Antrim County outdoor recreation takes you from freshwater heaven to golfing perfection.
One of the most renowned vacation lakes in the Midwest, the 19-mile-long Torch Lake has earned legend status because of its remarkably clear water that emanates a turquoise glow. But for the people who live year round on Torch—the state’s second-largest inland lake and deepest (285 feet maximum depth!)—the allure is about connecting with the beauty of nature, water skiing, sailing or just sitting with loved ones on a dock. Anglers find bluegill, small mouth bass, lake trout and salmon. Helping propel Torch Lake’s reputation is the lure of a sandbar on the southern end, where, on balmy summer weekends, power boaters by the dozens drop anchor and enjoy a lively social scene on the water. The lake’s connection to celebrities has also raised the profile of this lovely water, with Kid Rock singing about Torch Lake in his hit “All Summer Long,” and filmmaker Michael Moore making his home here.
Chain of Lakes
With its 75-mile-long stretch of connected rivers and 14 lakes, Antrim County’s Chain of Lakes makes up one of the Midwest’s most remarkable waterways. Taken together, the chain’s four largest lakes—Torch, Elk, Skegemog and Bellaire—cover 46 square miles in water. The varied personalities of the 14 lakes, from intimate, shallow and marshy to vast, deep and clear, allows people to enjoy the water in the ways they love most. The chain produces record-size fish, it offers big water for sailing and power boating, it offers quiet intimacy. Five small towns sit along the chain, giving residents instant access: Elk Rapids, where the waterway empties into Lake Michigan, Alden, Bellaire, Central Lake and Ellsworth.
Lake Michigan (Antrim Creek Natural Area)
Antrim County’s 24 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan give residents easy access to the world’s fifth largest lake and a just plain gorgeous body of water. To find beach solitude, Antrim residents head up to Antrim Creek Natural Area, near Atwood, to walk nearly a mile of forest-fringed sand. Most popular are the Lake Michigan beaches in downtown Elk Rapids, broad swaths of sand where the Elk River empties into the big water. Local children love growing up in a town where they can play right where river and lake meet, and parents love that they can easily walk into town for refreshments. Fishermen head into Lake Michigan in search of big game fish like salmon and lake trout. What people enjoy about living here is Lake Michigan doesn’t have to be a vacation experience, it can be a Wednesday after work experience, an instant plan to meet a friend on a calm evening and slide a kayak into the big lake.
Shanty Creek Resorts
Sprawling across five square miles of hilly Antrim County countryside, Shanty Creek Resorts is one of Michigan premier ski and golf resorts and recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The resort employs a mix of 600 full-time and part-time employees and offers local residents access to a slew of active-life amenities—skiing, snowboarding and golfing being the primary draws. The resort offers steep discounts on annual ski passes to children who get good grades in school, helping make the sport accessible to all. The resort earned renown in the 1980s when it hired legendary golfer Arnold Palmer to design and build a golf course onsite, which inspired other resorts to bring in celebrity course designers as well, a trend that eventually established Northern Michigan as a nationally acclaimed golf destination.
Jordan River Valley
The swift, twisty and pristine character of the Jordan River helped it become the first river to be protected under Michigan’s Natural Rivers Act after the law passed in 1970. In the ensuing decades, the wild character of the Jordan River and the 18,000 acres of protected land that surround the heart of the main stream have only become more wild and more rich. Locals seek the Jordan River wilderness to hike and camp along the 18-mile Jordan River Pathway [video], fish for trout in the Blue Ribbon–designated waters and to check out fall colors from the dramatic overlook called Deadman’s Hill.
Just outside the village of Bellaire, the 763 acres that make up the Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area has gained a large fan base since opening in 2012. What lures locals is the remarkable diversity of forest and wetland habitat packed into this preserve that covers little more than a square mile. More than 20 trees species live here, more than 100 bird species have been recorded here. Thanks to state-of-the-art engineered mountain bike trails, Glacial Hills has become a destination for the single-track set, as riders seek to ramp up their adrenaline and then head into the village of Bellaire and Short’s Brewery to share tales of the trail.
Grass River Natural Area
Perched along a sleepy stretch of the Grass River—part of Antrim County’s Chain of Lakes—the Grass River Natural Area serves up 7 miles of trails that trace 1,443 acres of lush wetland, hardwood forest and river shore. The natural area’s main building serves as a starting point for guided hikes, gear rentals (like snowshoes) and nature workshops. The devoted staff and volunteers offer a steady flow of classes and activities (stargazing!) designed to get people outdoors all year round.
Video of Grass River Natural Area, Antrim County.
The hilly terrain of Antrim County has become the canvas for nine 18-hole golf courses, including the renowned Arnold Palmer course, The Legend, at Shanty Creek Resorts. Other championship courses are found at Hawk’s Eye and A-Ga-Ming. Golf fans who live in Antrim find easy access to the links provides a beautiful way to stay healthy and fit outdoors while enjoying a national-quality game.