Fox River Autumn
photo © anneh632

A mild winter and an early spring have lakelubbers in the Upper Midwest planning for a trip to the Fox River Chain O’Lakes. The 15-lake chain in the Chicagoland area is one of the most popular boating destinations in the United States. Boats are being hauled out of storage, their water-loving owners are prepping the gear and pouring over catalogs for new water toys to add to the fun they will soon enjoy. Only 50 miles from downtown Chicago’s Loop, the lakes in the chain are popular residential lakes for commuters. Important in the development of the Upper Midwest, channels and dams along the Fox River in Illinois provided water for the Illinois and Michigan Canal in the mid-1800s and allowed the canal to cross above the Fox River via aqueduct. Water travel was supplanted in the early 1900s by rail travel, but the improved waterway quickly became a popular destination for Midwestern boaters and anglers. Many boaters head for the Fox Chain O’Lakes every possible summer weekend.

Although the Fox Chain O’Lakes and the Fox Waterway extend across 118 miles of Illinois wetland and prairie, there is another part of the Fox River to the north in Wisconsin. Sometimes confused with the better-known Fox River of northern Wisconsin which flows into Green Bay, the Wisconsin-Illinois Fox River actually begins near Menomonee Falls, west of Milwaukee. The Wisconsin portion of the Fox River meanders for 84 miles through lakes, across dams and a 1,132-acre reservoir called Tichigan Lake before it reaches the Illinois state line and widens into the famous Fox Chain O’ Lakes. Tichigan Lake and the adjacent Fox River offer over 1,200 acres of water and are two of the busiest waterways in southern Wisconsin. The rest of the Wisconsin Fox is a favorite among kayakers and canoeists, with several wildlife refuges and natural areas protecting the shoreline. The Wisconsin Fox River is a destination in its own right worthy of a look-see. The Wisconsin portion travels through several popular residential lakes in Southern Wisconsin before crossing the state line and entering 1,360-acre Grass Lake.

Aerial View of Fox Chain O'Lakes
photo © dsearls

Although the Fox River first enters Grass Lake, this isn’t the northernmost lake in the famous chain. The Fox Chain O’Lakes contains 15 lakes, all interconnected, most accessible by boat and all teaming with fish. Catherine Lake and Channel Lake start the chain from the north. Lake Marie, Bluff Lake, Spring Lake and Petite Lake follow in quick succession – all flowing into Fox Lake, as do Grass Lake and Nippersink Lake. Nippersink Lake flows in turn into Pistakee Lake, where the Fox River again narrows to a channel. Brandenburg Lake flows into Nippersink Lake, while Redhead Lake and Dunns Lake flow into Pistakee Lake. Long Lake and Duck Lake flow to Fox Lake. Griswold Lake is accessed via channel from the Fox River. Other small lakes in the area are also accessible by channel with small boats. The smaller lakes are often shallow and primarily residential, while the larger lakes are popular for water skiing, power boating and cruising the main waterway. The main channel of the Fox River continues to William G Stratton Lock and Dam, which maintains the water levels on the entire lake chain and the Upper Fox River. The lock is open from May to November for boating use. Below the dam, boaters often sail the Lower Fox River south as far as the Algonquin Dam, an additional 16 miles.. Serious sailors often venture the lower portion of the Fox River, but the average weekend visitor usually heads for the Chain O’ Lakes. The Fox Waterway Agency controls the water levels and has authority over the waterway, providing navigation maps and services to 3.5 million visitors who enjoy the 45-mile waterway each year.

The Fox Chain O’Lakes area offers everything a weekend visitor could want; many vacation lodgings, water-accessible restaurants and marinas dot the shorelines of the biggest lakes. The 2,794-acre Chain O’ Lakes State Park and adjoining 32,320-acre conservation area give boaters and campers access to 488 miles of shoreline on the Chain. Hiking trails, mountain-bike trails and nature paths offer something for every visitor. The park even offers equestrian campsites and horse-friendly trails. The area is dotted with rare bogs holding endangered plants and a large number of birds. Fishing is excellent on the Chain, with certain lakes being better known for fishing than for boating. Walleye, white bass, perch, channel catfish, crappie, northern pike and bass can all be caught just a short distance from one of the numerous public boat launch sites. All boating permits and regulations are available at the Fox Waterway Agency office on Pistakee Lake. Their waterway maps are a must as the maze of waterways and channels can confuse the most experienced boater. Many of their maps and services are available on their webpage, and some permits can be purchased online.

