Take the Ferry Less TraveledDiscover Michigan’s more remote islands


When planning the ideal getaway, many seek the tranquil, sunny oceanfront destinations that can be found on beaches like those on the Caribbean or Hawaiian Islands. But Michiganders know that the Mitten offers some of the country’s most beautiful vacation spots – and that includes many spectacular islands.

Each year, more than half of the over ten million Michigan residents choose in-state vacations and weekend getaways. The state also hosts more than 125 million out-of-state tourists annually. There are about 35,000 islands in Michigan, with 420 of them named.

Of course, Michigan’s top tourist attraction is Mackinac Island. The draw includes the fact that motor vehicles are not allowed and there are no chain hotels. The island is famous worldwide for its delicious fudge and many unique shopping and dining opportunities, not to mention unforgettable sunsets, amazing sunrises and more than 70 miles of hiking and biking trails. These are all reasons Mackinac was ranked as the No.1 island in the Continental U.S. by Travel & Leisure magazine.

As beautiful and popular as Mackinac Island is, there are many more breathtaking islands to explore in Michigan. Here is a small sample …

Bois Blanc Island

A lesser-known island in Lake Huron within Bois Blanc Township, Mackinac County, this island covers about 34 square miles and is about 12 miles long, six miles wide and has six lakes. It lies 30 miles southeast of Mackinac Island, almost due north of Cheboygan.

On the north end of Bois Blanc Island stands the Bois Blanc lighthouse, marking a shoal that juts out into Lake Huron. | Sally / stock.adobe.com

Known to locals as “Boblo”, Bois Blanc is not to be confused with the Canadian island known as Boblo located in the Detroit River. Island residents (101 of them) enjoy the quality of life provided by its sparse population, expansive woodlands and lightly-traveled landscape. Bois Blanc is known mostly for its isolation and solitude. In addition to the large population of whitetail deer, it is common to see coyotes, foxes, bald eagles and the occasional bobcat.

Bois Blanc depends on motor vehicles to travel its many miles of unpaved roads and trails. Residents and visitors use bikes, ORVs and kayaks to explore some of the island’s most remote areas.

Accessible by a car ferry out of Cheboygan, the island also has an unmanned airport which allows year-round access by plane. In addition to year-round residents, there are hundreds of seasonal residents and a few thousand annual visitors.

As young adults, brothers Spencer and Parker Bundy of Fenton each own property on Bois Blanc. “Going to Bois Blanc is like going back in time,” said Spencer. “People stop and talk, and wave as you pass them. It’s a peaceful place to visit.” Parker added, “I remember going to Bois Blanc to hike and camp as a child. Seeing a Massasauga rattlesnake was amazing! Bois Blanc is an enjoyable part of Michigan to spend a quiet weekend.”

Sugar Island

Neighboring Sault Ste. Marie on the St. Mary’s River, Sugar Island features rushing waterfalls, majestic forests, rocky coastlines and picturesque lighthouses. About six miles across and 20 miles long, the island lies within the ceded territory of the Bay Mills Indian Community.

Sugar Island has many popular attractions, including Cook Island Nature Preserve and the Bailey Lagerstrom Nature Preserve. The island is home to a small number of fishing resorts, rental cabins and residential properties – both seasonal and year-round. Fewer than 700 people live on the island full-time. Sugar Island connects to the Upper Peninsula mainland via ferry service from Sault Ste. Marie which is ten miles from the island.


Michigan is home to about 35,000 islands, with 420 of them named.


Sugar Island is a great place to see wildlife such as moose, swallowtail butterflies and migratory birds. The majority of the island is wooded and it is known for its white sand beaches and easy access by boat. The island also has miles of trails for hiking or biking and viewing the wide variety of wildlife. Limited hunting for deer, wild turkey, small game and migratory birds is allowed in season. There is also a private marina that visitors are welcome to, providing easy access to the water for paddling, swimming or rowing on the St. Mary’s River.

Beaver Island

The largest island on Lake Michigan, Beaver Island covers 55.8 square miles and is the third largest island in Michigan. Home to just over 600 year-round residents, the island can only be accessed by ferry or plane from Charlevoix. There are two airlines serving Beaver Island daily year-round, and ferry service runs from April through late December.

Aerial view of the Beaver Island coast | Kirk Hewlett / stock.adobe.com

Beaver Island is known as a great place to enjoy and relax on beautiful beaches. Visitors can hike or bike the more than 100 miles of trails or take advantage of some of the most pristine water while kayaking, canoeing or swimming at the beaches. A golf course, nature trails, restaurants, hotels, a marina and other amenities are available.

There is a bountiful deer herd thick with bucks of all ages, and sandhill cranes in nearly every field and meadow. Coyotes grow so large they are often mistaken for wolves. And yes, there are beavers on Beaver Island! Deer hunters and anglers are subject to the same laws as mainlanders. Hunting and fishing regulations change each year to some extent (Michigan.gov/dnr).

