An Adventure in Michigan: Discovering the Great Lakes

From my high school geography class, I knew only three things about Michigan: That it is a state in the USA, that it borders Canada to the North, and that it is home to the bigger chunk of Lake Michigan. That was about it until last summer when Michigan came up on my Google search for the most Instagrammable destinations in the USA.

I discovered that the state is home to not only Lake Michigan but also Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior. The four lakes combine with Lake Ontario in Canada to make the Great Lakes, the planets greatest freshwater network. My college roommate and I set out to explore this great state in the summer of last year.

Imagine miles and miles of incredible trails that weave their way through an epic deciduous wooded dunscape. Imagine hiking to the top of a dune for a postcard worthy shot of lake Michigan. Imagine running down that dune and dipping your toes in the water. The beauty is simply unbelievable.

Hiking these trails is a fantastic workout and can be done any season of the year. However, even on the nicest days I only run into a handful of fellow hikers. These parks are near populated areas. Hundreds of thousands visit these parks each year to sit on the pristine beaches. But hardly anyone goes dune hiking. Even though you can literally hike to your own private beach! Dune hiking is also an amazing workout.

fun things to do at the great lakes michigan

Here is a brief recap of our short adventure.

If you're ready to see the Great Lakes but have no idea where to begin, this post is for you. Our port of entry into the USA was Detroit Metropolitan Airport because a travel agent advised us that Detroit was one of the best portal cities for our planned adventure. Michigan is relatively navigable by car, so we decided to rent a car and drive ourselves around.

If you're ready for a road trip in USA, I'd advise that you bring your international driver license. It doesn't matter if you are eligible to drive in the USA without the IDP. It always feels safer when you have an extra identification document that's translated into multiple languages.

1. Lake Erie

From Detroit, we started by visiting Lake Erie. The distance is roughly 280 miles and took us about 5 hours to get to the lake, with brief stops in Luna Pier, Port Clinton, and Elyria. One thing I loved about this region is the affordability of almost all accommodation options. We stayed in an inn for the two days we were there and it only cost us about $150 for the entire stay.

The food here is just like what you’d find anywhere in the West, but I was personally impressed by the variety of seafood- all of them, to die for! My friend and I aren't that crazy about wine so I don’t know if this is accurate, but the locals swear by the top-quality of local vineyards and wineries.

And not to forget I visited some local coworking spaces cause I had some bit of writing I had to do and I was pleased to find them so suitable and comfortable for remote working.

Things to do at Lake Erie? My favorite has to be the Presque Isle State Park. That’s where you will find the most picturesque beaches on the lake. We also enjoyed kayaking and speed boating in the lake.

2. Mackinac Bridge

We couldn't stay at Lake Erie for long because we had left some of our stuff at Detroit so we had to swing by the city real quick before heading to our next stop, Mackinaw City. I wish we had enough time to drive up to Lake Ontario but we definitely will visit Canada soon to explore the 5th great lake. We had to be content with the 4 lakes on the outline of Michigan this time.

We took an approximately one and a half hour flight to Mackinaw City because that is the most convenient place to see both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron at the same time. And because we still wanted to drive ourselves, we rented a minivan for a day at $80.

Our first stop was Alexander Henry Park which according to us is a great spot for Mackinac Bridge photos. Mackinac Bridge is a suspension bridge that connects Michigan's Upper and Lower peninsulas. We then drove along Gill Road, to the west on Island View Road, and then to Cross Village. The entire stretch overlooks Lake Michigan. The coastline is beautified by long tunnels of trees that we couldn't resist the urge to take pictures of.

Of course on the way north you have to take M22 to drive along the lake shore. And you must stop at Sleeoing Bear National Lake sore! The 600 foot tall sand dunes are amazing. Of course you have to go to the UP to see the pictured rocks in Munising.

3. Petoskey State Park

We also spent a couple of hours at Petoskey State Park where we had fun with the Dunes and Petoskey Stone hunting. We definitely will come back here for a day of skiing, boating, and fishing. I loved the beautiful views of waterfalls from Petoskey and Bay streets.

4. Mackinac Island

On our second and last day in Michigan's Lower Peninsula, we took a ferry to Mackinac Island (an island in Lake Huron) for the day. Motor vehicles aren't allowed on the island that's fondly known as Michigan’s crown jewel. The accepted modes of transportation here are horse-drawn carriages and bikes.

We rented a bike because we wanted to not only explore but also feel alive - the breeze in my face was magical to say the least. We could see the key attractions on the island such as Arch Rock and Devil's Kitchen, Fort Mackinac, and Skull Cave right from the biking trails.

If you aren't a biking enthusiast like my friend, you can always rent a bike with a bicycle motor kit as he did. You will conveniently ride around the island and not a single part of your body will hurt. Okay, it will, but just a little!

5. Sault Ste. Marie

Driving to Sault Ste. Marie (the City of Sault Sainte Marie) from Mackinaw City took us about an hour. My favorite spot for me here has to be Pancake Bay Provincial Park. The water here is the warmest of all Lake Superior, the view of its Caribbean-style blue waters, and the sunsets are just magical! We also drove to Old Woman Bay and Katherine Cove for a brief indulgence in their stunning cliffs, sandy beaches, and sand dunes.

There is just too much to see and do in Sault Ste. Marie for someone who has the time.

Final word

I personally cannot regret spending a week exploring Michigan. Maybe the only regret would be that we didn’t have enough time to explore more around each lake or to head north to Lake Ontario, but we definitely will be coming back!

Kalyan Panja