Whether you’re a spendthrift day tripper or covet your own private getaway, there are plenty of Michigan islands to visit, rent … or even buy.
SOUTH FOX ISLAND
• Located on Lake Michigan, 17 miles from the northern tip of Leelanau County; west of Charlevoix.
• 5.36 square miles
• Public and private
• Access is challenging. State-owned portions of the island can be reached by private boat, but there is no harbor, dock or easy place to land.
On the southern tip of South Fox there is a lighthouse station owned by the state and maintained by the Fox Island Lighthouse Association. The northern third of the island is also state land.
Much of the center of the island is private, owned by Bay Harbor developer David Johnson. The private section consists of a paved runway, private residences and horse stables.
Perhaps the most striking historical feature of South Fox is the lighthouse compound, which, because the island is so remote, is a well preserved relic from another era.
“It’s unusual to find that much lighthouse history so untouched and really uncared for,” said John McKinney, president of the lighthouse association that has been involved in the restoration for a decade. “It’s just a neat place. It’s a beautiful, isolated spot.”
McKinney said South Fox’s allure is its beauty and its isolation.
“On a sunny day, you’d think you’re in the Caribbean, and there’s nobody there,” he said. “That’s the beauty of it.”
Its distance from the mainland and lack of safe harbor means South Fox is dangerous to visit. The weather can turn quickly on Lake Michigan and there is no where to go.
McKinney said deer hunters find that out each fall on the north end of the island.
“I’ve talked to people who tell stories of getting marooned out there or their boats washed up on the beach,” he said. “That’s why we go to the island – it has that element of adventure. Or you could go to the Point Betsie Lighthouse and park in the parking lot.”
(aka Marion Island or Ford Island) and Basset Island
• Located on West Grand Traverse Bay, about 3.5 miles from Bowers Harbor Marina
• 200 acres
• Public, operated as a Grand Traverse County park
• Accessible by private watercraft (including kayaks), which can unload at a main dock and beach on a sandy beach; Basset Island offers four rustic campsites that are available to rent on a first-come, firstserve basis.
Power Island has become a playground in the middle of West Grand Traverse Bay. It offers sandy beaches, a picnic area, three miles of waterfront and five miles of hiking trails. It is overseen by caretakers. Power Island and Basset Island, which are usually connected by an isthmus, are designated natural areas.
The island was first settled by Native Americans, but historian Kathy Firestone said she could find no evidence to support a legend that the island was once known as “island of the dead” because a Native American woman was beheaded there for misbehaving.
In the early 20th Century, Basset Island was home to a popular dance hall. A paddlewheel from Traverse City brought boatloads of revelers out to to the island to listen to music and have a good time.
“They would hook up the electricity to the boat so they could turn the lights on in the dance hall,” said Firestone, who wrote “An Island in Grand Traverse Bay.”
The dancehall closed prior to 1917, a victim of the automobile and the increasing number of entertainment options available on the mainland.
“Things started to change when the automobile came to town; people had other places to go,” she said.
Henry Ford purchased the island in 1917, setting off a frenzy of speculation about what kind of development would take place.
None ever did. “I think he just bought it just as a place to go,” Firestone said. “He was kind of talked into it by some of his Traverse City friends on a whim, I think. He never had any really big plans for it. But it caused a stir at the time.”
In the 1970s, developers targeted the island and the Power family put up $250,000 to help the county purchase and protect what would become known as Power Island. Despite that, many people still call it Marion Island, named for the daughter of a man who bought the island in 1880.
• Located on Bass Lake just outside of Traverse City
• 7.5 acres
• Private island for rent or for sale for $795,000; it’s listed on privateislandsonline.com.
• Accessible by pontoon boat or, for year-round access, by hovercraft. There is a private waterfront lot on the mainland where a boat can be moored.
Linda Fletcher purchased the island as a getaway and she set out to make a year-round home for herself, only to discover that island living was not for her.
“I had a turnover in my relationship so I decided that what I really wanted to do is I just wanted to get the hell away from everybody, so I bought an island to live on,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher, who is retired from the Army, had the cabin renovated extensively, she said.
HISTORY World famous pianist Van Cliburn was a visitor to the island, a guest of the Culver family, early developers of the Interlochen Arts camp. Fletcher said she found a piano played by Van Cliborn on the island after she purchased it but was unable to sell it.
