A daydream about an island destination may invoke images of lusciously green palm trees swaying in the breeze and azure waters lapping up onto pristine white sand. But, it might be time to reimagine what an island destination could look like.
Michigan islands are some of the most breathtaking islands in the country. While they may not be dotted with palm trees, they are some of the most relaxing and rejuvenating places that you can explore.
From an island in Michigan with a no-cars-allowed rule to a Michigan island park off the coast of the Motor City, these destinations offer an alternative island experience — one that you won’t soon forget.
Michigan Islands in Lake Superior
Seeming both powerful and disquieting, Lake Superior can be an intimidating lake even when you are just standing on the shores of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. So, it may not feel particularly inviting to traverse across the waters and find refuge in one of its idyllic islands.
However, you would be missing out on an opportunity to experience some of the most breathtaking and rugged terrain that Michigan has to offer. These are two islands that are worth exploring in Lake Superior.
Off the coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula is a collection of more than 450 islands in Lake Superior known as Isle Royale. This isolated chain of islands is operated and maintained by the U.S. National Parks Service, and Isle Royale National Park is known as the least-visited National Park in the country.
For those who are seeking solace among natural beauty, as well as a peaceful and private experience, Isle Royale is the perfect Michigan island.
Visitors can take a ferry to the island from Houghton or Copper Harbor, and seaplane transportation is also available. Private boaters can use their own vessels to reach Isle Royale as well. Popular activities on the island include backpacking, hiking, paddling, fishing, and wildlife viewing.
Located just off the coast of Munising in the waters of Lake Superior, Grand Island is an easy-to-reach island that offers a glimpse into the rugged natural beauty of this region. As part of the Hiawatha National Forest, the Grand Island National Recreation Area is known for its scenic overlooks, glittering beaches, and dense hardwood forests.
Guests can travel to Grand Island by taking a ferry from Munising or using their own watercraft. Given its proximity to the mainland, the island is an ideal day trip for those who are exploring the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore or enjoying a Munising waterfall tour.
Biking is one of the most popular activities on the island, and visitors of all ages find themselves exploring the various trails and natural spaces on bikes rather than on foot.
Michigan Islands in Lake Michigan
With its mighty waves and impressive currents, Lake Michigan practically beckons people to the shoreline. On the western coast of the state and along its northern edges, you will find that several islands in Lake Michigan have a storied past and an enticing future.
Best known as Michigan’s Emerald Isle, Beaver Island is the largest island in Lake Michigan — yet it’s only home to about 600 people. Historically, the island was settled by Irish immigrants, and most of the people who live on the island are of Irish descent.
The culture and heritage of the Irish people are deeply embedded on the island, giving visitors an opportunity to experience their rich history and traditions against the backdrop of the beautiful Northern Michigan landscape.
The most popular way to get to Beaver Island is to take the Beaver Island Boat Company ferry, which has been transporting visitors to and from the island for more than three decades. You can also access air service to the island through Charlevoix Airport.
While Beaver Island is certainly a wonderful day trip, you can stay on the island too. There are vacation rentals and other lodging options on the island, as well as several convenience stores, gas stations, casual dining restaurants, and more, allowing you to build a full itinerary during your stay on the island.
North Manitou & South Manitou Islands
These islands are the stuff of legends — playing an integral role in the oral histories and traditions that are passed down about the formation of the Sleeping Bear Dunes — and visitors today often enjoy a mystical atmosphere when they head to the islands to explore.
Both the North and South Manitou Islands are accessible to visitors and are maintained by the U.S. NPS. Manitou Island Transit provides ferry transportation to both islands.
North Manitou Island
North Manitou Island is operated as a wilderness preserve, and visitors who prefer solitude to tourist crowds will prefer the peaceful atmosphere. Home to many wildlife species, especially large populations of hawks and eagles, it’s the perfect place for hikers who like to climb dunes and see amazing vistas along the way.
South Manitou Island
Known for white cedar trees that are more than 500 years old and incredible dune formations, South Manitou Island is beloved by visitors. The South Manitou Island Village is home to historical attractions and a visitor center, allowing you to get a glimpse into the history of the island.
Other popular activities and attractions on the island include hiking the sand dunes, exploring the ghost towns on the island, and embarking on a wagon tour to visit the infamous Francisco Morazan shipwreck off the coast.
Michigan Islands in Lake Huron
Stretching along the eastern edge of Michigan, Lake Huron is home to some of the state’s most well-known islands. Visitors from around the country and across the world find themselves heading to Lake Huron to experience the quaint and charming islands that are scattered throughout the lake.
Famously known as the second-largest freshwater island in the country, Drummond Island actually flies under the radar. Located in Lake Huron off the eastern coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, this island is known for its relaxed pace and endless outdoor recreation.
Drummond Island can be accessed by ferry, plane, or private watercraft, and once you arrive, you will find that there is so much to do that it’s hard to narrow down your itinerary. Some of the most popular points of interest include:
- DeTour Reef Light
- Dolomite Mine
- Fossil Ledges
- Drummond Island Historical Museum
In addition to hiking, biking, and exploring ATV trails, Drummond Island is one of the few places where you can enjoy searching for pudding stones in Michigan. During the cool spring months, mushroom hunting is a favorite activity among locals and visitors alike.
Les Cheneaux Islands
Stretching across 12 miles of the Lake Huron shoreline in the Upper Peninsula, the Les Cheneaux Islands are an archipelago consisting of more than 36 islands.
Known for their sparkling blue waters and calm winds, the Les Cheneaux Islands are a year-round destination that offers an opportunity to step back from the rigorous pace of daily life and enjoy a true sense of peace and tranquility.
