Great Lakes retirement location advice…

A buddy has a condo in Charlevoix. He says lots of folks kayak and canoe there…I need to visit him next summer. Unfortunately he is not a paddler.

There are a couple of wineries in Alpena. Also two excellent museums, a wildlife sanctuary, nature preserves, hiking trails, and great paddling, including the Thunder Bay River. Library, grocery stores, even a WalMart there.

I lived on Lake Huron for a couple of summers about 30 miles south of Alpena. It’s a lovely area.

@SteveA Not sure when you plan to retire, but it might be worthwhile to spend some vacation time in your areas of interest to get the flavor of the towns.

At the earliest we might retire late Summer 2022.

We spent a week in the Alpena area last June. Got out on Huron twice - launching from Black River and Partridge point.

We also just went for 4 days between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

We generally like it there.

We looked (from the outside) at houses from Rogers City down to Harrisville. On our drive home we took M23 all the way down to Saginaw area. East Tawas looked interesting - but in a quick drive-through looked a bit more worn and seasonal than Alpena did. Given the right house we also liked Harrisville pretty well.

We hope to go back - for a weather-check in February or March (just for a long weekend).

Hey Tom,

Thanks for the info and the offer to show us around. As the weather gets warmer and we have some time off work we may take you up on your offer.

Thanks again!

Where do you live in Ohio? We live in a western suburb of Cleveland, one which offers very little traffic, while at the same time offering excellent access to multiple freeways and large shopping areas within convenient distances to our home. We bought our perfect move-in condition home for $178K six years ago, and it offers everything we could ask for, while at the same time allowing us to expand/improve it with the ability to gain every dollar we put into it back if/when we sell. Our suburb has the lowest taxes of any in the county, thanks to unobtrusive businesses who are footing that bill for us.

We’re 3 miles from the lake, with multiple available kayak put-ins.

The only downside to Cleveland I can say is winter and the lack of cosmopolitan amenities…but unless you’re prepared to live in Chicago, I don’t think you’re going to find great cultural amenities anywhere convenient to the Great Lakes anyway. And winter is everywhere you can live near the Great Lakes as well. Being on the far west side of CLE, we get a fairly moderate snowfall…nothing like what the east side/snowbelt of CLE is infamous for. And everything is flat and straight, so what snowfall we get is generally not a problem (as opposed to when I lived in PGH…)

The level of arts and entertainment are significantly lower than any other place I’ve lived previously. Cleveland is a negative population growth city, and the cultural experience reflects that. I lived in Pittsburgh for 15 years before moving here, and was surprised to see PGH beating CLE out in this regard. However, I feel like this lack is made up for with the convenient lack of traffic, the cleanliness and the proximity to Lake Erie. So instead of spending my weekends attending free outdoor music concerts or eating in fun restaurants, now I hang out in our massive Metropark system and kayak on Lake Erie.

My wife and I are giving this topic a lot of discussion lately, being near retirement age. We’ve really struggled to find any place that offers the overall package that CLE offers. There are many places that offer less winter and more culture, but all come with significant negative factors that balance those advantages, in our minds.

I grew up a mile from Lake Erie in the suburbs west of the city of Erie fairly close to the entrance to Presque Isle State Park. The park and the bay it forms are a great attraction and resource to the area. When I bought my first house I wanted to be even closer to the lake and by that time lake front properties were way out of my price range, and to be honest almost all lake front properties have somewhat of a bluff and provide beautiful views and some say the best sunsets you will ever find, but boat access you still need to go to a ramp location. The home I bought was about a quarter mile down a dead end road from a township park that provides water access but not a boat ramp. This will show you what it is like.
When living there I would walk the dogs to the lake nightly and in the summer months use the beach area. It was a great compromise having close access without the high cost of the view and a quarter mile of cover from the lake made winters much better and the difference in cost was the biggest plus.

IMO The Great Lakes is not my idea of a great place to paddle and I’m older and kind of new to paddling again. I paddled some as a kid on Lake Erie and it could be wonderful when you put in and an hour later you were thinking what have I got myself into. I have spent 1000 of hours on the lake in powerboats and even then found myself in a 22 footer with loads of horsepower and wondered why we were out there when a storm kicks up. I’m sure many ocean paddlers would disagree just my 2 cents on that.

