Wild Logo v4

11 Gorgeous Recreational Lakes near Traverse City, MI

Traverse City is surrounded by incredible natural lakes with crystal-clear waters, beaches, and seemingly unlimited recreational options. It's one of the best cities in the US for lakegoers.
ItIsWild.com: Best Lakes near Traverse City Michigan

With Lake Michigan on the doorstep and dozens of gorgeous lakes in the area, Traverse City is one of the best places in the US for lake recreation. 

Unlike many other states, local lakes have hardly any limits on recreation. Almost all the options on the list have beaches, campgrounds, and boat ramps that attract crowds of lakegoers, summer or winter.

And the best thing is, these lakes are within 30 minutes drive from the city. You don’t have to travel far to enjoy Michigan’s best natural gems.

Check out what Traverse City has to offer!

Lakes near Traverse City:

  1. Boardman Lake
  2. Silver Lake 
  3. Cedar Lake
  4. Lake Leelanau
  5. Elk and Skegemog Lakes
  6. Torch Lake
  7. Long Lake
  8. Interlochen State Park
  9. Lake Dubonnet
  10. Glen Lakes
  11. Lake Michigan
Lakes near Traverse City Michigan Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Boardman Lake

A Lake in Traverse City Michigan
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Boardman Lake
  • Distance from Traverse City: 1.5 miles (5 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Sailing, Hiking, Picnics

Located just over a mile south of downtown, Boardman Lake is a natural lake along the Boardman River, which flows northward into Grand Traverse Bay. The lake’s surface area expanded after a dam was built near Union Street, close to downtown, in the 1860s. 

Harvesting ice by sawing blocks of it for refrigeration was one of the earliest “industries” along the lake. Manufacturers built factories near this 339-acre body of water in the early 20th century. 

Long known as a great destination to catch trout, the lake has experienced a renaissance in recent years. 

Completion of the Boardman Lake Loop Trail occurred in July 2022. This urban recreation space includes kayak launches, fishing decks, and observation piers around the four-mile perimeter, creating a new community gem. 

Two parks serve as important anchors along the lake and trail. Hull Park sits at the lake’s northern end. Fifteen-acre Medalie Park is on the lake’s south side, where the river flows into the lake. 

Fish in this lake include bluegill, bass, walleye, and yellow perch, just to name a few.

2. Silver Lake 

A lake in north Michigan
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Silver Lake
  • Distance from Traverse City: 6 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Located six miles south-southwest of downtown, Silver Lake is nearly 3.5 miles long from its northern to the southern end. This 600-acre lake was once known as Lake Kratochvil. 

Silver Lake has numerous peninsulas and pine-forested coasts. A boat launch sits along the eastern side of the lake. 

Locally known as “Silver Lake Park,” the Silver Lake Recreation Area covers 84 acres with a variety of recreation areas and trails that touch a sliver of the northern side of the lake, as well as the eastern side of 38-acre Mud Lake and all of Hidden Lake.

A popular destination for boating and waterskiing, Silver Lake is also a place where people paddleboard and kayak. 

Fish commonly found in Silver Lake include perch, bluegill, lake sunfish, pike, bass, and walleye. 

3. Cedar Lake

A lake and boats in Michigan
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Cedar Lake
  • Distance from Traverse City: 3 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Hiking, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Cedar Lake is less than three miles northwest of downtown. This 252-acre long-and-narrow lake is separated from the lower portion of West Grand Traverse Bay by just a few hundred feet. 

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers a public access boat launch on the south end of the lake. Water from Cedar Run and Victoria Creek flows into the lake’s southwestern corner.

The De Young Natural Area occupies portions of the northern area of Cedar Lake. This 191-acre preserve includes a mile of shoreline along the lake, as well as a farmstead from the 1850s. 

Numerous recreation areas await visitors to this land that gained preservation status in 2006. Birding, hunting, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing during the winter are popular activities.

Families visiting here enjoy boating, canoeing, and fishing. Brook trout swim in the nearby streams. 

