March 15, 2022

Boating on Northern Lake Huron

Katie and Gene Hamilton

Bring Binocular News

Clear waters, iconic islands and charming towns to visit on your boat

We visit the area whenver we can and over the years we’ve been there often by boat and car. First we sailed on Chicago to Mackinac Races, and cruised from our home port of Chicago. Later we did the Loop Cruise on a trawler. These are big wide waters known to be temperamental so choose calm weather conditions for the most comfortable passages. 

This part of northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula aka U.P. are a summer vacation mecca visited by boat, car, RV and motorcycles. You’ll be part of a crowd when you visit places like Mackinac Island.  But don’t be surprised when you find peace and quiet all to yourself in Les Chenneaux Islands in the Upper Peninsula.


Triple Header Towns – Mackinaw City, Cheboygan and Mackinac Island

Mackinaw City is on the south side of the Straits of Mackinac at the intersection of the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of the state. By boat just follow the course of the ferry boat services heading to and from Mackinac Island. Marinas at the foot of the town compete for visiting boaters.  The main drag is across the street so visiting cruisers have a nice selection of restaurants and stores. Walk a few blocks and you’ll find a fish market, bookstore, bakery and coffee shops and various specialty shops nearby.  For provisioning there’s a well-stocked grocery store up the street and they deliver to your boat.  To plan a trip and visit go to Mackinaw City.

Mackinaw City

Come nighttime visit Headlands, the International Dark Sky Park for amazing stargazing.With 600 acres of pristine old-growth forest and five miles of trails Headlands in Mackinaw City is free and open to the public. The county park preserves over two miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline south and west of McGulpin Point Light in the Straits of Mackinac.

Take a trolley tour of the area to learn about its history or bike to the Old Mackinaw Point Lighthouse for a glimpse of the bridge.  A waterfront park and trailhead offer miles of hiking and biking opportunities.   

Cheboygan MI
Cheboygan Harbor

Cheboygan, fourteen miles east of Mackinaw City, is a bucolic town on the Cheboygan River with a county marina to starboard as you enter the harbor.  When you’re boating on Lake Huron in Cheboygan you’ll find the marina sits near a nice park and beach with a mile-long boardwalk into town. Cheboygan is the entrance to a 40-mile inland waterway that goes to Crooked Lake under fixed bridges and two locks. To plan a visit go to Cheboygan.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island
Ride a bikie or in a horse carriage on the streets of Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island As you approach the marina on Mackinac Island you’ll see docks for several ferry lines and a breakwall to turn into the marina. It sits at the foot of a lush green park and shoreline drive that leads into town. You can’t miss the colorfully painted clapboard Victorian buildings.

As you head into town you’ll see Fort Mackinac, where British and American troops volleyed for control during the War of 1812. The fort sits on a prominent bluff surrounded by a stone rampart overseeing the Straits of Mackinac.  The island is the main attraction in this part of Lake Huron with thousands of Fudgies, the endearing name for day tourists. They tale a ferry over from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace on the U.P. In the middle of an August afternoon this island is as busy as a January night on Duval Street in Key West so be for warned. You can visit stores, galleries, museums, and tours. Enjoy biking and hiking trails, golf courses and of course a huge selections of eateries. 

The Pink Pony bar in the Chippewa Hotel in town has been the main watering hole for sailors for years.  When sailors clean up, the more upscale porch on the Grand Hotel is another favorite. A stop at the Visitors Bureau and Information Center will give you maps and brochures to get you started.  If you need to provision go to Douds Market in the heart of town.  

Horses and bicycles are the only mode of transportation on this no-cars-allowed island. Both are readily available. You can bike around the island on Lake Shore Drive or sit back in a horse drawn carriage.  As you leave town the only sound you hear are the clip clop of horses or the hum of small airplanes as they take off and land at the airfield.  

What’s up in the Upper Peninsula?

The U.P. is connected to the mainland by the 4-mile long Mackinac Bridge, an imposing structure from the water and ashore. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a year-round vacation destination and come summer it’s a popular getaway known for its miles of national shorelines. One of our favorite places is the Les Chenneaux Islands and the surrounding area. Visit the UP is a good resource to learn about all the things to do in this pristine playground.

If you arrive by boat to St. Ignace, you’ll see the trademark white stone breakwater lining the entrance to the harbor. The municipal marina is located in the heart of town. State Street is the main drag with a boardwalk and brick walkway that leads to a waterside memorial park that pays homage to its commercial fishing industry.  There’s even a sand and stone dog beach nearby for visiting pets.  From the marina it’s an easy walk to Dauds Market where you’ll find anything you’d need. The stores in town include a pharmacy, book store, hardware store and other essentials along with restaurants.  Along the street we saw banners and signs broadcasting live entertainment on the waterfront.

Cedarville MI
Boating in Lake Huron in Cedarville MI

Cedarville on the Upper Peninsula is east of St. Ignace and a charming small town with a marina, library and an easy bike ride to a grocery store. You’ll find more dockage and marine services at Tassier Boat Works and Viking Boat Harbor. Hessel is a small waterfront village and an idyllic counterpoint to the hubbub of Mackinac Island.  It’s a quiet getaway that boasts the Hessel Marina and Mertaugh Boatworks along with a small grocery store and restaurants.  The Pickle Point shop is a special place for kids and adults.   To plan a trip visit Cedarville.

TIP  Our firsthand experience using binoculars on a boat: Binoculars are vulnerable on a boat. An unexpected roll from a passing boat wake can send binocs onto a hard deck surface or worse, bouncing off the boat. To protect binoculars, stow them near the helm so they’re readily available but tucked in a safe cubby that prevents them from being damaged.

When you’re boating on Lake Huron you’ll find the Chenneaux Islands are a unique archipelago of 36 islands connected by a blue water channel.  The islands are privy to some of the most stately waterfront estates with handsome boathouses along with shoreside cottages.  The shoreline of the “Snows” as they’re called has the town of Cedarville at the eastern end. One of the most popular boats you’ll see are old “woodies” as the area is known for its Antique Wooden Boat Show.

Detour Village
Detour Village

De Tour Village is a small fishing village at the west end of Detour Passage, and the freighter route leading to the St. Mary’s River which connects Lake Huron to Lake Superior.  The harbor is just north of Frying Pan Island lined with white limestone and floating docks.  This is a popular stopover for cruisers going to and coming from the North Channel.  The marina is an ideal location to watch freighter traffic and the car ferry going to and from Drummond Island.  It’s a hole in the wall kind of town that’s quiet and peaceful.   

Boating in Lake Huron at Drummond Island

A car ferry lands on the west end of Drummond Island where most cruising boats go to the marina at Yacht Haven Marina.  It offers a range of full services, an Internet connection and an easy place to clear U.S. Customs.  The island boasts cottages and campsites, beaches, golf courses and plenty of restaurants. Visit Drummond Island is a good site for information about the island.

If you’re looking for an area of the Midwest with clear fresh water, a diverse landscape and plenty to see you’ll find it in northern Michigan and its Upper Peninsula. And don’t forget your binoculars to take in the view of the landscape and diversity of the land and water. Here’s a few tips about Traveling with Binoculars.

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Gene and Katie Hamilton are veteran sail and power boaters and award winning boating writers. They are authors of Coastal Cruising Under Power and Practical Boating Skills. They are members of the Outdoor Writers Association of America.
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