Indian River, a small town between Mackinaw City and Gaylord, could be called the heart of northern Michigan. Situated on the Inland Waterway is a series of lakes and rivers connecting Lake Huron to Crooked Lake, and the town sits between Mullett and Burt Lakes alongside its namesake: the Indian River.
While outdoor adventure activities abound, glimpses into local history come through art installations, including a totem pole near the Indian River trailhead and the local sturgeon sculpture.
Thank you to the Indian River Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for hosting my visit. All opinions are mine.
Things To Do In Indian River
Indian River experiences focus on Michigan’s great outdoors, with woods and watercraft activities.
1. Have An Adventure At Big Bear Adventures
With all that Big Bear Adventures offers, you can spend the whole day there, experiencing adventures of all types. The fastest in Michigan’s lower peninsula, the Sturgeon River, isn’t whitewater, but you will find it exciting.
Rafting provides the most stability, and they offer five-person and seven-person rafts. The river does most of the work of propelling you downstream, but your team will need to steer around obstacles and narrow passages. I was a first-time rafter and found this experience fun and exciting. The trip ends at Burt Lake State Park, where you can picnic, swim, and play on the beach.
Guided ATV Tours
This two-and-a-half-hour guided ATV tour takes you through Michigan’s pine and hardwood forests for an authentic up-north experience. A guide leads the group in their vehicle, and you follow in yours. With the guide, you don’t need to worry about hidden hazards, getting lost, or mechanical issues. Instead, they provide all the necessary equipment for a safe yet fun experience.
2. Visit DeVoe Beach Park And Veterans Pier
This township park, located on a large shallow cove at the mouth of Indian River and Burt Lake, is just a short walk from the middle of downtown Indian River. It has a picnic area, pavilion, and sandy beach. The beach is perfect for fireworks viewing if you’re in town for Independence Day.
Veterans Pier at DeVoe Beach Park is an ADA-accessible, barrier-free fishing pier. The dock is ideal for fishing or watching the sunset from one of its many benches. The pier is also a spot for viewing the lighted boat parade during the Top O’ Michigan Boat Races.
3. Rent A Boat At Howe Marine
Located on the Indian River, between Mullett and Burt Lakes, Howe Marine is in the heart of the Inland Waterway. A perfect place to rent a watercraft and cruise down the Indian River to one of the lakes. After admiring their work on old wooden boats, we rented a pontoon boat and headed out on Burt Lake at sunset.
4. Explore Burt Lake State Park
Located at the southeast corner of Burt Lake, Burt Lake State Park features 2,000 feet of sandy shoreline. The year-round 400-acre park offers 306 modern camping sites and four restroom buildings, including showers. A boat launch with a skid pier makes it a convenient place to kick off boating and fishing. In addition, the one-mile trail makes it a great place to hike and discover the area.
5. Wander Through The National Shrine At The Cross In The Woods
People come from around the world to Cross in the Woods to view the Marshall Fredericks–designed sculpture called The Man on the Cross. Constructed from Oregon Redwood, the cross is 55 feet high and 22 feet wide. Cast in bronze in Norway, the body weighs 7 tons and is 28 feet long, with an arms span of 21 feet.
6. Listen Inside Nature’s Megaphone
Based on an Estonian art installation of three megaphones, Charles Dawley, with the help of local high school students, implemented a Nature’s Megaphone in Banwell Nature Preserve. Inside the megaphone, it amplifies the sounds of the forest, birds, insects, and wind to the point where barely audible sounds are easily heard.
Banwell Nature Preserve is 400 acres adjacent to the Andreae Nature Preserve, offering 3 miles of shoreline along the Pigeon River. To reach the megaphone, I found it closest to park at the Andreae Nature Preserve, about a 2-mile loop from the parking lot to the megaphone and back.
Best Restaurants In Indian River
The local lakes feature a variety of fish, from whitefish and walleye to lake perch. Add to that Michigan is number two in the nation for its variety of agricultural products, and you’re sure to find fresh ingredients on the menus.
Vivio’s serves Italian and American fare in a Northwoods cabin atmosphere. While my husband gobbled up the lasagna, I found their pizza equally tasty. Combine that with one of their crispy antipasto salads and house-made yeast rolls, and you won’t have room for their specialty tiramisu.
- Best Appetizer: Artichoke and Crab Dip
- Traveler’s Choice: Whitefish Vivio’s Style
8. Christopher’s Cafe
Christopher’s Cafe has been serving meals in Indian River for more than 75 years. They’ve stood the test of time. The café offers both breakfast and lunch all day.
- Indulgent Breakfast: Cinnamon Roll Waffle
- Instagram Worthy: Chef Salad
9. Greenside Grille
Located at the Indian River Golf Club, the Greenside Grille is the perfect stop for lunch after a morning golf round. Their deck has stunning views of the greens.
