10 Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Torch Lake and the Chain of Lakes

On a map, you could imagine that the Chain of Lakes—14 interconnected lakes and rivers for a grand total of 55 miles—is a hose filling Lake Michigan’s East Grand Traverse Bay at the mouth in Elk Rapids. That’s kinda true. Here’s more you’ll want to know about this water playground!

1. The biggest, baddest, bluest of the Chain is Torch Lake that spreads its beauty 19 miles from Rapid City to Eastport. 

2. Although Torch Lake is shaped like its namesake, the name actually derives from the native word Waswaaganing, which translates to “lake of the torches.” In order to hunt the large fish that lived deep in the lake, the native men held their birch torches close to the water, luring the whitefish and trout to the surface with the bright light.

3. The Chain of Lakes supplies 60 percent of Grand Traverse Bay’s surface water.

4. Petoskey stones are buried on the shores of the Chain of Lakes, formed by coral fossils that the glaciers picked up and spread throughout the Lower Peninsula. These stones are a remnant of the once shallow, salt-water sea that covered ancient Northern Michigan, housing coral reefs and plenty of other organic material. 

5. Michigan’s DNR named the Chain of Lakes one of the first eight state-designated water trails. It’s the aquatic equivalent to a hiking trail, with 81 access sites for those with small, non-motorized boats. For a perfect round-trip (no need to shuttle cars), put in at Richardi Park in Bellaire and paddle Intermediate River to Intermediate Lake and back. 

6. A dam in the city of Bellaire separates the Lower and Upper Chain of Lakes.

7. The Lower Chain is made up of the bigger lakes—Elk, Torch and Bellaire. There are plenty of marinas to rent boats for a day of watersports.

8. The Brownwood Country Store of Brownwood Acres in Central Lake was originally the Eastport Inn, which fell through the ice during its journey across Torch Lake in 1957. 

9. The Chain of Lakes was formed by glaciers in the Ice Age. Torch Lake would be a part of Lake Michigan if not for a narrow strip of land, less than a quarter mile wide, that separates the two. 

10. The crystal-clear water of Torch Lake does more than provide a picturesque view. It makes the lake a great spot for the common loon as the slick swimming bird is a visual predator, needing clear water for both hunting and defense techniques.