The first known fish stocking took place in 1897, and replenishing of fish populations has occurred frequently since then. Common fish in Cedar Lake include northern pike, bass, yellow perch, sunfish, and mimic shiner. 

4. Lake Leelanau

Lake Leelanau
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Lake Leelanau
  • Distance from Traverse City: 12 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Camping, Picnics, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

A short drive northwest of Traverse City, Lake Leelanau is a waterway along the Leelanau Peninsula. It has two wider sections, connected by an area known to locals as “The Narrows.” A village named Lake Leelanau sits along this narrow, river-like portion of the lake. 

Sometimes called “Carp Lake,” Lake Leelanau grew in size and depth after an early dam was built along the Carp River’s path into Lake Michigan in the mid-1850s. 

The surface area of the lake is approximately 8,600 acres, with the majority – 5,693 acres – in the area known as South Lake Leelanau, the shallower of the two sections. 

North Lake Leelanau has slightly more than 2,900 acres of surface area. A popular spot for summertime swimming, the clear waters and breathtaking beauty of the area make this a great place to escape during the warmer months. 

The lake is highly regarded as a place to get away from crowds and enjoy the natural beauty of the region. 

Common fish encountered by anglers include smallmouth bass, rock bass, yellow perch, and northern pike. 

5. Elk and Skegemog Lakes

elk lake in michigan
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Elk and Skegemog Lakes
  • Distance from Traverse City: 18 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Located northeast of Traverse City, Lake Skegemog and Elk Lake are the last of a group of freshwater lakes known as the Elk River Chain of Lakes. 

Water flows from the Rapid River into the Torch River before entering Lake Skegemog, once known as Round Lake. 

With 15 miles of shoreline, Lake Skegemog, of approximately 2,700 surface acres, has an opening on its northwest section that meets Elk Lake. The lake’s name means “the meeting of the waters” in Algonquin, a perfect transition to the next lake in the chain. 

Logs and stumps in parts of the lake, along with swampland, make Lake Skegemog a great place to find fish. Anglers will see muskellunge, crappie, yellow perch, northern pike, walleye, and bass. 

Elk Lake is approximately three times the size of Skegemog – 7,700 acres. With a maximum depth of 192 feet, this is the state’s second deepest lake. 

As the water flows toward Elk Rapids, a village 17 miles northeast of Traverse City, some of the most popular catches from Elk Lake include muskellunge, bass, trout, cisco, and whitefish. 

Established as a non-profit in 1950, the Elk-Skegemog Lakes Association focuses on the well-being of these lakes and works with other environmental organizations to maintain their water quality and recreation potential. 

Numerous preserves along these lakes allow for some level of access, mostly by canoe or kayak rather than on land. These include the 41-acre Kewadin Wetlands Natural Area and the 37-acre North Skegemog Natural Preserve. Other parks and access points are found on these lakes. 

6. Torch Lake

Torch Lake in Michigan
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Torch Lake
  • Distance from Traverse City: 29 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Torch Lake is the upriver body of water within the Elk River Chain of Lakes above and north of Lake Skegemog. 

At more than 18,450 surface acres, Torch Lake is the state’s longest and deepest inland lake, the second largest overall inland lake, and has the largest volume of freshwater. 

The lake is known for having a bright turquoise hue that somewhat resembles shallow Caribbean waters. 

With fewer boats on the lake, popular recreation activities include canoeing and diving during warmer months, as well as hiking and fishing. 

The area includes a number of resort-style vacation homes, popular in summer. Fish commonly found in Torch Lake include trout, steelhead, cisco, muskellunge, pike, whitefish, and bass.

7. Long Lake

Boys fishing on a lake in Michigan
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Long Lake
  • Distance from Traverse City: 10 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

A drive ten miles west of the city takes visitors to the Taylor Park public access area at the northern end of Long Lake. 

In addition to this small township park, Gilbert Park is a drive of less than a mile to the lake’s upper-western shore. 

This 2,860-acre lake within Grand Traverse County is shared by Long Lake Township on the north and Green Lake Township on the south. 