Fox River Fishing
photo © James Jordan

Some lucky Illinois residents have seasonal or year-round homes on the Fox River Chain O’Lakes. Housing in the area is increasingly upscale and much in demand. Visitors can rent cottages and condos on the water. Some of the larger lakes cater to water-skiers and power-boaters. Many regular visitors arrange to meet friends here regularly for a weekend of water-based fun. Sailboats, jet skis and power boats all find a place here, with regattas and fishing tournaments holding a spot among the many scheduled activities on the Chain. Although far more law-abiding than the days when famous gangsters hid out here during Prohibition, people on the Chain still enjoy a good party and know how to have a great time. There’s something for everyone on the Fox River and Chain O Lakes. It should definitely be on your summer boating radar.

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  • Jumping Silver Carp
    photo © USGS

    The encroachment of non-native Asian carp towards the Great Lakes is a subject receiving major discussion and investment in the Midwest. As we discussed a year ago, the problem continues to receive widespread attention from environmental groups, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, regional tourism groups, state and local governments, concerned citizens and businesses. Temporarily, an electronic barrier installed by the Army Corps of Engineers is being trusted to prevent the migration of Asian carp into the Chicago Area Waterway System, but its efficiency and reliability are questionable. A recently-released study of the feasibility of physical barriers in the Chicago area promises to give some direction toward a partial solution. The Great Lakes Commission, a coalition of the eight Great Lakes states, Ontario and Quebec Canada, has released a study of the logistics and cost of three different plans for complete separation of the watershed of Lake Michigan from that of the Mississippi River. Originally separate watersheds, Lake Michigan was connected by a canal to the Des Plaines River in the 1900s to reverse the flow of some of the streams in order to remove wastewater run-off away from Lake Michigan and toward the Illinois River. Business and recreational interests in the Chicago area advocate keeping the two waterways connected; groups concerned about preventing Asian carp access to the Great Lakes are equally adamant about needing them separated. The recent study, named ‘Restoring The Natural Divide’ lays out three alternative plans that would serve both purposes. Based on that report, the Obama administration has earmarked $51.5 million as a start towards eradicating this invasive species.

    The Great Lakes Commission’s analysis concludes that preventing just one invasive species from entering the Great Lakes watershed could save as much a $5 billion over a 30-year period. Already 10 species have been identified that are poised to enter the watershed from the Mississippi River if they are not divided. Also at stake are the environmental health of the world’s largest fresh water supply and the $7 billion in economic benefits provided by the sport fishing industry on the Great Lakes. The possible impact on tourism dollars hasn’t been calculated. Three possible configurations of barriers were considered in the analysis to prevent the entry of Asian carp and other invasive species, improve wastewater treatment, and still allow commercial and leisure use of the waterways. The three alternatives studied were:

    •a down-river single barrier between the confluence of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Cal-Sag Channel and the Lockport Lock
    •a mid-system series of four barriers on the Chicago Area Waterways System branches between Lockport and Lake Michigan
    •the near-lake alternative of up to five barriers near the lakeshore

    Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal, Lockport Lock & Dam
    photo © Army Corps of Engineers

    The report’s economic analysis shows the mid-system option to be the least costly and offering the widest range of other benefits. The cost of the barriers alone would be about $109 million; the cost of all improvements needed to address flood prevention, transportation, and water quality improvements via wastewater treatment to meet future Clean Water Act requirements brings the total cost to $3.2 billion and $9.5 billion. The wide disparity in cost analysis lies primarily in the expenditures for flood control and wastewater treatment; how much of that cost should be borne by federal and regional funding earmarked for stopping the approaching Asian carp is yet to be determined. At a mid-range cost of about $5 billion, the mid-system alternative would cost every household in the Great Lakes Basin about $1 a month for 45 years.

