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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What are the origins of volcanic lakes? Lakes sometimes form in a crater left after an explosive volcanic event. Sometimes they form from the collapse of a volcano’s cone; these lakes are known as caldera lakes. Lakes can also form when lava, mud or ash obstruct an existing river or stream path after an eruption. Some volcanic lakes are filled with life-sustaining water that supports abundant plant and animal life, while others are filled with a toxic brew of hot gasses, acids and liquefied minerals. Fresh-water lake formation is an evolutionary process over thousands of years. How quickly this evolution happens depends of the volume of escaping toxic material, the volume of fresh water flowing into the lake, and how quickly the volcano settles into dormancy. Some volcanic lakes remain in the toxic chemical-soup state for long periods because the underlying geology is still very active. Because some chemical lakes are very beautiful, yet toxic and unpredictable, primitive cultures often believed that hostile gods lived in their depths. Today, photographers seek out volcano lakes due their vibrant, changeable colors. Let’s take an armchair world tour of some of the most popular volcano lakes sumo suits for sale.
Crater Lake, Oregon is often called one of the world’s most beautiful lakes. Located at the crest of the Cascade Range about a hundred miles inland from the Oregon coast, Crater Lake is the United States’ deepest lake at 1,943 feet. Created almost 8,000 years ago as a result of a volcanic explosion, this caldera lake covers 13,056 surface acres at an elevation of 6,171 feet. Crater Lake gains its water primarily from annual snowmelt and has no outlet streams. Protected within Crater Lake National Park, visitors are welcomed by two visitor centers and can camp, fish from shore for salmon or trout, hike, view wildlife, cross-country ski, scuba dive or take a guided boat tour. Visitors enjoy views of the beautiful deep blue water from the Rim Drive, historic Crater Lake Lodge or the numerous campsites located within the park.
Lake Toba, Indonesia is the largest volcanic crater lake in the world, covering almost 272,000 acres. The lake is the result of a super-volcano about 75,000 years ago, believed to be the largest volcanic explosion on earth. The island of Samosir, with 267 square miles, takes up much of the center of the 1,736 feet deep lake. The Province of North Sumatra is a land of lush green jungles and mountains, sparkling lakes, breathtaking waterfalls and exotic birds and animals. Lake Toba’s 2,969 feet elevation is a welcome relief from the sometimes oppressive humidity of the lowlands. Samosir is geared to tourism with plenty of lodging opportunities, including some traditional stilt-house rentals, marketplaces filled with traditional crafts and native villages. Tour boats ply the lake, and the local Batik people encourage visitors to many of their traditional ceremonies. Lake Toba’s exotic locale is a bucket-list-worthy destination.
Lake Taupo, North Island, New Zealand fills the caldera of a volcano that has erupted at least 27 times, the last being around 181 AD. Home to a Maori tribe for over 700 years, the lake is 538 feet deep, covers a huge 152,216 acres, and is surrounded by land protected by a group of conservancies. The lake itself is a favorite for charter trout fishing, and a number of tour boats allow visitors to view the scenery and local wildlife. The famed 30-foot high Maori rock carvings are best seen from the water. Nearby, the Craters of the Moon geothermal area offers boardwalks among geysers, boiling mud springs, hot pools and steam vents. With an elevation of 1,171 feet, the temperature is usually quite moderate, and the large numbers of guest lodgings make the Lake Taupo area an excellent choice for a holiday.
Lake Coatepeque, El Salvador formed in a caldera between 10,000 and 70,000 years ago, Lake Coatepeque covers 5,931 acres at an elevation of 2,448 feet. The lake is a favored vacation and part-time residential destination for many who enjoy all sorts of water sports, boating, sailing and fishing. Evidence of Lake Coatepeque’s volcanic past can be seen in the steam vents and hot springs on several islands within the lake. Archeological findings point to an important Mayan center once inhabiting two small peninsulas and the Isla del Cerro at the south end of the lake. Two rim roads offer lovely views of the beautiful lake, and scuba divers enjoy exploring the 394-feet depths. Many resorts, hotels and private guest houses provide lodgings for holiday visitors.
The Kelimutu Tri-Colored Lakes, Indonesia are toxic and share a caldera on Kelimutu volcano. Still somewhat active, the last steam explosion occurred in 1968. Located on the Island of Flores at an elevation of 5,377 feet, these three lakes have different chemical compositions even though they originate from the same volcano. The lakes change colors unexpectedly. The local people believed that the spirits of the departed reside in the lake; one is assigned to the spirits of those who die young, one to the elders, and one to evil spirits. The Tri-Colored Lakes and Kelimutu National Park have become a favorite tourism destination, with look-out points constructed where photographers can get the ideal shot of all three lakes with colors ranging from red, blue, green, brown and nearly black. Visitors must remain at a distance as the fumes from the lakes can be highly dangerous. Lodging accommodations can be arranged in Muni, the nearest village. A visit to the Kelimutu Tri-Colored Lakes is an absolute necessity to top off a visit to nearby Komodo Island to see the famed Komodo Dragons.
