by Brook Walsh
on Tuesday, December 10th, 2019 at 1:16pm.
In 2012, Lake Charlevoix was voted the second-best lake in America in a USA Today poll, behind only Lake Tahoe. Being awarded this honor is partly due to the many forms of recreation the lake provides, including swimming, kayaking, sailing, fishing, diving, boating, water skiing, and just relaxing on the beach. It is also due to Lake Charlevoix being one of Michigan’s largest and most magnificent lakes. Lake Charlevoix is the 3rd largest lake in the state in terms of surface area, but due to its shape and the elongate South Arm, its shoreline length far exceeds that of any other inland lake in Michigan. If you kayak the entire shoreline of Lake Charlevoix, you will have traversed 60 miles!
Because Lake Charlevoix is directly connected to Lake Michigan through the Pine River Channel in Charlevoix, its water level fluctuates with that of Lakes Michigan and Huron. In fact, the Pine River can flow in both directions! Most of the time, water flows out of Lake Charlevoix through the channel, but sometimes the flow is reversed due to a natural phenomenon called a seiche. A seiche is a rise in water level at one end of a lake caused by wind-driven waves; in this case, westerly winds push water up along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore, causing the Pine River to flow back into Lake Charlevoix. The current can be quite strong either way.
The Lake Charlevoix Watershed is quite large (234,000 acres) and includes the watersheds of the Jordan and Boyne Rivers, both of which have sections designated as Blue Ribbon Trout Stream by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The Jordan River is also the State’s first designated Natural River. The glacial processes that formed Lake Charlevoix produced two distinct basins. The Main Basin stretches from Boyne City on the east where the Boyne River flows into the lake to the City of Charlevoix on the west end. The South Arm, which is shallower and narrower, stretches from the confluence of the two basins near Ironton to East Jordan in the southern end where the mouth of the Jordan River is located.
Aquatic invasive species are a problem in Lake Charlevoix. The open connection with Lake Michigan allows any invasive species present in Lake Michigan to enter Lake Charlevoix unimpeded. The Lake Charlevoix Association, Charlevoix County Conservation District, and Watershed Council have worked diligently to educate residents about invasive species, as well as document and control specific invasives. In particular, watershed partners have focused much of their work on mapping and treating invasive Phragmites. The invasive Phragmites control efforts, which began in 2008, have been very successful in preventing the spread and dominance of this aggressive invader along the Lake Charlevoix shoreline.
Lake Charlevoix Beaches
Depot Beach. Named Depot Beach for the adjacent historic train depot, this beach features restrooms, stand up paddleboard rentals, and a pavilion. Make sure to see the incredible garden near the depot!
Ferry Beach. Families love Ferry Beach as the sandy swimming area gradually deepens. Playground, concession, restrooms, picnic area, stand up paddleboard rentals, and pavilions make a day at the beach fun and easy!
Young State Park. This 560-acre state park located on the north arm of Lake Charlevoix between Charlevoix and Boyne City offers a great beach.
Things To Do for Families Near Lake Charlevoix
Mt. McSauba: Just north of Charlevoix on Lake Michigan. There are dunes to climb, quiet beaches and one of the best venues for watching the sunset. Don't be surprised if those on this beach break into applause when the sun drops below the horizon. On a clear day you can see forever, actually, you can see Beaver Island, Northport and the Manitou Islands in the distance. A good place to find Petoskey stones. Great place to swim and body surf.
Lake Michigan Park: From the drawbridge downtown, walk along the sidewalk on the south side of the Pine River. This will lead to the Charlevoix Light House and Lake Michigan Park. Swing sets and other children's entertainment are found here as is a nice, clean bathroom. Great place to hunt for Petoskey stones and swim.
Fisherman's Island State Park: Every time we drive in, our teen son suggests that we bring our tent to camp here sometime. We always haul too much to bring the camping equipment but for the outdoorsy teen, a night of rustic camping here would do the trick. I don't care for rustic camping (aka I like running water and bathrooms) so I just enjoy the long stretch of beach that makes up Fisherman's Island State Park. Some years, we swim to the island. Other years it's too deep and rough. In other years we simply walk. We always find excellent Petoskey Stones here.
Rent a boat from Swann Valley Marina or the Ironton Landings Marina (Summertime rentals), even if only for a half a day.
Fishing in the morning and evening is fun, especially when the perch and bluegill seem to jump in the boat.
Anchor the boat in one of the many coves and practice cannonballs off the front or back.
Tubing, waterskiing, wakeboarding...all are possibilities.
Take a ride on the lake to admire the many beautiful summer homes and dreams!!! (don't miss the summer home on the South Arm that looks like it is Santa's workshop....it is truly the largest "cottage" I have ever seen!)
Make sure to take the boat through the narrows to experience the Ironton Ferry. It is slow and it is a tradition.
Make sure you take your car on the ferry at least once during your stay.
Also, we love to take the boat to The Landings Restaurant, pull up to the dock and tie up. We then have lunch before returning to the boat for more fun.
Kayaking, canoeing and jet-skiing on the lake are also a lot of fun!
Sailboat cruise on Lake Charlevoix with Sunshine Charters. They will even let your teen help with the sails.
Rafting through Jordan Valley Outfitters in East Jordan. The Jordan River is really rather lazy but the challenge is in navigating the vegetation that protrudes into the river, across the river, from under the river. The scenery is beautiful! Not recommended for parents with young children unless more than 2 adults are rowing.
Ziplining at Boyne Mountain. This is what I plan to do for my birthday in August. They have two simple ziplines and a zipline course.
Golfing: From Boyne Mountain Resort to Dunmagales to Ye Olde Nyne Holes, the choices are as varied as the golfers!
Biking: Little Traverse Wheelway Bike Trail: A 23-mile bike trail with gorgeous views of Lake Michigan that extends from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs. Rent bikes in Charlevoix, Petoskey or Harbor Springs.
Evening concerts in the park in Boyne City and Charlevoix. Combine the concert with an ice cream cone at Kilwin's. Many people like to stroll the town and visit the shops before and after concerts.
Fish: Black Crappie, Bluegill, Brown Trout, Channel Catfish, Cisco, Lake Whitefish, Lake Trout, Northern Pike, Pumpkinseed Sunfish, Rainbow Trout, Rock Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, and Yellow Perch.