Now we live south of Erie about 30 miles and right on French Creek in the little sleepy town of Cambridge Springs. The cost of living is great here and there are some real values in home prices and low taxes. We are on a great paddling waterway and surrounded by all kinds of inland lakes to explore and some great creeks and rivers. Plus in less than an hour we can be at Lake Erie and Presque Isle State Park.
Erie is a good mid size city without the hassles of the large cities. We are only 100 miles from Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh with direct interstate highways to each. So going to a sporting event or whatever is something you can do in a day, or spend the night and enjoy the big city life for two days.
Summers are great in this part of the country there is some kind of free live music in some really great settings almost every night. I have 3 nice golf courses and 3 breweries within 15 minutes of home. One of the things I noticed first when we moved to this little town is the neighborhood kids get off the school bus and go in their house for 10 minutes and come back out and ride bikes and play in their yards with other kids. I thought I was transported back to 1960. There is also a large biking club in town and every night a group of 20-40 bikes will come by in a group. Of course there are a large population of Amish so its common to see the buggies out and about.

I think it is great you are inquiring and planning for your retirement carefully and doing it up north. Most people here retire and head way south and quite a few end up being snowbirds and returning in the summers.

Are you kidding me? I live in Avon and I’m virtually 35 minuted from the greatest Orchestra, hospitals, Mertro Parks in the country(US). You just must never get out!!! I’ll give you that Pittsburg has done well reboundind from rust belt history, but other than attracting (which is happening) software companies of larger stance, this area is doing quite well

Hi, Coronaboy. Thanks for the reply. No need to get your Rust Belt rivalry going here. You live in Avon…culturally, that’s like living in the furniture department at Wal-Mart. :wink:

I’ll address your points individually:

  1. I know we have a good orchestra. I’m just not particularly interested in orchestra music.

  2. I certainly don’t consider hospitals to be something that figures into an area’s culture. The presence or lack of a good medical system is an amenity, not a cultural feature.

  3. The metroparks are wonderful, a true resource, one that’s given so much to me over the course of my life. And I mentioned that in my post.

For me, the things that make a city culturally vital are:

  • Art, especially amateur artists. Sure, CLE has an art museum. So does every city in America.

  • Live music, especially small, unknown bands in small venues. CLE had like five small venues before COVID hit, now we’re down to something like three.

  • Live theater, especially small community amateur theater. Yes, we have a theater district…so does every city in America. Our community theater population is almost non-existent.

  • Good restaurants. Dives, with interesting and amazing food. See above. We had fewer than PGH before COVID, now many are gone. The best Vietnamese place in CLE (Minh Anh)) shut down two months ago. The next in line isn’t even close.

Every city has these things on some levels today. But in all of these, PGH blows CLE away, I’m sorry to say. I’m a native Clevelander and I grew up when music was Cleveland’s lifeblood. It is no longer. I have several friends who make their living in the music industry, and they explain it very simply: Cleveland is a union town, and the unions make playing here VERY expensive and a real headache. As a result, since the eighties, bands and artists have begun bypassing Cleveland completely, heading for places like Columbus and Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, where they can make more money with less hassle. Money talks.

About a decade ago I dated a woman who lived in Columbus and I spent a lot of time down there during that timeframe. I was astounded at how much more was going on down there, compared to Pittsburgh (where I was living at the time) to say nothing of CLE. If it would give me a significant reduction in winter (it wouldn’t) and wouldn’t cost me the access to the Great Lakes (it obviously would), I’d consider relocating there. There are a ton of job opportunities for both my wife and I there. Unfortunately, a lot of other people have already figured that out, and now the Columbus traffic is becoming legendary. No thanks. I’ve lived in DC, Atlanta and PGH…I’m never living someplace with bad traffic again. Life’s just too short.

If you haven’t lived in Pittsburgh, you really don’t have any way to make a comparison. I’ve lived in close to a dozen cities throughout my life, but spent 15 years in Pittsburgh just before moving back to Cleveland where I’ve been for the past decade. So I can make a DIRECT back-toback comparison. I can assure you, PGH blows CLE away, culturally. Trust me…nobody was more surprised (and dismayed) than me.

So why not live there? Well, their traffic is ABYSMAL. Their winters are ridiculous, because there’s only about five linear feet of flat terrain in the entire town. There really are no highways…most trips are on surface roads. Imagine if your morning commute was driving from Avon to Mentor…if I-90 wasn’t there. Now, make the road hilly and add 3" of snow. And of course, no great lake. They are, however, MUCH closer to the great West Virginia motorcycling roads…

In summar, CLE offers the best bang for the buck currently available in any city in America. It’s a compromise, like everything in life, but it’s one I’m happy I made.

I’d be inclined to take a look at the Traverse City area. The bay offers a more protected alternative when the lake is too rough, and it warms up a little faster in the spring. As you might infer from the gorgeous cherries grown in the area, winters are relatively mild given the northerly latitude.
Possible negatives: Winters can be very snowy due to lake effect. Town may be too small for your liking , and it’s getting close to your 3 1/2 hr limit from NW Detroit. Good luck.


