Michigan Bucket List: Islands

Michigan Bucket List: Islands

We’ve enjoyed putting together “bucket lists” of things to do and see in Michigan over the past few months, from waterfalls to lighthouses, sand dunes and state parks. Now we have another list of amazing places you need to visit – a bucket list of islands in Michigan that offer history, outdoor adventure, stunning scenery, and even a unique non-motorized experience. The four Great Lakes that surround our state not only provide countless opportunities on the mainland shoreline, they’re also home to some of the largest freshwater islands in the world. Some of these islands are home to a year-round resident population; others are maintained as parks. We narrowed our list of favorites down to 10 and provided as much information as possible about each one (including how to get there). Enjoy our Michigan Bucket List: Islands, and consider visiting one of these amazing places this summer!

Mackinac Island (Lake Huron) – Considered one of Michigan’s most romantic destinations, Mackinac Island is home to some of the state’s oldest buildings, two historic forts, the majestic Grand Hotel and no cars. Access to the island comes via ferry from St. Ignace or Mackinaw City, and visitors can explore the island on foot, by bicycle, or by horse-drawn carriage. Check out our list of 12 Things to Do on Mackinac Island as well as our list of Michigan Historical Markers on Mackinac Island for more information.

Isle Royale Windigo

Isle Royale (Lake Superior) – Like Mackinac Island, Isle Royale has no cars. It’s location is much more remote (it’s in Lake Superior 56 miles from the Michigan shoreline), and it is mostly undeveloped. Considered a wilderness paradise, Isle Royale offers opportunities for kayaking, hiking, wildlife observation and more. There are 170 miles of hiking trails, and the island is home to a sizable moose population. Ferries leave from Houghton and Copper Harbor in Michigan as well as Grand Portage in Minnesota. The only two major settlement on Isle Royale are Windigo (west end) which has a ranger station and campground and Rock Harbor which has a lodge, campground and historic lighthouse.

Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory Belle Isle Michigan

Belle Isle (Detroit River) – Designed to be for Detroit what Central Park is for New York City, Belle Isle is a nearly-1,000 acre gem in the Detroit River. As of 2013 it is a state park (recreation passport required for entry) featuring historic structures like the William Livingstone Lighthouse and the James Scott Memorial Fountain, an aquarium, a maritime museum, many sculptures and more. There are also great opportunities for swimming, kayaking, hiking and bicycling and the island is a great place to watch for freighter traffic. Check out our 12 Things to See and Do at Belle Isle Park for more ideas.

beaver island lighthouse

Beaver Island (Lake Michigan) – Michigan’s “Emerald Island” is reached by a ferry out of Charlevoix and boasts historic lighthouses, restaurants, shopping, birdwatching, all kinds of outdoor recreation and more. Head over to http://www.bibco.com for more information on rates and schedule, as well as the chance to join guided tours of 1.5 hours or 3 hours. Beaver Island is the largest island in Lake Michigan and the boat trip from Charlevoix takes about two hours each way.

Riptide Ride Grand Island Cliff Munising

Grand Island (Lake Superior) – Other than a few privately owned summer homes, this island near Munising in Lake Superior is part of the Hiawatha National Forest. It is reached by a short ferry ride, and offers opportunities for hunting, fishing, primitive camping, hiking and mountain biking. Bus tours are available for an additional fee and take visitors past historic sites as well as stunning vistas of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore as well as Grand Island’s own cliffs and rock formations. A marathon takes place on the island each summer – find out more at http://www.greatlakesendurance.com/. Grand Island can also be viewed from the water on the Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours or Riptide Ride cruises that run out of Munising, where visitors can take in views of the Grand Island East Channel Lighthouse (either tour) and the Grand Island North Lighthouse (Riptide only). The island is home to 300 foot tall cliffs, a 23-mile trail that follows the perimeter of the island, and a significant black bear population.

North Manitou Island (Photo From Michael Ingle)

photo courtesy of Michael Ingle

North Manitou Island (Lake Michigan) – The smaller of the Manitou Islands is a great place for those looking for solitude and opportunities for primitive camping, hunting, fishing, hiking and more. In his My 5 Favorite Places in Michigan interview with us, freelance designer and ArtPrize artist Michael Ingle said “I have been hunting and fishing on North Manitou Island for twenty-four years.  When you arrive at the island by ferry and start your journey inland, it only take a few minutes to feel like you are in the deep woods of Canada. In the spring, the trillium covers the forest floor like a coat of paint.  The serenity and beauty of this small, rustic island is what brings me back year after year.” Wildlife on the island includes whitetail deer, bald eagles, coyote, beaver and more. The island is reached by a ferry ride with Manitou Transit departing from Leland, find out more at http://manitoutransit.com/camping-north-manitou/. North Manitou Island is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and a park pass is required for entry.

