LES CHENEAUX ISLANDS
The Les Cheneaux Islands are an archipelago of 36 small islands in Lake Huron along the southeastern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. These beautiful islands are the ideal destination for both relaxation and adventure, offering everything from pleasant resorts to winding hiking trails, from charming craft shops and galleries to unforgettable boating and kayaking outings. Les Cheneaux means “The Channels” in French. The name references the many waterways between the islands. It is also home to the world’s largest antique wooden boat show.
LES CHENEAUX ISLANDS QUICK FACTS
The Les Cheneaux Islands were once a strategic international outpost and a hub for exploration.
In the early 1880s, homesteaders began to arrive in the Les Cheneaux area in earnest. During this decade, the Les Cheneaux Islands began their transformation from a remote, forgotten area into desirable timberland, and shortly thereafter, into a summer resort community.
The Les Cheneaux Islands area is home to Fleet 31 of the Ensign Class, which sails from the Les Cheneaux Yacht Club. Featuring 64 boats, it’s the largest fleet of ensigns in the world.
The Les Cheneaux Islands are situated along 12 miles of the Lake Huron coastline.
The Nature Conservancy designated the Les Cheneaux area as one of the Last Great Places in the Western Hemisphere, due to its pristine water, air, and woodlands.
Haven Island, one of Les Cheneaux’s 36, was used during Prohibition as a stopover and camp for bootleggers running whiskey by boat from Canada to Mackinac Island.
Famed American author Aldo Leopold, known as the “Grandfather of Conservation,” vacationed frequently in the Les Cheneaux Islands. The Aldo Leopold Festival takes place on the Islands every summer and honors his contributions to the region.
Government Island is the only public island in the archipelago. It is accessible by kayak, canoe, or motorboat, and offers hiking trails and leave-no-trace camping.
Dollar Island, one of the smallest in the archipelago, once sold for $1, as its name suggests. Now, this 0.6-acre island boasts a 3-bedroom cottage and a tiny wooden castle complete with a turret, as well as a gazebo, docks, and a tiny waterfront “kissing booth,” and it recently sold for $850,000.
GETTING TO THE LES CHENEAUX ISLANDS
The Les Cheneaux Islands are located just a few miles northeast of Michigan’s famed Mackinac Bridge, which connects the state’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Two of Les Cheneaux’s 36 islands are accessible by car, including Hill Island, which offers several resorts and bed & breakfasts. Two quaint 170-year-old villages, Hessel and Cedarville, both hug the water’s edge on the mainland of the Upper Peninsula and are great towns to book lodging in, as well as excellent starting points for accessing the archipelago by boat.
Want to arrive by watercraft? Numerous docks are available throughout the Les Cheneaux Islands, including a public boat launch in Cedarville and the Hessel/Clark Township Marina in Hessel.
If you own a plane or plan to charter one, and want to travel to the Les Cheneaux Islands by air, Albert J. Lindberg Airport sits just two miles outside of Hessel and is open to public use.
TOP TEN THINGS TO DO AROUND THE LES CHENEAUX ISLANDS
- Take a Les Cheneaux Lighthouse Cruise.
- Attend the Les Cheneaux Antique Wooden Boat Show.
- Book a boating excursion.
- Golf at Les Cheneaux Golf Club.
- Imbibe at Les Cheneaux Distillery.
- Visit Les Cheneaux’s museums.
- Snowmobile and ski Les Cheneaux’s trails.
- Book a sunset or overnight kayak trip.
- Learn how to build a boat.
- Visit charming shops and galleries.
Take a Les Cheneaux Lighthouse Cruise.Back to Top of List
No trip to the Les Cheneaux area would be complete without taking the iconic Les Cheneaux Lighthouse Cruise with Shepler’s Ferry! This five-hour excursion boasts unparalleled views of six lighthouses, as well as an inside look at the many channels of this remarkable archipelago. The cruise is narrated by an expert from the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association. Treat yourself to some of the best views in the entire Midwest during this tranquil, informative, memorable outing. The ticket price includes a boxed lunch. You won’t want to miss this experience, so plan your trip and purchase your tickets today!
Attend the Les Cheneaux Antique Wooden Boat Show.Back to Top of List
The Les Cheneaux Antique Wooden Boat Show deserves many accolades. Founded in 1978 in Hessel, it has become the largest antique wooden boat show in the world, attracting up to 10,000 boaters and visitors each year. Typically, each festival boasts about 150 boat entries, including sailboats, runabouts, rowboats, cruisers, and more, which arrive from as far as California and Florida. Attendees vote on the winning boat at each festival, and the Awards Ceremony is held at the end of the day.
The Antique Wooden Boat Show also features a Festival of the Arts, which showcases the work of local craftspeople. Together, these festivals have been a huge attraction since their inception, and they continue to get better every year. The annual extravaganza is held the second Saturday of August. Don't miss it!
Book a boating excursion.Back to Top of List
Few destinations on Earth offer better boating opportunities than the Les Cheneaux Islands. The sheltered coves, bays and channels of the archipelago create ideal boating and sailing conditions, protecting smaller watercraft from Lake Huron’s winds.
Want to set off in an authentic wooden boat through Les Cheneaux’s wandering waterways? Mack Tours offers an unforgettable full-day experience. Beginning on Mackinac Island, this incredible tour begins with a horse-drawn carriage to the airport, followed by a 15-minute flight to the Hessel Airport on the Les Cheneaux Islands. After the lengthy wooden boat ride, you’ll be treated to appetizers and drinks at the Les Cheneaux Culinary School restaurant, before the tour retraces its steps back to Mackinac Island.
