Page 1 of 1

Grand Traverse Bay Launch Sites

Posted: Thu Feb 23, 2017 9:58 am
by jimh
A Brief Summary of Public Access Boat Launch Sites in the Grand Traverse Bay Area

On the West Arm of Grand Traverse Bay at Greilikville on M-22 just coming out of Traverse City, the Elmwood Township Marina has a good ramp. However, on the weekends in the summer it can be extremely busy. Even though they have five or six ramp lanes, it gets backed up. They have a large parking lot there, and it will fill-up, too. We have launched there and left our truck and trailer parked for several days; they charge you for parking but it is a reasonable amount. When I have driven by on a beautiful weekend Sunday at 4 p.m., it looks like a madhouse of boats are contending at the ramp.

Suttons Bay has a municipal marina with a ramp, and another separate parking lot and launch ramp just north of the marina. In 2016 they announced the marina launch ramp would be closed from June 15 to August 15, and they would direct boat traffic to the North Park launch site. I believe they did this to hold down traffic congestion in their limited marina parking area. The North Park ramp is okay for smaller boats if the lake level is high. Lots of parking there. I have not used the North Park ramp.

Between TC and Suttons Bay on the West Arm off of M-22 there is a public launching site. It has good parking, but the ramp is only two lanes and the approach is in very shallow water. I have never launched or loaded there, but I think I could if very motivated and careful.

Northport has a good ramp inside the marina breakwall, but limited parking for trailers. The boat-trailer parking lot fills easily on the weekends. There is a possibility for off-site parking of the trailer, then you can drive back in the truck and leave the truck there in the car parking area. However, they have a Friday morning Farmer's Market that takes over most of the car-parking lot, so you have to be careful about leaving your car in the wrong place if you are away for a few days.


Elk Rapids on the East Arm has a nice ramp inside the marina breakwall. I have never been there on a summer weekend to see how crowded it can get. When I have been there at off-peak times the very large parking lot was generally empty. The ramp looks like it could handle any trailer boat; I have not used the ramp but often visit the marina by boat.

Charlevoix has a public ramp on Lake Charlevoix. It is a great ramp--saw a guy load a 56-foot Sea Ray on that ramp--and there is substantial parking. We have launched and loaded there many times, and found a parking spot, even on a three-day holiday weekend--but we got there early.

Petoskey has a launch ramp inside the harbor breakwall. There is limited parking there. I have not launched there.

Harbor Springs has a launch ramp. Parking is limited. You can make arrangements to park your trailer off-site with the commercial marina, Irish Boat Shop, if you plan to stay there. I have launched and loaded there without any problems, other than parking.

Cross Village has a steel frame and grate ramp on the beach that is open to Lake Michigan. There is limited parking. The access is via sandy roads. I have not tried this ramp and I recommend proceeding with caution; you may need a four-wheel-drive vehicle due to the sand.


At Leland there is a great ramp, but somewhat limited parking. In the past, during the week, you could park the truck-trailer at a church parking lot about three blocks away, if the ramp parking was full. The harbormaster keeps an attendant at the trailer parking area to shoo away tourists who want to park their Toyota PRIUS in the 50-foot long boat-trailer lanes, so there will generally be some open trailer parking during the week. I have not been there recently on a summer weekend, but I would expect lots of traffic if Lake Michigan has nice conditions for small trailer boats.

Some maps show a ramp at Glen Arbor. There is no breakwall there; the ramp is exposed. The ramp is a steel frame and grate on the beach sand, and it looks a bit too sketchy for me to use. There is very limited truck-trailer parking there, only a few spaces.

At Empire there is a beach launch site with trailer parking. The ramp is a steel frame and grate set on the beach and is exposed to the open Lake Michigan. I have not launched there. We visited there recently and found that the parking lot appears to set aside just six spaces for boat trailers. Due to the extremely open conditions, I cannot imagine launching there unless the lake was calm and there was some overriding need to use that site at all costs. The descent from the parking lot level to the water looks very steep. Also this site appears to be part of a National Park, so an entrance fee of $10 per person per day is applicable. It appears that a portion of the distance from the paved parking lot to the top of the steel grate traverses over ony beach sand, so I would anticipate you will need a four-wheel-drive vehicle get across that gap.

