An A to Z Guide to Drummond Island Adventure
Ask anyone that has spent time on Michigan’s Drummond Island and they’ll waste no time telling you why they love it there and why you need to go visit for yourself. After recently spending a week there in a cabin next to the St. Mary’s River, I can absolutely tell you that I can’t wait to go back. Drummond Island is the third largest island in Lake Huron, and the second largest Michigan island after Isle Royale. There is minimal development on the island, with most of its 134 square miles covered with ORV trail, rentable cabins, natural features, and stunning shores – this truly is an all-seasons recreation paradise. To give you a better idea what kinds of things the island has to offer, we put together this A to Z Guide to Drummond Island Adventure:
Alvar – The largest remaining high quality alvars can be found in the Maxton Plains Preserve on the northwest part of the island. “Alvar is a Swedish term used to describe dry grasslands found on limestone pavements. The last glacier receded over 10,000 years ago, leaving no, or only a very thin (up to 10 inches), soil layer over limestone bedrock. Areas of pavement alvar are found in central Maxton. On the pavement alvars, the plants grow only in the bedrock joints where soil and sediment collect.” (nature.org) There are 10 different rare plants found in the preserve, eight of them found in the alvar.
Birdwatching – Drummond Island is part of the North Huron Birding Trail, and its unique location and well-preserved lands make it an ideal place for birdwatchers. Great spots to see wildlife include the Maxton Plains Alvar, Williams Nature Preserve, Pigeon Cove Flooding, Potagannising Wildlife Flooding, and Scammon Point. While drinking my coffee on our deck one of the mornings we were there, I was able to watch a loon, a pileated woodpecker, and a bald eagle all at the same time. Other specie you’re likely to see on the island are sandhill cranes, osprey, sparrows, warblers, bitterns, herons, and geese.
Cabins – You won’t find a Best Western or Holiday Inn Express on the island, but there are still plenty of great lodging options. If you’re not looking to camp or stay at a resort, many cabins on the island are available as vacation rentals. This is the perfect way to get your medium to large group all under one roof, experiencing some of the luxuries of a motel while also having freedom to explore the island. We rented the Pebble Beach cabin for our stay, and the five of us each had our own space while enjoying great views of the water and passing freighters, quick access to trails, and a great deck and fire pit. Having a full kitchen and two bathrooms with showers was also great! You can find rental listings from Drummond Island Hotel and Vacation Homes (https://www.dilodging.com/), Northern Properties Vacation Home Rentals of Drummond Island (https://www.northernproperties.com/), airbnb, or Vrbo.
Drummond Island Ferry – Getting to the island takes place via the Drummond Islander IV, a 146 foot long passenger and vehicle ferry that leaves DeTour Village up to 20 times each day to make the trip to the island. This ferry can hold up to 36 vehicles, and a ticket is good for passage both ways. It operates year-round, making the short trip across the St. Mary’s River to help people reach their homes, vacation rentals, businesses, and more. To see an up-to-date schedule of departure times and rates, head over to https://www.visitdrummondisland.com/drummond-island-ferry.html.
Esther’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine – Some of the best food on the island can be found at Esther’s, which offers dine-in, takeout, and delivery. Try some tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, and more while you’re on the island! Check out Esther’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/EsthersRestaurantDI) to see a menu and pictures of their delicious food.
Fossil Ledges – You’ll need a vehicle with high clearance and very specific directions to get there, but one of the most magical places on the island is the Fossil Ledges on the north end of the island. The fossilized remains of a salt water coral bed makes up the rock ledges here on the Lake Huron shoreline. You can see for miles in three directions, and these rock ledges have been protected and preserved thanks to their remote location. Find out more at https://www.visitdrummondisland.com/fossil-ledges.html.
Golf – What’s an island paradise without a golf course? Drummond Island has two courses for golfers to pick from. Drummond Island Golf Club (9 holes) can be found on Fairchild Lane just north of Four Corners, and The Rock Golf Course (18 holes) is located on Maxton Rd. as part of a complex that includes a resort and conference center.
