Magical Times in the Les Cheneaux Islands
There is a magical place in Michigan that not even many native Michiganders have heard of. A shoreline of 36 islands, crystal clear waters, antique wooden boats and bright blue skies. Where is this undiscovered paradise? It is at the eastern end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and became a popular destination at the turn of the last century when families from Chicago and Detroit built summer homes on these islands along the shore of Lake Huron.
Les Cheneaux means “the channels” in French for the beautiful bays and channels that separate the various islands. Sailing and boating has been continuously popular in this area, and the first Chris Craft dealer, E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works, originated here in the town of Hessel. These beautiful boats or “woodies” are passed on to the next generation with the cottages and it’s not uncommon to see them running through the islands. The Les Cheneaux Islands Antique Wooden Boat Show is still held annually and is the largest of its kind in the world.
The coastal area has two quaint towns, Cedarville and Hessel, and you can find little shops and good restaurants in both. Our family has rented cottages in the town of Cedarville for years and we look forward to the down time with family every year. Life slows down here. We read books, play games, have afternoon snacks and drinks, and watch the boats go by from the porch overlooking the bay.
We walk to town for ice cream, the new distillery, or to tour the Maritime Museum or Great Lakes Boat Building School. There is plenty of shoreline to explore, from limestone boulders to sandy beaches along the “scenic stretch” where we take a picnic lunch. You can head out on a guided kayak tour, take local art classes, or listen to live music at the library. We watch the sunsets, stargaze, and look out for northern lights.
Les Cheneaux is a wonderful area to slow down, explore so much natural beauty, and enjoy time well spent with those you love.