Destinations

Beaver Island – Lake Michigan’s Hidden Gem

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Beaver Island is the largest Lake Michigan island. It is 13 miles (21 km) long, and 3 to 6 miles (5 to 10km) wide. It is located in the northern Lake Michigan, about 32 miles (51 km) northwest from Charlevoix, Michigan.

The island is known for its secluded, uncrowded beaches, for its forests and relaxed atmosphere. Beaver Island is not as extremely popular and overrun by tourists as Mackinac Island. Therefore, if you looking for a unique destination where you can unwind and relax – Beaver Island is an ideal choice. The island, however, does NOT have as many accommodation and dining choices. But more about that later.

 

Beaver Island - Lake Michigan's HIdden Gem

Approaching St. James Harbor.

 

BEAVER ISLAND HISTORY

The island has an interesting history. It briefly used to be a kingdom!… Mormon kingdom!…

After the death of Mormon leader, Joseph Smith, Mormons split between two successors. Most followed Brigham Young, the rest – James J. Strang. Strang’s group to escape persecution eventually settled on Beaver Island. They founded there the town of St. James. Strang, in time, became a political figure. In 1850, Strange proclaimed himself a king, not of the island, but of his church. He did not enjoy his position for long. In 1856, as a result of his tyrannical ruling and a dispute, he was assassinated. Within a month, he died of his wounds. Soon after, the mobs, mostly, from Mackinac Island drove Strang’s followers out of the island, confiscating their property. The island did not become deserted though. Soon, Irish fishermen from Mackinac Island, Gull Island and even from Donegal County in Ireland populated it.

Logging and fishing were a big part of the island economy for a while. By 1940, the fishing industry collapsed because of overfishing. This led to exodus of big part of the population.

 

Beaver Island - Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

Main street in St. James.

 

GEOGRAPHY

The island has only one town – St. James, located in the protected bay at the northeast end of the island. The permanent population is about 350, according to local residents that I had a chance to talk to.

Most of the island is covered by woods.

 

Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

One of the many unpaved roads on the island.

 

There are few smaller lakes on the island, that might be good fishing spots. However, they wouldn’t be good for swimming, as they are mostly overgrown with aquatic vegetation.

The highest point is in the northwestern part of the island, and is called Mount Pisgah with an elevation of 150 ft above the bay.

There are two lighthouses on the island. Beaver Island Harbor Light (St. James Light) is located at the northeast tip of the island, about two miles along the main road, around the bay, out of St. James.

 

Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

Beaver Island Harbor Light.

 

The Beaver Island Head Light is located at the southern end of the island.

 

Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

Beaver Island Head Light.

 

 

TRANSPORTATION

There are only two ways to get to the island – by plane, or by boat. There are two airlines that service the island – Island Airways and Fresh Air Aviation. They use smaller prop planes carrying 6 to 10 passengers. The flight takes approximately 20 minutes. Both airlines fly from Charlevoix.

 

Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

One of the airports on the island.

 

The other option is to take a ferry operated by Beaver Island Boat Company. The ferry runs from mid-April to mid-December. Daily service is available from May through September. The trip takes a little over two hours. If you want to bring your vehicle to the island, you need to make a reservation ahead of time.

 

Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

On the ferry to the island.

 

To move around on the island, you do not need to bring your own vehicle, you can rent locally. There is Beaver Island Car Rental and Duffy’s Auto Rental & Service.

There is also taxi service.

If you are arriving in your own boat, there are two marinas: Beaver Island Municipal marina and Beaver Island Marina. Both located in St. James.

There are also few places renting bicycles, (and also kayaks and standup paddleboards). One of them is Happy Paddle & Bikes.

 

ACCOMMODATIONS

There are quite few places where you can stay on the island. They are all either in St. James or close to town. There are: The Brothers’ Place, The Erin Motel, Emerald Isle Hotel, Harbor View Motel, Isle Haven Resort, Lazy K Farms B&B, Oak Woods Condominiums & Rentals and Beaver Island Lodge.

 

Emerald Isle Hotel.

 

Of course, as with any other place on the planet, there are individual homes that can be rented through Air B&B and VRBO.

You can also find homes and cottages to rent at the specific to Beaver Island website: Beaver Island Homes & Cottages.

Finally, there are few campgrounds. St James Township Campground is just outside of town. There is a paved trail leading to it. The campground, as all other, is a primitive campground, with pit toilets and water pump. There are 12 sites, out of which few are right on the bluff overlooking the lake through some trees. The sites are only available on the first-come basis, so you cannot make a reservation. However, most of the time, there is at least one or two available. I visited the island in mid-August, and only about half of the campsites were occupied.

