Discover Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is a majestic natural wonder, one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the United States.

With its vast expanse of water and shoreline, this incredible lake offers breathtaking views and endless opportunities for recreation and relaxation. The lake stretches from the west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula, boasting a diverse coastline adorned with picturesque beach towns, natural areas, and unique geological formations.

As you explore Lake Michigan, you’ll find it a hub of activity and adventure, with something for everyone. Whether you visit the bustling metropolis of Chicago, the charming communities dotting the shoreline, or one of the numerous national and state parks, your experience at Lake Michigan will surely be unforgettable.

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Top 3 Facts About Lake Michigan

01

Unique Location

Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakes entirely located in the United States, bordering the U.S. states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

02

Bermuda Triangle of the Great Lakes

Sometimes referred to as “The Great Lakes Triangle,” an area located in the center of Lake Michigan has been said to be home to unexplained disappearances. During the 19th century, ships and vessels often went missing without a trace in this area.

03

Unique Climate

The water of Lake Michigan has an unusual circulatory pattern. You can think of it like the traffic flow in a suburban cul-de-sac, moving very slowly. Winds and the resulting waves stop Lake Michigan from freezing over, but the lake has been 90 percent frozen on many occasions.

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Must-See Attractions

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Shedd Aquarium

Family Friendly Activity

Dive into a world of aquatic wonder at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, where you can admire many fascinating marine animals—from beluga whales and dolphins to colorful tropical fish. The aquarium features both freshwater and saltwater environments and showcases species from the Great Lakes to distant oceans. Also, be sure to check out their unique exhibits like the Wild Reef, home to a vibrant Philippine coral reef, and the touch tanks which is always a favorite of young ones!

Navy Pier

Entertainment

Stretching over Lake Michigan’s shoreline, Navy Pier is a bustling hub of entertainment and culture in Chicago. This iconic destination offers a delightful mix of attractions, including lush parks, theaters, and a variety of dining options. Whether you’re seeking the thrill of amusement rides or a serene stroll through beautiful gardens, Navy Pier caters to all ages and interests, making it a must-visit spot for anyone exploring the Lake Michigan area.

Illinois Beach State Park in Zion

Natural Attraction

Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, Illinois Beach State Park is the perfect escape from the hustle of city life. The park is an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts, featuring miles of sandy beaches perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing. With its diverse landscapes that include dunes, wetlands, and prairies, visitors can also enjoy hiking, bird watching, and exploring the rich biodiversity of this stunning lakeside retreat.

Annual Events and Festivals

June 7 – 16, 2024

Mackinac Island Lilac Festival

Experience the enchanting beauty of Mackinac Island during the annual Lilac Festival, a 10-day celebration held from June 7-16, 2024 that marks the island’s largest summer event. Throughout, you can enjoy the coronation of the Lilac Festival Queen, lilac walking tours, and a variety of concerts and movie screenings. This festival also features unique events like the Lilac Poster Reveal, Cornhole Tournament, and the Grand Parade, ensuring a memorable visit for the entire family.

June 6-9, 2024

Chicago Blues Festival

Delight in the soulful rhythms of the blues at Chicago’s largest music festival, the Chicago Blues Festival, from June 6-9, 2024. Held in the vibrant setting of Millennium Park, this free festival attracts over 500,000 music enthusiasts annually to enjoy performances by both legendary and emerging blues artists. The festival showcases an array of styles, linking blues to soul, R&B, gospel, rock, hip-hop, and more, making it a diverse and culturally rich experience for all attendees.

July 26 – 28, 2024

German Fest

Celebrate Milwaukee’s German heritage at German Fest, one of North America’s largest and most authentic German festivals, taking place on the scenic Summerfest grounds along Lake Michigan from July 26-28, 2024. This festival is an epic display of German culture, featuring traditional food, music, dance, and costumes. Originating from a challenge by Milwaukee’s mayor to local German groups, German Fest is now a cherished event, drawing crowds globally to partake in its rich traditions and festivities.

Top Hiking Trails

Sleeping Bear Dunes

9922 W Front St, Empire, MI 49630

For a moderately challenging hike that offers a mix of forest and beach scenery, the Empire Bluff Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes is an excellent choice. This 1.5-mile trail winds through a beech-maple forest, leading to an overlook with splendid views. The area is also rich in wildflowers and woodland plants, adding to the natural beauty of the hike​​.

Black River Preserve

68840 8th Ave, South Haven, MI 49090

This preserve features a network of color-coded dirt hiking trails spreading across 120 acres of diverse landscapes. Hikers can enjoy a mile of riverfrontage along the Black River and its tributaries, with bridges and boardwalks adding to the experience. The preserve is home to a rich array of flora and fauna, including 400 plant species, with a significant portion being native to the region​​​​.

