Love affairs with lakes take many forms. There’s the love at first sight kind — and who hasn’t been smitten with northern Michigan’s sandy-bottom beauty queens, the ones that have you pulling to a quick stop at a glimpse of that head-turning turquoise? Other crushes develop more slowly, as mine did with Bear Lake.
My affection for this lake too small to sail on, just right for kayaking around, was built one experience at a time. It’s where I learned that loons coo as they feed their babies, caught my first glimpse of Northern Lights and one night wandered outside to find stars so bright they were reflected on the water below, like on a mirror.
Like with other loves, beauty is so much in the eye of the visitor that it’s hard to pick bests among Michigan’s oh-so-many crystal-clear inland lakes. Some like speed, others silence. Some want a lake for gazing upon, others for fishing on. But I’m betting this list will inspire some serious “like” in all.
Lake Leelanau is the relationship that sneaks up on you. You may not even notice her at first as you zip from showy Suttons Bay to even showier Lake Michigan, crossing only over the narrows where she looks more river than lake. But stop to slip in a kayak or rent a pontoon, linger in the wildlife-rich connector between the north and south arms or zip past shoreline bluffs especially stunning in fall. You can pull into Lake Leelanau to sip wine at the two wineries onshore or head to Leland for a fresh whitefish dinner.
Lake Charlevoix is a Miss America contender, winning first runner-up in a national poll for prettiest lake. It’s also blessed with some of the north’s cutest towns on its shorelines, and you can catch the sunrise over the water at Charlevoix’s Ferry Beach on its west side, sunset from the east at Young State Park or Cafe Santé in Boyne City. Get on it through a swim or Sunset Charters catamaran cruise. Just be sure you’re channeling Ernest Hemingway, whose “Up in Michigan” stories were set here.
Big Manistique in Curtis teems with fish, but its proximity to the Seney National Wildlife Refuge likely also boosts the population of bald eagles, ducks, sandhill crane, osprey and loons. I love the many ways you can stay or dine on the shore — either family-owned cabin resorts or the historic inn/restaurant, Chamberlin’s.
Bear Lake, midway between Kalkaska and Grayling and stocked annually with trout, is so clear you may see the fish without a finder; you’ll for sure catch sight of the resident loons, bald eagles and herons, especially during no-wake morning and evening hours.
Black Lake, in Cheboygan County in the northeast corner of the state, has an only-here experience that’s fun for those who fish — and those who don’t. Here, you may get the chance to spear (or spot) a lake sturgeon, at up to 7 feet long and 200 pounds, the largest fish native to the Great Lakes. The shores boast thick woods, pretty in every season, and for some cool trivia: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz of “I Love Lucy” honeymooned at this lake.
Kim Schneider is an award-winning travel writer who shares her travel savvy in every issue of Michigan BLUE.