Three Unique Lake Towns Your Family Will Love
These three small towns, each located near major U.S. lakes, are well worth a visit.
Truckee, California: Old West Meets Trendy Tourist Hot Spot
Designated one of eight “Best Summer Lake Towns” by Budget Travel in 2010, the small unincorporated town of Truckee, California still has what it takes to provide every member of the family with a fun day off the water.
Located in Nevada County on Interstate 80, Truckee has a population of about 16,000 and a small-town atmosphere, despite its many amenities and the sort of attractions that tourists love, including boutique shopping, excellent dining, art galleries, a microbrewery, street fairs, a farmer’s market, outdoor music and movies, golf and more.
Truckee is located 16 miles from Lake Tahoe. (Lake Tahoe feeds into the Truckee River and is the lake’s only outlet.) The town of Truckee is even closer to Lake Donner, where the infamous Donner Party camped and purportedly cannibalized each other during the long hard winter of 1846.
While visiting Truckee, history buffs can tour the Donner Party trail and other sites related to those ill-fated travelers─ as well as other places of historical interest. There’s more history to Truckee than the Donner Party. Although today it is a trendy lake town that’s ideal for vacationers, Truckee has a raucous past as a railroad town and an Old West Town, complete with gunfighters and wily outlaws.
Charlevoix, Michigan: A Little City with Major Conveniences
Located in northwest Michigan off Bridge Park Drive, Charlevoix is a charming tourist town that borders three gorgeous lakes: Round Lake, Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix.
With a full-time population of less than 3,000, Charlevoix, Michigan (also known as Charlevoix the Beautiful) could easily be nicknamed Charlevoix the Small.
What sets Charlevoix apart from other lake towns in the Lake Michigan area? Several things.
Charlevoix has three lakefronts, so it’s easy to set your sights on a great lake view. The town is also incredibly laid-back and picturesque, yet it has the sort of conveniences one would expect in a much larger city. For instance, Charlevoix has its own municipal airport and performance pavilion. It also has lots of recreational sites, including a golf course, a marina, a ski hill and a skateboard park.
Charlevoix has seven public parks as well, each offering numerous outdoor activities.
And if those venues for fun begin to bore you, there’s always Charlevoix’s four public beaches, where you can fish, stroll, sunbathe, relax or hunt for Petoskey stones. Fossilized coral over 350 million years old, Petoskey stones are as uniquely beautiful as the little city of Charlevoix, which is well-known as a good Petoskey stone hunting ground.
Grand Marais, Minnesota: Art & Wilderness on the Water
With a population of less than 1,500, the lake town of Grand Marais, Minnesota is even smaller than Charlevoix. And it’s much more untamed. In fact, Grand Marais (French for “Great Marsh”) is the ideal spot for lake enthusiasts who want to experience a slice of real life and art by the water.
National Geographic Adventure Magazine named Grand Marais a “Top 100 Adventure Town.” Coastal Living Magazine chose the town’s colony of local artists as one of the top 10 in the United States.
Located on the northwest shore of Lake Superior beside the Sawtooth Mountains, Grand Marais marks the entrance to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The lake town is close to the Judge C. R. Magney State Park, where Devil’s Kettle, a waterfall with unique rock formations, swallows half the Brule River into one of its potholes.
Grand Marais is known for its local artists, its unique festivals and its scenic trails. Visitors are also likely to spot otters and even a moose or two. Gunflint Trail, which passes into the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness begins at Grand Marais, as does the Gunflint Trail Scenic Byway for motorists. The Superior Hiking Trail can also be accessed nearby.
Grand Marais hosts several festivals throughout the year. Two notable summer ones are the Dragon Boat Festival and the Fisherman’s Picnic. The Dragon Boat Festival in July features Viking-like boats shaped like dragons, complete with oarsmen, pilots and drummers to keep the rowing steady. The Fisherman’s Picnic in August celebrates Grand Marais’ commercial logging and fishing past with a potluck picnic dinner and fish fry that’s heavy on the herring.
Almost any time of year, you can enjoy locally produced art at Grand Marais, as many artisans and musicians, painters and photographers make their home in the small town. Both the Artists’ Point colony the North House Folk School are located there. To reach Grand Marais by car, head northeast along the shore of Lake Superior on Highway 61 (North Shore Scenic Drive).