Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Idlewild, MI

  • Published 2022/10/01

Idlewild is an unincorporated community in Lake County, Michigan.

Once a flourishing resort town from the 1910s to 1960s, the town attracted middle-class African-American tourists for its outdoor activities like swimming, boating, horseback riding, and fishing.

The so-called “Black Eden” declined in popularity in the 1960s following the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, and others.

Despite its declining popularity, Idlewild strives to bring back the glory of its heyday.

If you plan on visiting Michigan on a weekend trip, here are the best things to do in Idlewild, Michigan:

Explore the Historic Williams House

Exterior of the Historic Williams House

rossograph, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A trip to Idlewild is incomplete without finding the registered Michigan Historical Sites and learning more about its significance to the town.

This makes for a fun yet informative day tour scattered around the area.

Discover the history behind Williams Island, once the town’s center of life, boasting a bathing beach and a clubhouse on the shore.

In the 1920s, the island had a dance pavilion, a hotel, multiple cottages, and saddle horses.

On the other hand, the Flamingo Club was a nightclub that opened in 1955 and was one of the prime nightclubs in the country.

Due to the events after passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the club closed in 1968.

You can find other historical markers at the Williams House, the home of one of the town’s first residents.

Likewise, a marker stands at the Wilson House, where Idlewild’s early promoters and developers once lived.

Learn about Idlewild’s History at the Idlewild Historic & Cultural Center

Start your exploration of Idlewild at the Idlewild Historic & Cultural Center.

The cultural center, museum, and gift shop give tourists an overview of Idlewild’s origins.

It covers everything, from its foundation in 1912, how it became a haven for African Americans and its rise to popularity from the 1920s to its decline and current redevelopment efforts.

You can find exhibits detailing its colorful history, including films, standees, photos, and other paraphernalia regarding its history.

The gift shop sells books about Idlewild, shirts, hats, postcards, water bottles, pens, mugs, and more items to bring home.

Overall, a trip to the Idlewild Historic & Cultural Center gives tourists a better understanding of the town and why locals are keen on reviving its glory.

Relax at Idlewild Lake

When in Michigan, tourists must visit at least one of its lakes.

Idlewild Lake is the town’s crowning glory, offering 105 acres of pristine waters and a relaxing environment for locals and tourists.

When Idlewild was a famous resort town, pamphlets would advertise and praise it for its “lakes of pure spring water” and abundance of game fish.

At Idlewild Lake, visitors can enjoy the water and land-based activities like swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking, and more.

Game fish at the lake include bluegill, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, black crappie, yellow perch, and rock bass.

Its quiet and serene atmosphere is perfect for tourists who want to sit back, take a breather, and enjoy the natural scenery of Michigan’s lakes.

Hang Out at Lindsey’s Park

Located at the southern end of Paradise Lake, Lindsey’s Park is the perfect place to Idlewild’s events.

The park provides a picture-perfect backdrop of Paradise Lake, framed by tall trees and lush greenery.

It was also the location of the former Paradise Club, now a privately-owned park used for glamping, concerts, weddings, and other public events.

Head to Lindsey’s Park and join their seasonal Sip and Paint events!

Attend a Music Festival at John Meeks Park

Nestled in the woods, John Meeks Park is one of the best places to visit in Idlewild if you seek peace and serenity.

The park has a camping area with picnic tables, benches, and a barbecue pit perfect for outdoor activities and weekend hangouts.

Besides chilling out and camping at the park, John Meeks Park also hosts events and music festivals like the Idlewild Music Festival.

Also called the Idlewild Homecoming Jazz and Blues Festival, this music festival is a free-admission event organized by the Idlewild African American Chamber of Commerce.

The music festival at John Meeks Park also celebrates African American artists and entertainers who once performed in this historic district.

Have Brunch at IdlewildEats

Start your day with a tasty brunch at IdleWildEats, a local restaurant serving the best tacos and wings in the area.

Conveniently located near Paradise Lake and John Meeks Park, the restaurant is a favorite among locals and tourists for its cozy atmosphere and made-to-order meals.

Besides their tacos and wings, try their classic french toast, a customizable breakfast sandwich, turkey wings, salad, and more.

Order a slice of strawberry pound cake, lemon blueberry pound cake, and other seasonal sweet treats for dessert

Take note that IdlewildEats is a seasonal establishment, so make sure to drop by and try their food before they close for the season.

Enjoy the Views from Idlewild Access Park

Take a break from all the exploring and swimming, and head to Idlewild Access Park for a relaxing view of the town.

There’s a small boardwalk you can cross and take pictures of Idlewild Lake, with tall trees and charming houses on the other side.

You can also find small picnic tables and a grill for those who want to have a little picnic lunch or barbecue by the lake without the crowds.

Aside from a small picnic facility, you can follow the path that takes you around Idlewild Lake on a short walking tour.

Idlewild Access Park is a must-visit site to enjoy the area’s attractions while steering away from the other tourists.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Kayak across Pere Marquette River with Baldwin Canoe Rental

Explore Pere Marquette River on a kayak with Baldwin Canoe Rental, located less than 10 minutes from Idlewild.

Hailed as a National Wild and Scenic River, Pere Marquette River is home to a variety of animal species like mink, beaver, wood duck, river otter, water snake, and more.