    A study now being performed by the Army Corps of Engineers is not due to be completed until 2015. Some interested observers say that the administration prefers to wait until the report is finalized before taking decisive action. Meanwhile, the Asian carp are moving north, breeding at a prolific rate and impacting fisheries everywhere they can reach. The Chicago-area waterway is not the only way this unwelcome fish can enter the Great Lakes: some river systems in the Midwest, such as the Wabash and the Maumee, are only separated by wetlands subject to flooding. The Maumee River, emptying into Lake Erie, is feared to be excellent prospective Asian carp spawning grounds if the carp can get to it. In Indiana, crews have finished installing a fence nearly 1,200 feet long and 8 feet high designed to prevent adult carp from using a northeastern Indiana marsh to swim from the Wabash River system into the Maumee River and then on to Lake Erie during floods. Similar to the efforts in Indiana, a 13-mile steel mesh fence splitting the narrow strip of land between the Des Plaines River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal has been completed to keep the Asian carp from passing between the river and the shipping canal during heavy rains. Other possible entry points are being assessed and projects planned to prevent the spread of these voracious feeders. Asian carp have been caught on Mississippi and Missouri tributaries as far north as Minnesota and South Dakota where the problem is also being assessed.

    Bighead Carp Infestation Map
    photo © USGS

    Since the 1970s when three Asian carp species were imported to aid in cleaning Arkansas catfish ponds, the silver carp and bighead carp have proved highly adaptable to our waterways. At the outset, federal government agencies experimented with the imported carp for cleaning sewage treatment ponds and lagoons. Localized flooding quickly moved these fish into adjacent irrigation ditches and river systems where they have steadily expanded their range. These prolific breeders can deposit upwards of 200,000 eggs in a season and grow to over 100 pounds, devouring up to 40% of their body weight daily in the form of plankton. The plankton are thus depleted as a food source for mollusks, insect larvae and the young fry of more desirable fish, reducing the numbers necessary to support traditional fisheries. Asian carp are not good candidates for game fishing as they seldom bite baited hooks. Some intrepid carp fishermen are successful at spearing them or snagging them on treble hooks where that is permitted. Others have built entire bow-fishing businesses along the Illinois River where they take advantage of silver carp’s tendency to jump out of the water when startled. The often-filmed tendency of these fish to jump leads recreational boaters to avoid water where they have begun to proliferate, reducing pleasure boating on some popular tourism lakes and rivers; no one relishes the idea of being hit by a 60-pound flying fish.

    The North American effort to halt the northward march of these fish has caught the interest of large numbers of Chinese internet users, where they are endangered and considered a desirable food fish. Schemes to harvest the carp, considered a delicacy by many Asian cultures, have not been very successful as it is now illegal to ship live Asian carp across state lines. Markets catering to Asian clientele are often far removed from the source of the fish, and their patrons prefer live fish for purchase. Areas in the Mississippi delta regions where the carp were previously raised for sale have been stuck with ponds full of the now-unmarketable fish. Some have resorted to selling the dead fish as fertilizer. Efforts at developing a commercial cannery operation have thus far not been very successful due to lack of adequate facilities for processing. Although the mildly-flavored fish is considered a good source of protein, the bony carp are hard to filet and traditionally unpopular in the United States as home-prepared fare. Some deep-south chefs have offered schemes to prepare mechanically-deboned fish for domestic markets as fish sticks and filets but are unable to proceed to profitability of scale due to financing. Some have explored the feasibility of shipping the live fish to Asia, where they are considered a preferred species and are declining due to overfishing and polluted waterways.

