A Trip Around Lake Michigan


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, Michigan Sunset on Lake Winnebago in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin
Bayview-Petosky, Michigan Lakeshore Door County, Wisconsin Lakeshore


The east coast part of the country knows little about the Midwest for vacations venues.   Certainly, we know about the big mountains that are out west…skiing, hiking, mountain climbing, etc.   And we are very familiar with the west coast and especially the California vacation sites.

But for example, if I asked people about Mackinac Island…most, if not all, would have a quizzical look and ask where that is?   We had the same reaction, but after talking with friends from the Midwest and doing some research about the area, we became interested in the environs of Lake Michigan.

We all know it is one of the Great lakes, but just how great is it…..well it has a surface area of 22,400 square miles and a shore length of over 1600 miles…..that is not just a lake but a really great lake.  And, in fact, it is not the largest of the other four Great lakes, but it is the only one completely inside the United States.

But enough about geography…we wanted to see Lake Michigan….and get a sense of the communities that surround the lake and how people actually relate with the lake.  So we planned our trip so that we would begin in Chicago at the southern part of the lake, then travel east through Indiana and up around the shore into Michigan.   We continued north through Michigan into the upper peninsular of Michigan and then south through Wisconsin on our way back to Chicago.

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That is our story and we are sticking with it.   The industrialized segment of Lake Michigan is generally to the south around Chicago and Milwaukee.   The vacation parts of the lake are generally centered to the north around the coasts of Michigan and Wisconsin.    Door County in Wisconsin, Traverse City in Michigan and Mackinac Island in Michigan are vacation or tourist points of interest for the lake.   I hasten to point out that Mackinac Island actually lies in Lake Huron, but ever so close to Lake Michigan.  

I would like to call Lake Michigan an ocean, so it seemed with the ever present waves and the ships that ply those waters.  Also a major component of Lake Michigan is the huge bays that connect to that body of water and shoreline and which include but not limited to Green Bay and the Grand Traverse Bay.   If I cannot see the other side of the lake then it seems like an ocean to me.  

I want to say that using a GPS device on unfamiliar roads is truly a godsend.  In the past, I would have to mark maps with our itinerary and had to concentrate on the road signs as we were driving.   Well, know you just listen to that sweet voice tell when it is time to turn or get off the highway.    And having two women tell me “what to do” was really not that bad.  

Traverse City, Michigan

Mackinac Island Bridge, Michigan
Fox River Lock, Green Bay, Wisconsin Mackinac Island, Michigan

On our trip from Milwaukee, WI to Chicago, IL, we stopped in Kenosha, WI as we were told that there is a quite new and interesting Civil War Museum adjoining Lake Michigan.   Opened in 2008 it looks at the civil war from the viewpoint of the Midwest states considering the battles that their militias were engaged in and the how the lives of the people endured.

As you advance along the timeline of the Civil War, you have an opportunity to sit down with “people” in a railcar where they talk about themselves…..their lives and their concerns.   As you reach the end of the civil war, once again you have the opportunity to meet these same people who will talk about their lives after the war is over….how they brought their dead husbands, fathers and sons home, how those who were severely hurt dealt with their injuries and how the country took a long time to heal and once again move forward. An excellent museum in a strangely odd location……..

We designed our itinerary to circumvent Lake Michigan and to visit certain towns, cities and other places that we knew or wanted to learn more about.   I am very impressed with this great lake…..it is, like the other Great Lakes, a very special part of our country.  

Both Michigan and Wisconsin are wonderful places to visit; the people throughout the region were both friendly and warm.   The cities are old and some very quaint, but most have sought out new ways to revitalize their communities with ethnic and movie/film/art festivals, with sporting and recreational places and family community days.   They have been quite successful and people appear to be very happy where they live and play.   There is no question that the winter weather is difficult for most, but not difficult enough to make them relocate to warmer climes.  

And once again, a great lake it is…..for it covers such a huge part of our earth, it has powerful waves just like an ocean and it is transited by rather large ships that find their way to the Atlantic Ocean.    I wrote much about the places that we visited, but the basis for this trip was Lake Michigan……this great lake touches so many people in so many different ways.