Hiking – Miles of hiking trails are available for those looking for exercise while visiting the island. Check out the Clyde and Martha Williams Nature Preserve, the Curtis and Margaret Anderson Nature Preserve, the Heritage Hiking Trail at Drummond Township Park, and the trails at Drummond Island Resort to get out and experience nature while hiking Drummond Island.
Islands – When you visit Drummond Island, not only are you on an island but you are also surrounded by many other islands. From Shale Beach you can see Canada’s Cockburn Island, and from the north and west sides of the island you can see many of the smaller islands in the St. Mary’s River shipping channel. The Drummond Island Explore H2O trail outlines some kayak trips out to the Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge (open to foot traffic during daytime only) and on to Mare Island, Cedar Island, and Lime Island State Recreation Area. On the ferry over to Drummond Island, you should have a good view of Pipe Island and the small Pipe Island Light.
Jeeps – In addition to quads and side-by-sides one of the vehicles you’re likely to see taking on Drummond Island’s off-road trails is a Jeep. The island has hosted a Jeep Jamboree in June each year for 28 years, and recently added a Winter Jamboree event as well.
Kayaking – We spent almost as much time in our kayaks while visiting Drummond Island as we did riding trails in the Jeeps – the waters of Lake Huron are incredible inviting and the shoreline has unending scenic views. We were able to paddle from Big Shoal Bay to Scammon Cove and take our kayaks over shipwrecks (more on that below), and explore the coves and shoreline near our cabin while watching Great Lakes freighters pass by. Seeing the island from the water gives you an idea of just how big it is!
Lake Huron – Offering everything from sandy beaches (Big Shoal Bay Beach), ledges of fossilized rock (Fossil Ledges), and breathtaking rocky beaches (Shale Beach), Drummond Island’s Lake Huron shoreline is bound to be part of you visit. Water recreation like boating, kayaking, and fishing is popular out Lake Huron, and while the second-largest of the Great Lakes demands respect it also continuously rewards with opportunities for great vacations.
Marblehead – The view from Michigan’s easternmost point is quite stunning, as you gave out on Lake Huron from nearly 100 feet above it. Getting here requires a high-clearance vehicle or a hike or a few miles. The “steps at Marblehead” are one of the best-known obstacles on the island’s ORV trails, and they will test most vehicles that descend them on their way to the lookout. A trail leads down from the top of Marblehead to the shoreline and a rocky shale beach. The sunsets here are incredible!
Northwood Restaurant and Bar – There are only a handful of dining options on the island, and due to its location at the island’s busiest intersection (and due to its food), Northwood sees a great deal of traffic from both locals and visitors. We enjoyed everything about our visit, which included friendly and attentive service, a solid beer menu, and delicious comfort food. This place is everything you would expect a small-town U.P. bar/restaurant to be! http://northwooddrummondisland.com/
ORV Trails – More than 40 miles of ORV trails (and 60 miles of ATV trails) await visitors to Drummond Island. Marble Head, Conner’s Hole, Tight Twisties, Walker Trail, Tank Traps, and Mu’s Nemesis are a few of the names given to these routes, which offer challenges for beginners as well as the more experienced. Rock climbs and water holes are some of the obstacles riders have to navigate to get to stunning views on the island. A full trail map is a must-have for anyone heading out without a guide, and you’ll need a full week to explore all of the trails the island has to offer.
Puddingstones – The most sought-after rock on Drummond Island is the puddingstone, a Jasper conglomerate formed when “great amounts of sediment that came from erosion from older rocks were deposited in large bodies of water. The different hues of red jasper pebbles were deposited in small parts over an east west band about fifty miles in size that lays mainly in Ontario, but touches a small area of the Upper Peninsula. Sandstone under the weight of later sediments formed the grains becoming sand conglomerates. Erosion and weathering uncovered loose fragments and great masses were moved by the Labrador portion of the continental sheets.” These rocks are prized as decorative pieces for things as small as jewelry or as large as landscaping boulders.
