A picturesque view of one of the best inland lakes in northwest Michigan

14 Best Inland Lakes in Northwest Michigan

While Michigan is surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, the state also has over 60,000 inland lakes. Of these, over 6,500 inland lakes are  10 acres or more in size. We explored some of the best inland lakes in Northwest Michigan, highlighting their unique characteristics and pointing out their public beach facilities. Pack your swimsuits, fishing rods, and picnic baskets, and let’s embark on a journey through the thirteen best inland lakes in this picturesque region.

Inland Lakes of Northwest Lower Michigan

The northwest lower Michigan region hosts seven of the top twenty largest inland lakes in Michigan.

Bass Lake

Situated in tranquil Oceana County, the 1,200-acre Bass Lake is one of of the best inland lakes in Northwest Michigan and a true retreat for those seeking peace and excellent fishing. While it lacks a dedicated public beach, the idyllic shoreline offers plenty of opportunities to unwind and enjoy the beautiful setting. Its remarkable fish population and serene atmosphere make it a unique destination.

Crooked Lake

Crooked Lake in Emmet County covers an impressive 2,321 acres and is part of the renowned Inland Waterway. While the park doesn’t have a traditional beach, it offers a swimming area, boat launch, and picnic facilities: the lake’s winding shape and vast size present boating enthusiasts with a unique experience. It’s home to the nearby Oden State Fish Hatchery.

Perch Lake

Nestled in Grand Traverse County, Perch Lake is a little 40-acre gem. Known for its plentiful yellow perch, it’s a haven for anglers. You can enjoy a day of swimming in this little lake at the Perch Lake Public Beach. The lake is stocked with pan fish, so its reputation for fishing and tranquil setting makes it unique.

Big and Little Glen Lakes

Big Glen Lake and Little Glen Lake are nestled in Leelanau County, each with a distinct charm. With a combined lake area of 6,224 acres, these two lakes are the 14th largest in the state. Big Glen Lake is known for its crystal-clear water and sports a public beach at Old Settlers Park. Little Glen Lake, while smaller, is equally appealing with shallow, warm waters, particularly suitable for families with children. The lakes border the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes, making it a perfect resting spot after visiting the park. Don’t forget to take a group shot at Inspiration Point.

Burt Lake

Found in Cheboygan County, Burt Lake has 17,120 acres, the third-largest inland lake in Michigan. The Burt Lake State Park on its southern shore features 2,000 feet of public beach, campsites, and a boat launch. Its vast size and range of facilities make it a unique destination for an array of water-based activities. The park is in the heart of the Inland Waterway, a chain of rivers and lakes that offers approximately 38 miles of boating pleasure.

Elk Lake

The 8,088-acre Elk Lake, located in Antrim County, is famous for its crystal-clear, deep waters. It made our list of best inland lakes in Northwest Michigan. Swimmers can use the Whitewater Township Park to access the public beach. The unique underwater visibility is a significant draw, inviting snorkeling and diving enthusiasts to explore its depths.

Lake Charlevoix

Coming in at over 17,195 acres of lake area Lake Charlevoix is the fourth-largest inland lake in Michigan. Situated in Charlevoix County, Lake Charlevoix offers three public beaches, including Young State Park and Ferry Beach, with play areas, picnic facilities, and a boat launch. Voted the second-best lake in America, its vibrant recreational scene and proximity to Charlevoix City make it a standout destination.

Portage Lake

Portage Lake in Manistee County offers a public beach at Onekama Village Park. The lake’s unique selling point is its direct link to Lake Michigan, allowing visitors to experience both the inland lake and Great Lake environments.

Portage Lake is a delightful water body located in the heart of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, specifically within the Manistee County. Spanning approximately 2,110 acres, this lake is connected to Lake Michigan via a channel, making it unique among Michigan’s inland lakes. This direct access to one of the Great Lakes significantly expands the opportunities for boating and fishing.

