The beach and pier—hubs of family activity on Portage Lake. For more photos, check out the gallery »
DRIVE TIME: 4.5 HOURS
LOCATED BY: PORTAGE LAKE
BEST FOR: FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN
Perfectly positioned on the inland side of a wooded dune that separates Lake Michigan from Portage Lake, Portage Point Inn & Yacht Club covers both ends of the aquatic spectrum: crashing freshwater waves on the far side of the dune and calm, glassy waters right at your front door.
The inn has lured bathers and boaters from Chicago since it opened in the early 1900s; some of its pioneering guests crossed Lake Michigan on steamships. The original structure maintains much of its turn-of-the-century charm. Rocking chairs, lined up along the veranda, are comfortable lookouts by day—and perfect spots to enjoy a beverage before dinner. Kids run down a wooden boardwalk to the beach to build sandcastles, play volleyball, or splash in the shallow water. Sailboats, motorboats, and Jet Skis carve wakes on the lake or glide from the marina through a channel leading to Lake Michigan.
Tennis courts, shuffleboard, and a rec room—outfitted with vintage arcade games, pinball machines, and an air hockey table—are among the nonaquatic amusements, and a modest fitness center provides an indoor pool and a hot tub. In the restaurant, you might have blueberry pancakes for breakfast and fresh walleye for dinner. Order lunch on the outdoor porches and finish with a treat from the adjacent ice-cream window. (Breakfast and dinner are included in room—but not condo rental—rates during summer.) The inn’s rooms are spare, clean, and spacious. Over the years, Portage Point has added an assortment of cottages, from barebones one-room cabins to multibedroom units, most of which have kitchens. Newly built condos, privately owned but occasionally rented through Portage Point, offer creature comforts such as cable TV.
At the inn, the faint noise of pounding surf is a pleasant reminder that a bigger beach—and big water—is only a short hike away. Past the larger cottages, take the shaded, sandy trail up and over the dune to a beach that runs uninterrupted for miles. Spend the afternoon bodysurfing, picnicking, and hunting for shells—and stick around for the magnificent sunset. Cap off the day with some old-school entertainment—perhaps bingo or an outdoor dance, perfect for tuckering kids out in time for bed.
Take Highway 22’s winding route around Portage Lake’s low-lying shore and head south to Douglas Valley Organic Vineyards (5375 Douglas Valley Dr., Manistee; 231-887-3333). Sample the label’s list of sweet-leaning wines and hard ciders and catch sweeping views from the orchard’s hilltops. On the way back into Onekama, stop at Blue Slipper Bistro (8058 First St., Onekama; 231-889-4045) for heaping bowls of pasta with mix-and-match sauces and toppings, including baseball-size meatballs. You might pass surfers when turning onto the sandy path to Point Betsie (3071 Point Betsie Rd., Frankfort), where a recently restored 1850s-era lighthouse makes a prime spot to watch the sun set over Lake Michigan.
8513 S. Portage Point Dr., Onekama; 231-889-4222, portagepointinn.com
At the peak of summer, July 16th to August 5th, rooms in the lodge range from $1,400 to $2,500 for the week, including breakfast and dinner. Cottages range from $1,300 to $3,800 per week.
Photograph: Daniel Shea