Island Escapes

Three Great Lakes-style getaways that will get you off the grid and in touch with nature

Beaver Island

Lying 30 miles off the bustling city of Charlevoix and reached either by ferry or air, Beaver Island is about as tranquil as you can imagine. You want a retreat to escape to? At 13 miles long by six miles wide, the largest island in Lake Michigan ranks among my favorites.

There’s a small town center called St. James, hearkening to when this retreat was a Mormon enclave in the 1800s. The community declared itself independent from the U.S. and even had a king. Remnants of that period are still evident. There’s a market, a hardware, and eight restaurants near where the ferry from Charlevoix lands each day in summer.

The place to truly relax, with dining included, is at the Beaver Island Lodge. It’s about a half-mile walk from downtown St. James on the north end overlooking Garden Island, two miles across the water. Eric Hodgson, who has owned the lodge for about 11 years, also owns four of the island’s eateries.

“We bought it because, at the time, the previous owner was probably going to close after the Great Recession,” Hodgson says. “My wife, Dana, and I got involved because it was one of our favorites. We like to go out for dinner and we just couldn’t imagine the island without it.”

Built in the early 1950s, there are now 14 rooms and a cabin that can comfortably sleep 32. Dinner is served nightly, and there’s a full bar. The lodge originally was a hunting and fishing retreat, and like the entire island, it has a decidedly outdoorsy lean.

There are great birding opportunities on Beaver Island because it’s a critical layover for migratory birds including raptors, warblers, and thrushes, many of which nest on the island. The Beaver Island Birding Trail is recognized by Michigan Audubon and encompasses more than 12,000 acres, including four preserves of the Little Traverse Conservancy.

Aerial view of part of the coast of Beaver Island in Lake Michigan.

Beaver Island also has its own kayaking trail, if you’ve brought yours, or you can hitch a ride with Happy Paddle rentals and sign up for a tour. Want to try a different type of trail? Bicycles are one of the best ways to travel here, so bring your mountain bike and check out the island’s 100 miles of trails or, if you prefer, just stay on its roads.

If fishing’s your thing, contact Kevin Morlock of Indigo Guide Service, who frequents the island’s rocky “flats,” as well as nearby Hog and Garden islands after smallmouth bass and northern pike.

When it comes to stargazing, Beaver Island is one of the darkest spots in Lake Michigan, and perfect for amateur astronomers. The island association has filed an application with the international Dark Skies Association to recognize about one-third of its space as a Dark Sky Sanctuary.

Grand Island

This Lake Superior island is amazing for those who love to get away when camping. Located about a half-mile offshore from Munising in the Upper Peninsula, the Grand Island National Recreation Area is a quintessential island retreat.

You’ll take a pontoon-like boat from the Grand Island Landing Ferry Service, located about 2.5 miles west of Munising. The 49-square-mile island, part of the Hiawatha National Forest, features some of the same rock formations as the nearby Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It’s open for biking, hiking, and primitive camping (reservations are required).

“On the island, you feel completely disconnected from your day-to-day life, while only being a short distance from the mainland,” says backpacker Grant Garbinski, who spent several days last summer camping and hiking around the island’s 30-plus-mile perimeter.

“The circular nature of the coastal trail system rewards backpackers, campers, hikers, and non-motorized bikers with a start-to-finish trail experience that gives a real feeling of accomplishment. Some mountain bikers I encountered did the loop several times.

“Camping on the northern side of the island was my favorite spot,” he adds. “The sites there provide for an off-the-grid feeling and there are incredible cliffside views of Lake Superior. The eagle sightings and the bluffs are amazing. The sounds of the Superior waves at night were unbelievable. Both the sunrises and the sunsets from the island’s northern vantage point are must-sees for anyone spending the night on this beautiful escape. With all the beauty around you, be sure to plan ahead to locate the best views.”

There are some 40 miles of trails for bikers, and you can rent a bike at the ferry landing. There are also two rental cabins, in addition to more than 20 designated campsites.

Your only companions will be fellow campers, the island’s black bears, and other four-footed critters. If the experience of nature up-close in a tent and miles from the nearest fast-food stop or car is what you’re yearning for, Grand Island may be the place for you.

Bois Blanc Island

Located in northern Lake Huron, the island just south of Mackinac Island also rates as a great getaway sanctuary. I recommend the Hideaway at Bois Blanc Island Bed & Breakfast. Visitors can reach it via a 45-minute ferry ride from Cheboygan or by air from St. Ignace, Charlevoix, or Cheboygan.

“Everybody knows it as just The Hideaway,” says Adam Bronkema, who with his wife, Tammy Murphy, has owned this nine-room B&B since 2021. Breakfast is served in the dining room, on the back deck, or delivered to your room so you can dine there or take it to the beach. Bronkema also offers pick-up and drop-off service from the dock or airport, if you don’t want to ferry your own vehicle.

The Hideaway sits on 26 acres with a 600-foot sand and fine rock beach, and offers kayak and ATV rentals. Two lakes on this six-mile-wide by 12-mile-long island permit dock fishing.

The Outpost restaurant, four miles from the island’s airport, serves lunch and dinner. The Island Tavern serves lunch on weekends and opens at 3 p.m. during the week. Overnighters can book a flight from the Bois Blanc airport to Mackinac Island to fill up on fudge.

“Our island’s biggest draw is just the quiet, peaceful atmosphere. It’s a respite. We’re the farthest extreme from Mackinac Island that you can be. You can bike almost all the way around the island,” Bronkema says.