Satellite image of Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of NASA
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5 Reasons Why Lake Superior Is The Best Great Lake

My great-grandma used to say there are many good lakes, but only one great lake–and it’s no surprise which one she thought was superior. Lakes Ontario and Erie are nice but not really part of our Michigan culture.

Meanwhile, Huron is admirable but doesn’t offer as much in size and water quality. Lake Michigan can make a strong case, but crowded beaches all summer leave it as a respectable “good.”

Though many of the best beaches in Michigan can be found south of the U.P., none of the Great Lakes rise above Lake Superior, and here are 5 reasons why of the 5 Great Lakes, Lake Superior is the best…

By the way, if you didn’t know, there are five (5) Great Lakes, four of which border Michigan. Thus its state nickname, “The Great Lakes State”. The Great Lakes names are Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior: HOMES.

Lake Superior is the Cleanest and Clearest Great Lake

As the coldest (it’s refreshing!) and most northern of the lakes, Superior is also the clearest. Because of its somewhat isolated location and long cold winters, not much farming is done along Superior’s shores. This means lower amounts of nutrients, sediments, and organic material are floating around the lake.

Superior also doesn’t have any major cities resting on its banks, unlike Lake Michigan, which has Chicago, and Huron and Erie, which are connected by the Detroit River. These factors combine to make Superior incredibly clean and crystal clear—just how everyone likes it.

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Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Photo courtesy of the National Parks Service

Lake Superior has Iconic Rock Formations, Agates, and Shipwrecks

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore calls Lake Superior its home, serving as a beacon for adventurers, explorers, and nature lovers. The hiking in this area, paired with the incredible sight of massive rocks carved by the power of the lake over time, makes it unlike anywhere else in the world.

The National Lakeshore isn’t the only rock to live on the edge of Superior—agates, semi-precious gemstones, were formed by Lake Superior’s waters and are now found along its shores in the UP and to the west. Each agate is unique and beautiful, with a rather plain exterior giving way to brilliant colors and patterns when cracked open.

While you’re on the beach searching for agates, you might also spot one of about 350 shipwrecks dotting Superior’s banks. The southeastern stretch of shore, with its strong winds and uneven lakebed, is known as the “Graveyard of the Great Lakes.”

This stretch is where more shipwrecks have occurred than any other place in the Great Lakes, and those eery hulls serve as a reminder of the history and cost of our nautical curiosity and exploration.

You can learn more about this at the shipwreck museum at Whitefish Point, where the most famous shipwreck — the Edmund Fitzgerald — is detailed.

One of many peaceful Lake Superior beaches. Photo courtesy of Samantha Ward - The Awesome Mitten
One of many peaceful Lake Superior beaches. Photo courtesy of Samantha Ward

Secluded Towns and Beaches on Lake Superior

By now you might have caught on that I’m a little biased.

But it’s a legitimate fact that the beaches and towns along Superior’s shores are the best in Michigan, and probably the world. Why?

Superior has plenty of what you want in a Great Lakes beach: beautiful water, white sand, ice cream shops, dining options, and downtown shopping strips. But what you won’t find? Mobs of people.

Any trip to Whitefish Point, Grand Marais, Munising, Marquette, Houghton, Copper Harbor, or literally anywhere in between, will let you enjoy the views and the surf all by yourself–or, at most, a small group of other in-the-know travelers.

This is what really sets Superior apart. As often as not, you can climb a dune, look out over miles and miles of crystal clear fresh water, and not see another single soul.

A tranquil view of Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of Samantha Ward - The Awesome Mitten
A tranquil view of Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of Samantha Ward

Lake Superior is the Largest Great Lake

When it comes to lakes, bigger is definitely better. It’s not a secret that Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes, as well as the largest in the world.  

At 31,700 square miles, Lake Superior is approximately the size of Austria and holds 2,900 cubic miles of water–enough to cover the entire landmass of North and South America with a foot of water.

On the global scale, Superior is the largest freshwater lake by surface area, and the largest completely freshwater lake in the world—only smaller than the Caspian Sea, which contains an oceanic basin.

This size gives Superior the most incredible vistas you can find in the state, with wide-open waters and impossibly far-off ships and sunsets.

The crystal clear water of Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of National Geographic - The Awesome Mitten
The crystal clear water of Lake Superior. Photo courtesy of National Geographic

Lake Superior is Ojibwe Gichigami – The Great Sea

Of course, we aren’t the first people to fall in love with the vastness of Superior. The native people of Michigan, the Ojibwe tribe, named the lake Ojibwe Gichigami, or the Ojibwe’s Great Sea.

They definitely had a point, and I’m not going to argue with them or my great-grandma.

Michigan has many good lakes, but only one great one–and its name is Superior.

What do you love most about Lake Superior? Let us know in the comments!

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9 Comments

  1. Love your treatise; but the three Lower Lakes have not assaulted me with biting black flies like we experienced on the north edge of the Porcupines many years ago.
    I am due to get back up there and experience the cool, clear Great Lake again.

  2. There is a fresh water lake in Siberia that is twice as deep as Superior and I believe holds more fresh water.

    1. Lake Baikal is the deepest fresh water lake in the world, but Superior is the largest by about three times. Superior is by far the largest fresh water lake in the world by surface area.

      1. That’s exactly what she said.
        BY SURFACE!

        “On the global scale, Superior is the largest freshwater lake by surface area, and the largest completely freshwater lake in the world…”

  3. I agree with a lot of your points but one thing Superior lacks over the others is consistent swimability. With frigid temps almost the whole year round it’s a matter of ‘dive in and get out quick’ before you get a massive ice cream headache. To me this makes it more of a viewing lake and not as useful.

    I agree Huron and Michigan have man made problems like pollution and agricultural runoff ( fortunately nowhere near as bad as Lake Erie with it’s algae blooms. Yuck!) but the northern reaches of both lakes are as clean and pristine as Superior with more swim friendly temps. In fact I contend the best beaches in the state may very well be on US 2 west of St. Ignance in the UP.

    Now there are some nice swimming spots on Superior but you have to look for them. The sandy shallows on the bottom of Whitefish Bay are very swim friendly but a lot of this greatest lake is just too cold to swim. On a hot August day it’s a tease to look at the lake you can’t really linger in.

  4. I have to agree with David, its like having the best looking pool in town and can’t get in for whatever reason. That’s just sad……

  5. The only way I’ve been able to stay in Lake Superior for an extended time is in a 2 pc 7mm wetsuit when I dove on wrecks out of Munising during August. And even then it felt like my face would freeze off. It is just amazing that there is so much water it can’t really warm up. But at the same time only the coldest of winters have any chance to get it close to completely frozen over.

  6. Although the water is very cold I was in Isle Royale and I found a Cove that had restricted access to Lake superior. It was shallow and on a sunny day it would warm up to almost 80 degrees. So I would sit there in the cove with Wilderness beauty in my swimsuit with nature all around. As soon as I was near the entrance the cold of Lake superior was felt immediately. There are other places like this but you have to find them. An absolutely stunning lake.

  7. I stayed the night in a tent on 12 mile beach near pictured rocks. A fella who walks the beach once a day . told me Never to walk that beach with out bringing a survival blanket. If a wind were to pick up you might not make it through the night. Hypothermia is almost a guarantee.

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