Spend the day kayaking, paddling or canoeing to all four of Long Lake’s islands. From hot summer days to cool fall afternoons, dive in to learn the best ways to explore Picnic, Long, Fox and South Islands on Long Lake.

With broad swaths of open water, warm sandy shallows and varied underwater geography that support excellent fishing year-round, Long Lake is an inland treasure. Located on the western edge of Grand Traverse County, the sprawling (and aptly named) Long Lake inspires all manner of water recreation. While one could laze at the public beaches of Gilbert or Taylor parks, those with an appetite for adventure (and access to a boat) could opt instead for an afternoon of island hopping.

Boasting a surface area of 4.5 square miles, Long Lake features four islands open to (reasonable) public use. From north to south, the four are Picnic, Long, Fox and South. Both South and Fox islands are owned and managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy as nature preserves. So, pack up, paddle out and enjoy a day of tranquil isolation on Long Lake.

Lake Access & Public Boat Launches on Long Lake

To get on the water, boaters can access one of two public boat launches. The first is near the north end of the lake at Gilbert Park and the second is a bit farther south at the dead-end of Crescent Shores Road. Those in kayaks, canoes or other non-motorized craft visiting the islands would be well ad- vised to use the Crescent Shores launch, as it’s closer to the islands.

But don’t shove off just yet! Turn this day paddle into a picnic and pick up some local provisions. Build your own deli sandwich at Fresh Coast Market (7270 N. Long Lake Rd.) or pick up a pizza at Long Lake Grocery (9374 N. Long Lake Rd.) to make that island lunch a real banquet. Throw in some snacks and adult beverages (Founders’ Green Zebra is fantastic for a hot day), and you may find yourself voluntarily marooned for a few hours.

Long Lake Boating & Safety Rules

While on the water, be sure to follow all safety and boating rules. Long Lake can be a busy body of water, especially near the launches as people are accessing and leaving the lake. Here are some must-know Long Lake safety tips:

– If you’re in a kayak or canoe, make sure to wear a life jacket—preferably something that’s high-visibility and can be seen from a distance.
– Stick close to shore to approach the islands before crossing the open water to reach them.
– Those in motorboats should follow all proper boating safety rules and pay special attention to water depths when nearing island shallows.
– While South Island does offer a seasonal dock for access, all other islands do not, so proceed with caution.

Let the Island Hopping Commence!

Once you arrive at your self-proclaimed private island (at least for the afternoon), take time to explore! Be courteous of the flora and fauna present and use established trails when possible. Scope out a nice overlook, a sandy beach or a cool spot among the trees and indulge in your pre-packed provisions. If you have the time and the energy, hop (OK, paddle or motor) to the adjacent islands. With each island you visit, you can enjoy and discover a little bit more of the gorgeous Long Lake.

Find this article and more in the June 2021 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine; or subscribe and get Traverse delivered to your door each month.