5 Great Lakes Destinations: Explore The Outdoors Through Beachside Forests And Islands

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.

2. Hiawatha National Forest

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.

3. Apostle Islands

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.

4. Sleeping Bear Dunes

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.

5. Chimney Bluffs State Park

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.

Plane dumps thousands of pounds of fuel over Lake Michigan

Citing mechanical problems, an American Airlines flight en route to China dumped 151,000 pounds of fuel over Lake Michigan on Sunday night.

According to an American Airlines spokesman, the fuel was dumped over the freshwater lake after an emergency forced the plane to return to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport about 90 minutes after departing for Beijing. The fuel had to be dumped because landing overweight would have created problems, and even after the gas was unloaded the plane blew a tire when it touched down.

The spokesman claims dumping the fuel did not harm the lake because the fuel evaporates before it reaches the surface. However, one of the 249 passengers on board told NBC Chicago he watched from the plane’s window as the fuel was evacuated into the body of water.

[Photo by ReneS/Flickr]

Photo of the day: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Lake Linden

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

My own private Michigan

Labor day cometh–that final round of summer’s three 3-day weekends. Are you going anywhere special?

Honestly, I don’t know of a better time to travel. Most of the kids are back at school, ticket prices begin to drop, the air cools and the best parts of summer team up for one last hurrah: a lingering outdoor barbecue, a chance to go hiking in shorts, and a final dip in the lake that will last us ’til next spring. Sometimes I feel like Labor Day is meant for filling up on summer memories, an almost-pagan rite of preparation for the coming schedule of winter.

Labor day is also a time to go back to the places we love-to return to those most magical places we knew and loved as children. For me, that place is northwestern Michigan.

If Michigan is a left-handed mitten, the Leelanau peninsula sits right at the tip of the ring finger. It’s not really close to anything-five hours from Detroit and even farther from Chicago or Toronto. I remember it took a long time to get there–the best places do.

When you see them for the first time, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are unexpected, mammoth and impressive. A scientist might explain how during the last ice age, retreating glaciers dumped a few million tons of fine-grain sand in a long ridge. A little kid will tell you that it’s just this huge mountain of sand and that you can run and jump and fall down and not ever get hurt. These massive dunes form the steep-sloped shoreline of the Leelanau peninsula-the highest of which is covered with a wind-shaped mound of soft black sand.

Back when I was a kid, the black sand offered a boggling mystery and a bedtime story. Unlike the phony campfire Indian legends that get dropped on the heads of young innocents, the legend of the sleeping bear is legit. Chippewa tradition recounts the story of a mother bear swimming across Lake Michigan to escape a forest fire. Her two cubs follow behind but drown. The mourning mamma bear became the black-tinted dune and the cubs were transformed into the two sandy islets offshore: North and South Manitou.

When I was a boy, there were still heaps of black sand sitting at the top of the mountain-time has eroded much of the sleeping bear’s color away, though the dunes themselves remain. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore protects and preserves a 35-mile stretch of pristine beach from the kind of “development” that has ruined so much of our American coastlines. There are no radios on the beach here, no gas-guzzling dune buggies or gaudy sno-cone stands. All you have are the clear waves gently slapping the sand, the backdrop grassy dunes and blanket of green forest. Honestly, it’s probably the quietest place in Michigan.Climbing to the top of the dunes is tough work but well worth the unforgettable 360° view. Who knew that Michigan cool feel so exotic?–Like the Sahara pushed up against the Caribbean but dressed up in British Colombia’s vegetation.

. . . and you don’t hike back down from the sleeping bear dunes. Much better to tumble–running, leaping, cartwheeling-doing suicidal jumps only to crash your body into a cushion of several tons of the softest sand. Perhaps that’s the reason our parents took us there. The Great Bear Dunes offer over 30-miles of expendable energy.

Afterwards, the bravest and sweatiest go swimming in Lake Michigan, which is never warm in summer and pretty much solid ice in the winter. Still, nothing ever kept me from diving right in. Around labor day, the water might get up to the mid-60’s, which is refreshing enough to pull your chest into such a tight ball that you become aware that you do in fact have two lungs and a heart right in between. It’s cold, clear, clean water and it’s perfect.

