8 Must-Visit Islands in Michigan's Great Lakes
You've heard of the incredible beauty and fun of Mackinac Island, but what about the additional Michigan islands found off the shores of the Great Lakes? Between natural and untouched landscapes to a state park not at all far from bustling Detroit, Shalee Blackmer from The Awesome Mitten shares six island destinations to visit in Pure Michigan.
If you remember reading “The Legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes” as a child, you’ll know these two islands are the heart of Michigan. Sitting off the coast of Leland, they are serene, beautiful, and disconnected. A ferry drops eager adventurers off once a day, and once you have arrived there are no stores or restaurants to fill any needs. In fact, there are only a couple of places on each island where campers have access to water. South Manitou is home to a freighter shipwreck, where snorkelers can swim around the structure and have a true Great Lakes adventure. The island is also home to some of the biggest and oldest trees in Michigan. The best part about these simple islands is that reality is far off on the horizon, with no way to connect to it. The only reason you’ll ever need a cell phone is for time, which simply fades with every worry.
If it’s true that the best trips lie off the beaten path, then the best trips lie on Michigan’s Drummond Island—especially if you’re an ORV or ATV aficionado. It takes some time to get to this northern Michigan island, located just east of the Upper Peninsula in northern Lake Huron. But once your ferry from the village of DeTour arrives, let the off-roading begin. With over 60 miles of ATV trails and 40 miles of ORV routes, Drummond Island is home to Michigan’s largest closed loop off-road trail system. Yet the island offers a paradise not only in terms of trail miles, but also for its wide variety of routes, geared for novices and experts alike. You’ll find some of Michigan’s most scenic and rugged routes here—dense hardwood forests, wide-open, wildflower-strewn meadows and steep, rocky ridges that promise riders a Pure Michigan adrenaline rush.
3. Bois Blanc
Have you ever heard of this island? Would you be surprised to learn that it is Mackinac Island’s neighbor? Bois Blanc Island is much bigger than Mackinac Island, and also more desolate. A simple convenience store and old inn are two of the only buildings that stand here. The rest is filled with dense forests and rocky shorelines, beautiful and virtually untouched. The only way to get to the island is through the Plaunt Transportation ferry, which leaves from Cheboygan daily.
4. Isle Royale
Isle Royale is one of Michigan’s five national parks, where roughly 17,000 visitors fall in love with Michigan every year. The small island in the middle of Lake Superior is filled with diverse wildlife and outdoor adventure. And although it is a national park, you won’t find many crowds. Isle Royale is one of the least visited national parks in the country, but not for lack of beauty, but lack of accessibility. A five-hour boat ride from the Upper Peninsula is the most common way to get to the island. Its secluded environment makes it the perfect location for visitors to connect with the beauty around it. So pack up your backpack, lace up your hiking boots, and don’t forget to bring your binoculars.
The Les Cheneaux Islands Resort Area is located in Michigan's Eastern Upper Peninsula, approximately 30 miles northeast of the Mackinac Bridge. The name "Les Cheneaux" is French in origin meaning "the channels." The series of 36 islands along 12 miles of Lake Huron shoreline affords many channels throughout the area. The sheltered bays, channels and quiet coves make for ideal sailing and boating as small crafts are protected from the Great Lake's winds.
A couple of hundred residents claim Beaver Island as their permanent home, but in the summer thousands flock to the small town of St. James for a one-of-a-kind Michigan vacation. Located 27 miles off the coast of Charlevoix, the island is home to some of the state’s most beautiful beaches, brilliant stars, and crystal clear waters. It is the prime vacation for those looking to come back refreshed, relaxed, and rejuvenated. Residents joke that it is always 3:00 pm on the island, because the only reason to keep time here is to make sure you get to Daddy Frank’s Ice Cream Shop before it closes. Just north of Beaver Island is Garden Island, perfect for a day trip. The uninhabited island is for experienced hikers only, where they can hike through thick cedars, towering maples, dark canopy and along bright rocky beaches.
7. Belle Isle
The beauty of Belle Isle continues to win the hearts of Michiganders around the state. The southern point offers a near-perfect view of the Detroit skyline, where you can often watch freighters slowly venture up the river or sit next to an old fountain to watch the sunset over the city. There is never a wrong time to visit Belle Isle. Winter brings ice skating, summer brings picnics, and every day spent here is a day not regretted.
8. Grand Island
Filled with cottages, woods, and ice caves, Grand Island is not to be missed on your next trip to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. In the summer, it is common for the island to be filled with families renting cottages, bonfires & s’ mores, and calming waves against pebbled beaches. Winter brings daring adventures, where visitors make expeditions crossing a bay in Lake Superior to find ice caves lining the shore. They are majestic and mighty, each glowing with a tint of blue or green. Whether visiting for relaxing or excitement, Grand Island is always a good idea.
About the Author: Shalee Blackmer believes in genuine travel experiences. If she could offer one travel tip, it would be to slow down and leave enough time to find those more memorable spots. Find Shalee’s journeys on shaleewanders.com.