The water of Torch Lake in Northwest Lower Michigan has been compared to that of the azure and turquoise of the Caribbean. In fact, National Geographic called it one of the 10 most beautiful lakes in the world. And at 19 miles long, it’s Michigan’s longest inland lake, which means there’s plenty of room for swimmers and boaters.

Surrounding this majestic water are homey small towns, natural areas, and u-pick farms with fruit that’s fresh for the taking (and eating). Here’s what you can do in this beautiful area on a pristine afternoon when Torch Lake’s splendor is at its finest.

Distance: 30 miles

Driving time: 43 minutes

  1. Drive north on U.S. 31, a scenic highway with Grand Traverse Bay flanking on the left and several inland lakes passing by on the right, including Elk Lake, Lake Skegemog, and Torch Lake. This driving tour begins on the north side of Torch Lake. Just as the beauty of the lakes comes into view, you’ll reach a narrow portion of land, the home of Eastport. U.S. 31 continues on north to the Mackinac Bridge, but you’ll want to turn east onto M-88 at Eastport towards….
  2. Central Lake: Get some candy from Bachmann’s, a five-and-dime general store that’s been in business since the 1950s. You won’t be able to miss the bright red facade and red sign. They don’t just have candy, either. They have everything, including games and toys to keep the kids busy. You can also visit King Orchards and pick some fresh fruit to bring back to the campsite. The website has full details on what’s in season, but their selection includes strawberries, raspberries, tart cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and apples.
  3. Bellaire: Rent a pontoon and go on a cruise on the lake itself. There’s nothing better than embarking toward the horizon, finding a spot, and jumping into the crystal clear water. You can also choose to go on a three-hour pontoon boat tour, which includes an optional stroll down the boardwalks at the Grass River Natural Area. Speaking of which, this natural area is the perfect place for a hike, as there are seven miles of well-maintained trails that are open dawn until dusk. Just make sure to bring the bug spray as much of the area is wetlands. Keep an eye out for river otters. After your boat cruise or tour – and perhaps a hike, go to Short’s Brewing Company for some craft beer (local summer favorites are Huma-Lumpalicious and Soft Parade but check on the seasonal offerings, too). Or, if you want something other than beer, visit Bee Well Mead and Cider.
  4. Alden: Alden is a pretty little town with a main street full of unique shops and eateries. Alden’s Mill House has spices and powders, house-made seasonings and blends, specialty soups, dips and dressings, and gift boxes of all of the above. Head down to the marina, which has swimming access, or if you’re hungry, go to the Muffin Tin or Blue Water Bistro (among other establishments). In the summer, they offer evening strolls with live entertainment and street entertainers every Thursday. Shops stay open late.
  5. Crystal Beach Road: Drive just a few more minutes to reach Crystal Beach Road, near Rapid City. Now you’re at the southern-most tip of Torch Lake. Still stunning, right? After all those stops, even though you’ve likely had tons of fun, it’s come time to relax and soak it all in. Crystal Beach Road leads you to Cedar Street, where there is public access to beautiful Torch Lake. The sand bar is not far off, so put in the kayaks or the raft and make your way there. That’s the spot to hang out, not on the shore.