Escape to Beaver Island, Michigan
Relaxed and remote
Bob Banville, owner of Shanoule Bed and Breakfast on Michigan's Beaver Island, describes the allure of this island to visitors. Life here is slower, he says, pointing across Lake Michigan and adding, "It's just not as relaxed in the U.S.A."
A slip of the tongue? Maybe. But given the island's past, you have to wonder. Beaver Island (population: 600, mostly of Irish descent) has a history of independence, beginning with self-declared King James Jesse Strang in 1850. His "reign" ended with his assassination in 1856.
Today, a two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Charlevoix carries visitors northwest across the lake to an island as relaxed as any in the Caribbean. Bicycles and in-line skaters cruise Main Street in St. James, the only town and home to about a dozen shops. The eight hotel owners learn their guests' names and don't fret about a credit card at check-in. "We'll square up in the morning," they offer. "Now, do you want me to drive you around so you know where everything is?"
Click ahead to find out more about Beaver Island, including our top picks for where to eat, what to do, and where to stay.
A world apart
Visitors don't need a car, but bringing wheels makes it easier to visit the one-third of Beaver Island that is state-owned and undeveloped. (If you rent a car, you're likely to find it near the dock, unlocked and with your first name written on a piece of paper stuck on the windshield.) Gravel roads lead through thick sugar maple forests and alongside inland lakes.
Wherever you go, the sights on this 13x6-mile island are beautiful enough to land in nature calendars. You'll see flocks of Sandhill cranes and admire the quiet fishing banks of Fox Lake, where the beavers grow to weigh 60 pounds. Harbor Light (pictured) remains an active—and picturesque—beacon.
Whitefish stars on every menu here. It's caught in the morning and fried at the Shamrock or sauteed at the Beaver Island Lodge that night. And if you want to have dinner at a restaurant lying outside of downtown, most hotels happily offer free shuttle service (typically in the manager's car). It's been a long time since the island was a sovereign state. But in many ways, Beaver Island remains a world apart.
Planning your trip
For general information, contact the Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce. (231) 448-2505; beaverisland.org
For transportation, contact the Beaver Island Boat Company. Ferries leave Charlevoix for the 2.5-hour ride to Beaver Island. BIBCO offers service from early April through mid-December (twice daily in peak season). $31 each way (888) 446-4095; beaverislandboatcompany.com
What to do
Beaver Gems & Shipwreck Shirts In downtown St. James, this is the place to go for souvenirs and gifts. (231) 448-2888
Beaver Island Golf Course Located on the east side of Beaver Island, the par-35 public golf course offers club and cart rentals. (231) 448-2301
The Blue Pearl This cheerful shop sells a variety of gift and home decor items. (231) 448-2134
Where to eat
The Restaurant at Beaver Island Lodge The menu at this shoreside fine-dining spot sometimes features whitefish with cherry sauce. (pictured) (231) 448-2396; beaverislandlodge.com
Daddy Franks May through September, Daddy Franks offers better-than-average fast food in a cheery place that feels like a 1950s diner. (231) 448-2570
Dalwhinnie Bakery & Deli For breakfast, try the Michigan blueberry pancakes. (231) 448-2736; mcdonoughsmarket.com
Harbour Market The market serves fresh baked goods (including delicious raspberry scones) and locally famous Moomers Ice Cream. (231) 448-2950
Shamrock Restaurant & Pub The signature Shamrock Angus burger comes loaded with cheese, bacon, mushrooms and onions. (231) 448-2278; shamrockbarrestaurant.com
Stoney Acre Grill Expect vacation-paced service, but the lightly breaded whitefish is worth the wait. (231) 448-2560; stoneyacregrill.com
Where to stay
Shanoule Beaver Island Bed and Breakfast Expect to chitchat with the owners at this secluded three-guest-room B&B (pictured). Bob and Joan Banville pick up and drop off guests at the ferry dock and offer tours of the island. From $150. (231) 448-2092; shanoule.com
Emerald Isle Hotel The Emerald Isle offers comfortable, no-frills rooms near downtown St. James. The staff is friendly but sometimes hard to find. (They might be at home eating or shuttling guests to dinner.) From $149 (231) 448-2376; emeraldislehotel.com