Grand Mere State Park

7337 Thornton Dr, Stevensville, MI 49127

At Grand Mere State Park, hikers can explore a variety of trails, each offering a unique perspective of the park’s diverse terrain. The park boasts over a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline and several trails winding through impressive dunes and lush forests. The trails can be challenging, with steep dune climbs and sandy terrains, but they reward hikers with panoramic views of Lake Michigan and the park’s scenic landscapes​​​​.

Best Golf Courses

Vernon Hills Golf Course

291 Evergreen Drive, Vernon Hills, IL 60061

Nestled in the Chicagoland area, Vernon Hills Golf Course stands out as one of the top ten best nine-hole courses in the region. Designed by the renowned Dick Nugent, this course presents golfers with a mix of narrow fairways and small greens across a rolling terrain, with a creek adding an extra challenge on several holes. Experienced golfers will find this a great destination.

Bonnie Brook Golf Course

2800 N. Lewis Ave., Waukegan, IL 60087

Bonnie Brook Golf Course in Waukegan, Illinois, AKA “The Brook,” is a gem in the public golf scene of the North Shore and greater Chicagoland area. The course offers a blend of picturesque tree-lined fairways, gentle water features, and well-manicured greens. Serious players can look forward to a challenging round here, and no worries if you’re a beginner. The club’s welcoming atmosphere ensures everyone feels right at home.

South Shore Golf Course

7059 South Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60649

South Shore Golf Course in Chicago, once a private country club in the early 1900s, sits majestically along the shores of Lake Michigan. This par 33 course is beautifully interspersed with tall, mature trees and strategically placed sand traps guarding tight greens. South Shore also boasts multiple tee boxes catering to varied skill levels, making it an ideal choice for group or family golf outings.

Water Sports

Lakeshore Kayak Rental

Tours & Rentals

For those seeking a tranquil paddling experience, be sure to check out Lakeshore Kayak Rental in Spring Lake, Michigan. Positioned directly on the Grand River, it’s easily accessible from nearby cities like Grand Haven, Muskegon, Holland, and Grand Rapids. With options like the flexible Lloyds Bayou trip and the more structured Crockery Creek adventure, visitors can choose a kayaking or paddleboarding experience that suits their pace and skill level.

Lake Life Watersports

Rentals

Lake Life Watersports is the go-to spot for families or groups looking for an exciting day out on the water in the Saint Joseph River or along the shores of Lake Michigan. They offer various options, including boat rentals for a leisurely cruise or wave-runners for thrill-seekers. One popular activity is anchoring off Silver Beach, renowned for its beauty, where you can take a refreshing dip in Lake Michigan’s cool waters.

Living Water Adventures

Rentals

Living Water Adventures, a mobile rental business based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, specializes in creating memorable lake experiences. They stand out by bringing the adventure to you, offering equipment and instruction for water activities at your chosen lake location. This family-owned business is ideal for those who don’t live near a lake but still wish to enjoy a day of water-based fun, as they can suggest suitable locations in your area for an unforgettable day out.

Winter Activities

Hike Lakefront Trail

Experience the serene beauty of Lake Michigan’s shores without the crowds with a winter hike on the Lakefront Trail. For those willing to brave the cooler temperatures, you can tackle the 18-mile trail that offers stunning views of Promontory Point and North Avenue Beach. Just be sure to dress warmly, and if you’d like to add a touch of sweetness to your trip, bring along a thermos of hot cocoa to enjoy on the trail!

Bittersweet Resort

Located in Otsego, Michigan, Bittersweet Resort offers an exhilarating winter experience for both ski and snowboarding enthusiasts. Established in 1982, the resort boasts a 350-foot vertical drop, 20 diverse runs, 6 chair lifts (including 2 high-speed lifts), 3 wonder carpets, and 2 rope tows. The resort’s variety of well-groomed slopes caters to a range of skill levels, making it an ideal destination for both beginners and experienced winter sports enthusiasts.

Nub’s Nob Ski Resort

Nub’s Nob Ski Resort, located just northeast of Harbor Springs, is recognized as one of the Midwest’s top skiing destinations, with over 50 years of operation. The resort boasts 246 acres on 43 slopes and runs, catering to a range of skill levels from beginners to experts, including open glade skiing and challenging terrain parks. Whether you’re a downhill enthusiast or cross-country fanatic, you’ll find the perfect trails at Nub’s Nob!