    Silver Carp Infestation Map
    photo © USGS

    Biologists are working overtime trying to find a solution to the Asian carp problem. Scientists are studying the species’ genetics, habits and environmental needs, trying to find an exploitable chink in this adaptable fish’s natural armor. Studies are underway to find a method of sterilizing the fish or their eggs to prevent reproduction without damaging other aquatic dwellers in the environment. Others are exploring the possibility of poisons that will affect only the Asian carp, leaving other more desirable species untouched. The cost of fighting these most adaptable invasive fish will eventually be more than the cost of separating the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins. But the price of our failure to contain the problem will likely be far more. If there is anything to be learned from this ecological fiasco, it is perhaps that importing non-native species without careful study and weighing the possible long-term effects is bad for both our environment and our tax dollars. The amount of money needed to control this species will only grow the longer it is allowed to continue. Several different methods of dealing with these fish may be needed. And a better method of allocating costs to the proper agency and authority would likely allow for faster progress. Some things require a call to your representatives in Congress to encourage action. This is one of them.

  • Lakelubbers on Facebook – Every other day, we write about interesting and unusual lakes on our fan page on Facebook: World’s Best Lakes. Please visit it, “Like” it, and invite your family and friends to do the same.


  • February 28th, 2012 | Written by Linda | No Comments

    Lake Locations: Canada North America Ontario

    Peterborough Lift Lock
    photo © Derek Purdy

    The Trent-Severn Waterway is one of Ontario’s historical treasures, coursing 240 miles across southern Ontario from Lake Ontario to Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay. Originally planned and built to provide a shorter route to Lake Huron for transportation, logging and settlement, the waterway engendered much controversy while being built, causing construction to stretch over 90 years. Although construction began in 1833, the first boat to complete the entire trip was not until 1920. Originally based on canoe routes introduced to European trappers by First Nations tribes residing in the area, the system utilized a series of rivers and lakes, both inter-connected or reached via a short portage. The same route was used by early settlers to reach their new homes in the interior. Lumbering interests used parts of the the waterway to transport logs to market, encouraging both private investors and government to fund the complete waterway. The first improvement to the popular route was in the Kawartha Lakes Region where a lock was built to facilitate logging. By the time the waterway was finally completed, it contained 44 locks, about 75 control dams, 15 swing bridges and 2 marine railways (at Big Chute). Two of the locks, at Peterborough and Kirkfield, are hydraulic-lift locks, which are unique in North America and among the highest in the world. The locks overcome a rise of 597 feet from Trenton on Lake Ontario to the summit at Balsam Lake, and then a drop of 263 feet to Port Severn on Lake Huron. En route, Trent-Severn Waterway passes through at least 20 sizeable lakes, a number of rivers and several canals.

    Big Chute Marine Railway
    photo © acansino

    Although never heavily utilized for industrial transportation, the Trent-Severn Waterway had become a favorite pleasure boating route for inland sailors by the time it was completed. The completed system has a minimum depth of five feet, nine inches, and the smaller locks can handle boats up to 23 feet in width and 84 feet in length. Cruising the entire length of the system usually takes five to seven days. With an overhead clearance of 22 feet, the waterway can accommodate most yachts and houseboats. Open May to October, the waterway is one of the busiest in Canada. A number of regulations must be met, including a strict 6 mph speed limit within the navigation channel. Channels are clearly marked, and individual charts are available for each section. Passes are sold for the locks and may be purchased either individually or as a season pass. Numerous marinas, water-accessible restaurants, mooring areas, campgrounds and attractions along the route encourage many carefree sailors to spend an entire summer cruising the waterway. Many of the locks have been improved in the past few years, but some still remain original. The unusual marine railway at Big Chute near the western end of the route is a most interesting experience even for those with a long boating history. The waterway was eventually named a National Historic Site, and Parks Canada took over maintenance and control for the Canadian government in 1972.