Portage Lake is known for its expansive sandy beaches, notably First Street Beach and Fifth Avenue Beach on Lake Michigan, both of which are within easy reach of Portage Lake. These areas provide ample space for sunbathing, swimming, and picnicking during the warmer months.

Considered one of the best inland lakes in Northwest Michigan, the lake provides a diverse fishery, including largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, perch, northern pike, and walleye. The lake’s link to Lake Michigan means that, depending on the season, larger fish species can occasionally be found in its waters.

The lake’s shoreline is dotted with cottages and houses, many of which are available for rent. The nearby town of Onekama offers further accommodation options, as well as dining and shopping opportunities.

An engaging event related to Portage Lake is the annual Onekama Days, a five-day celebration held in August that includes activities like a parade, craft shows, and music. While the festival doesn’t take place on the lake itself, the lake is central to the ambiance of the event.

Higgins Lake

Higgins Lake, located in Roscommon County, is known for its turquoise waters and a wide sandy beach at South Higgins Lake State Park. This lake has over 10,300 acres of lake area, making it the seventh largest inland lake in Michigan. Its striking water clarity and the park’s extensive amenities make it a favorite among both swimmers and campers.

Torch Lake

Photo by Joel Gaff on Unsplash

Torch Lake, in Antrim County, is the longest inland lake in Michigan and is known for its unique Caribbean-like blue-green waters. It’s also the second-largest inland lake in the state, with over 18,770 acres. While it lacks a traditional public beach, the popular Torch Lake Sandbar offers a place where people gather to swim and play in the stunningly clear water.

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake, one of the largest inland lakes in Michigan and one of the best inland lakes in Northwest Michigan. It is located in Benzie County, part of the state’s picturesque Northwest Lower Peninsula. This ninth largest inland lake in Michigan is aptly named lake, covering about 9,800 acres, it is known for its remarkably clear, blue waters and sandy bottom that make it a haven for those who love water-based recreational activities.

One of the unique aspects of Crystal Lake is its close proximity to the town of Beulah, which provides easy access to dining, shopping, and lodging options. Moreover, Beulah is the site of the public beach Beulah Beach, a popular spot in the summer months for swimming, sunbathing, and picnicking.

The lake offers excellent conditions for boating, water skiing, jet skiing, fishing, and more. Anglers can expect to find a variety of fish, including lake trout, yellow perch, smallmouth bass, and rainbow trout. The lake’s clear waters provide good visibility, making it a favored spot for snorkeling and diving.

A beautifully scenic landscape surrounds Crystal Lake. Rolling hills and lush forests offer an abundance of hiking and biking trails for land-based exploration. The lake’s shoreline is primarily developed, with charming cottages and luxury homes, many available as vacation rentals for those wishing to stay longer and soak in the tranquil beauty of the area.

An iconic event tied to Crystal Lake is the annual Crystal Lake Team Marathon, a relay race held in August. While it is primarily a road race, the course provides scenic views of Crystal Lake, linking the event to the lake’s stunning beauty.

In a nutshell, Crystal Lake is a jewel in Michigan’s treasure trove of inland lakes. Its strikingly clear waters, diverse recreational offerings, and beautiful surrounding landscape make it a sought-after destination for visitors seeking both adventure and relaxation.

Public access is available at 7th Street Beach and Bellows Park, offering excellent opportunities to swim and relax on the shore.

Idlewild Lake

Idlewild Lake in Emmet County is famous as a vacation spot for African Americans. During the first half of the 20th century, it was one of the few resorts where African-Americans were allowed to vacation and purchase property before discrimination was outlawed in 1964 through the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The surrounding area is within Manistee National Forest. The lake offers serene surroundings and abundant wildlife. Beaches are available at Idlewild Beach and Idlewild Access Park. The untouched nature of the lake and surrounding area offer a unique retreat for those seeking tranquility.