Dark Sky Sanctuaries like Beaver Island are exceptional places for stargazing. | allexxandarx / stock.adobe.com

On April 8 of this year, Beaver Island was declared an International Dark Sky Sanctuary, making it one of the best places in the world to see the stars. The designation comes from the advocacy group Dark Sky International, which aims to educate on the harms of artificial light pollution on humans and wildlife.

Happening June 14-15, the Beaver Island Bike Festival allows bikers to enjoy the local scenery at their own leisure – 20 to 42 miles of self-paced biking. They also can visit the scattered historical sights and monuments throughout the island. The festival concludes with a downtown party featuring music and entertainment.

In late July and early August, the “Baroque on Beaver” event invites orchestral and vocal performers to the island, presented by the Beaver Island Performing Arts Alliance.

Drummond Island

The second largest freshwater island in the U.S., Drummond covers 129 square miles of land and 120 square miles of Lake Huron. It features 150 miles of rugged, scenic shoreline and 36 inland lakes, and has a year-round population of 1,050.

Visitors can reach the island by ferry or plane, and there are several marinas and boat docks for those who wish to travel by their own boat. A year-round, daily car ferry runs from the town of DeTour, a short 10-15-minute trip across the St. Mary’s River.

Drummond Island is famous for both its outdoor opportunities and pristine beauty. With its lush forests, clear lakes and rugged coastline, visitors can explore its untouched wilderness and take advantage of over 100 miles of ATV and ORV trails, kayak the Heritage Water Trail around the island, or scuba dive to view multiple shipwrecks. The swimming beach is Big Shoal Bay Beach, located on the island’s southeast end. ​The island offers two golf courses.

Each spring, many species of ducks, herons and sandhill cranes return to Drummond Island, joining loons and more than 200 varieties of songbirds that are also present. Monarchs and other butterfly species can be seen all summer.

Tony Mayhew of Canadian Lakes, formerly of Holly, enjoyed traveling to Drummond Island in January 2022 with his brothers and a nephew. “It was special to travel somewhere new with my family,” he said. “We made a weekend of it.” In addition to participating in a hunt for snowshoe hare, Mayhew said, “It was fun to visit the local watering hole and enjoy some of the island cuisine and talk with the locals. They also have a couple of nice golf courses, boating and fishing, and a nice little resort vacation spot.” Mayhew said he hopes to travel to and hunt on Isle Royale in the not-too-distant future.

More Michigan Islands

Whether you’re are seeking outdoor recreational opportunities like swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and hiking or a host of hunting opportunities, several Michigan islands offer something for everyone.

Visitors can take the Ferry from Leland, MI to North and South Manitou Islands. | Kat Kelley on Unsplash

South Manitou Island

Located in Lake Michigan approximately 16 miles west of Leland, South Manitou is part of Leelanau County and the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The uninhabited island is 8.277 square miles in land area and can be reached by a ferry service from Leland. Visitors can access the lighthouse grounds, hike to unique sand dune formations and old growth cedar forests or the beach around the island, camp in rustic settings and explore ghost towns and the old coast.

North Manitou Island

This unpopulated island in Lake Michigan is approximately 12 miles west-northwest of Leland. It is nearly eight miles long and more than four miles wide, with 20 miles of shoreline. It has a land area of 36 miles for activities including hiking, swimming, backcountry camping and backpacking. The island itself is home to a large whitetail deer herd and is the summer range for a variety of raptors (including the Bald Eagle). In the fall, special trips are available for hunters.

Isle Royale

Isle Royale, a secluded island in Lake Superior, is known for its untouched wilderness. | bvb215 / stock.adobe.com

Located in the northwest of Lake Superior and part of the State of Michigan, Isle Royale is a five-hour boat ride away from the Upper Peninsula. Its secluded environment makes it a sought-after location for visitors to connect with the beauty around it. The island and the 450 surrounding smaller islands and waters make up Isle Royale National Park, offering opportunities for kayaking, canoeing, boating, swimming and diving at nearby shipwrecks. Isle Royale is filled with diverse wildlife, but people do not hunt wolves or moose or cut the forest. It is a rare place on the planet where wolves, their prey, and the plants that support the prey are all left unharvested.

Les Cheneaux Islands

This series of 36 islands are located in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula, approximately 30 miles northeast of the Mackinac Bridge. The name “Les Cheneaux” is French in origin meaning “the channels.” Twelve miles of Lake Huron shoreline afford many channels throughout the area, with quiet coves providing small craft protection from the Great Lakes winds. Boating, fishing, kayaking, water skiing or just relaxing in the bays and channels allows visitors to enjoy the natural splendor from the sparkling waters. Les Cheneaux Landing has become a popular destination for fall hunters, offering waterfowl, deer, bear and upland game hunting. In the fall, the many bays are a natural sanctuary for geese and ducks.

The Les Cheneaux Islands can be seen off the coast of Lake Huron. | ehrlif / stock.adobe.com

These are just a few of the unique Michigan islands worthy of consideration for a memorable vacation or weekend getaway … and you don’t need your passport!


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