Lake Erie’s 6,261,500 acres border four states – New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan – and the province of Ontario, Canada. Contained within this Great Lake are about 36 islands, some large and developed and others small and uninhabited. Ice sheets covered the Great Lakes basin about 20,000 years, and their retreat over the next 10,000 years formed the Lake Erie Islands. This blog highlights four of the islands in the Bass Island Archipelago in northwest Ohio near Sandusky: South Bass Island, Middle Bass Island, North Bass Island, and Kelleys Island. With the exception of North Bass Island, these picturesque, glacier-sculpted islands provide easily-accessible vacation destinations.
South Bass Island is a tourist-friendly destination accessible by ferry, just three miles from the tip of Catawba peninsula on the mainland. Summer vacationers dramatically increase the small population of year-round residents. The village of Put-in-Bay, nicknamed the “Key West of the North”, is a Victorian-style town that has offered refuge to sailors and fishermen for hundreds of years. Today, the village’s festive atmosphere serves up a healthy portion of boutiques, restaurants, and live musical entertainment, including strolling barbershop singers, bagpipers, and steel drums. For vacationers who prefer more solitude, South Bass Island State Park offers wooded camping and lakeside picnicking perched atop scenic white limestone bluffs. Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial is an island landmark that commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, and celebrates the long-lasting peace among the USA, Canada and the UK. South Bass Island offers some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the world, too.
Middle Bass Island is also a well-developed island accessible by ferry boat. Shaped like the Big Dipper, French explorer Robert La Salle named the island ‘Isle des Fleures’, the Floral Island, in 1679 because of the abundance of wildflowers. The island retained this name for 200 years until a German count acquired the island in 1856 and began growing grapes. The Golden Eagle Winery, later the Lonz Winery, produced German Rhineland-type wines until the 1970s. In 2001 the State of Ohio purchased part of the Lonz Winery and its marina complex to create Middle Bass Island State Park. Still under development, today the Park offers primitive camping and a marina with boat slips. Middle Bass is a low, green island speckled with glacial grooves and beaches. The Middle Bass Kuehnle Wildlife Refuge is on one of North America’s main bird and monarch butterfly migratory paths. The best time to view the monarch’s route between Canada and Mexico is late August and September. Bird watching is best during the spring and fall migrations.
North Bass Island, also known as Isle Saint George, has not been commercially developed. Access is by private boat or plane. The State of Ohio owns 87% of the land, preserved as North Bass Island State Park. The Park is open for low-impact recreational opportunities only – camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, picnicking, biking and wildlife viewing. Additional trails are planned to connect landmarks such as the island’s chapel, cemetery, and historic houses. The State leases 38 acres to Firelands Vineyard of Sandusky “to preserve North Bass Island’s cultural fabric and history of vineyards and winemaking.” A small population of permanent residents owns the remaining private property. Vacationers looking for a secluded island experience will make the extra effort to visit North Bass Island.
Kelleys Island, located east of the three Bass Islands, is also accessible by public ferry. Kelleys is well-developed as a vacation destination with beaches, parks, campgrounds, resorts, shopping, and restaurants. The entire island is on the National Register of Historic Places. The island was renamed in 1840 for the Kelley brothers who cultivated the island’s quarrying, logging, and winemaking. Limestone quarrying continues today. The Glacial Grooves, a National Natural Landmark, are the largest easily accessible limestone grooves in the world – a trough 400 feet long, 35 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. Inscription Rock State Memorial is a flat-topped limestone slab marked with prehistoric Indian carvings of animals and human figures dating back to AD 1200 to 1600. Kelleys Island State Park offers camping, a boat launch ramp, swimming, picnicking, hiking trails, fishing, and winter recreation (ice skiing, cross-country skiing, ice fishing). The Alvar State Nature Preserve is located within the park; alvar is a Swedish word describing barren limestone or dolomite exposed by receding glaciers.
Ferries to the Lake Erie Islands depart from Port Clinton, Catawba Island, Marblehead, and Sandusky. Ferries generally run May to October, so there is still plenty of time this summer and fall to experience the charm of the Lake Erie Islands. To view a map of the Lake Erie Islands State Parks, click here .