The Culvers purchased the island from Native Americans, who are thought to have considered the island a ceremonial place, Fletcher said. That’s why she dubbed the island Namaste Island. It’s listed as Culver Island on maps.
• Located on Lake Michigan in the Beaver Island archipelago, it is four miles from Beaver Island.
• 3,495 acres
• Accessible via Beaver Island. Take a ferry or plane to Beaver Island and then hire one of two charter boat companies that service the islands of the archipelago.
High Island is quiet sanctuary of pristine nature, notable for its stunning beauty.
It’s one of the most beautiful places in the state, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources, which manages the island as a protected natural area. Activities on the island include hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing and hunting.
“I have visited High Island several times, and I’m here to tell you, the dune and the beach on the west side of the island is absolutely the most stunningly beautiful place in the Great Lakes,” said Steve West, executive director of the Beaver Island Chamber of Commerce.
You’re likely to find yourself alone there, too, because the island is a bit out of the way.
The island’s geology is familiar northern Michigan topography on a slightly exaggerated scale. A limestone bedrock outcrop sits at the center of the island, towering 200 feet above the shore. Sand dunes lead to shoreline that supports endangered plant and bird species. The island is a mixture of sandy beaches, open dunes, and cedar and upland forests.
A 1920 newspaper article about High Island contains a much different account of the island, owing to how it had become exile for a hundred or so members of the House of David cult.
The article said, “…on High Island … is a nameless town whose people are absolutely confident of living forever.”
The religious group had purchased the island nine years earlier. The celibate vegetarians of the House of David, which was based in Benton Harbor, ran a logging operation on the island from 1912 through 1927. The operation and the cult ended in 1927 amid a sex scandal involving the group’s leader.
Before and after the House of David, Ottawa Indians also called the island home. They fished from the island until around 1940 when diminishing fish harvests and a harsh winter forced the population to Beaver Island. Legend has it that Morman King James Jesse Strang, one time self-described king of Beaver Island, buried his treasure on High Island before his death in 1856.
Private islands for sale around
• Located at the eastern tip of the Upper Peninsula.
• 129 square miles
• Accessible by the Drummond Island Ferry which embarks from DeTour Village.
Drummond Island is bordered on the northwest by Potagannissing Bay, a body of water that is home to 54 named islands. Several of the islands around Drummond Island are for sale, including:
• Bay Island, a 1.75-acre island and cabin for sale for $295,000. It includes a two-bedroom, one bath cabin, a storage shed with a shower, and a 260-square foot dock overlooking the center of the bay.
• Big Trout Island 2, a 46-acre island for sale for $850,000. The island includes two homes, a storage building and a pier. According to the listing on Private Islands Online: the guest house is 2,272 square feet with two bedrooms and two baths, central air and fireplace. The main house is 1,736 square feet with three bedrooms and three baths and two fireplaces.
• Picnic Island, a 5.5-acre island for sale for $385,000. It includes a remodeled chaletstyle cabin with an open loft overlooking the dining/living room; a new kitchen and bath; and one bedroom on main floor. It’s also got a wraparound deck that offers views of Potagannissing Bay and Canada.
Drummond Island was named after Gordon Drummond, a military commander during the War of 1812 and the first Canadian-born leader of the Canadian military and civilian government. Drummond was known for overseeing swift executions of Canadians believed to be American sympathizers.
The British took over Drummond Island during the War of 1812, and it was the last territory to remain in British hands following the Treaty of Ghent.
The island, considered to be located in a strategic area that could control shipping between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, was finally returned to US possession in 1828.
• Located on Lake Huron, between Thunder Bay and Presque Isle
• 300 acres
• Open to the public for tours or overnight stays
Accessible by Middle Island Boat Tours in Alpena, which offers tours that circle and then land on the island so guests can explore the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters. It’s also possible to rent lodging on the island.
Compared to the remote South Fox Island lighthouse, this is an easier way to see a rustic, old-time light station complex. Groups of up to eight people can stay at the keeper’s quarters, and groups of two people can rent a rustic bunk house.
It’s called Middle Island because it is halfway between the North Point of Thunder Bay Island and Presque Isle Harbor. The rugged island was home to a now-abandoned limestone quarry. In 2003, renovation of a former US Coast Guard foghorn building was completed.