Baldwin Canoe Rental offers solo and tandem kayak, canoe, tube, and raft rentals; if you have your own watercraft, they also provide car spotting services.

All watercraft rentals include the use of equipment like paddles, PDF cushions, and life jackets.

On your kayaking adventure, get a chance to spot different wildlife along Pere Marquette River and enjoy the riverside views.

Feast on Italian Dishes at Pompeii’s

Take a ten-minute drive from Idlewild to Baldwin, Michigan, and look for Pompeii’s.

Enjoy classic Italian dishes like pizza and stromboli at this Northern Michigan institution.

The restaurant has existed for 35 years and has three branches around Michigan, making it one of the state’s must-try restaurants.

Customers love the restaurant’s affordable prices, generous serving, great food, and friendly service.

Have lunch at Pompeii’s and try their garlic knots, breadsticks, deep dish pizza, specialty strombolis, Italian sub, grilled panini, and parmesan flatbread sandwiches.

For those with special dietary requirements, you can enjoy gluten-free pizza.

Pompeii’s offers special discounts on their pizza, salad, and subs on special days.

Visit the Shrine of the Pines

Shrine of the Pines is a unique museum dedicated to showcasing 20th-century American craft furniture, located in Baldwin, eight minutes from Idlewild.

The museum was the brainchild of Raymond W. Overholzer, an Ohio native who moved to Michigan and started a collection of wooden crafts made from eastern white pine.

He started the museum because he feared that loggers would chop to extinction.

Today, visitors can find hundreds of rustic hand-crafted furniture like chairs, tables, bed frames, game tables, rocking chairs, fireplace chairs, and more.

Although Shrine of the Pines offers live-guided tours, visitors can take audio-guided tours to explore the museum leisurely.

After exploring the extensive pine furniture collection, head to the nature trails and find towering white pines around the area.

Hike along Pere Marquette State Trail

Pere Marquette State Trail is a multi-use trail that runs from Michigan Avenue in Baldwin to Maple Street in Clare, Michigan.

The trail is in Chase, Michigan, five minutes from Idlewild.

The 53-mile trail passes by various nature views like wetlands, wildflower fields, and streams, offering a much-needed change of scenery.

The part of the trail from Clare to Reed City is paved asphalt, but the rest of the path comprises crushed limestone, making it easy for hikers of all fitness levels.

There are also trailside benches along the way if you need a mid-walk rest to recharge and enjoy the quiet atmosphere around the trail.

Other Pere Marquette State Trail highlights include Baldwin River, Sanborn Creek, nearby lakes, ponds, rolling hills, and tamarack stands.

Take a Day Trip to Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park

From Idlewild, take a 33-minute drive to Big Rapids, Michigan, and visit Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park.

This park stretches 92 miles from northern Grand Rapids to Cadillac, making it the longest linear state park in Michigan.

On your day trip to Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park, find towering white pine trees and pass by trailside parks, villages, farms, fields, wetlands, and untapped natural wonders.

The trail is perfect for biking, running, and walking and is accessible to visitors using wheelchairs, strollers, and other mobility equipment.

The state park is open year-round to enjoy the lush greens in spring and the golden foliage in autumn.

Enjoy Different Outdoor Activities at Northend Riverside Park

Located 30 minutes from Idlewild, Northend Riverside Park in Big Rapids is a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts.

The park features a disc golf course, a sand volleyball court, a play area for children, hiking and nature trails, and cross-country skiing trails.

After sweating it out on a game of volleyball or disc golf, relax and go for a quiet nature walk along the trails.

There are also large pavilions and picnic areas so those who prefer to sit out can relax and bask under the sun’s warm rays.

Since the park sits along the banks of the Muskegon River, you can also go tubing, kayaking, or taking a dip in its calm waters.

Camp Out at Leverentz Lake State Forest Campground

Leverentz Lake State Forest Campground is a secluded yet charming campground in Baldwin, located six minutes from Idlewild.

This is perfect if you want to camp somewhere spacious.

It has great water views but isn’t crowded with other tourists and campers.

The campground splits into two sections, with the other site featuring a boat launch and a 50-foot floating dock for fishing.

Leverentz Lake State Forest Campground has nature trails where you can take a leisurely hike and enjoy different views of the lake and campground.

Facilities include fire rings, picnic tables, vault restrooms, and potable water from a hand-pump well.

See the Exhibits at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

To understand what makes Idlewild a historically significant location, one must first get a deeper insight into racism, especially portrayals of African Americans in American pop culture.

Visit the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Big Rapids, 30 minutes from Idlewild.

Find artifacts and other materials like caricatures and figurines with racist depictions of African Americans.

The museum aims to use these “objects of intolerance” to educate visitors about tolerance and promote social justice.

Over 10,000 objects created between the 1870s and 1960s are in the museum at Ferris State University.

As you visit each exhibit and understand the meaning behind these caricatures, you’ll realize why Idlewild became a haven for African Americans and the importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Final Thoughts

Idlewild is a historically significant town, and there are plenty of places to see and things to do there.

From its historical and cultural center to the remains of its former nightclubs and other noteworthy sites, you’ll understand why it became famous.

If you’re planning to visit Michigan, take the road less traveled and check out the best things to do in Idlewild!

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