Quarry – You’ll see the docks for the Carmeuse Drummond Island quarry on your ferry ride over to the island, and there’s a good chance you’ll see one of the large trucks hauling dolomite while you’re there. Close to a million and a half tons of dolomite are shipped out from here each year, for use in everything from steel production to use in pavement to paper production. The trucks even have their own “super highway” that runs from the quarry five miles away to the processing plant near the dock.
Rocks – Puddingstones aren’t the only rocks worth checking out on Drummond Island. This is a very rocky island, and rocks are a major part of its landmarks (Fossil Ledges, Marblehead) and even cover some of its beaches. Keep an eye out for granite, quartz, jasper, sandstone, shale, limestone, and maybe even a Petoskey stone as you comb the shallow shoreline waters or the rocky beaches.
Sunsets – The sunrises here really have to be seen firsthand. During our stay, the sunset over the St. Mary’s River seemed to get a little better (and more colorful) each night. We’ve grown up close to the Lake Michigan shoreline and its famed sunsets, but Drummond Island puts on a show that rivals anything in the Lower Peninsula. The sky pops with shades of orange, red, purple, and yellow and there’s no shortage of great scenery to help frame your Instagram-worthy sunset photo!
Teepee Ice Cream – A seasonal favorite, the Teepee offers all the ice cream treats you could want. This is a perfect stop after a day of riding the trails or kayaking, and it is located at the island’s busiest intersection. We were lucky enough to grab some ice cream here after our dinner at Northwood Restaurant (across the street) before this wonderful island attraction closed up for the season! The TeePee also offers a food menu that includes hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, fries, and more. Find out more at https://www.facebook.com/DrummondIslandTeePee/.
Underwater Shipwrecks – One of my favorite day trips during our time on the island (and hands down my favorite kayak trip) was a journey from Big Shoal Bay beach to Scammon Cove, where we were able to kayak over two of the island’s shipwrecks. There are plenty of shipwrecks here that are great scuba diving sites, and the Scammon Cover shipwrecks are in shallow enough water that they can be viewed from a kayak. The schooner barge Troy can be seen near the ruins of the old lumber mill in Scammon Cove, and the tug Silver Spray (pictured) can be seen on the west side of the cove near Meade Island.
Vessel Passage – If you’ve been following Travel the Mitten for any length of time, you know we love our Great Lakes freighters. The Pebble Beach cabin on the St. Mary’s River was a great spot for me to watch these large vessels passing while sitting on the deck with my morning coffee. All freighter traffic heading to or from Lake Superior must pass Drummond Island, and a handful of them even stop at the dolomite quarry. If you’re looking for information on these vessels as they pass, consider the MarineTraffic app or a visit to boatnerd.com and their tracking page.
Winter Recreation – When the snow falls and the temperatures drop, Drummond Island might see a small drop in visitors but that doesn’t mean the fun has ended. There are 80 miles of snowmobile trails on the island, and more than 10 miles of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. Ice fishing is another popular winter activity on the island. Winter off-roading has become more popular in recent years (see above for Winter Jeep Jamboree information), as a few of the ORV routes remain open for vehicles. Drummond Island Resort is a great place to stay when visiting in the winter, and there are rental options for snowmobiles, skis, and more once you get to the island.
Yacht Haven – A full-service marina, campground, and cottages are just a few of the things you’ll find at Yacht Haven on Potagannissing Bay (http://www.diyachthaven.com/). This full-service stop also delves in marine sales and service, construction, and transportation to the outer islands. This is a great spot to launch your boat or kayak from to explore some of the smaller islands we mentioned above. The campground “is suitable for any type of camping including motorhomes, trailer campers, and tent camping. Full hookups are available, offering electrical, water and sewer hookups.” Cottage options are beloved for their amazing views and relaxing convenience.
Zero worries – Drummond Island has a way of making you forget about work, stress, responsibilities, and whatever else you left at home. The air seems fresher, the sunsets are magical, and the scenery rivals that of any place in the Upper Peninsula. You can relax by enjoying everything the island has to offer (everything mentioned above) or by simply being there and not doing anything. Cell phone signal is spotty at best, which offers an added bonus for some visitors.