Named “Best of the Midwest: 10 places to go in 2020” by the Chicago Tribune, Charlevoix is indeed a gem on the northern shores of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The city and surrounding area offer something for every type of vacationer with activities to enjoy the entire year-round. Charlevoix’s nickname, “The Beautiful” was bestowed upon the town in 1882 when a local newspaper named the town the newest playground for the captains of industry and called it: Charlevoix the beautiful. The moniker suits the city which is situated on the water with an idyllic harbor filled with sailboats bobbing on the crystal blue waters and surrounded by wide sandy shorelines.
The city is located on the northwest side of the top of the mitten between Lake Michigan (the Big Lake) and the west side of Lake Charlevoix which flows like a channel to Lake Michigan through Round Lake and Pine River Canal which runs through the center of the city. Charlevoix was named for Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, an adventurer, explorer, and covert operative. He was commissioned by the French government to attempt to find a rumored waterway to the Pacific Ocean. When the Michigan legislature was naming cities, they chose the explorer’s last name for the city since he once traveled through the area.
Because of the way the city is situated, you can take in gorgeous sunrises to start your day on either Ferry Beach or Depot Beach on the west side of Lake Charlevoix. Then after a day filled with whatever sounds fun to you, watch the sunset from a vista in the hilly Charles A. Ransom Nature Preserve situated on the shores of the Great Lake.
Other Things To Do in Charlevoix
Charlevoix has a lot of things to do while on vacation. In addition to the expected lakeside activities of swimming, fishing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, and parasailing there are also several golf courses, unique sightseeing opportunities, boutique shopping, and a wide range of dining experiences. Winter brings annual averages of 120 inches of snow, which makes it a great place to enjoy snowmobiling, snow showing, downhill skiing, cross country skiing, sledding, and plenty of other outdoor activities before heading indoors to warm up in your relaxing vacation rental.
Year-round activities in Charlevoix make it a great place for a getaway just about anytime. You can watch the Memorial Drawbridge as it rises for ships to pass and check out the area lighthouses. In addition to the South Pier Light Station aka the Charlevoix Pier Light which guides ships in the Pine River Channel to Lake Michigan and has a place on the historical landmarks list. There are also two other lighthouses in the area which are open to tours. One is McGulpin Point Lighthouse, located about two miles west of Mackinaw City. It was built in 1892 and is visible for ships entering the Straits of Mackinac from the west. It was retired in 1906. The second lighthouse is the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse which is located in Mackinaw City. Built-in 1892, it serves as a sentinel for vessels navigating the Straits of Mackinac from both the west and the east. Tours are available from May through October.
Explore the Great Outdoors
There are trails that wind through miles of pristine natural beauty just waiting for you to hike, bike, snowshoe, or cross country ski. You can even bike on a paved pathway along the big lake’s shoreline on the Little Traverse Wheelway. Feeling a little lazy? Why not paddle and float on the Jordan River, a scenic waterway for a relaxing day of low-key water fun. This river is even available for winter rafting! A great adventure with hot chocolate stops and opportunities to snowshoe as well.
Another interesting activity for any time of year is a tour of a few of Charlevoix’s mushroom houses. The homes were designed by one of the city’s first architects, Earl Young. He constructed the houses of boulders he collected when exploring the fields, woods, and shorelines of northern Michigan. In all, he built 30 Cotswold-style houses between 1918 and the early 1950s, including one that appears to be designed for fairies and another with a thatched roof that was imported from England. You won’t want to miss what will surely be an unforgettable tour of one of these treasures. Charlevoix’s Visitor Center has a free map available with locations of the houses and tour information.
Another architectural gem is the castle at Castle Farms. Originally conceived as a dairy farm in 1918, an executive of Sears Roebuck had the French-Normandy-style structure built of boulders as a way to exhibit farm implements sold by Sears in an authentic setting that even included the livestock. You’ll want to take the tour to learn more about the property’s fascinating history, see the largest model railroad in the state of Michigan, and explore the stunning gardens. Castle Farms is on both the National and State Historic Registries and is known as one of the state’s leading historical attractions.
Spend a Day on the Links
The Charlevoix area has a lot to challenge avid golfers and even duffers will enjoy their time on the beautiful courses. There are five renowned courses of interesting diversity. The courses are no more than 20 minutes from downtown, so you could easily play a couple of courses each day if you desire.
1. Antrim Dells is an 18-hole course with panoramic views set into the northern woods Here you can enjoy a challenging round while and enjoying the sights and sounds of the surrounding forest.
2. The Belvedere Golf Club was founded by William Watson, the famous Scottish architect, more than 100 years ago. While Belvedere isn’t a long course by today’s standards, it will challenge your short game.
3. The Charlevoix Golf Club was also founded and designed by William Watson more than a century ago. It has bent grass fairways and four of the most challenging holes in the area. A 9-hole course has gentle terrain, which makes it a great course for beginners, families, or if you only have time for a quick round.
4. The Dunmaglas Golf Course sits a 6,897-yard course sitting in the hills overlooking gorgeous scenery, including Lake Charlevoix and a Great Lake. It is ranked as one of the Best 50 Upscale Courses in the United States by Golf Digest. The course winds its way through hills, valleys, trees, and meadows and is impeccably maintained.
Warm Days on the Water
When you’re surrounded by water, you’ll want to spend your time enjoying it. Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix are both fantastic lakes for sailing, amazing freshwater fishing, all kinds of water sports, paddleboards, and kayaking. You don’t need to bring your own equipment either because area beaches have rentals available. To really get out and explore the Big Lake, stop by any of the many marinas in the area that offer private charters, boat tours, and sunset charters. You’ll have the benefit of local knowledge to take you to the best fishing spots, show you the most amazing views and provide the best local lore as you enjoy your time on the water.
Lake Charlevoix has 56 miles of shoreline and a total of 17,200 acres of clear blue water. It is popular for swimming fishing, cruising and house gazing, and water sports. On one arm is Boyne City and the other is East Jordan – both are great shopping and dining spots. The Landings is a great place to stop and enjoy a bite, relax, and enjoy the view. You can approach The Landings by land or by the lake. It’s just waiting for you to pull up your boat to its dock. Here you can enjoy American-style dining, craft beverages, amazing views of Lake Charlevoix, and watch the Ironton Ferry as it traverses on its renowned short route between two shores.
Round Lake is a hub of activity for watercraft traveling between the two lakes. It is centrally situated with downtown Charlevoix, beautiful homes and estates, historic summer clubs, and East Park overlooking Round Lake’s pristine waters, which connect the Big Lake to Lake Charlevoix via the Round Lake/Pine River complex.
If you’re bringing your own boat the Charlevoix Municipal Boat Ramp is a good choice. Michigan’s DNR website says it has a hard-surface ramp and the water depth is sufficient to accommodate any trailerable watercraft. There is also the Ironton launch located off M-66. If you’d prefer to put in on Michigan, there are a couple of launches to try:
- Michigan DNR launch, north of A.L.P. Lighting Components on US-31
- Charlevoix Township launch for small boats, located at the end of Lake Shore Dr.
Fourth of July
If you’re planning your time in Charlevoix around the Fourth of July, you are in for a treat. Northern Michigan was made for celebrating with myriad activities and fun for the entire family. The Fourth is more than a day, it’s at least a weekend and if you’re able, you can easily stretch it into a week of summer fun with family and friends.