Looking to explore the Les Cheneaux Islands in Cedarville & Hessel? Here are some ideas of things to do in Les Cheneaux Islands.
Prior to this #MittenTrip, I’d only been to the U.P. twice (other than visiting Mackinac Island – which I know is technically part of the U.P. but doesn’t “count” as I didn’t cross the bridge) – once as a child visiting family friends who moved to Marquette, and once as an adult on a scenic drive to northern Wisconsin.
So when the opportunity came to cross the Mackinac Bridge and explore the northern shores of Lake Huron prior to the busy tourist season, my husband and I found a sitter for the kids (thanks Mom and Dad!) and jumped in the car to drive the four hours north of our home in Jackson County.
There’s not much I don’t love about “driving up north,” especially when there’s little to no tourist traffic on the road. The anticipation of the changing scenery (north of Clare on US-127) makes me giddy, and I never lose the sense of awe and wonder as I begin to see birch and pine mixed together alongside the highway. The itch for adventure grows stronger the further north we go.
Audie’s Restaurant in Mackinaw City
We reached Mackinaw City around lunchtime, so we headed to one of the restaurants in Mackinaw City that we hadn’t previously frequented – Audie’s.
I had heard good things about Audie’s Restaurant in Mackinaw City, and it was fairly full for it being lunchtime during a ‘dead season’ for tourism. We were warmly greeted and immediately seated. Within minutes, we were perusing the menus.
When our meals arrived (I ordered a hot turkey sandwich and my husband ordered a Reuben), we were surprised at the portion sizes – we could have easily split one sandwich and both been quite comfortable. Both were delicious, and we’ll definitely be back on a future visit!
Crossing the Mackinac Bridge
Like I mentioned before, I’ve only crossed the Mackinac Bridge two other times in my life (that I can remember), and only ever as a passenger. So when it came time to cross the bridge, I was both excited and nervous to drive across, especially as there was construction on the outer lane, forcing me to drive on the grates.
Side note: Did you know that you can buy artwork created from old bridge grates? Visit our Michigan gifts guide to check them out!
I had my husband take a time-lapse video as I drove to capture the crossing for our kids (they’ve never been north of Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island), and I worked to keep my wheels moving forward.
As we reached the Upper Peninsula, we were warmly greeted by the toll booth operator who mentioned he’d been watching bald eagles flying overhead just before we pulled up to the booth. This, along with the changes of scenery as we entered the U.P. had our eyes peeled as we continued our drive northward on I-75.
Les Cheneaux Islands | Hessel & Cedarville
Having spoken with the director of the Les Cheneaux Chamber of Commerce prior to our U.P. MittenTrip, we knew that there was going to be little in the way of “tourism” during our visit – and honestly, we were good with that. We aren’t big on crowds, and we wanted to be able to get a good feel for the local flavor of the area.
Driving east along M-134, we found ourselves oohing and aahing as we caught glimpses of Lake Huron – sometimes as close as the nearest roadside ditch – and the islands of this area.
Fun fact: Did you know that there are 36 named islands through the stretch of Mackinaw County along the northern shore of Lake Huron known as Les Cheneaux Islands?
North Coast Company – Fudge, Coffee, & Ice Cream
As we drove through Hessel, we seriously considered stopping at North Coast Company in the E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works showroom for some homemade fudge, Higher Grounds coffee, and Moomer’s ice cream, but we were still extremely full from lunch, so we decided it would have to be a stop for another trip.
Because we were visiting the area “out of season,” their open hours were limited, but they reached out to us on Facebook to let us know they’d be more than happy to set up an appointment for us to visit. Unfortunately, the rest of our trip was full, so we were unable to visit on this trip.
Cedarville – Basic Essentials
We did stop in Cedarville, though, to stock up on a few essentials for the weekend – gas and groceries. The first gas station we came across after crossing the bridge was in Cedarville and was located kitty-corner from Cedarville Foods grocery store.
The cabin we were staying in had a full kitchen, so we grabbed some eggs, bacon, bagels, and locally roasted coffee (Superior Coffee Roasting from Sault Ste Marie) – and of course, a few bottles of Faygo to quench our thirst from the trip – to be able to enjoy breakfast while watching the sunrise over the bay each morning.
