13 Things to Know About Visiting Torch Lake in Michigan

Torch Lake
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After I made the move to Chicago, one thing that I was desperately searching for were quick weekend getaways.  I was telling a girlfriend at work about my dilemma, as I couldn’t find anything that I deemed “good” enough.  (That’s the thing about being a travel nurse, you experience so many incredible places, you get quite picky).  She had asked me if I had ever been to Michigan, and when I told her “no”, she told me that I absolutely needed to visit Torch Lake as soon as possible.  So I rented a car, packed my bags, and set off to see what all the fuss was about.  And let me tell you – Michigan is every bit as impressive as any other state I’ve traveled to.

As I started to plan my trip to Michigan to visit Torch Lake, (I also visited Traverse City), I had a hard time finding any useful information about the lake.  Below you’ll find everything that I wish I had known and useful information to make your trip to Torch Lake the best trip imaginable.

Because Torch Lake can be a destination for a relaxing weekend or a fun day party destination, some of these questions will/won’t apply to you depending on what kind of trip you’re planning to take.  Overall, I’ve tried to keep in mind that people will be visiting for different reasons and have hopefully answered your question, but this post is more tailored to people who are visiting Torch Lake for a day trip or “party” vibe, and less for people looking for a relaxing weekend away.  As always, if I’ve missed anything, please leave a comment and let me know!




1.  What’s So Special About Torch Lake Anyways?

With no shortage of incredible lakes across the US, especially in Michigan where the Great Lakes are, why should you make it a priority to visit Torch Lake?

Torch Lake is 19 miles long, making it Michigan’s longest inland lake and overall second largest inland lake after Houghton Lake.   It’s also the deepest lake in Michigan with an average depth of 140-feet and the deepest point 350-feet.  The water is a beautiful crystal clear blue, and the white sand beaches are the icing on the cake (can you say Caribbean vibes?).  Aside from the beauty of Torch Lake, it’s also an incredibly fun place to visit!  Most uniquely, there’s a part of the lake where you can walk out onto a sandbar in the middle of the lake, and lounge all day with drinks, games, and food!  I’ve never been to or seen a lake that has this type of atmosphere so it was incredible to experience first hand!


2.  Where is Torch Lake?

Torch Lake is located in Northern Michigan, just east of Traverse City and Grand Traverse Bay.  It’s near the Canadian border, but doesn’t touch the Canadian border.  The closest Great Lake is Lake Michigan.


3.  How Far is Torch Lake from Traverse City?

Visiting both Torch Lake and Traverse City is a popular duo, and something that I would highly suggest if you’re traveling to Michigan.  Traverse City is just 30 miles southwest of Torch Lake and will take about 45 minutes to drive between the two places (depending on where you’re going/coming from).  If you need to rent a car, you can do that here.


If you’re interested in visiting Traverse City, don’t miss:  The Best Weekend Trip to Traverse City, Michigan


4.  What’s the Best Time to Visit Torch Lake?

Because Northern Michigan experiences all four seasons, including extreme winters; the best time to visit Torch Lake is in the summer.  Preferably July/August, but the swimming season lasts until September.  The average temperature of Torch Lake in the summer is around 64 F (in July the average is 68 F).

If you’re looking for a cozy weekend getaway and you’re not interested in swimming in the lake, then I urge you to rent a cabin on the lake and visit sometime in the fall or winter.  Even if the lake is iced over, it’s not recommended to skate or venture out on the ice due to it being too thin and breaking.


5.  What’s the Water Temperature Like at Torch Lake?

As Michigan experiences all four seasons, the water temperature at Torch Lake can drastically change.  Assuming you’re visiting in the summer, you should have comfortable temperatures to swim in.  Swimming season at Torch Lake is from July-September and you can expect the (top layer) water to be around 70° F.  Because of the size of Torch Lake and the water volume (858 billion gallons), the water takes a long time to warm and that’s why swimming season doesn’t start until mid-July.

I did visit Torch Lake in the middle of June and the water temperature wasn’t bad.  This is because we only swam near the sandbar where the water was more shallow so it was warmer than other parts of the lake.  If you’re only planning to hang around the sandbar, you should be fine coming earlier than July!


6.  What Should You Bring to Torch Lake?

If you’re planning a day trip to Torch Lake to experience the party on the sandbar (like me), you don’t need much!  There isn’t a place to store your things safely, so everything you bring will either need to stay in the car or stay left alone on the beach.  I urge you to bring a waterproof phone covering (I use this one) to take your phone and credit card out onto the lake.  You’ll want to bring flip flops to wear from the car to the beach (make sure these aren’t valuable as you’ll be leaving them on the beach), or you can wear water shoes and not take them off – although this isn’t necessary as the sand is fine.  Aside from that, all you’ll need is a swimsuit, sunglasses (these are my favorite for the water), koozies if you plan to drink, floaties (noodles, etc), and sunscreen!  You can even bring a football or frisbee to toss around or any other water games you want to play.  I’d also bring a cover up and a towel, but plan to leave them in the car.  (You also might want a reusable water bottle that will keep your water cold for the day!).


7.  How Long Should I Stay at Torch Lake?

If you plan to day trip to Torch Lake from Chicago or other nearby cities, you don’t need more than a few hours.  I recommend showing up around 11 am and planning to leave around 4 pm.  If you’d rather make this a relaxing trip, you can stay anywhere from a few days to a week.  The options are endless!