I live N of flint. Sebewaing , Michigan Overview. Sebewaing , Michigan includes 0 nearby mines. Sebewaing is a village in Huron County in the U.S. state of Michigan. The population was 1759 at the 2010

I would pass on Benton Harbor. It’s really not that great of a town. Sure the lake is fine, but the rest leaves little to be desired. Like what was said, if settling on the west side(my favorite part of the state, even though I grew up and mostly frequented the east side), you can’t go wrong being in the Holland area. There are several good points just south and all the way up to Traverse City heading north.

I spent my younger years going to Alpena with my childhood friend who has a place on Grand Lake. Very nice area back then. It’s been years since I have been there so I’m not sure what it’s like now.

I assume since you are on this site. you like paddlesports. Depending on what you prefer, northern MI has a ton of options; great lakes, smaller lakes, some of the most beautiful rivers around so opportunities abound. Probably not a destination for whitewater though.

For me, the great lakes would be fun to go out on, but in my retirement years I would most likely be doing rivers like the Manistee, Ausable and others. Next would be the inland lakes.

Good luck in your search. I envy you retiring to MI. I would retire there in a heartbeat, but I want to stay with my wife and she wants to be closer to our kids and grandkids.;


Those blast furnaces around Pittsburgh are virtually all gone. They did leave a lot of interesting massive concrete and steel abandoned infrastructure along the rivers which make kayaking very interesting – the big concrete bulwarks for barge loading and abandoned “hot metal” bridges remind me of temples from some lost empire.

The rivers became so clean by the 2000’s with the demise of the coal and steel industries that there were national bass fishing competitions here within sight of downtown and we have muskie, trout, northern pike and paddlefish. (we even had a couple of alligators last year, but those were escaped pets intercepted before they made it to the rivers.)

The clean water trend slipped a bit with the fracking boom and a bunch of illegal sludge releases into the feeder streams of the 4 main rivers here.

We do still have some of the poorest air quality in the country on some days due to the nasty Clairton Coke Works southeast of town which US Steel has refused to clean up for years. They are finally supposed to be closing down the coke batteries by 2023. But by then the much dreaded ethane cracking plant upwind of the city on the Ohio River that was built here because of the Marcellus shale fracking boom will be in operation and contributing its own carcinogenic funk to our atmosphere.

On the plus side we are not in an earthquake zone and due to the hilly terrain, tornadoes are a rarity and only in the far suburbs where it is flatter. Some valleys are prone to horrible flooding but you always have the choice to live on a hill here, often with spectacular views even in the cheaper neighborhoods.

As for snow, we have yet to have any this winter and had very little last year. I think I only had to shovel my sidewalk twice. Supposed to get 2 inches tonight but rain Saturday will erase most of it. As a cross country skier the usually snowless winters here suck for me, though it is possible to drive less than an hour to the mountains to the east and find skiing if the temps are low enough. You do need to know how to drive in bad weather and challenging terrain here: 4 wheel drive will not be a magic bullet for you if you don’t understand how to control a skid or how to handle blind curves and steepness to keep from rolling a tall vehicle.

West Michigan has horrendous snow though. One of my winters there (maybe 1999?) we got something like 12’ of snow in one two week period. I used to have 180’ of public sidewalk that I was required to keep clear (kids walked to school on it) and I recall having to get up before dawn to shovel before going to work at 7:00, running home during lunch to shovel again before it built up too deep to lift and then shoveling when I got home at night before making dinner because it accumulated so fast.

I commuted for a while from Grand Rapids to Muskegon and also from GR to Flint and the winds that howled along I-96 nearly blowing my vehicle off the road. In fact I did end up in a ditch near I-69 when the exit ramp was black ice. Called for a tow and when a cop stopped to see if I was OK he slid his own car off into the same ditch and the tow driver had to winch us both out.

And need I mention that everyone in Michigan drives like they are drunk and in a demo derby, regardless of road conditions. They tailgate at high speeds even on ice. I worked in a career that had a lot of daily driving and I witnessed more accidents in my first 6 months in Michigan than I had in nearly 30 years as an adult driver in Western PA. And in Michigan almost all wrecks are multi-car because everybody is on each other’s ass so it is like dominos falling when one motorist loses it. And safety inspection of cars in anathema in the Motor State. Bald tires and metal-to-metal brakes are par for the course. Coming from PA, with some of the strictest car inspection in the country, this was a real shock, seeing dune buggies and hooptees with rusted out bodies flying down the roads.