    Glen Ross Lock 7
    photo © Bobolink

    Integral to enjoying the Trent-Severn Waterway is that its route takes boaters through a number of lakes large and small. Lake Simcoe on the western side of the system is one of the largest lakes in southern Ontario (184,000 acres). Both Simcoe and adjacent Lake Couchiching (8,300 acres) are popular summer residence lakes and popular with vacationers. The Kawartha Lakes midsection of the route is home to the famed Kawartha Lakes. By the time the Trent-Severn Waterway was completed, the Kawartha Lakes had already become one of Canada’s best-known vacation destinations. Because of the early growth of resort hotels, fishing cabins and cottages on its many lakes, the Kawartha Lakes quickly gained the popular name of ‘Cottage Country’. Although the area contains over 50 lakes, only 14 of them are properly called the Kawartha Lakes: Balsam Lake, Bald Lake, Buckhorn Lake (7,900 acres), Cameron Lake, Chemong Lake, Clear Lake, Deer Lake, Katchewanooka Lake, Lovesick Lake, Pigeon Lake, Sandy Lake, Scugog Lake and Sturgeon Lake. The waterway routes through most of them. The largest lake on the eastern leg of the water journey is Rice Lake (24,700 acres). All of these lakes are weekend and summer destinations as they are all within a couple of hours’ drive of many of Ontario’s most populous cities. The lakes are well-known fishing and water sport destinations, and the waterway is a vital part of cottage life on the lakes. The lakes are used as a transportation shortcut to other areas of ‘Cottage Country’, where going around by road would take far, far longer and add many miles.

    Trent-Severn Cruise Boat
    photo © Bobolink

    Even land-based visitors to the Trent-Severn Waterway and its resort areas can find plenty of ways to experience the famed route. Non-boaters can find a number of cruises offered along all or parts of the waterway, many quite luxurious. Numerous marinas rent all types of boats, from canoes to powerboats to houseboats to explore this famed waterway for a day or a week or more. Long known as a superb fishing destination, the lakes on the Trent-Severn Waterway provide habitat for trout, walleye, muskie, pickerel, largemouth and smallmouth bass, panfish, perch, bullhead, and black crappie. Knowledgeable locals and fishing forums can give valuable information as to which lake is best for each species and during what times of the year. Even when the waterway is officially closed and the lakes frozen, ice fishing is popular at many lakes. The frozen surfaces provide good terrain for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice skating. Numerous trails and natural areas are excellent for wildlife viewing, and the many small villages along the lakes and waterway are geared toward providing for the needs and desires of a tourist population. The entire Trent-Severn Waterway system many not have met the original intent of the builders, but it certainly has proven its worth to the visitors to southern Ontario. The waterway has contributed enormously to the growth of a thriving tourism industry, all set within a forested, watery landscape along its 240-mile route.

    February 8th, 2012 | Written by Linda | One Comment

    Elk Rapids, Michigan Sunset
    photo © ktylerconk

    One of Michigan’s famed inland waterways, the Elk River Chain of Lakes feeds a series of 14 lakes in the state’s northwestern Lower Peninsula. The 75-mile waterway begins at tiny Beals Lake in Antrim County and follows a circuitous route through 13 more lakes and over two dams, ending at the town of Elk Rapids where it empties into Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. Although called the Elk River Chain, only the last short section of the waterway is the Elk River. The chain begins as the Intermediate River, changing names along the way to the Green River, Glass River, Grass River, Clam River, Torch River, and finally Elk River. Originally home to the Ojibwa Native American tribes, lumbering interests moved into the area in the 1880s, using the river system for log transport. On their heels came fishing resorts and vacation destinations as the logging ended and farming attempts proved less than successful in the sandy soil. Today, the upper reaches of the Elk River system are still somewhat sparsely-populated, and farming has given way to cherry orchards near Lake Michigan. The river system has become a favored venue for paddle sport enthusiasts and nature observers, while the larger lakes have become desirable locations for high-end vacation homes. These larger lakes are favorites for sailing, water sports and gracious lakefront living.

