A Family Boating Adventure To Beaver Island's Outer Islands: Garden and High Islands

I’m in a bad mood. Never mind the fact that I’m on vacation, cutting through the dark August blue of Lake Michigan on a borrowed boat. I’m too busy stewing to notice how the flat water reflects sunlight like a million mirrors. My three children are napping, stacked dominos beside the helm that my husband, Justin, mans with a smile. It’s a scene that should bring happy exhales, not narrow-eyed grimaces.

But still.

I’m thinking about the steep limestone bluffs of Garden Peninsula along the northern rim of the lake, the place we weresupposed to visit before the weather gods put the kibosh on our plans.

This trip—one that included us first crossing the mighty lake to the shores of Wisconsin—began with three failed attemptsto go beyond the protective arm of our home harbor in Little Traverse Bay. Angry waves had battered against the hatches,and my fists ached from clutching little life-jacketed bodies as we finally worked our way down the coast for unscheduled overnights and arguments over where we’d head on the way back.

Yesterday, Justin peeked up from a spread of paper and electronic charts and said our course was now set for Garden Island, part of an archipelago that we can see from the high roads back home. He smiled as if I’d jump for joy visiting a place so close to our own bay. A place known for having snakes, mosquitoes and ghosts as its only residents. I shot him a dirty look, crossed my arms, and have remained foul ever since.

We have only two days before we must return to the docks. My stomach aches in disappointment at the thought. I almostask to just keep moving east, toward home. Except I don’t, because the boat is slowing as we round the corner of HighIsland, our first stop on the revised itinerary.

Just four miles west of richly storied and large Beaver Island, High’s secluded shoreline dispels my sour spirit the moment Iglimpse the run of beach. A long, horseshoe shaped harbor with white, rocky sands gives way to dune scrub that in turn gives way to cedar stands. This state-owned island has the feel of a well-guarded secret. I shrug sheepishly at my husband, who cuts the motor and drops anchor, graciously ignoring my sulk.

We wake our children. I watch them grin as they take in the turquoise and aqua shallows and the sudden change to blue-black waters that comes with mysterious depths. For a moment, we feel like we’re the first to discover this place, jutting up in dune plains from the belly of Lake Michigan. Laughter and grill smells floating toward us from a group of beached boats remind us otherwise.