Les Chêneaux Coffee Roasters – Coffee Shop
Even though we had purchased locally roasted coffee grounds at the grocery store to enjoy in our cabin, my husband and I both enjoy exploring local coffee shops. So we made it a point to venture back into town on Saturday morning to check out Les Cheneaux Coffee Roasters.
Les Chêneaux Coffee Roasters was exactly what we had hoped for in a local coffee shop in Cedarville, Michigan. Warm, friendly, inviting, and minimalistic. We weren’t the only customers in the coffee shop, but that didn’t stop the owners, David and Jen Gough, from warmly greeting us and visiting with us as we made our coffee selections.
I opted for my standard honey and cinnamon latte (aka Cafe Miel) while my husband opted for a house-roasted cold brew with cream. We also grabbed a bag of locally-roasted coffee beans and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans to take home with us.
While we considered enjoying our coffee drinks at the coffee shop, we could see glimpses of the Cedarville Marina across the street and opted to wander outdoors.
Les Cheneaux Distillers – Distillery and Restaurant
On any #MittenTrip, we like to get a sense of the local flavor and feel by eating where the locals eat, and in Cedarville, Les Cheneaux Distillers is the place to go.
While the Cedarville restaurant and distillery doesn’t look like much from the outside, the inside is full of character and has a modern industrial feel. Don’t let the lack of parking options or the street exterior turn you off – there is plenty of space inside and amazing food and drinks to enjoy!
Our dinner on Saturday evening consisted of an appetizer (Bavarian pretzels with beer cheese) and two entrees with sides (BBQ Bacon w/ Colby Jack Panini Burger with Potato Mashers and Green Goddess Sauce // Roasted Beef Tenderloin Plate with Tomato Basil Bisque).
For those wishing to imbibe, Les Cheneaux Distillers is home to Straits Spirits, and all of the wine, beer, and spirits on the menu are made in-house. They also offer spirits, wine, beer, and cocktails to go.
While we didn’t order any coffee with our dinner, we were excited to see that the distillery serves coffee that had been freshly roasted just across the street at the Les Cheneaux Roasters.
Cedar Bay Camp & Retreat Center – Les Cheneaux Islands Lodging
Our home for the weekend was Cedar Bay Camp & Retreat Center – just east of the town of Cedarville. This faith-based, family-friendly retreat center has been a part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for many years and has recently been entrusted to the stewardship of Forest Springs – a camp and retreat center we had previously been connected with in northern Wisconsin.
As we turned off M-134 onto Cedar Campus Rd, we saw several signs for cross-country skiing and hiking trails (including a trail leading “to Narnia”, complete with a lamp post at the end), making us eager to explore the grounds (over 600 acres) and enjoy the six miles of Lake Huron beaches and shoreline on Prentiss Bay over the course of our stay.
Fun Fact: We stayed in Deck cabin – named after Northcote Deck, a pioneer missionary doctor and explorer in the Solomon Islands who later settled in Canada and helped to launch Cedar Campus in Prentiss Bay – overlooking Cedar Bay.
Our time at Cedar Bay in Les Cheneaux Islands did not disappoint. We hiked several miles (including the entire circumference of Whitefish Point) and enjoyed beautiful views of Lake Huron along Prentiss Bay.
Visiting Les Cheneaux Islands – Things to Do
Our brief visit to the Les Cheneaux Islands has definitely whet our appetite for future visits – perhaps even yet this summer! We would love to bring our kids with us the next time to introduce them to the beauty of the Upper Peninsula and the Les Cheneaux Islands.
One of the best parts about staying near the Les Cheneaux Islands is that there are so many options of things to do in the area depending on the season and time of year! Some of the best things to do in Les Cheneaux include birding, boating, biking, camping, canoeing, fishing, golfing, hiking, kayaking, skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and, of course, the Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show.
Plus, making Les Cheneaux Islands your home-away-from-home for your Upper Peninsula adventures gives you a convenient location for so many wonderful Upper Peninsula day trip destinations such as visiting the Soo Locks in Sault Ste Marie, exploring Tahquamenon Falls in Paradise, and taking the ferry from De Tour Village to Drummond Island.
In fact, visiting Les Cheneaux Islands will be part of the 2021 MIAwesomeList Michigan Summer Bucket List!