 

St. James Campground.

 

Further south, on the east shoreline, there is Bill Wagner Campground.

There is also a private campground about a mile south of the Municipal Airport, called Beaver Island Hideaway Campground. This one is a little harder to get to. It is further away from St. James, and has a bumpy dirt road leading to it.

 

DINING ON BEAVER ISLAND

 

Shamrock Restaurant & Pub, St. James, Beaver Island.

 

Of course, as with any other tourist destination, there have to be places to eat. There are few in town: Beachcomber, Shamrock Restaurant & Pub, The Restaurant at the Beaver Island Lodge, Dalwhinnie Bakery & Deli and Daddy Franks. There is also Harbour Market, where you can grab quick breakfast and coffee in the morning.

 

Beaver Island Lodge Restaurant.

 

There are few more restaurants just mile out of town. Stoney Acre Grill and Donegal Danny’s Pub, which seems to be one place, and Circle M, are south of town along the King’s Highway. Then there is Paradise Bay Coffee Shop & Restaurant, just across from the Municipal Airport.

 

Donegal Danny’s Pub and Stoney Acre Grill.

 

If you like to purchase your own food, snacks and non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages, there is McDonough’s Market.

 

BEAVER ISLAND ATTRACTIONS

Besides beautiful natural destinations, there are few other attractions or points of interest worth visiting.

As I have mentioned earlier, there are two lighthouses, at the opposite ends of the island.

Then, right in town, there is Beaver Island Historical Society, and the Printshop Museum. Also, on the other side of the bay, there are Beaver Island Marine Museum and Beaver Island Toy Museum.

 

Mormon Print Shop Museum.

 

Then there are historical sites. The only Mormon structure left on the island, is, mentioned earlier, Printshop Museum building. On the western side of the island, on Sloptown Rd, there is a house of Feodor Protar, a prominent figure in the island life at the end of the XIX/ beginning of XX century.

 

Beaver Island - Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

Protar’s House.

 

A little further west, and then north On Protar’s Tomb Road, is Protar’s grave.

 

Beaver Island - Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

Protar’s Grave.

 

Many of these you can visit on your own. But you can also take a guided van tour offered by Beaver Island Boat Company (the same company that runs the ferry service).

 

RECREATION

For golf players, there is a golf course on the island – Beaver Island Golf Course & Driving Range.

For those who like to see the land from the air, Fresh Air Aviation offers air tours.

There are few nice beaches. One small beach is located in St. James. There is also a nice beach, usually not very crowded at the southern tip of the island. Also, in few other places you can get to the shore.

 

Beaver Island - Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

St. James Beach.

 

There are hiking trails all over the island.

There are 100 miles of scenic dirt roads, which can be explored by car, bike or atv. (Unfortunately, I don’t think there is an atv rental on the island.)

And, of course, the island is surrounded by Lake Michigan. You can swim, kayak, paddleboard, boat, fish, etc. There are no boat rentals on the island, though. However, as I have mentioned earlier, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards.

 

Beaver Island - Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

Beach at the southern tip of Beaver Island.

 

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

If you would want a Beaver Island map, you can order one from Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, the whole deal will take several days, as everything is done by mail, even the payment – by check!

Good source of information and a place to ask question about the island is Beaver Island Forum. Also, a lot of information about the island is available on the Discover Beaver Island website.

Cell phones work on most of the island.

The weather is similar to northern Michigan.

I don’t know how the bugs are most of the season, but when I visited the island in August, there were very few mosquitoes and not many other insects.

 

CONCLUSION

Beaver Island is a unique destination where you go to unwind and relax, to connect with nature and to enjoy solitude.

If you enjoy natural beauty of Great Lakes and nature, and prefer less crowded places, I recommend that you visit Beaver Island.

 

Beaver Island - Lake Michigan's Hidden Gem

Beaver Island ferry at St. James dock.

 

 

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Below are my other posts about Great Lakes islands:

Great Lakes Islands – Lake Michigan and Lake Superior

Great Lakes Islands – Lake Huron

Great Lakes Islands – Lake Erie and Lake Ontario

 

 

Rich S. is a lifetime photographer and traveler based in Metro Detroit area. He has been traveling the Great Lakes area for over 30 years. Follow his blog about his trips, interesting activities and destinations in the Great Lakes region.

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