Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Charlevoix, MI

  • Published 2021/12/30

A calming vacation to soothe your weary bones lies waiting for you at Charlevoix, Michigan.

You can spend your entire trip simply chilling on a sailboat along the pristine waters of Lake Charlevoix or Lake Michigan.

Otherwise, you can go kayaking or paddleboarding.

If you’re a landlubber, you could always go hiking at any of the over 20 trails in the area.

You can also explore the wilderness and meet wildlife at the city’s nature preserves.

Wherever you go, Charlevoix’s serene environments will ease your mind.

The urbanite can also appreciate the historic architecture in downtown Charlevoix.

For example, you can admire the famous Earl Young Mushroom Houses or the majestic Castle Farms.

You can visit the woods where Ernest Hemingway set his iconic Nick Adams stories if you’re of a literary persuasion.

Finally, Beaver Island’s peaceful setting should teach you that it’s okay to breathe every day.

Do you want to know more about Charlevoix?

Here’s a list of the best things to do in town.

Admire the Designs of the Earl Young Mushroom Houses

Scenic Views of Earl Young Mushroom Houses

Michael Deemer /

Landlubbers will also find something to like at Charlevoix.

For example, you can explore the many so-called Mushroom Houses, where you can see the design genius of the master builder, Earl Young.

While these homes have cute names, they have become important fixtures in the city itself.

Scenic Views of Earl Young Mushroom Houses

Michael Deemer /

Likewise, these houses are all unique because Earl Young never drew blueprints.

His designs fit the house to the environment, not the other way around. However, you can still see consistent design elements in these houses.

For example, you’ll find wide and wavy eaves and horizontal focus.

Scenic Views of Earl Young Mushroom Houses

Michael Deemer /

Several Earl Young houses have become the most photographed buildings in the city.

They are the Half House, the Thatch Roof House, the Boulder Manor, and the Owl House.

However, these houses are not open to inside tours, so just take as many photos of these houses as you want.

Scenic Views of Earl Young Mushroom Houses

Michael Deemer /

Dip Your Toes in Fisherman’s Island State Park and Beach

A few miles south of Charlevoix, Fisherman’s Island State Park and Beach.

To say this place is enormous is an understatement, for it’s a 2,678-acre park plus five miles of untouched Lake Michigan shoreline.

You won’t explore every nook and cranny of this place in just one day.

The park offers several activities for the interested traveler.

For instance, you can pitch a tent at the campground along the shore’s dunes.

Follow the park road, and you’ll eventually reach the beach if you want to get your feet wet.

Likewise, you can put on your hiking shoes and walk along miles of trails.

Visit Fisherman’s Island State Park at 16480 Bells Bay Rd S, Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Enjoy the Water at Michigan Beach Park

One of Charlevoix’s hottest tourist spots is the Michigan Beach Park because it has everything beachgoers love.

For one, you get to play around and gather Petoskey stones on the white sand. After that, you can dive in at the swimming area.

Bring your kids to the park’s playground while walking along the trails.

Otherwise, you can bring your friends to play basketball or volleyball.

Michigan Beach also has a pier, where you can cast a line and fish.

You can even walk from downtown Charlevoix to the historic Charlevoix Lighthouse.

You’ll never go wrong, just spreading a blanket on the beach and admiring the radiant sunsets no matter your choice.

Visit Michigan Beach Park at 95 Grant St., Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Go Boating along Round Lake

Aerial View of Round Lake

Laurent Fady /

Between Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan sits the fantastic Round Lake, which is the city’s bustling boating hub.

Plenty of boats traverse this lake from Lake Charlevoix to Lake Michigan and vice versa.

Likewise, Round Lake is a terrific location thanks to its surrounding areas, such as downtown Charlevoix, East Park, and historic summer clubs.

You can also scout prime real estate on the lakeshore, including gorgeous houses and luxury condos.

Book a Night in the Applecore Cottage

Complete your stay in Charlevoix by staying in one of the outstanding mushroom houses, such as the Applecore Cottage.

What makes this house special?

This place continues the brilliant legacy started by the master stone house designer Earl Young.

His daughter designed the cottage, showing her father’s clear influence in terms of style.