At Frankfort there is a multi-lane launch ramp and plenty of trailer parking inside the protected harbor. I have not launched there myself, but it should be an excellent facility. I suspect it may become crowded when the salmon and steelhead fishing peaks.

On any beautiful weekend day in mid-summer I think there will be a lot of traffic at any of the ramps for Grand Traverse Bay. It is much better to go on a week day.

Re: Grand Traverse Bay Launch Sites

Posted: Thu Feb 23, 2017 5:53 pm
by Tom Hemphill
...The ramp is a steel frame on the beach sand...

Unless it's what I know as a "marine railway," I can't picture what that looks like. Could you describe it more fully?

Re: Grand Traverse Bay Launch Sites

Posted: Thu Feb 23, 2017 6:56 pm
by ConB
In addition to the launch sites JimH speaks of, there are three that I know of on Old Mission peninsula.

Bowers Harbor, East Bay, and Haserot park on the north end of Old Mission.

I have never used any of them so have no personal knowledge.


Re: Grand Traverse Bay Launch Sites

Posted: Thu Feb 23, 2017 7:11 pm
by ConB
Here is a video of the street end steel grate launch at Glen Arbor. Use at you own risk.


Re: Grand Traverse Bay Launch Sites

Posted: Fri Feb 24, 2017 8:53 am
by jimh
Con--thanks for the link to the three ramps on Old Mission Peninsula. I have seen the ramp at Haserot Park from seaward.

Tom--the motion picture recording (see link in Con's post) shows the steel frame and grate beach ramp--on a bad day. The term "grate" is a better descriptor. [I'll add it to my comments above.] They have the same sort of ramp at Cross Village and Empire. I suppose on a very calm day they'll be easier to use.

ASIDE: In Michigan, with its many lakes, there is a tradition that when a county road ends at a lake, the end of the country road at the lakeshore is considered a public access boat ramp--improved or not improved. That's the case with the Glen Arbor ramp, I believe.

Re: G. Marsten Dame Marina in Northport

Posted: Thu Sep 28, 2017 2:54 pm
by jimh
Here is a mapping of slip numbers (which are completely non-systematic) at the G. Marsten Dame Marina in Northport, Michigan:

G. Marsten Dame Marina, Northport, Michigan slip numbering scheme
NorthportMarinaSlipNumbers.jpg (68.94 KiB) Viewed 8521 times

Slips 101 to 105 used to be reserved for Shopper Docks for short term transient use, but visiting cruising boat traffic has become so large that they are almost always used for overnight docking in June, July, August, and early September.

Re: Grand Traverse Bay Launch Sites

Posted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 9:44 am
by Dutchman
I have launched at several of at the above mentioned launches in the last two years. Jim is spot on with his comments.

I can add that the Elk Rapids launch is one of the best municipal launches found on the east side of Lake Michigan. The bay side launch can handle anything and has good parking. The cost for transient slips is reasonable and the facilities are top notch. The inner harbor of Elk Rapids (for access to Elk Lake, Lake Skegemog, Torch River and Torch Lake) has no true parking. There is designate public street parking for trailers down the road, but it could be a walk of 3 to 5 blocks when the ramp is busy.

Charlevoix, Frankfort, Harbor Springs, Leland, and Petoskey are, like Jim said, all nice and easy.

Re: Grand Traverse Bay Launch Sites

Posted: Sun Mar 18, 2018 4:43 pm
by jimh
Here is the launch facility at Suttons Bay, in off-season. Plenty of parking space and no wait for the ramp:

Suttons Bay public launch ramp on March 15, 2018. Photo credit Con Balfour
IMG_1602.jpg (105.4 KiB) Viewed 7808 times

Re: Grand Traverse Bay Launch Sites

Posted: Sat Mar 31, 2018 8:27 am
by jimh
We visited the launch site at Empire that I mention above. I have made a correction to my earlier comments regarding the parking space available there; parking for boat trailers is limited to six spaces at most. Also, the parking lot level is rather high above the lake level, and I imagine that descending to the water from the parking lot on the beach ramp will be quite spectacular. I am crossing off Empire as a launch site unless the circumstances were very extraordinarily compelling.