Bob Banville, a former B&B owner 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 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 or tap ahead to find out more about Beaver Island, including our top picks for where to eat, what to do, and where to stay.
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 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.
For general information, contact the Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce.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). bibco.com