Destination Summer: The Great Lakes Edition

Encompassing eight states, the Great Lakes region of the US held some of the country’s earliest European settlements. Today, the region is a major summer destination, attracting over 60 million people to its shores per year. From amusement parks to a natural wonder of the world, we’re counting down some of our best suggestions for your next trip up north!

A view of the American side of Niagara Falls, located in between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
A view of the American side of Niagara Falls, located in between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. Reprinted from New York: What’s So Great About This State? by Kate Boehm Jerome (pg. 6, Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

The Five Great Lakes

Consisting of Lake Huron, Lake Superior, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and Lake Michigan, the Great Lakes have coastlines in eight US states, and the Canadian province of Ontario. The area was historically inhabited by Native American tribes like the Iroquois and Algonquin, and flourished with the fur trade during early European colonization.

The various trade networks and fertile ground surrounding the lakes led to many major settlements throughout the area, particularly on the coastline. Future cities like Detroit, Michigan and Green Bay, Wisconsin were founded before the 19th century, beginning as small trade outposts for the fur trade, and slowly growing with the expansion of the United States following the Revolution.

Today, the Great Lakes region is one of eleven so-called “megaregions” of the United States, with an American population in excess of 40 million people. The large cities, geography, and attractions of the area have also made it a major tourist destination, and popular summer vacation spot!

Our Top 10 Things to do near the Great Lakes

Since its early settlement the Great Lakes region has grown exponentially, and includes some of the largest metropolitan areas in both the US and Canada, such as Chicago, Illinois or Toronto, Canada. The area has also come to boast many attractions to suit a diverse range of interests. From hiking and fishing to amusement parks, here are our top 10 things to do during your next trip to area:
  • Visit the self-proclaimed “Eighth Wonder of the World” at Niagara Falls: Actually a series of three waterfalls along the New York-Canadian border, Niagara Falls consists of Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. Located in between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, Niagara Falls has been a major tourist destination since the 19th century. Today, the area has activities on both sides of the border, including the Canadian midway Clifton Hill, and a zipline over the waterfalls on the American side.
  • Get your fill of roller-coasters at Cedar Point: Located in Sandusky, Ohio near Lake Erie, Cedar Point is known as the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World.” With 17 roller coasters and over 70 different rides, Cedar Point holds several records for amusement parks, including being the only park to have six roller coasters taller than 200 feet high.
The Corkscrew roller coaster at Cedar Point.
The Corkscrew roller coaster at Cedar Point. Image by Coasterman1234 at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Discover hidden treasures by shipwreck diving:  Nearly all of the Great Lakes have shipwrecks that can be explored by visitors. Underwater diving companies such as Shipwreck Explorers help guide divers through wrecks, which are especially plentiful in the depths of Lake Erie and Lake Superior.
  • Explore some of the country’s greatest museums in Chicago: Home to the country’s second-largest art museum and one of the largest natural history museums in the world, Chicago has over 60 museums for spectators to enjoy. The Field Museum of Natural History alone counts over 40 million artifacts in its collection, and is home to Sue, the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil!
Sue, the world’s largest T-Rex.
Sue, the world’s largest T-Rex. Image by Michael Gray [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr.
  • Get in touch with nature at Dow Gardens: Located in Midland, Michigan, Dow Gardens was created by Herbert Dow, the founder of the Dow Chemical Company. With 110 acres of greenery, Dow Gardens is home to a stream walk with over 20,000 summer plant varieties, an herb garden, and a rose garden. The gardens are also open to the public for weddings and other special occasions.
  • Catch a mighty king salmon: After stocking the lakes with freshwater fish such as salmon for decades, fishing on the Great Lakes has become a successful sport, enjoyed by professionals and amateurs alike. Here, Lake Ontario shines: Although it is the smallest Great Lake by area, it has the largest proliferation of salmon of the five lakes.
  • Visit the characters at Six Flags Great America: If Cedar Point didn’t satisfy your adrenaline craving, hop on over to Six Flags Great America, located about an hour from Chicago in Gurnee, Illinois. The park, which features 14 roller coasters, also allows visitors to meet with well-known characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck!
  • Become a rock legend at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame: Located right on the shores of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame helps to document and acknowledge the biggest stars and influences in rock ‘n’ roll music. Each year, the museum’s foundation inducts up to a dozen artists into their midst. The museum is also home to the world’s largest library and archives on rock and roll.
  • Visit one of the many Great Lakes islands: Due to the unpredictable glacial activity that helped to carve out the Great Lakes region, there are roughly 35,000 scattered islands across the five lakes. Many of these lakes, such as Manitoulin Island and Michipicoten Island offer dozens out of outdoor activities to help explore the area.
  • Trek the North Country Trail: Linking seven states, the North Country Trail begins in central North Dakota, before curving along the Great Lakes and ending on the New York-Vermont border. Over 4,600 miles long, the trail also stops through 10 national forests and the Adirondack Mountains.

To read more about the Great Lakes region, check out the books below!

Have you ever vacationed near the Great Lakes? Let us know in the comments below!