From east to west, or more specifically, the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as the Province of Ontario in Canada, there are spots all along the Midwest's Great Lakes that capture the vivacious spirit of summertime fun. By themselves, America’s five infamous bodies of water are an important water system for North American transportation, commerce, and recreation. They also happen to be the largest bodies of fresh water in the world and continue to be an invaluable natural resource globally. What’s even more fantastic about these crystal blue beauties is that numerous spectacular activities can be enjoyed all throughout the region.
From gigantic waterfalls and national parks, to small beach resorts, art galleries, and ample water sport opportunities, such as boating, canoeing, and even scuba diving, there truly are thousands of places of interests along Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. Experience a full spectrum of unforgettable and totally travel-worthy vacation memories at some of North America’s most unique destinations.
10 Best Things To Do By The Great Lakes
1. Go crazy in the roller coaster capital of the world.
You’ll find the best, brightest, and most bombin’ amusement park in the world near Sandusky, Ohio. Cedar Point is royalty when it comes to the roller coaster, and Cedar Point Amusement Park near Sandusky is definitely the place for adults and kids alike to unleash their inner wild via “America’s Roller Coaster.”
Located right on Lake Erie, it’s the second oldest amusement park in the U.S. behind Lake Compounce and boasts a world-record of over seventy rides, seventeen of which are rollercoasters. It really is the “Best Amusement Park in the World,” well, at least for sixteen consecutive years from 1997-2013, and as of 2015, it’s the most visited seasonal theme park in the nation. Let loose on Valravn, Cedar Point’s newest rollercoaster—a steel coaster built and designed by Bolliger & Mabillard and based off of a supernatural bird from Danish folklore called the valravn. It just opened in May 2016 and claims the title of being the world’s tallest, fastest, and longest dive. What are you waiting for?!
2. Have a Second City adventure to remember.
Chicago, a.k.a. the Windy City, has it all—great food, great museums, great sports, and gigantic skyscrapers. There are major attractions right on the water, such as Navy Pier on Lake Michigan, which is one of the most visited attractions in the American Midwest for its amusement park, live entertainment, shops, restaurants, and theater.
The city’s also got a more-than-enviable culture and live music scene, especially for those who enjoy classical art, jazz, and the blues. Take a tour of the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago or listen in on two of the world's best orchestras before digging into a nice big slice of deep dish pizza and taking in the view of the entire city from the skydeck of the Willis Tower. Did we mention that “Second City’s” claim to fame is, in fact, that it is the birthplace of the skyscraper? Get ready to venture into the urban jungle.
3. Experience a classic American summer fair in Ohio.
What’s more good old Grade-A American than a summertime fair? Nothing, really. Drive a few hours south of Lake Erie to check out the Ohio State Fair in Columbus, Ohio this summer (July 29 – August 9, 2016) and sample cotton candy and corndogs galore. Watch piglets and potato sacks race, hear amazing rock and country music, get your thrills on from some wild rides, and gawk over tons of horticulture and agricultural exhibits.
Since September 1849, it’s been one of the largest state fairs in the United States, with attendance in 2015 at a record high of almost one million people. Experience twelve full days of some of the best hot summer fun to be had. You might even get to see a few cows being sculpted from pure butter!
4. Gobble down good grub and craft brews in Milwaukee.
If there is one city in the region that’s synonymous with good eating and even greater drinking, it’s got to be Milwaukee. This Wisconsin hotspot on Lake Michigan’s western shore is no doubt Brew City – it’s long been hailed as the world's leading beer producer and still remains firmly associated with the drink, especially since the city’s got some of the nation’s best high end nightlife. With beer barons like Schlitz, Pabst, and of course, Miller, this beer-making town has kept up with the times and offers plenty of craft beer bars totally worth visiting. Find barrel-aged rarities, as well as mighty Midwestern mainstays—you won’t find any cheap shots of liquor here, because the array of seriously stellar spaces to get tipsy at are endless.
Try Sugar Maple, Lakefront Brewery, or Milwaukee Ale House, the only restaurant slash bar with a double-level patio that overlooks the Milwaukee River. If you’re scouring for good bar food and bountiful amounts of beer brewed right on-site, look no further. Oh, and for those oenophiles out there, you’ll be happy to know that all along the lakeshores, are also some of the finest wineries, especially for ice wine. Cheers.
5. Get a rockin’ and a rollin’ in Cleveland.
Rock n’ Rollers can unite in this Ohio city, which houses John Lennon’s colorful Sgt. Pepper uniform, Michael Jackson’s glove, Elvis’ Cadillac, and more, all in one place: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Be prepared to get down, dirty, and into the groove with the King himself along the south shore of Lake Erie at the “Rock Hall”—there are also an abundance of other cultural goodies to take advantage of in the area, including University Circle, the home of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra, which performs in America's most beautiful concert hall, Severance Hall, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, another national best.
