The Michigan Day Trip Tour, No. 3: Wandering Around White Lake
*The Michigan Day Trip Tour is a series of posts all about the Great Lakes State and the many natural and physical wonders it contains. Most destinations included in the series are located within a two-hour drive of Grand Rapids, though some, like St. Ignace and the Soo Locks, are a little further. Hopefully, these posts will encourage you to go out and do some exploring of your own — or at least prove to be mildly entertaining. Enjoy!
Travel doesn’t always have to be about wandering far and wide; sometimes it can be as simple as checking out an unexplored swath of your own backyard. That was the plan on a recent weekend, when my girlfriend and I decided to check out a place along the Lake Michigan shoreline that I had driven by countless times, but had never stopped to explore before.
If you’ve ever driven on US-31 between Ludington and Muskegon, you may be familiar with Exit 128. The signs say “Whitehall” and the exit directs you to the outskirts of the city, where you’ll find plenty of fast food joints, a couple of gas stations, and some other retailers. It’s the perfect pit stop — easy-off, easy-on — whether you’re headed up or downstate. You grab some fuel, maybe a quick meal, take a bathroom break, and then get back on your merry way, never giving much thought to what lies beyond that small travelers’ hub.
But what lies beyond is the actual city of Whitehall, positioned alongside the northeastern portion of White Lake. Follow the road, which transitions from the US-31 business loop into Colby Road, and you’ll wind right through downtown Whitehall and up into Montague, which sits just to the north. There’s plenty to check out right there in the heart of both of those cities — such as Fetch Brewing, Figgs Boutique, and The Book Nook & Java Shop, just to name a few — but we were headed for the lakeshore, and so we continued to wind our way around White Lake.
The initial thought was to visit Wabaningo (based largely on the name, I must admit) on the southern side of the channel connecting White Lake and Lake Michigan, but after doing a little bit of research and realizing that it was almost entirely a residential area, we set our sights on the northern side of the channel instead. It was there we found the Old Channel Inn, a cozy little restaurant on Old Channel Trail and the perfect spot to grab some American fare and a cold one before heading to the beach. If you’re a fan of Old Style, you’ll definitely want to stop in here: it’s always on tap.
Immediately adjacent to the restaurant is a narrow street leading right out to Lake Michigan. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a parking spot. What you won’t find, regardless of luck, is much of a beach to stretch out on. You can thank high lake levels for that, but don’t stress too much because it only takes backtracking a little to the south to find a better access point.
Drive back whence you came on Old Channel Trail until you spy Lau Road and its “No Outlet” sign. Promptly hang a right, drive until the road forks, stick another right, and before you know it, you’ll be sitting in a parking lot right off the channel. From there it’s a choose-your-own-adventure between strolling up and down the boardwalk that straddles the channel, casting a line into White Lake (given that you came prepared), making your way up into the dunes, going for a dip in Lake Michigan, or simply chilling on the beach.
Across the way, you’ll also notice a quaint little lighthouse sitting up on the bank. This would be the White River Light Station & Museum, an historic structure built in 1875. Open during the summer and fall, the museum houses a number of nautical artifacts and allows visitors to climb the old, spiral stairs up to the light to take in the view of Lake Michigan. Unless you have a boat, however, the only way to get there is by driving all the way around White Lake.
Sounds like a hassle, yes, but it only takes 25 to 30 minutes, plus there are a lot of nice-looking homes to entertain your eyeballs along the way. You need to be there between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. — or 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. in October — to get a glimpse inside the museum; otherwise, you’ll be looking at a photo opp. outside (though that’s still worth it, in my opinion). There is another section of boardwalk on this side of the channel, and you can still get to the beach and the big lake, as well.
If dinner is what you’re after at this point, you’ll need to head back over to Whitehall. Whether you check out Big John’s Pizza, Taqueria Diaz, Bone Ends, Fetch Brewing, or one of the other fine establishments in the area, dessert at White Lake Dairy Treat is likely how you’ll want to end your day.