questions many of you posted and tips myself and other parents have discovered in surviving the week and making it a great experience.

National Cherry Festival – Events for Kids Under 5

The Kid’s Club is open daily through the National Cherry Festival and offers loads of FREE fun and activities for kids ages 2 – 12 years. Activities include face painting, coloring pages, a cherry pit box, Legos, Cherry Yardsee, bean bag toss, a bowling alley, Cherry Jumbo Jenga, cherry picking game, and more fun!

Arnold Amusements Midway

Bring your kids to enjoy carnival rides, games, and food! There are rides for kids of all ages as long as they are taller than 32″ and they are open daily at 11:00 AM, besides Wednesday when they are open to the public at 12:30 p.m.

U.S. Coast Guard Open Ramp

Take the kids to the USCG Air Station Traverse City to meet the local coast guard and other teams who will be performing in the airshow!

Very Cherry Flying Pancake Breakfast

Support the Kevin Copeland Memorial Scholarship by joining a big community pancake breakfast featuring Chris Cake’s pancakes. Top them off with Out of the Woods Maple Syrup and Herkner’s Cherry Topping.

Kids Pet Show

Dress up your “live” pet and enter your animal friend in categories, including the Ugliest Mutt, Best Dressed Pet, Most Unusual Pet, Fat Cat, Pet & Owner Look Alike, and Best Dressed Ensemble. Open for kids ages 3 – 12 years. Registration is open from 9:00 – 9:45 a.m.

Kids Fun and Games with Arts and Crafts ft. Bubble Gum Blow

Bring the kids ages 5 – 12 years for a morning of FREE games, activities, a tennis workshop, face painting, and arts and crafts with Crooked Tree Arts Center. The arts and crafts session will run from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.

DTE Energy Foundation Cherry Royale Parade

The Cherry Royale Parade is the largest of the National Cherry Festival parades and lasts over two hours. It features decorated floats, marching bands from around the country, royal courts from other festivals, the new National Cherry Queen, Blizzard from Michigan Tech, as well as other college mascots, and other businesses and organizations.

National Cherry Festival – Events for Older Kids

Arnold Amusements Midway

Bring your kids to enjoy carnival rides, games, and food! There are rides for kids of all ages as long as they are taller than 32″ and they are open daily at 11:00 AM, besides Wednesday when they are open to the public at 12:30 p.m. Here are the height requirements per ride from Arnold Amusements.

Orchard Tours & More

Take a FREE ride on BATA to the Michigan State University Horticultural Research Station in Leelanau County. Learn more about the cherry products and industry in our region and take a wagon tour of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station to see the latest technology used in growing practices. Kids will enjoy a petting zoo, hands-on experiments, a kids poster coloring contest and other fun activities!

Kids Cherry Pie Eating Contest

Do your kids love to eat pie? Bring them to the FREE Kids Cherry Pie Eating Contest where they will compete against other kids their age to see who can devour a slice of pie the quickest! Open to kids from pre-school through 12 years of age.

Ultimate Air Dogs

Watch nearly 100 dog athletes compete to see who can jump and fly across the water the furthest. This is a regional competition with the winners advancing. Spectators can sit and watch near the pool or in the bleachers.

Air Show

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels are taking the skies during the National Cherry Festival and will be joined by other planes, including the U.S. Coast Guard. The planes and helicopters during the Air Show primarily perform above Clinch Park and the Open Space Park, but you can get a clear view of the air show in many areas around Traverse City. The U.S. Blue Angel jets are louder the closer you are to Clinch Park and the Open Space Park, so ear protection may be a good choice for young children.

Meet Up with Friends

See what events you are interested in doing and plan a spot to meet with friends. There are hundreds of thousands of people, so it’s easier to navigate with multiple children in groups.

Parking During National Cherry Festival

Parking has become more challenging in recent years, so parking a few blocks away and biking in makes it easier, although there will be crowds of people to work through. Parking downtown requires paying the parking meters and this can become inconvenient and costly if you plan to spend the day. Another option that I’m excited about is the BATA Bayline, which is a FREE shuttle that runs from 7:00 A.M. to 1:00 A.M. everyday with pickup every 15 minutes. You can catch a FREE shuttle at Meijer US-31 car wash parking lot (west side), NMC’s Cherry Lot (central area), and Woodland Creek Furniture (east side).

Staying Cool and Hydrated

July is one of the hottest months, so if you plan to be out for hours – which is a good bet if you plan on watching the parades – there are cool drinks available to purchase at coolers throughout downtown. You will also find many cold drink options at the vendor area near the main entrance at Front Street and Union Street. The National Cherry Festival has Baby Changing Tents that offer an air conditioned area for small children to cool down. They are stocked with diapers, cold water, and an area for nursing mothers. One tent is located in the Kid’s Club area (by the Bijou By the Bay) and the other is located near the vendor area through the main entrance at Union Street and Front Street.

Finding Fun Between Events

In between events you will find FREE fun at the Kid’s Club, which is located near Bijou By the Bay, including Lego building stations, coloring sheets, cherry bowling alley, cherry picking tree, Giant Cherry Jenga, Cherry Yardzee, and more! Super Cherry often stops by to greet children and Go Go Squeeze has endless applesauce packs for free.

Events for Kids with Special Needs

The National Cherry Festival has planned many events to cater to kids with special needs. Children of all ages are welcome! Here’s a list:

  • Wednesday, July 4th from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM Fun and Games for Special Kids
  • Thursday, July 5th at 10:00 AM Sensory Friendly Movie: Charlotte’s Web

Watching the Air Shows

You will start to hear the U.S. Navy Blue Angels as they practice over the next few days. They are fun to watch and put on a great air show, along with the other planes and the U.S. Coast Guard. The Blue Angel jets are extremely loud, especially for small children, so they closer you are to the water, the louder they will be. Clinch Park and the Open Space Park will be packed with people and the marina will be full of boats, so where can you go watch the air show and allow the kids to run around? Many parks close by offer a great view, including Bryant Park, F&M Park, Darrow Park, and Greilickville Harbor Park.

Navigating the Parades

Each of the three parades – DTE Energy Foundation Cherry Royale Parade, Touchstone Energy Junior Royale Parade, Consumers Energy Heritage Parade presented by Hagerty – offers a fun, family experience with beautifully detailed floats, bands, and countless pieces of candy. Many roads are shutdown in downtown Traverse City, so avoiding errands in the afternoon and evenings on parade days are ideal. There will be crowds, so give yourself ample time to find parking and a spot to sit. Set up your chairs early to ensure you have a place to see! Here is more information about the parades and parade routes.

  • Tuesday, July 3rd at 7:00 p.m. – Consumers Energy Heritage Parade presented by Hagerty
  • Thursday, July 5th at 6:30 p.m. – Touchstone Energy Junior Royale Parade
  • Saturday, July 7th at 11:15 a.m. – DTE Energy Foundation Cherry Royale Parade

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