Back to Pittsburgh: Traffic only sucks if you work downtown and don’t avail yourself of public transport or if you have not explored the many different back ways that are usually options to get from point to point. If you insist on sitting on the Parkways West, North or East during rush hours, yes your daily life will suck. Pittsburgh is, I agree, not for the faint-hearted driver in terms of steep streets, potholes and weird routes that are poorly marked. The place is a maze, more like an old European city than most major US urban zones. But we do have more tree cover than any other big American city. And maybe more indie pizza joints per capita. And pierogies…

I was not born here but the place grew on me. Honestly, you do kind of get stuck here because it is easy to make friends and there is so much to do here (I always say if you are bored on any given night in Pittsburgh it’s your own fault) . Among things most people don’t know about the place is that we house the National Aviary and have a natural habitat zoo, also 4 Carnegie affiliated museums (and a number of smaller ones).

Also many large green parks including Frick, near me, which has 17 miles of trails – between it and nearby Schenley Park they provide over 1000 acres of forested green space uninterrupted by through roads, 200 acres more than New York City’s Central Park. Plus we have cable cars and miles of bike/hike rail trails. Some of the old steel mill rail bridges have been converted to bike path connectors. Grand Rapids does have a cool paved bike and walking trail west of town but I had a hard time finding places to hike in west Michigan. But then I am used to wooded mountain trails like we have in the Appalachians.

One reason for being “stuck” here in Pittsburgh is that housing has been so cheap here for years that you couldn’t afford to move somewhere else because you would not get enough from selling your house to afford anything in more flashy cities or beachfront zones. That is rapidly changing as the influx of software and research techies and staff at the many colleges and big health care complexes drive up real estate demand. I’ll be selling my rental income property here in a few months and expect to get more than double what I paid for it 3 years ago. So maybe I could consider retiring elsewhere. But it certainly would not be Michigan. For one thing, flat terrain depresses me.

Dang willowleaf, makes me feel lucky to be alive. It may sound naive, but its hard to imagine how people knowingly endanger the quality of life for so many people. Chemical plants knowingly dumping chemicals, raw sewage overflowing, smut pumped into the air. Baltimore air and bay water quality has improved remarkably since reduced productionkmthe Bethlehem steel plants and chemical plants.

In recent years, air is much cleaner and the bay water is more clear, when the power boats are not stirring up sediment. When I was a kid, you could see to the bottom on the Eastern Shore in 6 ft of water. Its coming back. Maybe one day, it’ll be restored. Imagine what it was like in Captain John Smith’s day and before.

Yes, the Pittsburg area seems to have done a good recovery from the end of steel. The Universities I suspect helped as well as having several other major corporations headquartered there (I think). I also looks like a lot of the mine drainage problems have been addressed. At least the Conemaugh looks MUCH better when we are out that way.

I live 2 miles north of Ludington, which is precisely 3.5 hours from Livonia, where I grew up, at normal traffic flows. I’ve been in Ludington for 20 years and I have never encountered anything like Willowleaf described and I have been to all the nooks and crannies of our region. I was a newspaper reporter/outdoor writer for 15 of those years and have since switched to real estate (slash outdoor writer).
I can be on the Pere Marquette at Rainbow Rapids in 40 minutes. I can be on the Pine at Dobson Bridge in 50 minutes. I can be on the Little Manistee at Six Mile or Nine Mile in 45-55 minutes. I can be on the Betsie in 50 minutes. There are others that are not on the beaten path, too.
Do we have wind? Oh, yes. But if you are off before 11 a.m. or paddle after 6 p.m., it’s greatly reduced.
If you want to hear more about Ludington or need a realtor to help you explore the area, I’d love to help. Pentwater to the south is a smaller town like you describe.


Nor have I and I’m a native living in the tip of the mitt. On the other hand, the difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude.

I agree that Holland, MI is nice. I worked with folks from Holland and they like it there.

Western Michigan does indeed get lake effect snow. Folks around here have good snowblowers. When we first moved here I remember a weather forecast predicting 1-20" (!). We got less than 1" but they got more than 20" just 15 miles away. I think the weather is interesting; often considerably warmer than Chicago since The Lake has a warming effect…unless/until it freezes. Those same winds (blowing from west to east) are the reason that we have nice beaches…way way bigger/better/softer than the west coast of Lake Michigan. The largest collection of freshwater dunes in the world is less than 10 miles from our house.

I was canoeing until end of December. Then we got snow. My picnic table gauge says we got a s***load.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Michigan drivers. Around here the biggest traffic hazard is stressed out tourists from Chicago in the summer. Our area is rural and you’re more likely to be frustrated by someone yielding to you when it’s their turn than someone being rude or careless.


After reading all this, I may have to visit Michigan. My wife grew up in Ohio and talks about her family going to Mickey Lake in Michigan when she was young and loving it.

Come on up, @string, the water’s great! It’s a very nice place. One that I returned to after living in Manhattan, upstate New York, Colorado and New Mexico.


On the last point, take comfort and beware , as the Edmund Fitzgerald wreck proved.