As the state with the most water – 41.5% of Michigan’s 97,990 square miles is wet – it’s no surprise that boating is a major pastime in the Great Lakes State. The Northern Michigan region at the top of the Lower Peninsula is home to some of the state’s best spots for boating. The area has shoreline along both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron as well as numerous inland lakes.
Little Traverse Bay
Little Traverse Bay juts off Lake Michigan just south of the Straits of Mackinac. Boating on the Great Lakes may sound intimidating, but this small, protected bay is ideal for cruising on a calm, summer day. Home to the cities of Petoskey, Harbor Springs, and nearby to Charlevoix, there are plenty of places to explore around the bay. The charming downtowns are filled with unique shops and delicious local restaurants. Lighthouses, sand dunes, and spectacular sunsets make up just some of the gorgeous scenery you’ll see along the way.
Northern Michigan’s Inland Waterway is a chain of inland lakes connected by rivers and channels. It runs from Petoskey on the west all the way to Lake Huron on the east. Over 38 miles long, the entire trip takes about six hours to complete. Along the way, the lakes offer opportunities for swimming, watersports, and fishing. There are marinas along the route where you can stop for gas and supplies. There are even places to stop overnight if you want to spend more than a day on the waterway. You pass through several small towns where you can dock, and walk to restaurants and shops. If you complete the entire route your adventure takes you through two lock systems and under a swing bridge. There’s even a lighthouse where the route ends at Lake Huron.
If you can’t make it to the Caribbean, Torch Lake might be the next best thing. On most days in the summer the clear water of this inland lake imitates the blue-green hues of the tropical islands. 18 miles long, it’s a popular lake for water sports. Sandbars in the lake provide spots for boaters to gather and socialize. This well-loved lake gets busy in the summer. It’s so famous Kid Rock even wrote a song about it.
Lake Charlevoix is the third largest inland lake in Michigan. It’s connected to Lake Michigan via the Pine River Channel. Visitors flock to its clear waters to swim, water ski, fish, and kayak. Ferry Beach Park is a nice spot for relaxing along the water. Boyne City is on the east end of the lake and the west end isn’t far from downtown Charlevoix. You’ll find places to shop and dine in both spots. The area on the north side of Lake Charlevoix was the stomping grounds of a young Ernest Hemingway who spent the first 22 summers of his life there. There are several Hemingway landmarks you can visit nearby.
Les Cheneaux Islands
The only way to get to this chain of 36 islands in Lake Huron is by boat. There are no bridges between the islands or the mainland. Instead, channels around the islands act like a highway system for boats. There are no ferries either, so you’ll need a private boat to tour this area. Another spot in the Great Lakes with calm waters, boaters don’t need to be intimidated. There are a few accommodations on the mainland near the islands in Cedarville and Hessel. Private homes dot the islands along with a few vacation rentals and resorts. In August, Hessel hosts the Les Cheneaux Antique and Wooden Boat Show. Hundreds of colorful, restored wooden boats are on display at the marina that weekend.