DESTINATION: Manistee County
Three Harbor Towns Along 25 Miles of Lake Michigan
Published: Sunday, September 1, 2019
By: Maralee Cook, c/o Manistee County Visitors Bureau
If you haven’t been to Manistee County lately, then you have never been to Manistee County!
Three harbors and their harbor towns share the 25-mile Lake Michigan shoreline with knock-your-socks-off pristine natural beauty, a shared history of lumbering and shipping, and each offers unique and memorable experiences.
The city of Manistee and Manistee Lake to the south, Portage Lake and Onekama in the center, and Arcadia and Arcadia Lake in the northern portion of the county all share a love of life lived on the water. Whether you’re cruising under power or sail, part of a caravan on the Great Loop, fishing, or trailering, you’ll find fantastic accommodations and off-the-boat activities that are fun and interesting.
Manistee & Manistee Lake
Boaters entering the port of Manistee are welcomed by the iconic north pier light and the bright red Coast Guard Station Manistee. Manistee Municipal Marina, on the Manistee River Channel, and Seng’s Marina, just beyond the river channel to Manistee Lake, offer top-notch amenities in lush park settings and can accommodate boats over 100 feet. The Municipal Marina is the setting for September’s Hops and Props Festival, among other festivals that fill Manistee’s calendar year-round. Manistee Inn and Marina is also on the Riverwalk with slips accommodating boats up to 25 feet. Check out Insta-launch Campground’s marina for quick access to the Big Manistee and Little Manistee rivers, two of Manistee County’s four acclaimed rivers that include the Betsie and Pine.
Manistee’s popular Riverwalk leads from downtown to Douglas Park and First Street Beach, complete with restrooms, concession stand, boat launch docks, fish cleaning station, playgrounds, plus tennis and basketball courts. This is also the site of Manistee’s famous 4th of July National Forest Festival with midway, entertainment, and fireworks over Lake Michigan. You’ll also find the ShoreLine ShowCase outdoor concert series here on Tuesday nights, and Labor Day entertainment.
Manistee has a thriving downtown restaurant scene. Try the North Channel Brewery, TJ’s Pub, Blue Fish Kitchen, The Fillmore, Taco ‘Bout It, Dairy Queen, and Big Al’s Pizza and Subs. The Painted Lady is just a short way out of town. Manistee Beverage and Moving Spirits will help with provisioning. Shopping is fun and varied, with quaint boutique stores along River Street – from clothing and kitchen shops to book stores and wine tasting rooms, and it is a busy hub of activity year-round.
Visit the Vogue Theatre for first-run movies, classics, and kids specials, and take note of the restored Art Deco design. The historic Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts has built a solid rep for top-notch concerts, plays, special events, art shows, and its new Escape Room. It’s also available for tours. Don’t miss the Manistee County Historical Museum and pick up a Historic Sites guide for walking tours. Little River Casino Resort is just north of the city, and provides shuttle service from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. from the Memorial Drive parking lot.
Onekama & Portage Lake
Spend the day boating on Portage Lake. A quintessential “Up North” lake, it’s rimmed with spruce, pine, and fir, and dotted with cottages. This deep-water lake is perfect under sail or power, and there are launch sites if you’re trailering. It also offers some of the best bass and perch fishing in Michigan.
Onekama Marine has three marinas on Portage Lake and accommodates boats up to 70 feet. Rentals are also available, as is boat storage and repair.
The marina at Portage Point Resort accommodates boats up to 100 feet. Amenities include an infinity pool, Lahey’s Pub, café and pizza carry-out, ice cream, entertainment, and resort accommodations in this stunning historic lodging designed by the same architect as the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
Summer’s Monday night Concerts in the Park are a must. Check out The Blue Slipper, Yellow Dog Café, Shirley’s Place, and Papa J’s for excellent dining options, and Papa J’s also has a miniature golf course and kayak rental. Shop MacBeth’s, Anchored Designs, and Lakeside Bait and Treats for one-of-a-kind experiences. Provisions are available at Onekama EZ Market.
Arcadia & Arcadia Lake
Deep-water Arcadia Lake, and Veteran’s Memorial Marina in Arcadia, is the county’s northernmost Lake Michigan harbor and can accommodate boats up to 70 feet.
Harbormaster Dick Williamson says of the marina, “It’s probably the most calm, peaceful, and protected you can go to.” In fact, many consider “calm and peaceful” to be perfect descriptions of the village of Arcadia as well.
Take an easy stroll or bike around this quaint village. Visit the Arcadia Area Historical Museum for its extensive collections on shipwrecks, lumbering, railroads, early-aviation pioneer Harriet Quimby, and more. Grab a bite to eat at the longtime neighborhood hang-out, The Big Apple, and ice cream at Arcadia Ice House.
Walk from the marina to stroll the new 0.75-mile universal-access boardwalk at the Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve on M-22. The 305-acre nature preserve is protected, owned, and managed by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (GTRLC), and one of only 16 remaining Great Lakes Coastal Marshes on Lake Michigan’s Lower Peninsula shoreline. The marsh is a great birding and wildlife observation location – home to 231 bird species, 201 plant species, and 28 fish species. Arcadia Marsh helps protect Lake Michigan water quality by filtering pollutants and contaminants from a 16,000-acre watershed and has benefitted from GTRLC’s aggressive restoration program to eliminate invasive species and restore creek flows, among other projects.
Witness the beauty of Manistee County’s Lake Michigan shoreline from the air through Orchard Beach Aviation, located just five minutes from downtown Manistee. It’s a great idea during fall color tour season too.
Charter Fishing on Lake Michigan and Manistee rivers. Click www.VisitManisteeCounty.com for more information.
Music on Bear Lake is literally staged on a boat on the lake. If you’re trailering or can hitch a ride, these one-of-a-kind summer concerts are only accessible by boat.
Come back in the off-season for color tours; fall, winter, and spring hiking, biking, and paddling; fall and winter festivals; fantastic golfing on nine courses; winter river fishing and inland lake ice fishing; fat biking; cross-country and downhill skiing; and snowmobiling on over 500 miles of multi-county snowmobile trails.
Go to VisitManisteeCounty.com for a full list of festivals, activities, restaurants, shopping, and more!
Manistee County Calendar of Events
Fall: Beginning Labor Day Weekend: LaborFest Manistee (ManisteeLaborFest.com); Minnehaha Brewhaha Music Festival Arcadia; Music on the Porch Douglas Valley; Manistee Hops and Props; Fall color drives; U-pick orchards and Farm Markets; Museum Tours; SS Milwaukee Ghost Ship
Winter: Sleighbell Parade and Old Christmas Weekend; Sparkle in the Park
Spring: Tight Lines for Troops
Summer: Free Outdoor Concerts; Manistee National Forest Festival; Lakeside Tour of Homes; Grapes on the River; Catamaran Races and Sidewalk Sales; Bear Lake Days; Arcadia Daze; Onekama Days; Manistee County Fair; Big Bear Butt Cruise
This article first appeared in the Fall Issue (Sep/Oct) 2019 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.