Catch a boat or plane to Lake Michigan’s most remote inhabited isle for lazy beach walks, rosy sunsets and super chill vibes. Here’s how to do it up right on a Beaver Island vacation when you have one weekend on island time.
This story is featured in the September 2018 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine. Get your copy.
Michigan loves its islands. Isle Royale with its moose and wolves, the Manitous’ Robinson Crusoe vibe, and Mackinac, that refined queen-bee of them all. Beaver? Think of it as a frog prince whose rugged allure and quirky, unpolished charm awaits discovery.
Our fairytale analogy has some authenticity; once upon a time, Beaver Island had a king. James Strang crowned himself after establishing a Mormon colony in the 19th century. Later, this island became the second stop after Ellis for waves of Irish immigrants. The proof is in the local phone book filled with pages of Gallaghers, McDonoughs and Gillespies—making Beaver the Great Lakes’ Emerald Isle.
What to do here is spelled out in miles of sandy shoreline, a new water trail that encircles the island waiting to be paddled, seven inland lakes churning with panfish, two historic lighthouses and miles of dirt roads (pavement on this island runs out five miles outside of the town of St. James) that can take any pounding your fat tires want to give them.
But may as well downshift to the Beaver Island pace. Drivers take a moment to wave at each other as they pass, facetime means chatting with the cashier at McDonough’s Market and listening to the tales of the islander on the barstool next to you might be the best island history lesson, ever. Read on, Great Lakes traveler…
Escape to Beaver Island …
Getting to and from the island is part of the Beaver escape. On a beautiful day, the two-hour ferry ride across Lake Michigan between Charlevoix and the island feels like a Caribbean cruise. The plane ride is a 10-minute hop with heavenly aerial views that, on a clear day, stretch all the way to the Upper Peninsula. Our suggestion? Unless the round-trip rate is a deal breaker, treat yourself to the boat one way and plane the other so you get the full, top-to-bottom Beaver Island experience.
Transportation Companies to Help Plan Your Trip:
➥ TIP // Travel light. Casual clothes only, but don’t forget a warm jacket—September can bring anything from summer sunshine to nasty gales. Save the fuss of transporting cars, bikes and boats and rent them on the island.
Get the low-down on island happenings at the Beaver Island Community Center on Main Street. This is also where you’ll get wifi and where to shoot pool and play other games on a rainy day. 231.448.2022
Rent a Car
Beaver Island Marina, 231.448.2300
Rent Bikes, Kayaks, Paddleboards
Beaver Island’s seven inland lakes shine like little mirrors in the wilderness. Happy Paddle can put you in a kayak or paddleboard in a jiffy (delivers anywhere on the island). 38240 Michigan Ave., 630.488.2949
Go flats-style fishing (smallmouth bass, carp) with Indigo Guide Service, 231.898.4320
Find fishing bait and tackle at Power’s Do It Best Hardware, 26259 Main St., 231.448.2572
Get out on the Big Lake and bring back big fish with Captain Bob Turner and Kelly Day Charters, 517.974.0414
➥ MORE INFO // Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce, 231.448.2505
BEAVER ISLAND HEAD LIGHT ADVENTURE
Getting to this lonesome and lovely light tower, circa 1858, means taking on approximately 20 miles of the gravel East Side Drive. Whether by bike or car, it’s worth the trek that passes stunning Lake Michigan shoreline. Once at the lighthouse, climb the 46 wrought iron steps for a stunning view that takes in several of the other islands of the Beaver Island Archipelago. You’ll also notice the beautiful beach below the lighthouse. Once you are out of the tower, go ahead and follow the wooden steps down to the beach.
MOSEY AROUND PARADISE BAY
Strolling along this exquisite bay is a postcard-sized adventure. Beaver Island Harbor Light at the bay’s northern tip is a worthy destination. The diminutive tower (only 41 feet) has been welcoming boats to the island since 1870. The lighthouse also goes by the name Whiskey Point Light, called so because of a trading post located here in the island’s pioneer days where the currency was alcohol.
➥ BEFORE YOU GO // Give a call to Lori Taylor-Blitz, director of the Beaver Island Historical Society to make sure the light tower is unlocked. Also, ask her about purchasing a copy of Child of the Sea by Elizabeth Whitney Williams at the Mormon Print Shop (the historical society’s headquarters) gift shop. The author’s account of growing up at the lighthouse makes the perfect beach read here. 231.448.2254
You can also read this Traverse Magazine feature about Elizabeth.