Popular activities on the islands include bird-watching, hiking, and biking, but the Les Cheneaux Islands are becoming known for their burgeoning art scene too. Crafters and artisans find that the islands are the perfect place to practice their trades, allowing visitors to learn more about their process and purchase authentic souvenirs.
Just 8 miles in circumference, Mackinac Island is not Michigan’s largest island, but it might be the state’s most well known. Recently earning nationwide acclaim for being one of the best vacation destinations in the United States, this island in the Straits of Mackinac between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas is a true local treasure.
Mackinac Island is most famous for its automobile ban. The most popular way to get to the island is by ferry from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, but you can also take an airplane or a private watercraft. Just know that, once you arrive, the only way to get around the island is by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage.
Whether you want to discover the history of the island at Fort Mackinac, explore the trails that wind through the heart of the island, or sip a beverage on the Pink Pony patio as the freighters pass by, you are sure to love your stay at this incredible island. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can truly step back in time and enjoy what life was like during the Victorian era.
Located in the Straits of Mackinac between Mackinac Island and Bois Blanc Island, Round Island is an uninhabited island. The wilderness area is maintained as part of the Hiawatha National Forest, but it’s rare for visitors to step onto the shores of the island.
Bois Blanc Island
Often overlooked in favor of the more famous Mackinac Island, Bois Blanc Island is also located in the Straits of Mackinac and is open to visitors. Offering some of the same incredible views and sense of history, the island is ideal for those who are looking for a quieter and less crowded escape.
There is a car ferry from Cheboygan that will take you to Bois Blanc Island. Otherwise, you can use air transportation or private watercraft. Top attractions and activities when you get there include:
- Swimming on the beach
- Wildlife viewing
- Visiting the Bois Blanc Lighthouse
- Exploring Pointe Aux Pins
Comprised of just more than 200 acres, Charity Island is an intimate yet idyllic escape in the heart of Saginaw Bay. The only way to visit Charity Island is to take a day trip through Charity Island tours.
The day trip includes a one-hour boat ride to and from the island, as well as several hours to explore the local attractions once you arrive. Those who take the tour typically enjoy a picnic lunch near the lighthouse, a brief lighthouse photo opportunity, and a walk along the beach to take in the views and spot the local wildlife.
Other Michigan Islands
The Great Lakes dominate the Michigan landscape, but you would be remiss if you thought that all of the islands in Michigan are located in these breathtaking bodies of water. In fact, some of Michigan’s most picturesque and serene islands can be found in its inland lakes and even along the edge of its major cities.
North Fox & South Fox Islands
Located in Long Lake near Traverse City, the North Fox and South Fox Islands are two nature preserves that are considered to be hidden gems. You can get to the islands by taking your own motorboat, canoe, or kayak.
The smaller North Fox Island doesn’t have any infrastructure, and most visitors simply spend time on the quiet beach on the island’s shoreline.
On the larger South Fox Island, you can dock your boat and hike along the 1-mile interpretive trail that winds through the heart of the island. Visitors who are looking to hike and explore should prioritize this island for their visit.
Home to less than 700 people, Sugar Island is a tiny island community on the St. Mary’s River in the Upper Peninsula. The only way to get to the island is to take a vehicle ferry, and most visitors typically go to enjoy the natural wildlife and preserved areas.
While larger than its neighbor Sugar Island, Neebish Island is an even quieter community on the St. Mary’s River. Fewer than 100 people call the island home year-round, and most of them are retired, making this a very quiet place to be at any time of the year.
Without any restaurants or year-round stores, it’s a very remote place to live, with residents accessing most of their necessities on the mainland. The population swells in the summer months to about 600 when summer cottage residents arrive.
Along the eastern edge of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula rests Lime Island, another island in the St. Mary’s River. The Lime Island State Recreation Area is known for camping, hiking, and fishing, but the only way to access it is to take your own boat across the river or to charter a watercraft.
Grosse Ile is a group of 14 islands in the Detroit River that is home to more than 10,000 residents. Described by many as enjoying country life in the city, the islands offer a welcoming atmosphere, as well as access to the best that Detroit has to offer. Two bridges connect from the mainland to the island, or you can get there by boat.
On the island, you will find several golf courses and boat clubs. Residents and visitors particularly enjoy the lively feel of the island, and they can often be found attending the many community events and live concerts that take place throughout the year.
Belle Isle is an island park in the Detroit River that is nestled between the Motor City and the Canadian border. It has long been considered a cultural hub, connecting locals to people from across Michigan with its beautiful green spaces and exciting attractions.
Home to the James Scott Memorial Fountain, the Belle Isle Aquarium, and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, it’s easy to spend an entire day relaxing on Belle Isle.
Known for its incredible fishing opportunities, Harsens Island has become a favorite destination among boaters from across the state of Michigan. Located in Southeast Michigan in the St. Clair River, the island is primarily a cottage community that is frequented by visitors who want to enjoy the beaches and scenic views.
Home to a handful of restaurants and other local businesses, it’s a charming destination for those who like making the most out of Michigan’s waterfront lifestyle.
Located on the mouth of the Maumee River, half of Turtle Island is located in Michigan while the other half belongs to the state of Ohio. With no residents on the island, it is largely abandoned and is not open to tourists.
Enjoy an Island Getaway in the Great Lakes State
Many of the Michigan islands are year-round destinations that offer various opportunities for exploring, sightseeing, and enjoying recreational activities. Whether you want to head to an island that is surrounded by a mighty Great Lake, or you are in search of a small inland island with character and charm, you shouldn’t hesitate to explore some of these incredible Michigan islands.