Fall has to be the best, though shortest, season of the year.  And once the beans and corn are off, it’s a good time to take a well earned vacation.  The question is – where can you go that’s reasonably close, inexpensive, and a great place to visit with lots of things to do?  For many, that answer just might be Houghton Lake in central Michigan.

Actually, reaching this biggest inland Michigan lake can take a long time if farmers travel with their wife and kids.  Because you’ll need to stop at the huge Cabela’s outdoor store which lies just off Route 23 and not far north of the Michigan border.  That store has everything for outdoor oriented landowners from every imaginable kind of boat and outdoor clothing to fishing gear and weaponry.

Frankenmuth lies just north of Flint, and you’ll need to stop there, too, to visit dozens of shops in an alpine setting, have a fried chicken lunch at the famous Bavarian Inn, and visit even more famous Bronner’s Christmas shop, which has seemingly every kind of Christmas ornament, artificial tree, painting, music, and knicknack known to man.

Still, you’ll reach Houghton Lake eventually, with most of your travel over 4-6 lane highways that have 70 mph speed limits, and you’ll find the lake and surrounding area classic Michigan.  That means white barked birch trees, hemlocks, and bracken fern, clear, clean water, and a hint of wood smoke on the early morning air.  With Labor Day long gone, there’ll be few people compared to busy summer days, and prices for the innumerable cabins, motel rooms, and campsites lower than usual.

Better yet, since the autumn foliage turn starts north and gradually progresses south, you can leave Ohio with its green trees only touched with reds and golds, and drive into full fledged autumn which is where Houghton will shortly be.  There’s lots to do in and around the lake, and fishing is just one of the sports waiting.  Stop in at a place like Lyman’s Tackle & Bait Shop on M55 near the west end of the lake, and you’ll hear plenty about what’s biting and where.  Lyman’s also has several rental cabins with cooking facilities.

The lake has excellent panfishing for rockbass, bluegill, redears, and crappie, and one easy way to catch some is to work  nightcrawlers or waxworms around small weed beds.  There’s very good northern pike action too, something scarce in Ohio, and one tactic is to rent a boat at such places as the L & G Boat Rental or Edgewater Beach, again on the west end, and troll right off their docks with black and grey sinking Rapalas, spinnerbaits, and stick baits.

Since the lake covers 22,000 acres it can be fun to take the family and just boat, exploring here and there, and watching flocks of mallard ducks.  Or paddle a canoe down a little river where you might see anything from deer and wild turkeys to bobcats and black bear.  Or go for long hikes in thousands of acres of public land nearby.  Plan your seasons right, and you can do some hunting on those acres of public land, too.  I arrowed my first Michigan deer just a few miles out of town some years ago, and shot my first Michigan ruffed grouse and black squirrel there.

It’s always nice to make the short drive (10 miles or so) to Higgins Lake just north, and see what really clear water looks like in this haven for lake and rainbow trout.  Sometimes you can see fish finning 40 feet below, and swim, if it isn’t too cold yet, on a white sugar sand beach.  My wife likes to travel on Houghton Lake trips, so we take time to explore little towns like Roscommon and Prudenville, St. Helens and West Branch to browse through little shops, country markets, and antique stores.

On our last trip we made a longer drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park in the northwest corner of the Lower Peninsula.  And climbed high rising dunes where many a movie actor had ridden camels and fought Berbers in the shifting sands.  Against a background of impossibly blue Lake Michigan water it was quite a sight.

It’s a nice place to visit, this Houghton Lake area, and again, far different from northern Ohio.  Whether you go to hurry around and pursue multiple activitities or just sit in a lawn chair and watch waves ripple onto shore, you’ll need information.  For fishing tips, try Lyman’s at (517) 422-3231 and for any other needs, call the Houghton Lake Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-248-LAKE.  Then plan  a  pleasant, low key trip to a good place.

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