waves lapping on beach at Lake Michigan

Seek out the calming coastline of Lake Michigan. (Photo: Getty Images)


The Ultimate Guide to a Great Lakes Vacation

The Great Lakes — the world’s largest surface freshwater system — are so massive that they create their own weather patterns. And a day spent taking in the beauty and power of their waters has a profound effect, providing moments of balance, calm and relaxation.

Find your moment of reflection with these activities on each of the Great Lakes. As always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.

Lake Michigan

Have you ever caught a trophy fish? One of the really big ones that you hold up for a proud picture with your friends (before hopefully tossing it back into the water)?

Whether you’ve done it before or are looking to try it for the first time, Lake Michigan is the place to do it. The walleye grow huge on the Green Bay, Wisconsin, side. And over near Muskegon, Michigan, you’ll be able to hook massive salmon and trout.

An outfitter can provide all of your equipment, so you can just hop onto the boat for a serene — but exciting — experience on the water.

Lake Superior

the coast of lake superior
Wind your way along the coast of Lake Superior. (Photo: Getty Images)

Isle Royale is one of the least-visited national parks in the U.S. — possibly because the closest large city is about 40 miles away in Canada (hello, Thunder Bay!).

Hitch a ride over to the park on a ferry from Minnesota or Michigan, and bring both your camping gear and kayak. Not much beats a night out on the lake spent gazing at dark skies speckled with stars.

If you can’t make it out to the wilderness, head to Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan to watch boats flow in and out of the Soo Locks, which connect Lake Superior and Lake Huron. There’s something quite meditative about watching the rise and fall of the water in the elevatorlike passages.

Lake Huron

turnip rock on lake huron
Discover the aptly named Turnip Rock on Lake Huron. (Photo: Getty Images)

Lake Huron has the longest shoreline of any of the Great Lakes — a stunning 3,827 miles of beaches, rocks and islands. Make your base in London or Waterloo in Ontario and drive roughly an hour to Pinery Provincial Park on the lakeshore.

Here, you can enjoy the rare dunes on this edge of Lake Huron. The dune faces are ever-shifting thanks to erosion, weather, and the ebb and flow of the lake. You could sit in the sand all day and watch the sandy hills morph right before your eyes.

Or head to the northern reaches of the lake and enjoy a water-bound paradise on Mackinac Island, where the fudge is delicious, the Victorian architecture is plentiful and cars are nonexistent. The ferry to get there is an hour drive from Sault Ste. Marie.

Lake Erie

lake erie jetty at dawn
Relax by the waters of Lake Erie. (Photo: Getty Images)

The land between Detroit and Niagara Falls is an almost-island surrounded by three different lakes: Huron, Erie, and Ontario. Closer to the Waterloo and London side of Erie, you can watch 3,160 tons of water pour down Niagara Falls every second.

Get as close as possible with a Maid of the Mist boat tour, where you’ll don a poncho and face the cleansing spray from the waterfall head-on.

Over by Detroit, on the west side of Lake Erie, take some leisurely walks along the Detroit River. It borders the city and empties into the Great Lake. Consider for a moment the changing nature of water as it flows down the river and out into the massive body that is Lake Erie.

Lake Ontario

scarborough bluffs at lake ontario
Find respite by Scarborough Bluffs on Lake Ontario. (Photo: Getty Images)

As the biggest city on Lake Ontario, Toronto has an unmatched hustle that runs practically 24/7. But the lake laps at the shores of the city, balancing out the commotion with the gentle rise and fall of the water.

Break away from the city at Tommy Thompson Park, a peninsula that sprawls for three miles into the lake. And bring your binoculars — the birding here is top notch, with more than 300 species on record.

Embrace history in Kingston, Ontario, on the east edge of the lake, with a visit to Fort Henry, a 19th-century army fort and national historic site that juts out into the water. Here, you can see how the water protects the fort, and the fort protected the water.

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