You’ll also find century-old apple trees populating the two-acre property.

The Applecore Cottage’s original structure has remained intact through the years, so you will truly feel how it’s like to live inside a Young-designed house.

This house is open all year to families, couples, and small groups who want a quiet getaway in the middle of thick forests and a few meters away from the beaches of Lake Michigan.

Book a stay at the Applecore Cottage at 8003 Mt. McSauba Rd, Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Learn Local History at the Museum at Harsha House

Another attraction landlubbers will like stands in downtown Charlevoix.

This place is the historical Museum at Harsha House, which features various exhibitions.

In 1892, Charlevoix businessman and civic leader Horace Harsha built the Victorian-style house, and his granddaughter, Ann Harsha, donated it to the Charlevoix Historical Society in 1979.

The Historical Society turned the place into a museum.

What can you see inside the museum?

Besides the rotating exhibits, you’ll find three Victorian-era rooms and more than 10,000 photographs and photo negatives.

Literary historians will also find the original copy of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage license to his first wife, Hadley Richardson.

You’ll also find a working player piano from the 1920s.

Visit the Museum at Harsha House at 103 State St., Charlevoix, MI.

Check Out the Lighthouse at the Charlevoix South Pier Head

View of Charlevoix South Pier Head

Bkonrad, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1885, the Charlevoix lighthouse began guiding boats sailing along Lake Michigan.

It received several additions, including an eight-foot-high shed constructed in 1890.

After fourteen years, they replaced the wooden walkway with a 720-foot elevated metal walkway.

They also mounted a fog bell on the part of the lighthouse facing the lake two years later.

In 1910, they added a brick oil house.

Today, the Charlevoix lighthouse has undergone significant renovation and repainting.

You can also walk from downtown Charlevoix to the lighthouse, which allows for a stroll.

The Charlevoix South Pier Head is at 2 Grant St., Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Have All-Around Fun at Ferry Beach Park

Another beachside attraction you can visit in Charlevoix is Ferry Beach Park, which has several amenities for everyone’s tastes.

For one, your kids will enjoy the playground while you can play basketball, volleyball, or horseshoes.

After playing, you can enjoy a nice picnic at any of the three pavilions.

You can swim there, too. If you prefer boating, you can rent out a boat.

You can also go paddleboarding on the water.

Visit Ferry Beach Park at 224 Ferry Avenue, Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Revisit a Century of History at Castle Farms

In 1918, Castle Farms used to be a model dairy farm, which came from the acting president of Sears, Roebuck & Co.

Through the years, the complex changed, and now it allows guests to step into a century of history.

Castle Farms hosts self-guided tours all year, letting travelers drop by the buildings and gardens leisurely.

Besides gardens, you’ll find feeding ponds for fish and ducks, an Enchanted Forest full of gnomes, and the Alphabet Garden decorated with unique art.

You can also get lost in the Hedge Maze that comes with overhead trains.

Bring your kids to see Norm, the resident dragon, too.

The largest outdoor model railroad in Michigan is also inside Castle Farms.

From May to October, more than 70 trains chug along over 25,000 feet of tracks.

You can also enter the 1918 Museum to find memorabilia from various royal families worldwide.

Visit Castle Farms at 5052 M-66 North, Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Marvel at the Thatched Roof House

Front View of Thatched Roof House

Michael Deemer /

Only one stands out above the crowd among the various Earl Young houses in Charlevoix.

This house is the Thatched Roof House, the most visited and photographed house in the entire city.

It’s also the first house from Earl Young, who cooked up the design in 1918.

After a year of studying architecture at the University of Michigan, he had quit.

Because it’s his first house, Earl Young had to team up with a certified architect for a blueprint.

It’s the only Earl Young house that used one, too.

Today, the original blueprint hangs on a wall above the stairwell.

Today, the Thatched Roof House finally has an authentic thatched roof, which had never come to be in Young’s lifetime.

Join a guided tour and add the house to your camera roll.

Visit the Thatched Roof House at 304 Park Avenue, Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Explore Untouched Nature at the North Point Nature Preserve

Natural attractions abound in Charlevoix, and you can visit them and admire their unspoiled beauty whenever you come to town.