- Best Appetizer: Bruschetta
- Local Favorite: Fish Tacos
10. Michael’s Tavern And Steakhouse
Housed in a renovated 1938 historic log building, Michael’s Tavern & Steakhouse features an upscale dining experience in a rustic chic atmosphere. A perfect venue for a celebratory steak dinner, yet they also offer burgers and fries.
- Best Side: Cauliflower
- Indulgent Entrée: Lobster and Truffle Mac N’ Cheese
11. Wilson’s Rivers Edge Restaurant
Wilson’s Rivers Edge Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with soups and pies made from scratch. You won’t walk away hungry from their all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. A meal here is an excellent option if you’re traveling with the grandkids.
- Local Favorite: Nutty Camper’s Toast
- Must-Try Dessert: Homemade Cherry Pie
12. Thirsty Sturgeon
Located out of town on the Sturgeon River, the Thirsty Sturgeon patio showcases views of the river. Serving lunch and dinner, they choose Michigan suppliers whenever possible. Their peach dream dessert made with fresh peaches was a pure taste of summer.
- Best Appetizer: Smoked Whitefish Pâté
- Best Sandwich: Italian Grinder
13. Northland Brewing Company
After dinner, Northland Brewing Company is a great place to listen to live music and enjoy a local brew.
- On Tap: Bride’s Choice IPA
- On Tap: Mother McClutchey’s Irish Stout
Where To Shop In Indian River
While Indian River is more of an outdoor dream than a shopping mecca, they still offer some noteworthy stores you’ll want to visit.
Chocolate is a favorite treat when visiting northern Michigan and Drost’s offers a wide selection. For decades they’ve handmade their chocolates and fudge behind their counter on a marble slab. They also provide treats like brittles, licorice, caramel corn, and taffy if you’re not into chocolate. Locally-made ice cream is a perfect treat after a hot afternoon outdoors.
McClutchey’s is a fifth-generation department store sure to have that one thing you’re desperate for. We left our jackets home, but the weather prediction was chilly for our evening boat ride. Even though we require larger sizes, McClutchey’s had the perfect fleece. If shopping isn’t your thing, but you need a particular item, they offer comfortable chairs and will bring you a variety of selections to try.
If you’re traveling with the grandkids, Chillermania is a must-see stop. A unique author-owned bookstore where the only books sold are by the author, Jonathon Rand. His mission is to let kids know they can do anything if they can read. If the group of 13-year-old girls on a birthday adventure is any indication, he’s very convincing. He offers writing classes for the kiddos and a fun experience for everyone who visits.
Best Hotels In Indian River
You will find various small, locally owned accommodations with northern Michigan charm. Since most have only a few rooms, I’ve offered many options. Select your stay based on your interests, as many connect to your favorite outdoor activity.
17. Totem Lodges
Totem Lodges are seven mini-lodges with Michigan Northwoods décor, where you’ll find modern tiled showers, hammered copper sinks, and waterfall faucets. The rooms include a kitchen with a full refrigerator and microwave. Guests can arrive late and receive contactless check-in using smart keypad locks.
The owners also have The Stargate Motel, so you’ll experience the same friendly service.
18. Waterway Inn
Located in the town of Indian River, the Waterway Inn is within walking distance from most restaurants, Burt Lake State Park, and downtown. Adjacent to the North-Central Rail Trail, known as the 720 Trail to the snowmobile community, guests can access the trail from the inn.
The Waterway Inn offers 11 rooms and five mobile homes. Most rooms have a gas fireplace that’s perfect for a chilly day. In the evenings, you’ll find guests gathering and socializing around the fire pit.
19. Northwoods Lodge
Northwoods Lodge features a northern Michigan theme, including log furniture and wildlife art. This award-winning lodge features 15 rooms that provide the privacy of a motel and the quaint charm of a bed and breakfast. They include a self-serve breakfast with your stay. Conveniently located across the street from the North-Central Rail Trail makes the lodge a perfect location for snowmobiling and bicycling.
20. The Landings
The Landings offers 17 units on the Indian River, and each one comes with a boat slip. Being right on the river makes it the perfect place to enjoy the sunset from your cabin’s front porch or on a leisurely cruise down the river.
21. Inland Lakes Motel
Sitting at exit 313, the Inland Lakes Motel has 10 rooms and a three-bedroom house. This newly renovated motel provides a modern experience with hassle-free smart keypad locks.
Pro Tip: You’ll find numerous benches along the waterways for those with mobility challenges or who like to sit and pass the time. Making it a perfect way to enjoy a sunset, fish, or watch the water.
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