Beautiful Torch Lake, located in Northern Michigan just off Lake Michigan, is famous for its Caribbean-like clear turquoise blue water and large party sandbar. It’s considered one of the jewels of Michigan’s Chain of Lakes, and with its near-perfect summer weather with temperatures average 75 – 80 degrees, is a great destination for summer travelers looking for a getaway without the typical tourist crowds. Despite being surrounded by million-dollar homes, the lake is still somewhat secluded and doesn’t feel touristy or commercial.
Because of the coronavirus, my partner and I were looking for a destination we could reach by car, seclude ourselves in a nearby cabin, and participate in activities that did not require much interaction with others. With its emphasis on boating, kayaking, and other outdoor activities, Torch Lake fit the requirement perfectly for us. We spent a week there and had plenty to do. Here’s how we planned the perfect week in Torch Lake, Michigan.
Lodging in Torch Lake, Michigan
There are lots of options for renting a home or cottage on Torch Lake, many of which are reasonably priced. Obviously the earlier you book your trip the more options you will have. Our trip was somewhat last minute and we were still able to find a reasonably priced cottage with Paradise Properties on VRBO on Intermediate Lake, which is just a short drive or boat ride from Torch Lake. Our cabin featured lake access, a fire pit, and a rowboat for guests. It wasn’t fancy and had no AC, but with the comfortable temperatures, we found we didn’t miss it.
Torch Lake Boat Rentals
We researched several options for boat rentals on Torch Lake before deciding on a full-day pontoon rental from Dockside, which also features the only restaurant on the lake. You might be able to find a cheaper rental, but for us, the service we received was worth it. They gave us a 20-minute lesson on driving and docking the boat, met us at the dock to help pull in, and provided a Yeti cooler stocked with ice for our day. They made sure my phone was connected to the stereo on the boat before we headed out and insisted on our music being on before we pulled out. They wanted to be sure we had a great day, and we did!
Exploring Torch Lake, Michigan by Boat
Torch Lake is 19 miles long, making it Michigan’s longest inland lake. At about 2 miles wide, it covers over 18,000 acres, so there’s plenty to explore. It can take a while to traverse, but you’ll want to take the time. The lake is surrounded by million-dollar homes, and you can venture through the inlet to the calmer Clam Lake and Grass River area too.
After exploring the length of the lake you’ll want to drop anchor at the famous sandbar at the southern end. Since we were social distancing we parked our boat well away from other people, but it’s an area typically packed with boaters out enjoying the water. There’s even a floating Burger Barge selling burgers and snacks!
Things to Do Around Torch Lake, Michigan
Drive Up The Coast of Grand Traverse Bay
The owner of Dockside went above and beyond renting us a boat, he also brought out a map and recommended things to do in the area, including a drive up the coast of Grand Traverse Bay to the cities of Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Harbor Springs. The drive is beautiful and, if we had more time, we would have explored each city more completely. There were some magnificent yachts on display in Charlevoix, and we were awed by the rows and rows of beautiful Victorian homes along the water in Harbor Springs. It’s a great day trip if you have the time.
Kayak Rentals on Torch Lake
While the main feature of the area is the beautiful lake, there are lots of other things to do. We rented a kayak from Butch’s, located right across the inlet from Dockside, and explored both Clam Lake and Torch Lake. Kayaks can be rented from the many marinas in the area for either a couple of hours or an entire day depending on your preference. We rented a tandem, but you could also try a paddleboard or a canoe.
Hiking Around Torch Lake, Michigan
We spent a few hours exploring the Grass River Natural Area, which features a nice welcome center, a 1400 acre nature preserve, and more than 7 miles of trails, including 1.5 miles of boardwalk over the wetlands. We also spent time at Glacial Hills Natural Area, which offers 31 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.
Wineries Around Torch Lake, Michigan
There are dozens of wineries, breweries and distilleries around Torch Lake. There’s an official Torch Lake Tour to help you explore them, but we opted for a more casual, drive around and stop at what looks good approach. The drive is beautiful and will take you through century farms, apple and cherry orchards and offer beautiful lake views. It reminded me of my childhood in the Finger Lakes.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
I was a HUGE fan of the 1979 movie Somewhere in Time, so a trip to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island was on my bucket list. Cars are not permitted on the island, so you have to take a ferry over, which was only about 1 hour and 40 minute drive from our cabin. We opted to go over the Mackinac Bridge and take the Star Line Ferry, but you can also choose Shepler’s Ferry which claims to be the fastest.
We rented a tandem bicycle to bike the 9 mile perimeter of the island before hopping on a horse and carriage tour that dropped us off at our destination, the Grand Hotel.
The Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel is a must stop, and the feature of Mackinac Island. Boasting America’s longest front porch, you simply have to sit in one of the rocking chairs and take in the views. We opted for afternoon tea service, which was served in the beautiful lobby and came complete with champagne. Tea is served from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. After 6:30 p.m. guests are expected to dress up in dresses or slacks for ladies and suitcoats and ties for men.
If you Go to Torch Lake, Michigan
There’s plenty to do around Torch Lake itself, but if you go keep in mind that Torch Lake is just one part of a larger chain of lakes in the Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed, a 75-mile long waterway that includes 14 lakes and rivers in the Lower Peninsula. This isn’t a beach lake though. While there are a couple public access beaches they are small. The lake is mostly used for water sports, so if you are looking for a beach day, Lake Michigan is your best bet.
And yes, we did see elk, along with lots of other wildlife. I highly recommend a trip to this beautiful area.
If you’d like to see more photos, check out my Google Photo album of Torch Lake, Michigan.
See you on the next trip!