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5 Islands to Explore on the Great Lakes


This author has been sailing on the Great Lakes for over 20 years. He loves relaxing on the beach, day sailing and cruising.


Island-Hopping on the Great Lakes

When you think of island-hopping, your mind turns to swaying palm trees, seaside tiki huts, and white-sand beaches. However, with over 35,000 islands, the salt- and shark-free Great Lakes have some of the most inviting and unique chances for island exploring anywhere in the world. Some of these magnificent island destinations are only accessible by boat or floatplane, while others offer regularly scheduled ferry service. Here are five choice island destinations to explore.

1. Apostle Islands

This is a group of 22 islands in Lake Superior, with the largest being Madeline Island. All the islands except for Madeline are part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

The islands are internationally known for their beautiful sea caves that are created when Lake Superior freezes in the winter. Madeline Island is inhabited year-round but is only accessible by boat or plane. It is a camping and hiking paradise and has a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones.

The Apostle Islands are a well-known sailing and cruising destination in the Great Lakes with many gunk-hole spots to anchor and explore.

Apostle Islands

Apostle Islands

2. Isle Royale

This is Michigan’s only national park, located in northern Lake Superior. It is also the most remote national park in the lower 48! Considered the ideal destination for serious hikers and paddlers, it has established trails, rustic campsites, and shelters.

The two major embarkation points to an Isle Royale adventure are Rock Harbor on the northern end of the island and Windigo on the southern tip. The park has a lodge and cottages at Rock Harbor for those who want to experience the park without camping.

The park is considered the least-visited national park due to its remoteness. Ferry and seaplane service is available from Houghton and Copper Harbor Michigan as well as Grand Portage, Minnesota.

Moose and Wolves are on Isle Royale

Moose and Wolves are on Isle Royale

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Paddling Around Rock Harbor

Paddling Around Rock Harbor

3. Beaver Island

The largest island in Lake Michigan, this island has ferry service from Charlevoix so you can bring your car and tour its 55 square miles. Known for its beaches and hiking trails, its remoteness draws those looking for adventure off the beaten path.

Beaver Island was, for a brief time, considered a kingdom of sorts for the Strangite Mormon Church in 1850. The "kingdom" ended in 1856 with the assassination of its leader—John Strang. Today, the island is a year-round tourist and vacationer’s destination. The island also has the nickname “America’s Emerald Isle,” as so many of its full-time residents are of Irish descent.

Iron Ore Bay in southern Beaver Island

Iron Ore Bay in southern Beaver Island

4. Charity Island

Big Charity Island sits in the middle of Saginaw Bay about halfway between Tawas and Caseville. An excellent fishing area, it was known as a resting spot for Native Americans crossing the bay and as a source for chert from which to make stone tools and arrowheads.

A lighthouse guards the north shore and a cruising service offers visitors transport to the island from Caseville and Au Gres during the summer season. Visitors can tour the restored lighthouse and enjoy gourmet dining while watching the sunset over Saginaw Bay.

Charity Island as seen from Space in the Middle of Saginaw Bay

Charity Island as seen from Space in the Middle of Saginaw Bay

5. Drummond Island

This is the largest inland island in the United States, and at 249 square miles, there is a lot to do. It's a true paradise for sportsmen and sailors.

For sailors, this island guards the famous cruising grounds of North Channel. De Tour Village is considered a must-do stop for provisions and fuel before venturing into the wilds of northern Lake Huron.

The biggest draw of this island is sport fishing. Charter captains can take you on the hunt for large lake trout and salmon. The other unique activity is exploring the numerous backwoods trails on ATVs.

Area Near Drummond Island

Area Near Drummond Island

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Mike Hardy

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