    Benway Lake Sunset
    photo © Tatiana12

    Two dams separate the Elk River Chain of Lakes into what is known as the Upper and Lower Chains: the Bellaire Dam and the Elk Rapids Dam. Both were once used for hydroelectric generation, but the Bellaire Dam has since been decommissioned. A popular local argument is whether Intermediate Lake is a part of the Upper or Lower Chain, as it is above the Bellaire Dam but connected to the large lower lakes by its size. No matter – they are all connected and all navigable by small boat, with a short portage around the Bellaire Dam. Because of shallow spots in the Grass River downstream below the dam, most large boats are shuttled to Intermediate Lake and cannot continue upstream. Once much smaller and called Central Lake, Intermediate Lake grew to 1,570 acres when the dam was built at Bellaire and has become a popular vacation and residential lake. Submerged islands now provide optimal breeding areas for waterfowl, while emergent trees offer feeding opportunities for ospreys and eagles. Farther upstream on the Green River are Hanley, Benway, Wilson, and Ellsworth Lakes, then after a sharp jog to the southeast, St. Clair, Six Mile and Scotts Lakes, finally culminating at Beals Lake. These small lakes are favorites among bird watchers and bass fishermen, but can be reached by water only by canoe or small fishing-type boats. The upper reach of the Intermediate River is also known as the Dingman River.

    Boating on Torch Lake
    photo © ktylerconk

    Downstream from the Bellaire Dam, 1,800-acre Lake Bellaire is fed by the Cedar and Intermediate Rivers. South of Lake Bellaire, the Lower Chain includes three more very large lakes and a smaller one. Grass River flows through wetlands, and the Grass River Natural Area is too shallow for large boats to navigate upstream. Next comes comparatively small Clam Lake, which empties into short Clam River before it enters 18-mile long Torch Lake. This massive deep lake (18,770 acres) is a highly-desirable summer residential area and is a haven for sailing, windsurfing, water skiing and all types of water sports. The Torch River outflow leads to Lake Skegemog, which is over 2,500 acres and far shallower than Torch and Elk Lakes. A channel leads west into Elk Lake, with over 7,700-acres. Short Elk River flows through the Village of Elk Rapids over the dam into Grand Traverse Bay. Although these large inland lakes are no longer open to navigation from Grand Traverse Bay due to the Elk Rapids Dam, a shuttle service regularly arranges for larger boat transport around the dam to Elk Lake and the rest of the larger lakes on the Lower Chain. Sailing is popular on the Lower Chain during the warm months.

    Beautiful Blues of Elk Lake
    photo © andy + jules

    The entire Elk River Chain of Lakes-and the rivers, tributaries and streams that feed and connect them – offer a wealth of outdoor activities for adventurous visitors. Fishing is a favored activity, and nearly every variety of fish native to the area can be caught somewhere along the chain. Winter brings ice fishing, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on the frozen lake surfaces. Nature trails and protected areas offer opportunities for wildlife viewing, including eagles and the occasional elk. Organized canoe and kayak treks offer plenty of peaceful paddling with luxury accommodations for overnights. Numerous boat ramps and access points make it possible to launch personal boats and pontoons, while picnic and camping areas offer both day use and more rustic long-term accommodations. The Elk River Chain of Lakes has something for everyone and enough shoreline to explore again and again. Bring the camera – such natural beauty shouldn’t be left behind!

    Great Lakes Satellite Image
    photo © NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


    The Great Lakes thrill us with their beauty and inspire us with their magnitude. In 1988 the Great Lakes Commission approved a Great Lakes Circle Tour to create a scenic, international road system connecting all five lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. What could be more ideal than a 6500-mile road trip around the perimeters of the Great Lakes? Each individual lake also has its own circle tour. Marked by distinctive green and white signs, the Tour passes through eight states and one Canadian province, primarily on the historic Blue Highways of the old road maps with spur routes such as the Lake Michigan car ferry. Along the way are small towns, nostalgic roadside attractions, friendly people, and small businesses who are happy to see you pass their way. Let’s look at a few of the highlights along “North America’s Fresh Coast”, starting in Upstate New York at the eastern end of Lake Ontario.