Oberon South Manitou Island

photo courtesy of Rigoberto Rodriguez

South Manitou Island (Lake Michigan) – Visitors to South Manitou Island will find a historic lighthouse, stunning beaches, miles of hiking trails, an old growth Northern white cedar forest where trees are up to 500 years old, the Francisco Morazan shipwreck and more. It is possible to visit the island as part of a day trip or camp in one of the island’s three campgrounds. South Manitou Island is reached by ferry from Leland offered through Manitou Transit. The island is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and a park pass is required for entry.

Sugar Island Michigan ferry Paul Tregurtha St Marys River

Sugar Island (St. Mary’s River) – Located in the St. Mary’s River between Michigan and Canada, Sugar Island is easily reached by a short and inexpensive car ferry ride from Sault Ste. Marie. The island is home to a small year-round population but is mostly uninhabited. There are opportunities for outdoor recreation, the Chase Osborn Preserve (and several other nature preserves) for wildlife viewing, chances to see Great Lakes freighters up close, and more. Some lucky visitors and residents have seen moose, wolves, and black bears on the island. Sugar Island Township Park is a good starting location for kayak adventures. Don’t miss out on the chance to grab a burger, fries and a shake at Clyde’s Drive-In while you’re waiting for the ferry!

photo courtesy of Nathan Boyce

photo courtesy of Nathan Boyce

Drummond Island (Lake Huron) – A short ferry ride from DeTour Village brings visitors to “Michigan’s Ultimate Playground.” Drummond Island is home to a small year-round population, but draws crowds in the summer thanks to its beautiful landscape and seemingly unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation. The island features a large closed-loop system of ATV/ORV trails, a golf course, trails for hiking, cross country skiing and snowmobiling, and miles of amazing shoreline on Lake Huron. The island hosts several Jeep events during the year and many of its vacation homes/cottages are available to rent. Fishing, kayaking, birdwatching, hunting and camping are just a few more activities that draw visitors to Drummond Island, which was once home to a British fort. Ferry information can be found at http://drummondislandchamber.com/.



Les Cheneaux Islands (Lake Huron) – This collection of 36 islands off the Upper Peninsula’s southeastern tip is a great place for boating, kayaking and summer relaxation. The area hosts the world’s largest antique wooden boat show each year, and easy access to the islands can be found on the mainland in Cedarville and Hessel. Birding, camping, hiking and bicycling, fishing and golfing are just a few more things to do while in the Les Cheneaux area. For more information head to http://lescheneaux.org/.


Bonus (four more islands worth checking out):

House start up, Charity Island and Tawas 057

Charity Island (Lake Huron) – You can visit Charity Island as part of a dinner cruise that departs from either Caseville or Au Gres, with the main attraction being the historic Charity Island Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in the 1850s and it served until the late 1930s. It was abandoned and fell into disrepair until it was purchased and saved by a couple who understood its importance. The lightkeeper’s home has been rebuilt and preservation efforts continue. The island also is a great spot for birdwatching and was once home to a fishing operation.

Alpena Lighthouse Festival 2015 651

Middle Island (Lake Huron) – On select dates each summer, it is possible to head to Middle Island with Captain Mike – find out more at http://middleislandlighthouse.com/. While most of the island is privately owned, you’ll have the chance to tour the historic Middle Island Lighthouse, which was built in 1905. Its tower is 80 feet tall and painted white with a red stripe in the middle.

Bois Blanc Island Lighthouse Lake Huron

Bois Blanc Island (Lake Huron) – This island can be found southeast of Mackinac Island, and it is home to a historic lighthouse as well as a lot more peace and quiet. It is reached by ferry out of Cheboygan, and many homes and cabins are rented out in the summer months. There are six inland lakes and plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation.

Harsen House Harsen Island Michigan

Harsens Island (Lake St. Clair) – Up-close views of passing freighters, several Michigan state historic sites, abundant wildlife, fishing opportunities and more bring visitors to Harsens Island each year. The island is reached by car ferry out of Clay Township; more information at http://www.michigan.govhttp://michmarkers.com/, and http://www.soschannellights.org/ (a distant view of these lighthouses comes from the southeastern tip of the island).