Charming small towns, boundless outdoor recreation: Welcome to Antrim County

Charming small towns, boundless outdoor recreation: Welcome to Antrim County

Traverse City Tourism by Matt Vande Bunte

Three dozen beautiful lakes for boating, paddling, fishing or just splashing the day away on a sandbar.

Expansive natural recreation areas with thousands of acres for hiking, biking, birdwatching, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

More than 300 miles of snowmobile trails. Nine gorgeous golf courses. Over 50 downhill ski and snowboard runs.

All these numbers give you a sense of everything there is to do in Antrim County. But there’s one number that really tells the area’s story: Four, as in four distinct northern Michigan seasons to enjoy – summer, winter, spring and fall.

Kayaks on the Grand Traverse Bay and the 75-mile Chain of Lakes in Antrim County

Located northeast of Traverse City along Grand Traverse Bay and the 75-mile Chain of Lakes, Antrim County offers a variety of outdoor recreation in all four seasons.

“We like to say that there’s something for every season,” said Samantha Hall, marketing and event coordinator for the Bellaire Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a location where you can be in a downtown like Bellaire, Alden or Elk Rapids, and then you go five minutes away and you’re in the middle of a natural paradise any time of year.”

You can’t fit all there is to do in Antrim County into one weekend. But over the course of a year, you can experience a lot of what makes one of Michigan’s most picturesque counties such an attractive place to spend some time.

Here are four Antrim County attractions to build your weekend around, any time of year:

  • Chain of Lakes – Antrim County is home to a water trail that winds for more than 50 miles through a series of 14 connected lakes and rivers including some that are considered among the most beautiful in the world. From tubing on the 19-mile-long
    Grass and trees reflected on a river in Antrim County

    There’s so much water in Antrim County that there’s room for you to enjoy your favorite water sports whether that’s boating, paddling, fishing or just relaxing on a sandbar.

    Torch Lake to cruising the Grass River in a pontoon, the “Chain” features a variety of large bodies of water, small lakes and meandering rivers that together are heaven on water for boating, paddling and fishing. There’s so much water in Antrim County that you’ll find the perfect place for any kind of water sport, and the area has several places to rent kayaks, paddleboards and boats, too. In the winter, huddle up in a shanty on the Chain of Lakes for some ice fishing or wade into one of the area’s trout streams for world-class fly fishing.

  • Grass River Natural Area – Located on the Chain of Lakes along the Grass River north of Alden, this 1,500-acre preserve offers a pristine setting for recreational activities including kayaking six miles of shoreline and hiking seven miles of boardwalk and trails that pass through lush forests, swamps and bogs. Visitors can spot eagles and other wildlife in the preserve that’s home to 500 different kinds of plants, nearly 150 bird species and 50 kinds of mammals. While people love to explore the Grass Lake Natural Area on foot or with a paddle in the spring, summer and fall, it becomes a haven for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter. It’s one of several natural recreation areas in Antrim County including the Glacial Hills Pathway with 30 miles of trails for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing, the Antrim Creek Natural Area with a mile of undeveloped shoreline along Lake Michigan, and the Maple Bay Natural Area with stunning fields of happy sunflowers to brighten your day.
  • Shanty Creek Resorts – In addition to Hawk’s Eye Golf Resort and A-Ga-Ming, Shanty Creek offers a third full-service resort in Antrim County. What all three have in common is a wealth of great golf courses tucked along the Chain of Lakes with stunning views and dramatic elevation changes. You’ll find courses designed by legends of the game including The Legend, by Arnold Palmer, and Cedar River, which Golf Advisor this year named the seventh-best course design in the country. In the winter, when Antrim County turns into a sparkling white playground for snow sports, Shanty Creek stands apart as a premier northern Michigan ski destination featuring more than 50 downhill runs from beginner hills to “Kingdom Come,” a black diamond trail with a super steep 450-foot vertical drop. The resort also has six terrain parks for snowboarding, an alpine tubing area and trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat tire biking, snowmobiling and even dogsledding!
  • Small towns – Whenever you visit Antrim County, you can make a home base in any of the charming small towns that give character to the community. From the Twisted Fish Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Elk Rapids to Guntzviller’s Spirit of the Woods Museum in Williamsburg, there are unique attractions across the county. Or you can spend the day browsing art galleries, shopping for local treasures and sampling the eclectic menus in lakeside towns such as Alden and Bellaire. When you get thirsty, Michigan’s largest microbrewery, Short’s Brewing, heads a nice mix of brewpubs and wine bars where you can explore craft beverages with a northern Michigan flair.

Whether you visit Antrim County to enjoy the wide variety of year-round outdoor recreation or to slow down for a few days in small towns brimming with hospitality, you can find a place to stay that’s just your style.

And because of the Antrim Promise, you can rest assured that wherever you stay and whatever you do while you’re here, the entire community is following public health guidelines to make your visit as safe as possible during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“All of our restaurants, bars and shops all have the same guidelines, so you know what to expect,” Hall said. “We’re going to give you a safe experience.”