Michigan State Parks: Lime Island Recreation Area

Lime Island entrance sign

We’ve been asked many times since completing our 103 State Parks tour what our favorites were, or what park surprised us the most. High on both those lists is Lime Island Recreation Area. Its unique features, location, and history really charmed me.

Lime Island Recreation Area wasn’t even on my radar until we started plotting out all the parks. And even then, it was well into the year before we discovered that it was actually on an island.

Now, with a name like Lime Island, why would we think differently? Because, for example, Fisherman’s Island State Park is NOT an island, it is named FOR an island. So, we didn’t think twice until we started plotting our travels and soon discovered we had a slight problem.

Not only is Lime Island RA on an island, but there is no provided transportation available to get you there.

Lime Island Recreation Area is located in the St. Mary’s River at the very east end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It sits in the middle of the river with Canada on one side and Michigan on the other. Raber, Michigan is the nearest shore town, 2 miles across the river.

The only way to reach the park is by boat. But, unlike going to Mackinac Island where there are designated ferries, no such service is available for Lime Island. Therefore, the only way to reach it is by using your own boat or finding someone in the area with a boat willing to charter you and your gear. Non-motorized boats are not recommended due to the many freighters and choppy conditions.

Luckily for us, we were able to make special arrangements with the park manager and rangers to give us a ride on a DNR boat. For a look at the river crossing, watch our YouTube video of our visit.

Two adults on a boat heading to Lime Island

History of Lime Island Recreation Area

Lime Island is a really pretty place and has quite a history. Human activity has been traced back over 4,000 years. The original inhabitants were Native Americans, and then French trappers making their way across the north during the 1700s. More than a dozen lime kilns dating back to this time period have been discovered.

Between 1846 and 1910 the island changed hands many times, including two different private citizens. One even tried to make it a resort with a hotel for the rich and famous.

View of Lime Island Recreation Area from the water
View of Lime Island

What the island is most known for is its time as a coal refueling station for the boats and freighters headed up and down the river. This lasted from 1910-1982, with the island becoming a regular little community of workers and their families. In 1912, a schoolhouse was built for the 17 children who lived on the island. The school remained in operation until 1961. When the freighters switched from coal to liquid fuel, two 1.5 million tanks were built. The dock closed in 1982 when freighters with larger fuel capacity no longer needed to stop midway for refueling. The island sold to the state of Michigan for $1 and all the families had to leave the island.

According to the DNR: “Lime Island provides a significant representation of early 20th-century industrial and maritime history. The coal dock, fuel storage tanks, Quonset hut with bunker, fuel heating and pumping equipment, other supporting buildings, and scattered industrial equipment, provide a complete picture of the island’s use as a ship refueling depot. The schoolhouse, superintendent’s house (that was brought to the island by dragging it across the frozen river), cottages, and fruit trees remind visitors of island life for the workers that supported the depot.”

Staying on Lime Island

Today, Lime Island Recreation Area caters to those wanting to get away and enjoy a secluded stay among nature. Overnight accommodations include six cabins that can sleep between four and seven guests each, as well as 10 tent sites on wooden platforms.

Row of cabins on Lime Island Recreation Area
Wooden platform for tents on Lime Island
Tent platform overlooking the river

The park is a favorite among fishermen, couples, and large families who like to rent out all the cabins for annual reunions.

The boat slip comes with your reservation, so you can leave your boat in the water the whole time, or you can take it out at any time to go fishing or exploring.

The island has limited electricity (solar-powered only) and no running water. Portable toilets are provided and there is a pump for potable-water well. Guests need to provide all their own gear, including sleeping and cooking supplies and equipment.

Exploring Lime Island

Approximately 7 miles of hiking trails traverse the island, providing guests the chance to wander, explore and possibly encounter wildlife. With so little human activity you never know what you’ll find.

Trail through Lime Island

Hunting is allowed on the island, as well. Check regulations for more detail, but white-tailed deer, black bear, and small game inhabit the island.

A few of the original structures remain that are worth exploring. These include the superintendent’s house (now a small museum), the schoolhouse, a few kilns, and the fuel tanks.

One of the favorite pastimes of guests is sitting and watching the large Great Lakes freighters pass by at all hours of the day. They pass so close to the island you feel you could almost touch them. It’s quite a sight!

Lime Island Is Worth The Trip

According to the DNR, Craig Lake State Park in the middle of the Upper Peninsula is considered the most remote state park. That may be true from the fact that its thousands of acres of forest in the middle of nowhere down a 7-mile semi-hazardous dirt road. But I beg to differ. I might be able to see civilization from Lime Island, but any place that requires a boat – and a private boat at that – surely should be defined as remote!

In the end, it may not be super easy to reach Lime Island Recreation Area. But what you’ll find when you arrive far surpasses the challenges that it takes to get there. Find a way to visit, you’ll be glad you did.

Great Lakes Freighter passing by Lime Island

We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. We have a video about Lime Island Recreation Area here. You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see each of the parks we visited on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.

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