DINE AND DRINK
Reserve a table at the Beaver Island Lodge for an intimate dinner of regional specialties paired with a stellar view of Lake Michigan. 38210 Beaver Lodge Dr., 231.448.2396
The local watering hole since 1935, Shamrock Bar & Restaurant has an outdoor patio that overlooks Paradise Bay making it, well, paradise if the weather cooperates. Celebrate the fact that you are a hundred percent surrounded by Lake Michigan and gorge on whitefish & chips. 26245 Main St., 231.448.2278
Stoney Acre Grill serves up solidly yummy tavern cuisine. The restaurant is adjacent to Donegal Danny’s Pub, named after an island blueblood named Danny O’Donnell who was said to enjoy a good meal, friends and cold pints. Raise one to Danny, he’d be proud. 26420 Beaver Harbor Dr., 231.448.2560
Your breakfast, lunch, pizza and to-go sandwich headquarters is Dalwhinnie Bakery & Deli next to McDonough’s Market where the bread is baked fresh every-day and the sausage is house-made. 38240 Michigan Ave., 231.448.2736
With any luck, Patrick McGinnity will have Whiskey Point Brewing Co. open before your visit. McGinnity’s nano-brewery and taproom will serve beer, wine, hard cider and soft drinks all made at his establishment. Even if it isn’t open yet, poke your head in and check it out—and put it on the list for your next Beaver Island getaway. Make sure to ask him about his tomato and jalapeno wine—a new twist on a good ol’ bloody Mary. About perfect for a fall brunch on a Lake Michigan island, we’d say. 38230 Michigan Ave., 231.373.7842
CATCH THE SUNRISE
Fill a thermos with coffee and make your way through the morning darkness to Kilty’s Point on the island’s east side. Access the beach at Wagner campground (pictured above). Celebrate the new day with first footprints in the fresh sand.
CATCH THE SUNSET (OR THE NORTHERN LIGHTS)
Pick up provisions at McDonough’s Market, 38240 Michigan Ave., and prepare for a sunset bliss-out at the public beach on Donegal Bay, located on the island’s northwest tip. The sparkling performance of the Milky Way is courtesy of civilization-free dark skies. Linger a bit, and with luck the aurora borealis will come out to play.
Beaver Island History Lesson
Beaver Island Community School’s history teacher, Adam Richards, stands in front of the Old Mormon Print Shop Museum at the corner of Main and Forest Avenue. The building was once where the Mormon renegade king, James Strang and his followers published a newspaper called Northern Islander.
These days, the building is a museum that chronicles the island’s Strang years, as well as its rich Irish heritage and other fascinating subjects. Richards uses the island history extensively in his teaching including working with students to record oral histories from the islanders. One of his favorite things to point out to newcomers on the island is how place names spell out island history. King’s Highway, Font Lake (where the Mormons were baptized) and Lake Geneserath, for example, were all from the James Strang period.
LODGING AND CAMPING
Island accommodations run the gamut from rustic to simply sweet—and all are uber-restful. Most establishments will pick guests up at the ferry dock or airport, so make sure to ask when you make your reservation.
The island has two campgrounds, both are no reservation, first-come/first served, rustic/primitive and $10 per night. St. James Township Campground has views of neighboring Squaw, Whiskey and Garden islands. Bill Wagner Campground on East Side Road offers a front-row seat on the sunrise.
➥ SMALL LUXURY // Campers can shower at the Emerald Isle Hotel. $10 adults; $5 children. Soap and towel included. 37895 King’s Highway. 231.448.2376
Beaver Island Lodge is a gracious resort hotel with 14 rooms all equipped with kitchenettes (one with a full kitchen). The lodge has a private Lake Michigan beach. 231.448.2396
Located near the beach and the ferry, the family-friendly Emerald Isle Hotel offers studio units and two-bedroom suites. 231.448.2376
Meditative types will want to check in to The Brothers’ Place, a rambling white clapboard inn that was once the retreat for the Christian Brothers religious order. Rooms are simple and most have shared bathrooms. This peaceful oasis closes in early September. 231.448.2204.
Home and cabin rentals abound on the island. Find them on VRBO, Airbnb and HomeAway. But better yet, contact Sheri Richards at Richards Rental Management Services for the local’s scoop on the best vacay rental for you. 231.675.6717
LAUNCH FROM CHARLEVOIX
The plane and ferry both depart from the Lake Michigan resort town of Charlevoix. Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport, 50 miles south of Charlevoix, is serviced by American, Delta and United airlines.
Delta’s Sky West flies in and out of Pellston Regional Airport, 32 miles north.
Both airports offer car rentals. Charlevoix Airport Shuttle & Limousine Service can run you to and from Charlevoix from both Cherry Capital and Pellston airports. 231.947.4200
Lyft and Uber both operate in Traverse City and will find you a ride to Charlevoix.
Charlevoix has abundant lodging options near the ferry and airport. Stay across the street from the ferry at the historic Weathervane Terrace Inn & Suites and watch boats putting through the drawbridge on their way to and from Lake Michigan and Round Lake. 231.547.9955
Beaver Island Vacation Moments …
Before you go: Read the Charlevoix & Beaver Island Vacation Guide.
Just click the cover.