The beachhead is soft and sandy but the bottom of the lake is covered with smooth, rounded stones that tumble with the water. Decades later, I still have several colored rocks collected from those Michigan beaches, including several petoskey stones-round fossils polished smooth by the waves and covered with a distinctly warbled hexagonal pattern.

Quiet nature is still master in this secluded shoreline of Lake Michigan. My only memory of anything manmade is the prominent Point Betsie Lighthouse, built back in 1858 when shipping was constant, as were shipwrecks. Still working, the lighthouse tower is exactly how you want your lighthouses-white and cylindrical with a black top hat, attached to a sturdy station house with a bright red gambrel roof. Interesting fact: Point Betsie is so the second-most photographed lighthouse in America (the first is Portland Head, Maine). That’s how picture-perfect it is.

You can still climb to the top of Point Betsie in summer, and like the dunes, the experience tattoos itself into one’s memory. Growing up, we used to rent the house next to the lighthouse, but nowadays there are plenty of affordable vacation homes and condos scattered in nearby towns further up the coast. Alas, Frankfort, Michigan is the closest civilization around—a town of a whopping 1,500 inhabitants who are all quite proud of their official title as Tree City, USA. (If you ever wonder what people should do on Arbor Day, visit Frankfort.)

Still, it’s the getting away from towns and cars that drives so many up to northern Michigan. Hikers can grab the daily ferry to North and South Manitou Islands and disappear off on their own piece of beach and forest. The camping, hiking, swimming and fishing on these islands has yet to be mass-produced-there are no crowds here.

For culture, take a day or an evening to visit the nearby Interlochen Center for the Arts–a kind of woodsy boarding school/summer camp that’s like Julliard, Tisch and Oberlin College all rolled into one (except with black bears in the woods). The evening shows in summer are spectacular, be it theater or an outdoor symphony. Even nowadays, if I am sitting in some grand theater before a performance–anywhere in the world–and I read in my program that some artist spent time at Interlochen, I feel a true affinity to that person They have shared this same corner of Michigan that I love and I feel a connection from this common destination.

I hope to make it back to Leelanau someday soon. Perhaps not this Labor Day, or the next, but someday. During the rest of the year, you’ll find me traveling all over the world, but on that one weekend when the government informs us it is time to rest from our labors–Well, I’ll choose Michigan.

Is the new Hotel Palomar the sign of a rooftop pool trend in Chicago?

Some cites get the rooftop pool concept right. Chicago is not the first place that would come to mind, but if we’re being honest, when summer descends on Chicago, it’s like God is smiling. Its winter weather gives the city a bad rap for the rest of the year, but outside of snow season, visitors to Chi-town could use the mercy of a cool dip.

Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar, which opened in March in River North, acknowledges the Illinois summer heat by opening a dedicated rooftop pool. Although the pool, located on a setback of the 17th floor of the 36-floor building, is enclosed for year-round use, it’s attached to an outdoor terrace, with views of the Wrigley Building and Marina City.

A few other Chicago hotels have rooftop pools — the ritzier Peninsula, nearby, comes to mind, which is telling since the Palomar’s designer, Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, also did the spa and pool of the Peninsula’s flagship property in Hong Kong. But for the past few years, it’s become the amenity du jour for newcomers such as the Affinia, the Avenue, and now, the Palomar.

On a recent Friday, I came back to the 261-room Palomar after a night of dinner and cocktails. The pool was undeservedly deserted. In Phoenix or Los Angeles, the pool deck is mobbed when the temperature goes above 80 degrees, and not always with inviting results. Not in Chicago. In Chicago, the pools are still mostly undiscovered, which makes this a sanctuary you can have to yourself.

While the moody Kokopeli-styled soundtrack might be cheesy by day, by night, as the clouds drifted across Lake Michigan, it made the lap pool feel more like a private spa — with the bonus backdrop of some of America’s most impressive skyscrapers.

Maybe visitors to Chicago still don’t think of it as a rooftop town unless there’s baseball involved. Let them bake on their boozy decks overlooking Wrigley. There are signs that a new kind of al fresco civilization is making inroads in Chicago’s summertime.