Orchard Lake is a natural lake in southeastern Michigan. The lake is 788 acres in size and serves both as a residential and recreational lake. The lake has six miles of shoreline. Orchard Lake is a mere 3 miles from the city of Pontiac and only 25 miles from Detroit. The lake formed as a deep depression in the earth when ancient glaciers melted. The lake features three islands with Apple Island being the largest at 33 acres. Early settlers named it Apple Island when they found that Natives Americans had planted an apple orchard there. Hence, the names Apple Island and Orchard Lake. Apple Island is now designated a protected wildlife sanctuary.
The lake has a maximum depth of 110 feet with an average of 23 feet. It is the second largest lake in Oakland County and the third deepest. Although a natural lake, at times of high water, the level is lowered by releasing excess water to nearby Cass Lake. Oakland County maintains oversight for flood control, optimal recreational use, and to protect property values.
Orchard Lake is popular for its beauty and rich history along with woodlands and wildlife. Native Americans were the first to fish and hunt among the many lakes making up this region of Michigan. Today’s residents enjoy a suburban community life known for its beauty, recreational opportunities, and comfortable living. The major population and business center is the City of Orchard Lake Village, located within West Bloomfield Township. Orchard Lake Village surrounds Orchard Lake.
Fishing Orchard Lake
Although a public lake, weekday fishing offers plenty of tranquility and privacy. The water is clear and sparkling in almost all areas. A day on the lake typically involves viewing a variety of wildlife including egrets, swallows, hawks, ducks, and swans. Locals and returning fisherman report catching:
- Northern Pike
- Black Bass
- Black Crappie
- Brown Trout
- Smallmouth Bass
- Largemouth Bass
- Yellow Perch
Recreation and Activities
Orchard Lake offers activities on and near the water such as sunbathing, swimming, and boating fun. Beyond the water’s edge are activities such as the West Bloomfield Trail (4.25-miles) that wanders around the eastern shore of Orchard Lake. The trail is popular during both summer and winter with hikers, joggers, cross-country skiers, and bicyclists. Features along the trail include woodlands, wetlands, and wildflower fields. It also strolls through residential and commercial districts.
The Orchard Lake Nature Sanctuary is a must see and is visited repeatedly by many people. This is a pristine 50-acres preserve from which both Orchard Lake and the Upper Straits Lake make up the majestic scenery. Some of the oak trees on the site are more than 250 years old. The rolling hill terrain formed by melting glaciers just as Orchard Lake was. One of the most popular attractions is the blanket of blooming Snow Glories flowers in mid-April. A naturalist conducts regularly scheduled tours. The Lake Orchard Nature Sanctuary is locally managed by a nine member advisory committee.
Another intriguing activity is visiting the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society lodged in the Orchard Lake Museum (formerly Orchard Lake City Hall). Among the permanent displays is a Native American dugout canoe from the 1600s. Other exhibits and stories highlight the Ottawa Indians, the Orchard Lake Hotel, the Michigan Military Academy at Orchard Lake, and prominent citizens who influenced the area. The Military Academy sits on the east shore of Orchard Lake. The academy closed in 1908 and reopened in 1909 as St. Mary’s Preparatory, an all-male college preparatory high school and seminary.
City of Orchard Lake Village
The Village of Orchard Lake lies on the southwest shore of the lake with a population of 2,455 residents (2018). Orchard Lake, Cass Lake, and Upper Straits Lake are all within or partially within the city limits. The community has adopted zoning rules for the purpose of preserving the garden-like environment of the community.
This is an upscale community with a low concentration of lakefront homes. Homes with large lots are found on the southeast, west, and northwest shorelines. Public access to Orchard Lake is provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources via a public access boat ramp on the southwest shore with parking for about 60 vehicles.
Lake Orchard Village is a small community with about 900 dwellings (2018). Of these, 780 are owner occupied. The median home value is $713,600 with an average value of about $938,100. The median household income is $181,700 and the average is $226,400. Orchard Lake Village is consistently ranked as the most affluent town in Michigan.
Besides St. Mary’s Preparatory, Orchard Lake Village is mostly located in the West Bloomfield Public School District. As of 2013, the school district had 6,633 students including 1,326 from outside the district as part of its “Schools of Choice” program. There is approximately 1 teacher per 15 students. The district was distinguished as the 2013 “District of the Year” by the Oakland County Community and Adult Educators for outstanding community education programs and services. One portion of Orchard Lake Village is in Walled Lake Consolidated Schools.
Nearby towns are (by distance):
- Keego Harbor
- Sylvan Lake
- Bloomfield Hills
- Wolverine Lake
- Bingham Farms
- Farmington Hills
- Walled Lake
Native Americans are credited with planting the apple trees on Apple Island and the vicinity is rich in legends of Native Americans. A stone monument near the junction of Commerce Road and Indian Trail Road, at the northeast side of the lake, marks one end of a trail between Mt. Clemens and Orchard Lake. The monument commemorates the great Chief Pontiac and his warriors who are said to have come here after the Battle of Bloody Run.
Chief Pontiac and his followers are rumored to have used Apple Island as a home site, although there is no proof to substantiate this. Stories are told of Native Americans escaping from their enemies by riding across the lake on the shallow bars out to the island because they knew where the bars were and their enemies did not.
By Wendy Patton