8.  Can I Rent a Boat on Torch Lake?

You can absolutely rent a boat on Torch Lake – and I recommend it!  While you don’t need a boat access the sandbar and hang out with other party goers, it’s definitely useful if you’d like to see more of the lake.  If you’re planning to venture to Torch Lake to be out on the sandbar, then the closest boat rental is Torch Lake Rentals.   Otherwise, I recommend Googling “boat rentals Torch Lake” to see what the closest option to where you’re staying is.


9.  Where Should I Stay on Torch Lake?

If you want to visit Torch Lake for longer than a day, there are tons of rentals along the lake where you can stay.  I recommend using the interactive map below to book a stay, or search on Expedia, Booking.com, or VRBO.  Otherwise, you can make the hour drive to Traverse City and stay there instead!



10.  Where Do I Park at Torch Lake?

Again, this question applies to those who are looking to walk out to the sandbar and want to park as close as possible.  If you put “12906 Cherry Ave, Rapid City” into your GPS, you’ll be taken to a small parking lot where you can park for free and walk to a public beach by crossing the bridge and heading towards “Lake St” (about a 5-10 min walk).  Or there’s free parking along the street so if you see a spot near “Lake St” (the public beach access), you can snag it to be close by!  If you need to rent a car to visit Torch Lake, I recommend DiscoverCars.


11.  How Do I Get to the Torch Lake Sandbar?

The easiest way to get to the Torch Lake sandbar once you arrive to Torch Lake (following the instructions above) is simply to walk!  Once you park at the parking lot located at “12906 Cherry Ave, Rapid City”, put on your flip flops (or water shoes) and make the 5-10 minute walk to the public beach with sandbar access.  Once you see the beach (on your left if you’re coming from the parking lot) walk onto the beach, find a spot for your stuff, and walk out to the sandbar.  There are different water depths to get to the sandbar so there’s a chance you’ll be swimming for a little bit too.  You’ll know you’re in the right spot if you see others already out there or if you see a pontoon boat stationed.  (This pontoon boat sells food in the summer).  Walking/swimming to the sandbar is not far and should only take you about 10 minutes.  If you have to keep going, you’re probably in the wrong spot.

Remember, there isn’t anywhere to lock your stuff up so try to leave most things in your car and only leave your flip flops on the beach.


12.  What’s the Food Situation Like at Torch Lake?

There are restaurants around Torch Lake, but one of the more unique things about the lake is that there’s a boat that serves food on the lake out on the sandbar!  If you want to eat make sure to bring money with you to order off of the boat and enjoy your meal in the water.


13.  What’s the Alcohol Situation Like at Torch Lake?

If you’re planning to visit the sandbar, you’ll definitely want alcohol!  You can bring your own or stop by a small liquor store (located between the parking lot on Cherry Ave and the bridge you walk over to get to Lake St) where you can purchase alcohol.  If you’re planning an all day event, you may want to consider a floating cooler and put drinks on ice.  Otherwise you can purchase a small waterproof bag and put drinks in it to carry out to the sandbar.  Just remember, no glass!


Michigan Essentials – What You Need & Need to Know About Visiting Michigan

  • To easiest way to book hotels in Michigan is through Booking.com or Expedia
  • My favorite platform for rental properties is VRBO
  • For car rentals, I recommend Discover Cars
  • For tours and activities in Michigan, I recommend using Viator
  • Don’t forget a Michigan guide book to help plan your travels
  • I recommend traveling with a reusable water bottle to cut down on plastic waste (and to keep your liquids cold)
  • My favorite luggage is Calpak
  • My favorite travel backpack is Nordace


Torch Lake is a fun and unique experience, one that I hope you get the chance to partake in!  As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment below.


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Disclosure:  This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to purchase through my link, at no cost to you.  Passports and Preemies is also a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees.


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Kylee is a NICU nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee has been a NICU nurse for 9 years and a travel nurse for 7 years. Since starting her career in travel nursing, she’s worked in six different states, 10 different hospitals, volunteered as a nurse in North Macedonia, worked as a nurse in Saudi Arabia, and has traveled to 45+ countries. Her favorite travel nurse assignment was in Seattle and her favorite destination is Georgia (the country). Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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  1. Colleen
    August 21, 2022 / 1:39 am

    Stupid question, but can you walk out to the sand bar from this access point? Or you have a big swim? I’m traveling to Torch Lake next week with my kids & really wanted to take them for a quick trip to the sandbar but don’t want to have to rent anything to get to the sandbar. There is very little information and how to get there! Your blog has by far been the most helpful article I’ve come across yet.

    • August 21, 2022 / 7:48 am

      Hi Colleen, thank you for the comment! And I agree with you – when I went I couldn’t find any information about this activity so I’m so glad that you were able to find my page :). So, I’m sure it varies based on the water level, but you can walk out to the sandbar. At times, the water is much higher (waist deep versus ankle deep) so depending on how tall your kids are, you may need to swim at times. The journey is quite short and it isn’t a long swim, but if they are younger you might want to consider floaties. Hope this helps and please let me know if you need anything else!

  2. Amanda
    July 13, 2023 / 1:16 pm

    Hi! We are traveling to Torch Lake with a toddler and baby soon and I’m curious about the actual “beach” aspect of the lake. I’m envisioning that it is very small and not a ton of space to set up an umbrella, chairs, sand castle building, etc. Do you feel like people hang out on the beach or is everyone there for just swimming and sandbar activities?

    • July 13, 2023 / 3:06 pm

      Hi Amanda! From my experience, there was very little “beach” to enjoy. It was much more water activity focused/hanging out on the sand bar. But the lake is so big that I’m not sure whether or not there are other beach spots around? I just know that the location I specifically talked about in this post did not have a big beach spot. I hope that this helps! Have a blast!

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