Lake Leelanau

Lake Leelanau is a stunning freshwater lake situated in Leelanau County in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The lake comprises two bodies of water connected by the Narrows, a slender waterway beneath the M-204 bridge. The northern body, known as North Lake Leelanau, stretches across approximately 2,900 acres. In contrast, the southern body, or South Lake Leelanau, spans an impressive 5,370 acres, making the total lake area quite vast and an explorer’s delight.

Lake Leelanau is known for its clear, clean waters, making it an ideal spot for various recreational activities. It boasts two public access points, one at the south end of the lake in Cedar and the other on the north side near Lake Leelanau Village. These points provide access to some of the finest freshwater boating and fishing in Michigan. Anglers will find a diverse fish population, including smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and perch.

One of the unique features of Lake Leelanau is its surrounding landscape. Flanked by wineries, orchards, and rolling hills, the area exudes a scenic charm that attracts not just boating and fishing enthusiasts but nature lovers and photographers as well. The lake’s shoreline is dotted with a blend of seasonal and year-round residences, and the nearby villages offer a charming array of shops, restaurants, and accommodations.

For beachgoers, there’s the public swimming beach at Bartholomew Park- commonly known as Nedows Bay beach, located on the north shore of the lake in Leland. This beach is an excellent spot for a summer picnic or a refreshing swim.

Regarding festivals, the Lake Leelanau Street Fair, held in August, is a popular community event that celebrates local food, art, and music. Though the celebration doesn’t take place on the lake itself, its proximity ensures that Lake Leelanau is very much a part of the festive atmosphere.

Lake Leelanau is truly a gem in Michigan’s inland lake system. Its expansive waters, diverse recreational opportunities, and enchanting surrounding landscapes make it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking to experience the charm and beauty of Michigan’s lake country.

Walloon Lake

Walloon Lake makes our list of best inland lakes in Northwest Michigan. Located in Charlevoix and Emmet counties in Northern Michigan, is a fascinating locale known for its clear waters, historic charm, and rich literary connection. Stretching 9 miles in length with about 30 miles of shoreline, this lake is known for its deep blue waters, which can reach depths of up to 100 feet.

A distinctive feature of Walloon Lake is its unique shape, which looks like a series of connected bays or sub-lakes, each with its own name. This creates numerous private and serene areas for boating, fishing, and other water-based activities. The lake is home to several species of fish, including smallmouth bass, northern pike, and walleye, making it a favored spot for anglers.

The lake is famed for its association with acclaimed American author Ernest Hemingway, who spent his childhood summers at his family’s cottage on Walloon Lake. The Hemingway family cottage, Windemere, still stands on the lake’s north shore, although it remains a private property.

Public access to the lake can be found near Walloon Lake Village, called the Foot of Wallon Lake, where there is a boat launch, a swimming area, and picnic spots. The village itself offers dining and shopping options for visitors, adding to the charm and convenience of the lake experience.

One of the events that includes Walloon Lake is the annual Walloon Lake Triathlon, which takes place in August. The event features a swim in the clean, cool waters of the lake, followed by biking and running courses through the beautiful surrounding countryside.

Final Thoughts on Best Inland Lakes in Northwest Michigan

From the tranquil shores of Bass Lake to the Caribbean-like blue-green waters of Torch Lake, the diversity and allure of Northwest Michigan’s inland lakes are truly unrivaled. Each lake tells its own story, beckoning explorers with a blend of recreational opportunities, rich wildlife, and serene landscapes. Remember, while this review offers a comprehensive guide to some of the best inland lakes, there’s nothing like experiencing them firsthand. So, whether you’re a seasoned Michigan local or planning your first visit, consider taking a detour off the beaten path to experience the charm of these freshwater jewels.

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Michael Hardy

Mike Hardy is the owner of Thumbwind Publications LLC. It started in 2009 as a fun-loving site covering Michigan's Upper Thumb. Since then, he has authored a vast range of content and established a loyal base of 60,000 visitors per month.

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