Come on in, the water’s - well, it’s freezing. (Seriously, the girl in this photo is nuts.) But that isn’t keeping me away from my first trip to the breathtaking shores of Lake Michigan, also known as the country’s Third Coast. Though I’ve lived in Indiana most of my life, I have always passed over Lake Michigan for the spun-sugar shores of Florida’s Gulf Coast and Mexico’s Caribbean for my beach fix. I’m just not a lake person; I’m a beach snob. But the first time I laid eyes on Lake Michigan’s stunning panorama this week, I changed my tune. The sand is fine and soft, the beaches long and unbroken, the water deep blue and stretched to the horizon. There’s even a crashing surf, like the ocean. Charming beach towns and state parks galore run up and down this unsung, uncommercialized coastline, and the sunsets are spectacular. Follow along on Gadling’s Instagram account, @GadlingTravel and #ontheroad, as I discover the best of Lake Michigan’s beach culture this week. By the time you can plan a trip for later this summer, the water will be warm. Well, warmer, at least.
New cruise lines are about as rare as new hotel chains; there is just not a lot of action on that topic. Like hotel chains, airlines and other travel-related companies, most cruise lines have been around for a long time too. Still, there are those who see a need in the marketplace that existing companies just can’t fill. Such is the feel of new Pearl Sea Cruises, which will set sail in 2014 cruising the Canadian Maritimes, New England and the Caribbean.
Starting out by building just one new ship, the 210-passenger Pearl Mist, Pearl Seas Cruises will operate various seven-, 10- and 11-night Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, Canadian Maritimes and New England cruises during their 2014 inaugural season.Currently undergoing final outfitting by Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Maryland, the Pearl Mist will be a Marshall Islands-flagged ship, first departing June 28, 2014, on an 11-night inaugural sailing from Baltimore to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On a total of 17 cruises planned for the 2014 season that runs through November, itineraries include:
- Atlantic Coast– 11-night cruise from Baltimore to Halifax & reverse that showcases scenic areas long the U.S. East coast.
- The Canadian Maritimes – 10-night cruise from Halifax to Québec focusing on Eastern Canada’s scenery, history and beauty.
- St. Lawrence Seaway and Thousand Islands –seven-night cruise from Québec to Toronto & reverse taps international and old world charm via history, culture and scenic beauty.
- Great Lakes and Georgian Bay – 10 and 11-night cruises from Toronto to Chicago & reverse features the largest freshwater ecosystem on Earth, sailing through four of the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay.
- Southeast United States – 11-night cruise from Baltimore to Nassau, Bahamas – this trip down the East Coast stops in the various iconic cities of the south and ends in the Caribbean.
Bringing the current destination focus of small-ship cruising to North America on a new luxury ship, Pearl Seas Cruises brings the latest in comfort, safety, technology and communication. Not that cruising the waters of North America is something new; river cruise lines have been doing that for quite some time. Pearl Seas will sail the coast on new ships, in luxury.
Unique to Pearl Seas are oversized staterooms, all with a private balcony and most with sliding glass doors, a spacious dining room, and a variety of lounges. Combined with on-board enrichment and entertainment programs as well as exclusive shore excursions, Pearl Seas Cruises looks like a new cruise line that should do well here.
[Photo credit - Pearl Seas Cruises]
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is an often overlooked travel destination. Sandwiched between three of the Great Lakes, the U.P. is a remote and rugged wilderness that features hundreds of miles of trail, incredibly dense forests and more solitude than anyone could ever ask for. Outdoor enthusiasts will love the options for hiking, camping and backpacking, while other visitors will enjoy the scenic beauty and laid back lifestyle.
That vast expanse of wilderness is occasionally broken up by quaint and inviting Midwestern towns populated by friendly and accommodating people. The largest of those towns is Sault Ste. Marie (pronounced Soo-Saint-Marie), which is located on the southern banks of the St. Mary’s River on the eastern side of the Peninsula, just a stone’s throw away from Canada.
You wouldn’t know it while passing through the sleepy little town but Sault Ste. Marie (Pop. 15,000) is home to the busiest lock system in the entire world. Completed in 1855, the Soo Locks connect Lake Superior and Lake Huron, allowing ships to safely traverse the 21-foot drop that separates those two bodies of water. Each year more than 10,000 vessels pass through the locks, despite the fact that they are closed between January and March, and in 2008 alone, the locks saw more than 80 million tons of cargo come and go.The Great Lakes have served as shipping lanes for centuries and the Soo Locks are vitally important in keeping that traffic flowing today. As such, most of the ships that pass through Sault Ste. Marie are freighters, barges and tugboats. Some of those vessels are capable of steaming straight out of the Lakes and directly into the ocean itself, delivering as much as 72,000 tons of cargo to the rest of the world. It is not unusual for the locks to see the occasional tall sailing ships, cruise lines or even military vessels too.
During the summer travel months the Soo Locks are amongst the most popular tourist destinations in all of Michigan. Visitors actually come from around the world to take in the sights of a large ocean-going vessel passing through Sault Ste. Marie. The transfer process between the two lakes is a fascinating one and watching the locks in operation is a unique experience. That process can be observed from a lovely park that sits alongside the locks, which is the perfect place for spotting the large ships as they approach. Better yet, visitors can actually pass through the Soo Locks themselves by booking a local boat tour.
The Soo Locks Visitor Center is also a great place to learn more about the locks while visiting Sault Ste. Marie. The center provides a contextual history of how and why these modern wonders were built while also offering a large observation deck for watching the ships “lock through.”
When you’re finished enjoying the locks, be sure to spend a little time exploring Sault Ste. Marie as well. As Michigan’s oldest city, it has plenty of unique aspects to discover. And whatever you do, don’t leave town without trying the fudge!
A thick streak of teal striped the water as we crossed over it on the Mackinac Bridge. The Mackinac Bridge connects Lower Michigan and Upper Michigan. The waters I marveled at as we crossed were to my right, making up Lake Huron. Lake Michigan was to my left. I never suspected, until then, that I could see Caribbean blues in the Great Lakes. The drive I made from the Mackinac Bridge to Houghton, Michigan, was filled with detours. I pulled off the road a handful of times to take in the scenic Lake Michigan beaches along the way. The core beauty of the Great Lakes and surrounding areas seems to lie within the pristine nature of the outdoors. If you want to plan an outdoor adventure near one of the Great Lakes this summer but you don’t know where to begin, here’s a list that should help get you started.1. Isle Royale
Lake Superior’s Isle Royale is a rugged National Park. It’s the largest island in Lake Superior at 45 miles long and 9 miles wide. Comprised of 400 small islands in addition to Isle Royale itself, the park’s above-water land is still relatively small at 209 square miles. Wolf and moose populations make Isle Royale a popular destination, particularly because this is the only known place where wolves and moose coexist without bears. The largest trail is the Greenstone Ridge Trail. At 40 miles long, this trail is generally a four- or five-day hike. The island boasts a total of 165 miles of hiking trails. Visitors can also canoe or kayak around the area. A lodge and 36 designated wilderness campgrounds make Isle Royale ideal for a backpacking trip.
The Hiawatha National Forest is an 880,000-acre forest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. With over 100 miles of shoreline, this forest is a great destination for water activities. Steep rock walls create dramatic landscapes alongside tall trees, streams, rivers and waterfalls. Nestled alongside three of the five Great Lakes (Michigan, Superior and Huron), this forest is filled with campgrounds. What’s more, lighthouses, Native American artifacts and archaeological sites make this forest worth the visit for outdoor fun.
The Apostle Islands are a group of 21 islands in Lake Superior. These islands lie off of the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin. Identified as the “spiritual home” of the Lake Superior Chippewa, the islands were originally named after the 12 apostles by historian Pierre Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, despite the presence of 21 islands. White spruce and balsam fir trees dominate the islands. Sea caves throughout the islands feature beautiful arches and chambers. Campgrounds are available on 18 of 21 islands. Scuba diving, kayaking and hiking are all popular activities on the islands during the summer.
Covering a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has been called the most beautiful place in America by many, including ABC’s “Good Morning America” in 2011. Forests, beaches, dune formations and ancient glacial phenomena attract visitors to this island destination. Primitive, rustic and even more luxurious (with electricity and showers) campsites are spread throughout the Dunes.
Impressive clay rock formations drop into the shores of Lake Ontario at Chimney Bluffs State Park in New York. The park has only four miles of hiking trails, but the scenery is worth the short trek. Open daily from dawn until dusk, this park is not one for camping or multi-day journeying, but it is a great destination for a vividly beautiful day trip.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a favorite place of mine. Desolate and beautiful, the U.P. is an ideal getaway destination. The coastline of Michigan’s U.P. has a certain kind of shine–they kind that makes me want to build a cabin and never leave… except during the winters.
Featured above are 3 kayaking friends using a sail rig on their kayak. Launching off from a clean sandy beach, this shot was taken in Lake Linden. Lake Linden is located about 2 hours northwest of Marquette, Michigan. Green Bay is the nearest city to Lake Linden and it’s still 5 hours south. And what do you do when you find yourself hanging out in a place as remote as this? Take to the water and bask in the sunshine.
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Photo By: Vishaka Rajaram