Thunder Lake, Michigan, USA
Thunder Lake in Michigan can mean two things: a 63-acre lake in Mason County or a 340-acre lake in Schoolcraft County. In this article, Schoolcraft County’s lake is the focus, although both lakes are beautiful and attract their share of recreation enthusiasts and anglers.
Schoolcraft County’s Thunder Lake is a strikingly clear lake nestled in the Hiawatha National Forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This lake, with a maximum depth measured at 20 feet, is a vacation destination all year long with activities to warm the hearts of every kind of traveler. Located close to Inwood, Michigan, a township of about 722 residents, Thunder Lake is surrounded by evidence that Michigan takes very seriously the preservation of its natural surroundings. State parks are abundant in Michigan, and Indian Lake State Park is located nearby, in Manistique, with campgrounds and many leisurely outdoor activities for the whole family. Playgrounds are on site, as are picnic tables and pavilions, boat rentals, beaches with good swimming areas, a boat launch, hiking trails, and more.
Fishing in warmwater Thunder Lake means the catch of the day is unpredictable: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, bluegill, yellow perch, brook trout, bullhead, and northern pike are all commonly found in this lake, with the population of crappie noted as being exceptionally large specimens. Thunder Lake is a popular fishing lake in warm months without extensive fishing in winter months, when some experts say the catches are bigger and more frequent due to the scarcity of anglers trying their luck. Ice fishing in the winter, along with snowmobiling, hunting, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, hiking, and generally enjoying the scenic and pristine winter landscapes, are all popular activities around Thunder Lake. Hunters seek deer, duck, turkey, bear, and other specific predatory animals–all within season and with correct licensing, of course.
In warmer months, canoeing, kayaking, boating, biking, hiking, golfing, and sightseeing keep the nature lovers on Thunder Lake busy and content. A public-access boat launch is available on the eastern shore of this shallow, white-sand-bottomed lake. There are several camping areas in the locality, and many campsites have excellent amenities for travelers who want to experience the best of the great outdoors but appreciate a hot shower in the morning. Off-road vehicles are a popular recreation here, as is relaxing on the white-sand beaches that encircle parts of Lake Michigan’s shoreline.
Thunder Lake is a quiet and remote destination for the family that allows day trips to other more urban areas within conveniently short distances. Close by is the city of Manistique, Michigan, only 15 miles to the southeast. Munising, a popular destination on Lake Michigan, is an easy drive north of Thunder Lake. For more day-trip water exploration options in the area, Upper Thunder Lake is to the north of Thunder Lake, as is Leg Lake. Hutt Lake and Murphy Lake are found to the northeast, To the southwest are a variety of lakes, including Bear Lake, Carr Lake, Banana Lake, Jackpine Lake, and Wolf Lake.
Seney, Michigan, is a small town near Thunder Lake. It’s the namesake of Seney National Wildlife Refuge, a protective habitat for more than 200 bird species and dozens of animal species that was established in 1935 to help repair and reverse the damage done to the environs after decades of wetlands overuse and exploitation. Moose, gray wolves, river otters, beavers, black bears, osprey, bald eagles, ducks, sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, and common loons are all known to maintain habitats in the Seney refuge. The refuge was also the location, from the 1930s through 1950s, of a very successful attempt to create a breeding population of Canada geese that would help remove the species from the endangered list. The Canada goose population has since soared, and the birds are now common and have a large and stable population in the United States.
The Seney National Wildlife Refuge is also important for its status as a wilderness area, with more than 25,000 acres of the refuge so dedicated. In this wilderness area is a glacially created sub-arctic patterned bog ecosystem, which is thought to be one of the best, developed of those remaining in the contiguous United States. This bog area is called the Strangmoor Bog and is a national natural landmark.
Thunder Lake attracts tourists from throughout the United States, and its rich history is one of the reasons that many people make this area a vacation stop. The closest city to Thunder Lake is Manistique, Michigan, which was once an area that thrived on the lumber industry and held a large population. Many of today’s residents in Manistique are involved in the industry of tourism, which has become the premiere source of economy in recent decades.
The clarity of the water in Thunder Lake is well known and has been said to sometimes make fishing more challenging. Fish seem unlikely to bite when they are in very clear water versus muddy or murky lakes. In some of the more shallow locations around the lake, the bottom is regularly visible and the plant life and fish are easily seen from above. Part of the reason for this excellent water clarity is the strong input of groundwater into Thunder Lake by creeks and streams. A strong and consistent inflow of water allows the lake to have a fairly rapid water cycle, which renews the water and can replenish the oxygen supply in the lake. To support a large diversity of fish, good oxygen levels are essential. Carr Creek feeds into the lake from the southwest corner; Kilpecker Creek feeds in from the northwest. Thunder Lake has only one outlet: Big Murphy Creek, located at the southern end of the irregularly shaped lake. The lake vaguely resembles the silhouette of a seated feline, with pear-shaped body that runs north to south in orientation and a “tail” from the southwest end of the main body that extends further south in the rough shape of the number 2.
Hiawatha National Forest, roughly one million acres in area, is a protected zone in the Upper Peninsula geographic region of Michigan. Thunder Lake sits very close to the center of this forest, with lush habitats of fir, maple, cedar, and white pine–the state’s national tree–surrounding the lake on all sides to varying degrees. This forest is also referred to as the Great Lakes National Forest, as its perimeter touches three of the five Great Lakes. As might be expected from a former lumber industry area, there are miles and miles of old logging roads and well-used paths that area residents and holidaymakers enjoy both for their helpful guidance and for their natural meandering qualities. In summer, the full canopy cools the air below and allows the hiker or biker to get some relief from the heat, while in the fall the variety of species of trees creates a gorgeous full-color attraction for leaf peepers.
As with many other areas in Michigan, the array of lovely single-family homes available for vacation rentals or for purchase is wide and promises to make house hunting a favorite sport. Hundreds of private vacation rentals, including cabins, cape cods, and modernized historical homes, are available, and many areas have real estate on offer for retirement homes or summer cottages, as well as land on which to build that longed-for vacation home. Bed and breakfasts are available in nearby lakeside towns, as are private inns, hotels, and motels. Family adventures await–as do quiet romantic second honeymoons and spontaneous weekend getaways. Schoolcraft County’s Thunder Lake is a hidden gem just waiting to be explored.
Things to do at Thunder Lake
- Vacation Rentals
- Ice Fishing
- Cabin Rentals
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Dog Sledding
- Wildlife Viewing
- National Wildlife Refuge
- State Park
- National Forest
Fish species found at Thunder Lake
- Black Bass
- Brook Trout
- Largemouth Bass
- Northern Pike
- Smallmouth Bass
- Yellow Perch
Thunder Lake Photo Gallery
Thunder Lake Statistics & Helpful Links
Spread the word! Share our Thunder Lake article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!