Your Guide to Daytripping on Beaver Island
Mackinac Island is a big tourist draw in Michigan, sure, but did you know the state actually has over 100 islands?
Besides the ever-popular Mackinac, which sits near the top of Lake Huron, some of Michigan's other major islands include Drummond Island, Grosse Ile, Isle Royale, and the one we're here to talk about — Beaver Island.
Situated some 27 miles off the coast of Charlevoix on the Lower Peninsula, Beaver Island is the kind of place you go if you're looking to get away from it all — and I don't use that clichéd phrase lightly. If you're interested in a secluded vacation spot with minimal human interaction outside of your traveling companions, this is where you should be heading.
Here's what you need to know:
How Long to Stay on Beaver Island
As the title of this post would suggest, you actually don't need more than a day to take in all of the sights and sounds of Beaver Island. When I visited, I was able to explore the island basically from top to bottom in... maybe six hours?
Of course, if you like to take your time or want to max out at relaxation station, nobody will blame you for staying a night or two. The island ferry comes and goes a couple times a day during a majority of the summer, so you can be somewhat flexible.
How to Get to Beaver Island
Speaking of the island ferry... Most anyone traveling to Beaver Island will get there by hopping aboard a vessel called the Emerald Isle. That ship, and another called the Beaver Islander, ferry people back and forth between the island and Charlevoix on the mainland.
The Beaver Island Boat Company owns both of the ferries and maintains a schedule on their lovely little website. June, July, and August are naturally the months when they get the most passengers, and thus is when they are making multiple trips a day.
Those of you who are liable to get seasick, do not fret! There is also an airport on Beaver Island under the command of an outfit named Island Airways, and their ticket fares fall far short of breaking the bank.
Where to Stay (If You're Staying)
If I was writing this, say, six years ago or so, I'd tell you that overnight options on the island are not too extensive. But because it's 2017 and Airbnb exists, this is simply no longer the case.
Though, while a plethora of private homes and apartments are now available that way, perhaps you'd opt for more traditional lodging. In that case, the best options available include the Beaver Island Lodge, the Emerald Isle Hotel, and Harbor View Motel, which are all conveniently located smack dab in St. James, where the ferry will be dropping you off.
There are less offerings available on the south end of the island as it is far from town, but I would suggest checking out this Airbnb listing if seclusion is what you're after (plus, there's a hot tub!).
What to Eat
I won't go so far as to say Daddy Franks is the end-all, be-all for your dining options on Beaver Island, but it is hard to beat. And there's nothing complicated about it; they have a full menu with all of your favorite American offerings — hot dogs, burgers, fries, and most of the fixings you'd expect — plus Mexican dishes a couple days a week.
Those looking to throw back a stiff one might be inclined to stop in at one of the island's pubs. The Shamrock Bar & Restaurant is right in St. James on the main drag, while the combined Stoney Acre Grill and Donegal Danny's Pub are just a hair south of town.
What to Do
First and foremost, whether you're staying for a day or a week, you're going to want to rent a car because it's the only way you can explore the entire island (and you're not paying to bring your own vehicle over on the ferry).
We got our rental — a cute little Subaru — from the Beaver Island Marina. They charge $45-55 per day, depending on the type of vehicle and time of year, and everything is pretty simple. It's best to give them a call in advance of your trip and get all the details set. And if they don't have anything available when you'll be there, they can surely direct you to another car rental place. The island has a handful of them.
St. James is the central hub of Beaver Island. That's where everything is basically, including the Beaver Island Historical Society, which tells the story of the island's self-proclaimed king and his mutinous downfall; the Beaver Island Harbor Light, ripe for an Instagram backdrop; and the nearby George & Petritz Nature Trail.
Speaking of nature, the island is practically an outdoorsman's (or woman's) dream, with Happy Paddle offering year-round rentals of any kind of equipment you might need, such as kayaks, paddle boards, bicycles, snow shoes, and cross country skis (winter getaways to the island are a thing too). Captain Michael Collins of Archipelago Charters is also standing by with sunset cruises and transportation to the outer islands (e.g. Hog, Garden, High) for those interested in that sort of thing.
In July, the 3-day-long, family-friendly Beaver Island Music Festival always draws a sizable crowd (campsite free with festival ticket purchase). The more orchestral-focused Baroque on Beaver Island Music Festival takes places shortly after, during the final week of July and first week of August.
And of course, if you're just looking to go off the grid entirely, you can relax on the sandy shores of Iron Ore Bay on the island's south end. You might be advised to reroute from Kings Highway and East Side Drive for a little jaunt through the woods in your rental car on your way down there too. You need only head toward the airport and connect with West Side Drive to do so.
The true explorers could really spend a whole day just driving around the remoter parts of the island. It has a lot of interesting nooks and crannies — and who knows, maybe the writer in you will even get inspired.