Plenty of other Les Cheneaux boat tour options are also available, including charter fishing and diving tours from Islands Water Charter Service. Whatever kind of boating excursion you’re seeking, you’ll find it on the Les Cheneaux Islands.
Golf at Les Cheneaux Golf Club.Back to Top of List
Nothing says vacation quite like a day on the golf course, especially when said golf course offers panoramic Great Lakes vistas. Les Cheneaux Golf Club, the oldest continuously operating links course in Michigan, began operation in 1898, and visitors have been enjoying its gorgeous nine holes ever since! This historic club, where sand, water, rock and forest serve as natural hazards, is designed in the style of traditional Scottish links courses, using the lay of the land.
Les Cheneaux Golf Club is open to the public, and it even offers golf skills and etiquette camps for junior players. Done for the day, or need a break? Grab a cold beverage on the club’s beautiful patio while taking in views of Snows Channel and Marquette Island.
Imbibe at Les Cheneaux Distillery.Back to Top of List
Don’t settle for mass-produced spirits during your trip to the Les Cheneaux Islands. Instead, visit the archipelago’s very own distillery! This small-batch micro-distillery handcrafts its line of spirits under the Straits brand name, including vodka, gin, rum, and whiskey. Its tasting room, located in Cedarville, boasts an ever-changing cocktail menu with something for virtually every palate.
Not a spirits aficionado? Don’t despair. Les Cheneaux also brews 10 of its own craft beers, including its flagship ale, a blonde pilsner called Buoy Tipper Blonde. In 2020, the distillery also launched its own wine label under the Straits name, and now offers five different delicious varietals! Non-drinkers and kids alike will love Les Cheneaux’s house-brewed non-alcoholic ginger beer, as well.
Visit Les Cheneaux’s museums.Back to Top of List
Cedarville is home to not one but two museums: the Historical Museum and Maritime Museum. Step inside the Maritime Museum, and you’ll step back in time: here, you’ll find displays of vintage boats, antique motors, unusual artifacts, and historic photos of area boating activity.
The Historical Museum is housed in a shotgun marriage of two buildings: an old log cabin, which depicts the early days of settlement, and a contemporary, architecturally creative building, which showcases the modern yet quaint tourist destination that the Les Cheneaux Islands have become.
Snowmobile and ski Les Cheneaux’s trails.Back to Top of List
Wintertime is still a perfect time to visit the Les Cheneaux Islands. Snowmobilers, skiers, and snowshoers alike will enjoy Hessel and Cedarville’s lengthy network of groomed trails and blankets of soft, powdery snow! Plenty of other winter activities abound, from ice skating to ice fishing, and from hockey to sledding. The Les Cheneaux area hosts several winter events, as well, including Snowsfest and the Vintage Snowmobile Show/Ride.
Book a sunset or overnight kayak trip.Back to Top of List
What better way to experience Les Cheneaux’s beauty firsthand than on a guided kayak trip? Woods and Water Ecotours offers a variety of trips, ranging from three-hour excursions to overnight camping trips. Owner Jessie Hadley has been guiding kayak tours in Lake Huron since 2000, and offers such services as kayak training for groups, sunset tours, and women-only trips. He will even build the perfect custom trip for you if you so desire.
Learn how to build a boat.Back to Top of List
Sure, you’ve most likely been on your fair share of boats, but have you ever learned how to build one? Cedarville’s Great Lakes Boat Building School will teach you how to do just that! This one-of-a-kind institution offers 5 ½-day classes, which teach participants how to build kayaks, canoes, dinghies, and paddleboards, among other types of watercraft. If one week isn’t enough, those interested in a career in professional boat building can enroll in a two-year course that Great Lakes Boat Building School offers.
Visit charming shops and galleries.Back to Top of List
Both Hessel and Cedarville are replete with shops and galleries featuring a variety of locally made crafts and gifts!
Stroll through both villages with a cone of ice cream from The Ice Cream Shoppe in your hand, and stop to shop at such Cedarville favorites as Camp Rustics, which offers local, rustic decor as well as bait & tackle, and The Pine Cone, a gift shop offering fine apparel and upscale gifts.
In Hessel, don’t miss the chance to visit Pickle Point, an eclectic family-owned store full of fun things to do that are not readily available elsewhere.
Check our weekend guide for more ideas
If you are coming for only a weekend, we’ve added a few more suggestions in our Weekend Guide to the Les Cheneaux Islands Blog. It will make it easier for you to hit the high points during your stay. Learn more.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE LES CHENEAUX ISLANDS
The Les Cheneaux Islands offer a wide variety of lodging accommodations, from hotels to beachfront cottages to RV parks. Cedarville’s Les Cheneaux Landing Resort offers docks, beach volleyball, and spacious cabins with up to four bedrooms, as well as boat and kayak rentals. Nearby Spring Lodge & Cottages offer 17 cabins on the shoreline of Snows Channel!
Staying in Hessel? We recommend Hessel On The Lake, a resort that offers scenic views, beautiful upscale cottages and a host of amenities, as well as Hessel Bay Sunset Cabins, six quaint yet fully equipped cabins.
If you’re looking for more adventurous lodging, leave-no-trace wilderness camping is also available on pristine Government Island!
PLAN YOUR VISIT TO THE LES CHENEAUX ISLANDS
Whether summer, winter, fall, or spring, it’s always a perfect time to visit the Les Cheneaux Islands. We recommend you reserve accommodations and book tours well in advance, especially when planning a summer visit. Need more information about the area, including in-depth dining and lodging recommendations? Visit the Les Cheneaux Islands Chamber of Commerce website, or contact them directly.