Where to Eat

Lake Street Eats

$ – $$ • Pizza, Burgers & Beer

Barrel Back Restaurant

$$ – $$$ • Upscale American

Bartlett’s Fish Camp

$ – $$ • Seafood & More

Where to Shop

The Lake House

Gift Shop

Michigan Gypsy Boutique

Gift Shop

Stony Lake Market

Convenience Store

Where to Sleep

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Tips on Renting a Vacation Home on Lake Michigan

Location and Surrounding Area

Booking a vacation rental near Lake Michigan comes with an abundance of options, each with its own charm. The eastern shore in Michigan is known for quaint towns like Traverse City and Saugatuck, offering artsy vibes and wine-tasting tours. The western shore in Wisconsin and Illinois, home to cities like Milwaukee and Chicago, provides urban experiences with easy lake access.

Seasonal Weather and Activities

The climate around Lake Michigan varies significantly with the seasons. Summers are ideal for beach activities, sailing, and festivals, while fall brings stunning foliage and quieter towns. Winter, though cold, offers unique opportunities like ice skating and winter festivals.

Proximity to the Water

One of the biggest draws of Lake Michigan is its breathtaking views and easy access to water. Rentals directly on the lakefront offer stunning views and quick beach access but might come at a premium price. Properties a bit further inland can be more affordable and still offer easy access to the lake and other local attractions.

Budget and Peak Times

Prices for rentals can vary significantly based on the time of year and specific location. The peak summer season tends to be the most expensive and busiest. Consider visiting during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) for potentially lower rates and fewer crowds. Also, book well in advance, especially if you plan to travel during peak times, to secure the best rates and choices.

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Going Deeper on Lake Michigan

Name after an Algonquin word, “Michigami,” meaning “great water,” Lake Michigan has a long and varied past. The stories we know go as far back as 1670 when explorers Marquette and Joliet traversed the Chicago Portage and began to breathe a new life into Chicago.

The lake’s shores have seen Chicago grow from a mere dot on the map to a bustling hub, a transformation made possible by a strategic shift of Illinois’ boundary northward in 1818 to include this precious waterfront. Over time, Lake Michigan’s role evolved, serving variously as a conduit for commerce, a source of sustenance, and a stage for recreation. The early industrial age painted a stark contrast along its shores: Chicago’s burgeoning market drove the transformation of its coasts into distinct zones of economic activities, from the sawmills of the north to the steel towns in the south. Yet, amid this industrialization, the lake remained a cherished escape, its dunes and beaches a refuge from the growing urban sprawl, its waters a playground for sailing enthusiasts.

As the 20th century progressed, the narrative of Lake Michigan took a dramatic turn. The once-clear waters began to bear the scars of unchecked industrialization and urbanization. The 1960s brought a harsh reckoning, with the lake’s deteriorating health symbolized by the unwelcome presence of algae and alewives. It was a wake-up call, leading to a crucial chapter in the lake’s story: the battle for its revival. Lawsuits, a ban on phosphate detergents, the Clean Water Act, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency marked the beginning of a concerted effort to restore the lake’s ecological balance.

Lake Michigan’s story is not just a chronicle of natural beauty and resource exploitation but a testament to the resilience of nature and the power of collective action. It stands today as a symbol of both the challenges and triumphs in our relationship with the natural world, a reminder of the delicate balance we must maintain to preserve such treasures for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Lake Michigan

You’ll find a diverse range of fish species in Lake Michigan. The lake is known as the birthplace of the Great Lakes salmon fishery and is home to coho salmon and chinook salmon, which were stocked in the lake in the 1960s. Additionally, you can find trout, perch, and many other fish species.

Yes, you can swim in Lake Michigan safely, but it’s essential to take precautions and adhere to local guidelines. Always swim in designated swim areas, and if you need clarification on water conditions, consult local authorities or lifeguards on duty.

Lake Michigan can become dangerous due to its quickly changing weather and water conditions. The lake’s size also generates waves and currents that can catch even experienced swimmers off-guard. Always pay attention to weather forecasts and heed warning signs posted along the shoreline.

Lake Michigan has a maximum depth of around 923 feet. Although it’s not the deepest lake in the world, it does rank as the second deepest of the Great Lakes, with Lake Superior being the deepest. Its average depth is about 279 feet, making it a significant body of water.

There are numerous recreational activities you can enjoy while visiting the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago. You can swim at popular beaches like Oak Street and North Avenue, rent a kayak or paddleboard, or even sail. You can also bike or walk along the lakefront trail, which offers terrific views and recreational opportunities for everyone.

Lake Michigan has a rich history of maritime traffic, trade, and transportation. However, the lake’s unpredictable weather and navigational challenges have also resulted in numerous shipwrecks. Historians estimate that thousands of shipwrecks lie on the lake’s bottom, with some dating back to the 19th century. Boat tours and dive operations allow visitors to explore some of these fascinating underwater sites.

Yes, Lake Michigan offers numerous boat rental and water sports facilities along its shores. These range from sailing and motorboat rentals to kayaking, paddleboarding, and jet-skiing. Facilities are available in both large cities and smaller lakeside towns, catering to all skill levels.

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