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.