Great Lakes, Great Times: Activities & Excursions for All

by  Tommy Burson | Apr 23, 2014
Traverse City, MI
Traverse City, MI / ehrlif/iStock

The Great Lakes have long been a prime vacation spot for Detroiters, Chicagoans, and other Midwesterners, but it’s often an overlooked destination for anyone outside of the area. Why isn’t Traverse City as popular as Virginia Beach? Why flock to overcrowded Florida beaches and pay $6 for an ice cream cone when you can spend a summer on the Bayfield coast? For more peace and less moolah, these 10,000 miles of freshwater coastline offer quaint beaches, sprawling forests, and happening area metropolises. Here are our top recommendations.

For the sun worshiper...
Michigan alone contains the world’s largest freshwater coastline. Travel along Michigan’s Gold Coast to Grand Haven, Traverse City, or Holland to soak up the sun, eat some cherries, and enjoy the craft brew scene. If lounging on the sand proves too taxing, you can lounge atop a Great Lakes cruiser for a change of scenery. What's more relaxing than the whisper of the waves as you ride through the canals and locks located around the lakes?

For the nature dweller...
From the Northwest Angle in Minnesota to Chimney Bluffs along Lake Ontario, the Great Lakes region houses some of the country’s best hiking, forestry, fishing, and canoeing. Button up your flannel, grab a paddle (or take the ferry), and head to Isle Royale, an island in northern Lake Superior. Inhabited only by moose and wolves, this national park offers a landscape that's reminiscent of Scandinavia. Island campers enjoy a challenging 170 miles of hiking trails that cut through glacial lakes. After a hike, take a break along the island’s edge at Rock Harbor Lighthouse and reel in a few whitefish to cook for dinner. The scenic beauty and solitude here are a perfect formula for reflection and discovery.

For the resort lover...
Back in the day, Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee all served as prominent Great Lake ports, but to truly experience the Great Lakes, you need to leave the big cities and hit up the small towns. Hemingway spent most of his summers in Petoskey, a resort community along the top of Lake Michigan. Even today, you can tour his old haunts like Jesperson’s Restaurant.

Alternatively, head west from Petoskey to Glen Arbor, another resort community in Michigan. If you didn't think lakefronts can be as beautiful as oceanfronts, this is the place that will convince you otherwise. (In 2011, "Good Morning America" even voted it Most Beautiful Place in America.) Here, hike the Sleeping Bear Dunes, or indulge in a slice of cherry pie at Cherry Republic. With a population of less than 800, the town is easy to immerse yourself in.

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