10 Alluring Michigan Boating Spots Perfect for a Day on the Water
Michigan is a national center of classic boating, a hobby understood by simple geography alone—if not also by a summer climate perfect for outdoor pursuits. In the Mitten, you are never more than six miles from the nearest body of water. The state is home to the Great Lakes and boasts the nation's longest freshwater shoreline at 3,300 miles.
The state has a long boating history too. The boat building industry boomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but Michigan boat builders left their mark on history from developing speedy runabouts favored by Prohibition era rumrunners to creating landing crafts for Allied forces in WWII. Later, entrepreneurs—much as the state's famous father Henry Ford did with the Model T—brought boat ownership within the reach of pretty much every American consumer.
Here are some spots where you can join in the fun.
Boating is the reason this chain of 36 islands, in which channels serve as roads, are visited. With calm, Lake Huron waves making the region friendly to boating options of all types. Each August, the area hosts an antique wooden boat show, and each day, the channels are teaming with them. The colorful boat houses that are tour-worthy attractions in themselves. The E.J. Mertaugh Boatworks was the area's first Chris-Craft boat franchise, or build your own to take for a spin. The Great Lakes Boat Building School is the only non-profit school of its kind in the Midwest.
2. Torch Lake – Alden
Rumor has it that National Geographic once named Torch the third most beautiful lake in the world, and whether it's fact or urban legend, those who've spotted the lake on a day (like many) when it resembles the Caribbean in its deep, multi-tone color, figure it's true enough. At 18 miles in length, Torch is Michigan's longest inland lake and popular for power boating and sailing alike. Its sand bars are so legendary that musician Kid Rock wrote a song about them. Torch also is the state's deepest lake and exceptionally clear. The quaint village of Alden, on the lake's southeast curve, boasts one of the few public beaches and the Dockside Restaurant. The lake's name connects to the region's history, taken from the way native fishermen used torches to light their way.
3. Lake St. Clair – DetroitIf you're talking nautical history, you can't do much better than the story of this lake's name, given by an explorer who discovered it on August 12, 1679, on the feast day of Saint Claire of Assisi. Today, the lake that connects Lakes Erie to Lake Huron and the Detroit River is better known as both a shipping channel and popular lake for pleasure boats. It's so popular that 150,000 pleasure boats registered in the immediate area, and those mingle safely with the 3,000 freighters that pass through the shipping canal, partly due to the lake's size (26 miles by 24 miles) and numerous islands channels and bays. The wise also drop in a line. In 2013, Bassmasters named it the number one bass fishing lake in world.
4. Spring Lake and Lake Michigan – Grand Haven
The boating history of this popular tourist town goes back to the days when the fur traders were the ones plying the waters. It was also once a leading port for vacation ferries and passenger lines. Grand Haven hosts an annual Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival with ship tours as well as live music, parades and more. It's also been named the official “Coast Guard City USA.” The area hosts an annual wooden and classic boat show, where owners can chose between boating in Lake Michigan and Spring Lake. Both Lake Michigan and nearby Spring Lake offer miles of shoreline, dunes, a boardwalk and particularly clear waters.
5. Big Manistique Lake – CurtisThe largest of the Manistique collection of lakes, this 20,000 acre lake connects to hundreds of miles of rivers and streams, making it attractive for boating and fishing alike. The lake is stocked with muskie, perch and whitefish. Boating itself is a draw too in the roomy lake ringed by forests and classic lodges that make a great home base. Festivals include a Walleye Jamboree and new 906 Festival, which features Upper Peninsula food, art and entertainment. While you’re there, try dining at Chamberlin's Ole Forest Inn on the waterfront.
6. Lake Charlevoix – Charlevoix and Boyne City
A USA Today poll once named this second most beautiful lake in the country, a close second only to California's Lake Tahoe. One reader said it's “where the Gods swim,” noting its clarity and way the color if offset by surrounding hillside green. It's also where the sailors, power boaters and even those with a preference toward Italian boat design head. The town's host to a visit-worthy annual Venetian Festival highlighted by a candle-lit boat parade. There also are several marinas and outfitters on the lake as well as many of the state's most classic beach towns for shopping, great food and art.
7. Grand Lake – AlpenaVisit the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan in Alpena to check out the wooden sailing vessels and motorized ones built in the area to get a sense of the boating culture that continues in the region. You can also catch historic and new favorite wooden beauties at the (fiberglass and aluminum) at the Presque Isle Harbor Wooden Boat Show. Or just boat. Grand Lake is seven miles in length, 1.5 miles across and contains several islands. Ledges on the west shore rise 40 feet above lake level and contain unusual fossils.
8. Mullett Lake – TopinabeeWith 26 miles of surface area, Mullet Lake is known as the lake with room for everyone, and power boats pulling water skiers share the lake with kayakers who like paddling its many inlets. Popular Aloha State Park is situated on the lake's shores. There also are marinas for fuel and snacks. The lake's Top of Michigan Marathon outboard race is the longest running of its kind in the country, and here you're part of the Inland Waterway, a series of connected lakes and rivers that can take you from one side of the state to the other by water.
9. Lake Leelanau – Leland
This lake’s historic name translates to “narrow body of water,” indicating Lake Leelanau has been a central feature of this region since early settlement, and no wonder. Popular for boating, the lake is divided into two sections, North and South Lake Leelanau, connected by the Narrows and have a combined nearly 9,000 acres. The slower-traveled Narrows are popular for wildlife spotting and paddling and for a boating stop for a visit to Lake Leelanau's Boathouse Vineyards with award-winning wines with fun names like “License to Chill” and “Seas the Day” or for a trip to the grocery or nearby restaurants. You can boat to Leland too where the Lake Michigan harbor features the Fishtown area of repurposed shanties and numerous fishing charter options.