A drive 1.5 miles southeast from Taylor Park brings visitors to the 250-acre Timbers Recreation Area, a former girl scout camp with frontage along Long Lake and the 20-acre Fern Lake entirely within this day-use recreation property. 

Owned by the Long Lake Township and protected by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, this recreation area includes trails that offer vistas of wetlands and forests.

Fish caught in Long Lake include sunfish, bass, northern pike, perch, whitefish, and walleye. 

8. Interlochen State Park

duck lake interlochen state park
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Website: Interlochen State Park
  • Distance from Traverse City: 16 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Interlochen State Park is a 15-mile drive southwest of downtown. Designated as a state park in 1917, Interlochen is the perfect place to coordinate a visit to two great swimming and fishing lakes, Duck Lake and Green Lake. 

“Interlochen” means “between the lakes” in German. Michigan’s first state park offers ideal access to both lakes, as well as camping, paddling, and fishing.

Duck Lake sits on the east side of Interlochen Park. This 1,930-acre lake has an average depth of approximately 35 feet and is surrounded mostly by residential developments, as well as forested and slightly hilly areas. 

Green Lake has 1,987 acres and sits on the western side of the park. 

Summertime swimming is popular in both lakes and along the park property. Fish found in both lakes include bullhead, trout, whitefish, bass, and yellow perch. 

9. Lake Dubonnet

Lake Dubonnet in Michigan
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Website: Lake Dubonnet
  • Distance from Traverse City: 15 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Camping, Picnics

Another destination at a similar distance southwest of the city is Lake Dubonnet. Fifteen miles southwest of Traverse City and five miles north of Interlochen State Park, this 502-acre lake is highly regarded as a destination for kayaking and fishing. 

Locals know the best starting point to access this body of water is Lake Dubonnet State Forest Campground on the lake’s western shoreline. A simple boat ramp is available at the campground. 

The waters are generally calm and gentle, with a forested and largely undeveloped shoreline. There is no designated beach on this lake.

Bring fishing gear as well as a small watercraft when visiting Lake Dubonnet. Sunfish, perch, pike, bass, and walleye are found in this lake. 

10. Glen Lake

Glen Lakes in Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Glen Lake
  • Distance from Traverse City: 25 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Approximately 25 miles west-northwest of the city, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers the perfect destination to enjoy this area of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. 

With imposing bluffs, sandy beaches, an island lighthouse, and campgrounds, Sleeping Bear offers vistas of Lake Michigan and access to Glen Lake. 

Known also as Big Glen Lake on the east and Little Glen Lake to the west, these lakes trace their origin to glacial erosion. 

Once a part of Lake Michigan, the sandbar that became part of Sleeping Bear created these bodies as lakes separated from Lake Michigan. Big Glen is 4,871 surface acres, and Little Glen is 1,415 surface acres. 

Water from these lakes merges into Lake Michigan at Glen Arbor along the Crystal River after passing through 57-acre Fisher Lake. Bass, perch, walleye, and catfish are common here.

11. Lake Michigan

Marina in Traverse City in Michigan
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Lake Michigan
  • Distance from Traverse City: 0 miles (0 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Sailing, Hiking, Camping, Picnics, Water Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

One of the five great lakes, Lake Michigan is easily accessed from Traverse City, and without it, this list just won’t be complete. 

The easiest way to enjoy Lake Michigan is to visit one of the city’s most popular parks – Clinch Park. Urban in nature, it offers kayak rentals, a marina, and a large sandy beach with lifeguards in summer.

Lake Michigan offers all types of water activities, from swimming and fishing to sailing and scuba diving. And the number of lakeside parks with hiking, camping, and gorgeous vistas is only limited by how far you are prepared to drive.

What’s more, the lake holds 5 state records in Michigan alone, including one for Rainbow Trout (26lbs 8oz) that has remained unbroken since 1975.

Both the West and East Arms of the Grand Traverse Bay offer shelter from the open waters of expansive Lake Michigan, making Traverse City an excellent option for exploring this world-famous body of water.

More Lakes in Michigan:

You Might Also Like: