15 Outstanding Things to Do in Idlewild, Michigan You Can’t Miss

Idlewild, Michigan / Source: Second Wave Media

Located in the beautiful forests of western Michigan, Idlewild is a historic resort community with deep African American heritage.

At its peak from the 1930s to 1960s, Idlewild was home to black-owned hotels, nightclubs, shops, and summer homes that hosted some of the era’s greatest Black musicians and entertainers.

Today, Idlewild is both a National Historic Landmark and an arts colony that still celebrates Black culture, writers, musicians and artists. Although the town’s population shrinks from thousands to just a few hundred in winter, Idlewild comes alive in summer.

Festivals, live music, galleries, and historic landmarks pay homage to the impact this lakeside haven had on African American arts, commerce, and leisure over generations.

The community’s spirit of acceptance and creativity welcomes all to share in its heritage and natural gifts. Here’s my guide to the best things to see, do, and experience in Idlewild.

1. Tour Williams Island

Williams Island / Source: Michael Engel

Known as the “Black Eden”, Williams Island was the lively commercial and entertainment district of historic Idlewild in the 1930s-1960s.

Take a walking tour to see preserved buildings like the Paradise Lounge music venue, Hurley’s Barber Shop, Sorrento Hotel, and other landmarks celebrating Idlewild’s heritage as a top African American destination.

2. Attend the African American Festival

Idlewild Music Festival / Source: BLAC Media

Each August, this lively 2 day festival celebrates Idlewild’s African American art, music, culture and history. Live music, artisan market, crafts, kids zone, gospel fest, golf tournament, history tours and more make for an engaging event. Held at William Island, Paradise Lounge and other venues around town.

3. Paddle the Pere Marquette River

Pere Marquette River / Source: Baldwin Canoe Rental & RV Park

The Pere Marquette National Scenic River flows gently through the forests near Idlewild, offering calm paddling for canoes and kayaks. Outfitters like PM Canoe Rental and Pere Marquette Canoe Trips provide rentals, shuttles and guided trips on the river. Multi-day camping trips are also available.

4. Play Disc Golf at Lincoln Hills Golf Club

Lincoln Hills Golf Club / Source: Lincoln Hills Golf Club

This scenic 18 hole disc golf course is set on the grounds of the historic African American Lincoln Hills golf course and resort just 8 miles south of Idlewild. The wooded course features tee pads, targets, and terrain elevation changes across its 1.5 mile layout circling a lake.

5. Swim & Beach at Lake Ida

Lake Ida / Source: Second Wave Media

Located right in Idlewild, this small inland lake offers a nice public beach area for swimming and building sandcastles. Visitors can also launch boats like kayaks, canoes, and small sailboats to enjoy on Lake Ida. Picnic tables, grills, playground and restrooms available. $3 daily fee.

6. Try Fly Fishing the Pere Marquette River

Fishing the Pere Marquette River / Source: Betts Guide Service

The Pere Marquette is revered by fly anglers for its healthy population of rainbow and brown trout. Fly shops like Pere Marquette River Lodge in Baldwin offer guided wade and float fishing trips, gear, flies, and local expertise on this Blue Ribbon trout stream. Prime fishing is late April – September.

7. Hike the North Country National Scenic Trail

North Country National Scenic Trail / Source: The Dyrt

Part of this epic 4,600 mile national trail winds through Idlewild following the Pere Marquette River, including the Idlewild River Walk section starting at W. Broadway Ave. Enjoy river views, placards on history, and forest scenery on foot, bike or skis.

8. Drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive / Source: Cherry Republic

This gorgeous 7.5 mile loop drive winds through thick Arcadia Dunes forests and above Lake Michigan overlooks. Entry to the scenic drive is 8 miles north of Idlewild near Arcadia. Interpretive stops and short hikes along the drive showcase the diverse landscapes and ecosystems. $10 daily vehicle pass required.

9. Mountain Bike the Victory Trail

Victory Trail / Source: Modern Hiker

The Victory Trail consists of nearly 30 miles of flowing single track set on former railroad lands between Baldwin and Hesperia. Just 10 minutes south of Idlewild, the trail has options for novice to advanced mountain bikers through the Manistee National Forest terrain. Parking lots provide access.

10. Try Zip Lining’

Zip line in Idle Wild / Source: Cranbrook Daily Townsman

This outdoor adventure park offers adrenaline-pumping zip lines, rope courses and climbing walls within the surrounding forest canopy. Just a 15 minute drive south near Lake Ann, it provides fun family activities and challenges for all ages and thrill levels.

11. Pick Fruit at Jack’s Country Orchard

Orchards in Michigan / Source: My Michigan Beach and Travel

10 miles south of Idlewild, this family orchard offers pick-your-own apples, peaches, berries, pumpkins, and cherries in season. Pre-picked fruit, baked goods, jams, fudge and refreshments also stock their farm stand to take home delicious local flavors.

12. Camp at Pere Marquette Campground

Pere Marquette State Park Camping / Source: The Dyrt

Located along the Pere Marquette River just 8 miles south of Idlewild, this campground has over 100 wooded sites for tents and RVs, flush toilets, and coin showers. Great budget-friendly home base for area adventures. Reservations recommended in peak season.

13. Shop for Art in Idlewild

Idlewild display / Source: WOODTV

Several galleries and shops in Idlewild feature work by local artists specializing in mediums like painting, photography, jewelry, glasswork and more. Top picks include Gallery 1929, Glasstronomy, Midway Cafe & Gallery, and Idlewild Gallery & Framing. The work wonderfully captures Michigan scenery and culture.

14. Take a Lake Michigan Circle Tour

Lake Michigan / Source: Eos

This popular 248 mile scenic driving loop tours quaint harbor towns, lighthouses, beaches and attractions along Michigan’s western Lake Michigan shoreline. From Idlewild, destinations include Ludington, Manistee, Frankfort, Traverse City, Charlevoix, and Silver Lake Sand Dunes. Maps outline the route.

15. Dine at Idlewild Eateries

Idlewild Eateries / Source: Idlewild & SoakZone

Top picks for delicious food in Idlewild include mid-century D’Lynds Drive In known for burgers, dogs and fried lake perch, Diner-31 serving hearty breakfasts and bakery treats, and Greenman’s Cafe dishing up homestyle soups, sandwiches and daily specials. Idlewild also has several lively bars and pubs for evening entertainment.

With its live music venues, cultural festivals, galleries, historic sites, and natural recreation, Idlewild offers many engaging ways to immerse yourself in the experiences that have made this community so culturally significant.

Visiting Idlewild is a trip through decades of African American experiences along the shores of Michigan’s beautiful lake country.

However you choose to spend your time, soak up all aspects of this historic and cultural gem. From the lake breezes to the walking tours, Idlewild is sure to inspire your heart and mind any time of year.

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