    Lake Ontario Tall Ships
    photo © c'est la Viva


    Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Seaway Trail is a 518-mile scenic driving route that follows the shores of the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario, the Niagara River, and Lake Erie in New York and Pennsylvania. One of the first roads in America to be designated as a National Scenic Byway, the Great Lakes Seaway Trail includes unique historical locations and cultural heritage sites in addition to outstanding views and scenic vistas. The magnificent Niagara Falls include the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. The area is well-supplied with small wineries which offer tours and wine tasting opportunities. Charter fishing for salmon, trout and bass is a big attraction, as is sailing. In the Toronto Harbor, a traditional three-masted schooner offers outstanding tours. The ‘tall ships’ still sail Lake Ontario here.

    North Pier Lighthouse, Presque Isle State Park
    photo © Soaptree


    Lake Erie’s Presque Isle State Park near Erie, PA isn’t to be missed. This ancient sand spit extending into Lake Erie was made famous by Commodore Perry, who sheltered here while building the ships with which he won the 1812 Battle of Put-In Bay, the biggest naval battle of the War of 1812. The peninsula now offers beaches, nature trails, kayaking and wildlife preserve, along with the picturesque Presque Isle Lighthouse. The Lake Erie Coastal Ohio Trail meanders past a number of parks and beaches, ferry rides to islands, historic lighthouses and nostalgic roadside attractions. The Ontario side of Lake Erie features Long Point National Wildlife Refuge jutting from the mainland on a narrow sliver of land. Travelers turn north along the Detroit River, through Detroit/Windsor and around Lake Saint Clair, continuing north along the St. Clair River to the southern end of Lake Huron.

    Great Lakes Soo Locks
    photo © U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District


    Lake Huron is the second-largest of the Great Lakes. Both the Michigan and Ontario sides of Lake Huron are supplied with scenic lakeshore drives. The Michigan shoreline follows the ‘Mitten’ outline around the Thumb and on to its highest point at the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Huron meets Lake Michigan. Picturesque lighthouses dot the Lake Huron shoreline, many of them originally built early in the 19th century. The Ontario portion includes Georgian Bay and is particularly well-supplied with provincial parks. The two sides meet at the Saint Mary’s River, leading to the twin cities of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario and Sault Ste Marie, Michigan. Here, a series of locks enable Great Lakes freighters to traverse the rapids and enter the lower Great Lakes from Lake Superior. Tours of the Soo Locks are available in the warmer months.

    Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
    photo © davidwilson1949


    Lake Superior is the largest, deepest, coldest and least developed of the Great Lakes. The Whitefish Point Light is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior and the home of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The 80-mile stretch west from Whitefish Point to Munising is known as the ‘Shipwreck Coast’, with over 550 known shipwrecks recorded and a favorite of divers. This same stretch of deceptively peaceful and picturesque shoreline is home to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, offering some of the best scenery in North America, with giant limestone bluffs towering above the water of the south shore. At least a hundred waterfalls grace the Upper Peninsula. A trip to Isle Royale National Park is a trip that hardy primitive campers dream about. The Trans-Canada Highway swings north of Lake Superior for some distance through heavily wooded lands with many small lakes. Several provincial parks and nature reserves provide public access to this pristine wilderness area.

    Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
    photo © anneh632


    Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake located entirely within the United States. Starting at the eastern tip of the Upper Peninsula, travelers can follow the scenic lakeshore over 300 miles into Wisconsin. The Door Peninsula is one of Wisconsin’s most picturesque vacationlands. At Manitowoc, a popular car ferry allows for a ‘short-cut’ across the lake to Ludington, avoiding the larger cities farther south. Once past Gary, Indiana, a stop at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a must. Heading north along the eastern shoreline, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was named Most Beautiful Place in America in 2011 by ABC’s Good Morning America. Continue north to the Old Mission Peninsula and its world-famous wineries, passing Lake Michigan’s famous yachting harbors and ski resorts along the way. Restored Fort Michilimackinac, founded in 1715, is open for tours during the summer months. Lake Michigan officially ends at the Straits of Mackinac and the Big Mac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula.

  • Lakelubbers on Facebook – Every other day, we write about interesting and unusual lakes on our fan page on Facebook: World’s Best Lakes. Please visit it, “Like” it, and invite your family and friends to do the same.