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ELK RAPIDS, MICHIGAN
DRIVE TIME: 6 HOURS
LOCATED BY: ELK LAKE
BEST FOR: FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN
White Birch Lodge, half an hour’s drive north from Traverse City, is cupped within the southwestern shore of Elk Lake, a narrow nine-mile stretch of turquoise water shielded from wind by a thick hardwood forest. Any given sunny afternoon, the lake—connected by rivers to a chain of other interior lakes in Antrim County—buzzes with the rough tear of accelerating motors. Speeding watercraft pull guests on skis, wakeboards, and inflatable tubes in long loops, setting off overlapping rings of fading wakes. After a week of daily lessons with the resort’s affable jocks, your child could be splicing fresh water on skis, one hand clamped around a towline and the other waving as you recline in a chair on the beach.
For those interested in gentler pursuits, standup paddleboards, canoes, and bobbing kayaks weave paths in shallower territory near the water’s edge; fishing boats drop anchor where yellow perch, rainbow trout, and whitefish are biting. On land, a beach as long as a city block is dotted with shade trees and dozens of chaise longues. White Birch’s staff also organizes volleyball tournaments and oversees pickup games of basketball, while guests are free to take turns at shuffleboard, horseshoes, and tennis.
Built in the late 1890s, the white-columned lodge has been updated and expanded over time, and the other accommodations range from multibedroom modern condos to simple campground-style cabins scattered throughout the 40-acre property, which has been owned and managed by the Conrad family since the late 1950s. The day’s meals—from pancake breakfasts and barbecues to make-your-own-taco dinners—are served for all guests in the lodge’s dining hall or on the beachfront deck.
A testament to White Birch’s allure, repeat guests book nearly half of the rooms as far as a year in advance, according to Mike Conrad, the lodge’s manager and a grandson of the original owners. “There’s a bond with the staff,” says Conrad. “Guests come back for the friendly atmosphere and the beauty of Elk Lake.” These veteran White Birchers are likely to build hype for your stay’s grand finale: a staff-produced water show extravaganza that culminates with a five-person, two-tier pyramid on skis.
Elk Lake is one of several lakes within a short drive east of Grand Traverse Bay. From White Birch Lodge, travel north on Cairn Highway and around the lake to Highway 593. You’ll pass through tiny Alden, where you’ll find charming cafés, antique stores, and shops. Alden’s Mill House (10480 E. Torch Lake Dr.; 231-331-4711), which sells its own spice blends, is as much a draw as the town’s Torch Lake, where an expansive sandbar spanning its southeastern edge attracts boaters and swimmers. Eleven miles farther north—past Lake Bellaire, popular for trout fishing—you’ll find one of northern Michigan’s most extensive lists of local craft brews at Shorts Brewing Company (121 N. Bridge St., Bellaire; 231-533-6622). Sample any of the 20 beers on tap and take a growler to go.
571 Meguzee Point Rd., Elk Rapids; 231-264-8271, whitebirchlodge.org
The lodge requires a minimum one-week stay; rates range from $880 to $1,525 per adult and $440 to $763 per child ages 3 to 12 (children under 3 stay free) and include three meals a day. Lake activities that use a speedboat—water-skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing—cost an extra $115 per person per week.
Photograph: Adam Senatori