6. Take the whole family out to a ball game in Michigan.
Why not enjoy a summer afternoon baseball game at Dow Diamond, or one of the other numerous magnificent stadiums and sports arenas throughout the area that host major professional baseball, football, basketball, and ice hockey teams?
There are, of course, those Great Lakes Loons, as well as an array of historic venues that serve as home base for the Big Ten university athletic leagues that grace the region. The Big Ten features three of the four largest stadiums in the world, including the "Big House" over in Ann Arbor a couple of hours away. It’s the home stadium of the University of Michigan and boasts a capacity of over 107,000, which is the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Let’s just say that fall football season is an especially spirited spectacle over at the Great Lakes. Spring training’s pretty big as well.
7. Cruise and boat along those great waters of America’s Third Coast.
Take advantage of the eleven thousand miles of pure coastline along the Great Lakes. The region is truly ideal for those looking to have some boating, swimming, kayaking, or fishing fun. Many boaters opt to use the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System as a travel route, while others turn to professionals such as the Great Lakes Cruising Company or the American Canadian Caribbean Line, who both offer awesome cruises on the Lakes.
All along the lakes you’ll find plenty of places to get close with nature as well. Try the popular Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior in Michigan, which features waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, and much more. Speaking of waterfalls, don’t forget to check out the greatest of them all—i.e. Niagara Falls—as well as numerous nice beaches, wildlife areas, famed arboretums, exciting island destinations (Thousand Islands and Manitoulin Island), towering sand dunes, and picturesque lakeshores, including Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Isle Royale National Park, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, and the Indiana Dunes.
8. Go Dutch and admire those tulips in Holland, Michigan.
Want a taste of the Netherlands without having to leave the U.S.? There’s a little shore town near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan on Lake Macatawa that offers just that—i.e. tons of Dutch heritage with a fine array of attractions and restaurants. During the springtime, Holland even hosts one of the nation's largest flower festivals, Tulip Time! Head over each May to see the sight of six million tulips planted throughout city streets, in city parks, and outside municipal buildings, as well as near tourist faves like the Dutch Village, Veldheer Tulip Gardens, and the Windmill Island Gardens, a 250-year-old working windmill that towers above a garden-filled 36-acre island.
Then pick up some fresh breads and buttery kraklingen cookies at DeBoer's Dutch Brothers Bakery to add to the picnic basket you’ll take along to Holland State Park, where you can experience expansive beach sands, stellar lighthouse views, and access to Mount Pisgah's towering sand dune. Come sunset, head on over to over to New Holland Brewing Company—it’s Holland's favorite night spot and serves award-winning beers and creatively topped pizzas. Yum.
9. Spend a day at a farm and pick your own fruit.
Ever dreamed of taking a nice afternoon stroll through a bountiful fruit orchard to fill up on deliciously tart freshly grown cherries, peaches, or apples? Well, get your hands on just-grown local produce all throughout the Great Lakes regions while meeting all the hardworking people who work to bring those fruits and veggies to your dinner tables each night. Make sure to stop over at a nearby farmer’s market to buy enough goods to take home as well.
There really is nothing quite like spending an entire day on a Michigan or a Wisconsin farm. Personally lift and twist your juicy Red Delicious straight from the tree and hear the crisp snap of that very first bite. You’d probably also enjoy helping out owners wind through row after row of patches in pursuit of the best pumpkin with the curliest vines. Spectacular memories are made fresh daily all along the Great Lakes. What’s more is that for “cheeseheads,” there’s Wisconsin, the nation’s largest producer of cheddar cheese. Fill up on both fruit and some mild or extra sharp on top of lots of crackers. Get that snack on!
10. Fly though history in Ohio.
Find one of the world's great historical attractions is in Dayton, Ohio at Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where in 1905, the Wright brothers finally perfected a powered aircraft capable of sustained and reliable flight. That plane, the Wright Flyer III, is housed in the Wright Brothers Aviation Center at Dayton's Carillon Historical Park -- both attractions are part of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, which further makes Dayton the aviation capital of the U.S. What’s more is that it’s home to the U.S. Air Force National Museum, the world’s oldest and largest military aviation museum, as well as the Vectren Dayton Air Show, an annual air show that takes place at the Dayton International Airport. It’s one of the largest air shows in the nation.
If you’ve got some time, try heading over to the history-rich town of Kirtland, Ohio nearby, which recreates the village where the Mormon church was first organized. It’s famous for being the early headquarters of the Latter Day Saints movement and is the site of the Kirtland Temple, the first Mormon temple. The city also houses many of the best parks in the Lake Metroparks system, as well as one of the largest arboreta and botanical gardens in the country, the Holden Arboretum.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.