Growing up in Metro Detroit, I only visited Lake Michigan a handful of times as a kid, but the beauty and power of the lake stay with you.
Now, I call West Michigan home, and every visit to the big lake still feels like I’m going on vacation. With a slight shift in the Lake Michigan winds, I can tell that new adventures are in the air.
The 5 Great Lakes
Really, all the Great Lakes are spectacular. But after reading 5 Reasons Lake Superior Is the Best Great Lake, I had to offer another opinion on the topic.
Granted, Lake Superior has a lot going for her. As the largest Great Lake, Superior boasts some gorgeous rocky coastlines. (I’m looking at you, Pictured Rocks.) Plus, the name Superior is hard to beat.
On the other hand, Lake Superior is the coldest Great Lake, never really comfortable to swim in, and not easily accessible for most Michiganders. Not the most hospitable Great Lake if you ask me.
Lake Huron, Lake Erie, & Lake Ontario
While Lake Huron offers beautiful lake views with great rock hunting spots, Lake Huron shores often lack the cozy, sandy feel.
Lake Erie & Lake Ontario are both fine lakes, although I’m drawing a blank on any reasons they are uniquely exceptional.
Here’s why Lake Michigan wins the crown of the best Great Lake in my book…
5 Reasons Lake Michigan is the Best Great Lake
1. Lake Michigan’s freshwater dunes are full of beauty and important biodiversity.
When I think of Lake Michigan, the first thing that comes to mind is the towering sand dunes, the largest freshwater dune system on the planet. The deep blue water against dune grass and sandy beaches displays such stunning natural beauty.
While the Sleeping Bear Dunes are the most notable in Michigan, there are dozens of other beaches along Lake Michigan to enjoy dunes. Warren Dunes State Park and PJ Hoffmaster State Park have some amazing dune trails and beaches as well.
Rare Plants & Animals
Lake Michigan’s freshwater dune system is also home to several rare plant and animal species that depend on the dunes’ ecosystem.
Native plants like Pitcher’s thistle and dwarf lake iris are threatened species only found in the Great Lakes region. Similarly, endangered animals like the piper plover make their nests on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan.
2. Charming beach towns span across the Lake Michigan coast.
St. Joseph, South Haven, Holland, Grand Haven, Ludington, Manistee, Traverse City, Petoskey. The number of picturesque Lake Michigan beach towns is endless.
In these coastal areas, you can enjoy the small-town charm of downtown shops, restaurants, and entertainment set against beautiful lake backdrops.
Some of my favorite memories spent in Lake Michigan beach towns? Hunting for Petoskey stones in Petoskey State Park, walking the iconic Grand Haven light pier, and enjoying the winter Ice Festival in downtown St. Joseph.
3. Travelers can enjoy unique activities along Lake Michigan.
Several of these charming Lake Michigan beach towns offer interesting ways to take in the Lake Michigan views.
For thrill-seekers, experiencing an exhilarating sand dune ride is a bucket list experience for sure. Silver Lake Sand Dunes offers two amazing experiences: hopping on the Mac Wood’s guided dune ride or riding your own ORV (off-road vehicle) in a designated area.
FYI — Silver Lake Sand Dunes is the only area in Michigan where personal ORV riders are permitted on sand dunes! These guidelines help protect rare plants and animals living among the fragile dune ecosystems.
Want to take a shortcut across Lake Michigan on your next road trip rather than driving all the way around it?
Drive aboard the S.S. Badger car ferry from Ludington Michigan to Manitowoc Wisconsin. Or in Muskegon Michigan, take the Lake Express to Milwaukee Wisconsin. These car ferries cut travel time down to roughly 2 or 2.5 hours.
Definitely a unique way to travel across the Great Lakes.
Lake Michigan Campgrounds
For a more earthy way to experience Lake Michigan, camp right along the water’s edge. Several state parks and state forests offer campsites with front-row seats to Lake Michigan.
In my travels along Lake Michigan, I’ve found a couple of amazing places with lakefront rustic campsites, including Fisherman’s Island State Park and Hog Island State Forest Campground on the Upper Peninsula coastline. I’m sure there are many more I’ve yet to discover too!
4. Lake Michigan provides an ideal climate for fruit crops & wineries.
Known as the Fruit Belt, the stretch along Lake Michigan from Traverse City on the northern end to New Buffalo on the southern end hosts thousands of acres of orchards and fruit farms.
In this region, western winds from Lake Michigan create a milder coastal climate year-round, which is ideal for fruit crops. Cooler winds in summer + warmer winds in winter = happy fruit!
The Fruit Belt’s most abundant crops include tasty apples, cherries, blueberries, and peaches.
U-Pick Fruit Farms
In addition to supplying local farmer’s markets and grocery stores, many farms offer U-pick options. One of the best parts of a Michigan summer or fall is picking fresh blueberries and apples bursting with flavor!
Many Lake Michigan coastal towns celebrate their signature crops with seasonal festivals and community events.
In Northern Michigan’s cherry country, Traverse City hosts the Cherry Festival every July. In the blueberry domain of Southwest Michigan, South Haven parties with an annual Blueberry Festival.
Of course, another fruit crop — grapes — make our friendly local Lake Michigan wineries possible too. Need some winery recommendations? Try a few of my favorites:
- Fenn Valley Vineyards in (Fennville)
- Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery (Petoskey)
- Green Bird Organic Cellars & Farm (Northport in the Leelanau Peninsula)
5. Lake Michigan sunsets are legendary.
If you’ve never seen a Lake Michigan sunset, you’ll need to add this one to your travel list pronto. Cozy up with your feet in the sand, or swim under a technicolor sky for a magical summer evening.
Also, stay for the afterglow — the period after the sunset. Oftentimes, the sky becomes even more vibrant just after the setting sun.
Keep the Great Lakes Beautiful
No matter which Great Lake is your favorite, we can all do our part to help keep the Great Lakes basin clean and beautiful. Many Lake Michigan and other Great Lakes beaches do not have trash receptacles nearby on the beach, so plan accordingly to dispose of your waste properly.
Better yet, take a few minutes to gather any extra trash you see in the sand. As a family, we’ve made mini beach pick-ups part of our regular pack-up routine (with hand sanitizer or hand washing afterward, of course).
Working together, we can keep all the Great Lakes truly great for future generations to enjoy.
What do you appreciate about Lake Michigan? Share your Great Lakes love in the comments!