In Search of the Northern Summer (2011): The Beach at Cat Head Bay

IMG_4010One of the things I love most about Northwest Michigan is its beaches. Each one has its own charm and allure. Some are practically right off the roadside on a scenic highway while others require a small hiking trip, making them practically a secret!

We awoke at the inn on our last full day of vacation with a soft, cool breeze rising up from the harbor just outside. Lying there, taking in the quiet, and enjoying the natural air conditioning, we were already a bit sad that our departure was coming so soon. Looking back, for much of our adventure, we’d been running around seeing sights, visiting some of our favorite restaurants, and doing all the touristy shopping that goes along with summer travel. In contrast, for our final day of vacation, we decided to make it a “beach day” — a day devoted to blatant idleness and general loafing (to be followed by a plush dinner, of course).

With so many great options, it was difficult deciding which beach we wanted to go to. The beaches on Good Harbor Bay, which we visited last year, were still vivid in our memory, but we thought it might be best to have a new experience. So, after James and Nicole each scoured the map, we eventually settled on Cat Head Bay.

The bay is at the very tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. To the east is Grand Traverse Bay, to the west is the giant openness of Lake Michigan. We were sure to enjoy the water, but there was a small hike and a “dune crossing” at the end of the hike all before you could get to the beach. Naturally, there came a small debate about whether or not we wanted to expend such effort on a day devoted to idleness and loafing — it almost seemed we were going against our principles!

In the end, we decided to hop into the car, drive around the arcing highway that traces the shoreline of Grand Traverse Bay, and head north to the tip of Leelanau. It was a very scenic drive — perfectly conducive to idleness and passivity, I might add! For much of the drive, there were sweeping views of Grand Traverse Bay IMG_3896with its waters striped in various shades of blue illuminated by the summer sun.

Just past the little town of Northport, we turned down a few small roads until we found the road leading us to the entry to Leelanau State Park. Once there, we doused ourselves with sunscreen and the the requisite mosquito repellent. From there, we headed into the dense woods guided by the “blue trail” which promised to take us to the beach.

It was a surprisingly scenic trail — not without its challenging spots, but mostly amiable for easy walking. Admittedly, the walking would have been easier were we not trudging along with a small ice chest containing quite possibly the best root beer ever and a small bag of goodies to aid our general loafing abilities.


As the trail became hillier, it was apparent we were reaching the coast. The sound of waves became louder and louder as we drew closer to a very bright light ahead through the tunnel of trees. We emerged from the forest to see a surprising amount of sandy dunes between us and the water. (Do you see those tiny people in the picture, below? They’re weren’t actually tiny, they were just very far away!) Walking in deep, hot sand was not our favorite part of the day, to say the least, but — once we made it to the water — we instantly knew it had been worth it.



The waters of Lake Michigan, chilly and blue, crashing against the warm sand, the sky above opening like another immense lake above our heads… it really had been worth it! We enjoyed combing the beach to observe the different colored rocks. Since Lake Michigan was formed by a giant glacier which sliced through the landscape eons ago, it’s possible to find all sorts of rocks along the coastline — some with ancient, fossilized sea creatures, others painted dazzling colors because of their unique mineral makeup.


While James and Nicole took off into the water, braving the iciness of it, I dipped my toes in and played in the sand a bit, just taking it all in. This is pretty much how I’ve always enjoyed the beach. I suppose it was because I never had a sandbox as a kid, but I find delight in playing in the sand — and it’s a perfect example of just the kind of idleness I had in mind for a summer day.

I pulled out my umbrella to create a wee bit of shade for myself. Then, I sipped on my root beer and gazed off into the horizon — what a blissful to-do list! On such a clear day, I could see the Fox Islands far off into the distance (they’re part of the same chain of islands as the Manitous which we visited). Even further off — perhaps with the aid of my imagination — I could see the upper peninsula of Michigan and Door County, Wisconsin.


In one of those moments when your mind catches up to itself, I realized where I was — perhaps in both a literal and a figurative sense. I was sitting on a beach staring off into the western horizon, yet only a few days before I’d been standing on a different beach and staring off into the eastern horizon. Was this one of those “the grass is always greener” kind of thoughts I was having, now, as I stared off into the direction of home? Or was it more than that? I’m still trying to figure that out. At any rate, the water was definitely bluer there in Cat Head Bay than at home!

Once again, we’d found the Northern Summer and we spent the rest of the day trying to soak up as much of it as possible before heading back to the inn to prepare for the voyage home. It seemed like our vacation had more or less evaporated in less than the time it takes to unpack a suitcase. But, in reflection, when I realized all the places we’d gone, the laughs we shared, the moonrises we’d seen… I realized we’d been afforded a very blissful four days.


~ by Jason on August 4, 2011.

2 Responses to “In Search of the Northern Summer (2011): The Beach at Cat Head Bay”

  1. So beautiful! I feel like I just took a vacation vicariously through you 🙂

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