One of these attractions is the 28-acre wooded and sandy area called the North Point Nature Preserve.

With the imposing Mt. McSauba surrounding the place, you can enjoy a quiet hike along a .65-mile wooded trail.

You can stop anytime and marvel at Lake Michigan lying beneath you.

You might even see some wildlife in their natural habitat if you’re lucky.

The North Point Nature Preserve is also proud to have a long stretch of unspoiled lakeshore right in the heart of Charlevoix.

Since no one has touched this place, three threatened plant species have thrived: Lake Huron Tansy, Pumpell’s Bromegrass, and Pitcher’s Thistle.

From time to time, you can also spot animals like deer, eagles, porcupines, shorebirds, loons, and great blue herons.

Visit the North Point Nature Preserve at Pleasant St. and Mt. McSauba Rd, Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Enjoy Skiing at the Mt. McSauba Recreation Area

The Mt. McSauba Recreation Area offers exciting ski slopes for the winter traveler.

However, it also features other amenities, such as a skating rink, a warming cabin, and a lighted sledding hill.

You can also go skiing down the cross-country trail behind an imposing dune.

Every trail in the area also connects to Lake Michigan.

You can even play disc golf at the 18-hole course that provides a reasonable challenge and remarkable mountainside views.

The high dunes also give you an awesome view of the sunset.

Mt. McSauba also has a 1,100-foot-long intermediate slope where you can test your abilities.

It’s also got a vertical drop of 150 feet, so you’ll need to bring your A-game.

The Mt. McSauba Recreation Area is at 09223 Mt. McSauba Rd, Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Explore City History at the Charlevoix Historic Train Depot

View of Charlevoix Historic Train Depot

Bobak Ha’Eri, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first train arrived in Charlevoix on June 26, 1892.

In July of that year, the city finished and opened its historic train depot.

Today, the Charlevoix Historic Train Depot is a terrific venue for special events like weddings, corporate events, and family gatherings.

After extensive renovation and restorations, the Charlevoix Train Depot has returned to its original glory.

Recognizing the historical importance of the train depot, the National and State Registers of Historic Places have listed the building in its records.

Likewise, the city of Charlevoix has named the depot as a Historic District.

Visit the Charlevoix Historic Train Depot at 305 Chicago Avenue, Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Enjoy the View at the Charles A. Ransom Nature Preserve

This 80-acre nature preserve has a trailhead that stands at 973 feet, making it 320 feet above Lake Michigan.

If you want to get the best views of the lake, drive to the parking area before the trailhead.

Park your car, stand on the bumper, and take in the awe-inspiring views of nature spreading out beneath you.

After that, you can go hiking downhill.

What can you do at the Charles Ransom Nature Preserve? Besides hiking, you can go mountain biking, horseback riding, or cross-country skiing in the winter.

You need to watch your step because the trail has occasional drops of nearly 200 feet.

Visit the Charles A. Ransom Nature Preserve at Maple Grove Road, Charlevoix, MI 49720.

Explore America’s Emerald Isle at Beaver Island

Charlevoix is also your jumping-off point to visit the marvelous Beaver Island, an unmissable spot for nature lovers.

Beaver Island should be your next stop if you want a laid-back vacation after stressing yourself at work.

Time slows to a crawl on the island, offering you a glimpse into an unhurried way of life.

You can go around the island on a bicycle or rent a car to cover the entire island in the afternoon.

If you have a car, just bring it along on the ferry.

Beaver Island has many nature preserves and bountiful state land for hiking, exploring, and hanging out.

If you want to learn the island’s history, you can drop by the Marine Museum or the Old Morman Print Shop.

Likewise, you can visit the island’s two lighthouses, the St. James Harbor Light on Paradise Bay and the Beaver Head Light Station.

You can climb the lighthouse on Beaver Head, too, and you can even view a Fresnel lens at zero cost.

Final Thoughts

Charlevoix is a place rich with history and nature, blending various attractions to create a relaxing and calming atmosphere for travelers.

Escape from the hassle and grime of big city life by immersing yourself in the serenity of this quiet little town.

Make time for yourself and book a trip to Charlevoix today!

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