If You Go:
Check out www.nps.gov/slbe for more information on Empire, the Manitou Islands and the rest of northern Michigan's greatest sandy beaches.
My family owns a tiny lean-to (a former rental cottage if you're trying to be nice about it) on a teensy lake less than a mile from the most beautiful lake in the world, Lake Michigan. I love the peace and quiet of my little lake, whose name I cannot reveal for fear of a Jet Ski invasion. But there are plenty of other precious spots along the northwestern Michigan shoreline.
Another favorite of mine is the one-stoplight town of Empire, molded around its spectacular beach. My mom, brother and I are avid swimmers, and we love Empire's openness. It has no sheltering harbor and no peninsulas to stop the wind. The weather that comes out of the west creates Michigan's fabled surfable waves.
From the public beach, we like to walk past the extravagant homes, through the cold water, to the sand dune a quarter mile away, where a long climb is rewarded by the opportunity to slip and slide down the steep incline and dash pell-mell into the waiting water. According to rumor, there's a nude beach farther down if you're willing to make the trek.
When you live in Michigan, the lake is omnipresent. We all have our stories. My favorite, though, is a yarn my brother tells about a camping trip he took as a teen-ager. It's too scary to print, so beware: If you're not a fan of alien encounters, don't pitch your tent on the uninhabited North Manitou Island in northern Lake Michigan. Its charms may have gone intergalactic.