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Northern Michigan Summer

Katie Patrykus (ktp)

Rapid City

Now hailing from California and having been away for 20 years, I now realize how magical it was to grow up in northern Michigan, spending all summer on its beautiful lakes.

Each summer we make the arduous pilgrimage with small children in tow to see the relatives in the tiny township of Rapid City. Home to a string of beautiful lakes (known as the Chain of Lakes), Rapid City is not so much of a town as a village. No tourist offerings to speak of. Just crystal clear blue lakes and forest edged shores. Rapid City claims Torch Lake's most coveted waterfront - the south shore and its iconic Sand Bar.

Torch Lake

Sand Bar Torch LakeHaving supposedly been named the third most beautiful lake in the world by National Geographic at some point in time (but first in my opinion!), Torch is approximately 13 miles long, "Caribbean blue," and very deep, taking a heck of a long time to warm up. Late July and August are perfect.

The boats cluster on the Sand Bar on the south end along Crystal Beach Road. The water there is less than knee deep in some spots before it slides off into the drop off, perfect for cannon balling off the bow of your boat. The further north you head on Torch, the less inhabited. Along the eastern side you will find Clam River, where you can dock your boat (a novelty I love) and have food and drinks at the Dockside Bar and Grill.

There are five public access points along Crystal Beach, which are all lovely (the one nearest Torch River Bridge being the most crowded and closest to the Sand Bar action). You can camp at Torch Grove Camping and walk across the road to the accesses. A few motels are available as well as private vacation rentals, but no major resorts.

From Torch, you can drive your boat to Clam River/Lake (mentioned above), or down Torch River and into Skegemog Lake (more shallow, grassy and good fishing and wildlife), and then into Elk Lake, another clear blue gem.

Day Trips from Rapid City

There are several fun day trips if Rapid City is your base.

Traverse City

Traverse City is the "big town" with cosmopolitan food, shopping, golf, nightlife, the National Cherry Festival, an annual film festival, the Grand Traverse Resort, and just plain more action. The smaller towns of Alden, Bellaire, and Elk Rapids are also more "fudgie" oriented (the term for tourists in northern MI who buy the world famous Mackinaw Island fudge), with charming shops and eateries. All are easily drivable dinner spots to take the family in the evenings.

Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore

Beach at Empire, near Sleeping Bear Sand DunesOne of my favorite day trips is a visit to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore and neighboring beach in Empire. Perfect for families, you can spend the morning climbing the dunes and jumping down, and the afternoon at the public beach in Empire on Lake Michigan. This beach is a wide swath of sand, with play structures, rest rooms, a mini lighthouse, and gorgeous clear water. On the way back to Rapid City you can have a late lunch en route in Traverse City.

A quintessential Midwestern summer lake experience. I'm glad that we've made this part of the world a tradition for our own family. While not many web sites exist for this area, I share a few resources below for camping, boat rentals, and more.


Katie is a Slow Travel Talk forum member and writes a blog, Italy Daydreaming.

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