Mother Nature has certainly been in a mood this year.
But with all that winter drama far behind us, its time to get funky and let loose. The sun is shining, longer days are here, and the family is primed for travel.
Obviously, its time for summer vacation. And as ‘80s girl group the Go-Go’s so eloquently put it – it’s all you ever wanted.
Not so obvious is your destination. So, where to this year?
There are the usual suspects; think breezy California beaches, something animated and Disney flavored; lazy Caribbean or Mexican cruising; or perhaps road tripping to a national park like Yellowstone, Yosemite or Zion.
Nah. This summer, consider getting to the heart of the matter.
The Midwest, America’s heartland, is often overlooked when we consider top destinations for summer vacation plans. Our landlocked states are home to many wondrous and breathtaking destinations — not the least of which is the majestic Great Lakes.
Traveling the Great Lakes should truly be on everyone’s bucket list. Bordering Canada and the United States, lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario are responsible for 84 percent of North America’s surface freshwater and cover an area larger than the state of Texas. To put it in perspective, that’s 95,000 square miles (or six quadrillion gallons).
Further, exploring the Great Lakes will ultimately lead you to the Niagara River and the majestic Niagara Falls, all of which are a legacy of the last Ice Age. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg — no pun intended.
Going from west to east, here are the top sites from each lake we recommend discovering!
Lake Superior could certainly be called the Great Lakes heavyweight. At 1,335 feet deep and 350 miles long, its largest freshwater surface area in the world, and could easily absorb all the other Great Lakes combined — plus three more lakes the size of Lake Erie.
Along the shore of Lake Superior is Duluth, Minnesota, where visitors will want to make a beeline for Canal Park. Explore the seven-mile Lakewalk and discover Park Point, where the world’s largest freshwater sandbar is found; or peer across the waters to take in the spectacle of a massive 1,000-foot Laker ship pass underneath the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Canal Park is also where you will find two more of Duluth’s most popular recreational gems, Grandma’s Marathon and Glensheen Mansion.
More than 18,000 runners from all over the world venture to Duluth to participate in Grandma’s Marathon, which started with only 150 participants 40 years ago. Held each June, the 26.2-mile course runs point-to-point from the town of Two Harbors on scenic Route 61 and continues along the North Shore of Lake Superior into Duluth.
Race organizers in 1977 named the race after its very first (and only) sponsor, Grandma’s Restaurant, and the name stuck. Fun fact: The marathon’s finish line is located near Grandma’s Restaurant in Canal Park, next to the Aerial Lift Bridge.
Self-described as the most visited historic home in Minnesota, Glensheen Mansion was completed as a primary residence by the influential Congdon family in 1908. It has 39 rooms, covers 27,000 square feet of living space, and is perched on the Lake Superior shore.
Glensheen itself seems frozen in time. Most all of its ornate turn-of-the-century furnishings and accouterments are exactly as they were over 40 years ago when its aged heiress inhabitant was brutally murdered.
Today, tours of the rambling 12-acre estate do not mention the scandalous tragedy, but it’s a significant part of the property’s majestic mystique. Due in part to the Congdon family’s reluctance to return to the scene, art, furnishings and mementos left behind lend themselves to the time capsule that is Glensheen Mansion.
Of the five Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is the only one located entirely within the U.S. The shores, housing the largest freshwater sand dunes in the world, are shared by four states, one of which is Wisconsin.
Located on Lake Michigan’s western shore, summer explorers will find much to pique their interest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From the city’s Historic Third Ward to the aptly named musical mecca, Summerfest.
Historic Third Ward
Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as Milwaukee’s oldest center of commerce and warehousing, the Historic Third Ward is now known as the city’s arts and fashion district. Today, the HTC is a mixed-use locale, with over 500 retail businesses, art galleries and residential areas. The bustling area contains the world-renowned Broadway Theatre Center, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design and the Milwaukee Public Market. Another HTC high-profile landmark, the Henry W. Maier Festival Park, hosts Summerfest.
Billed as the world’s largest music festival, Summerfest 2018 takes place June 27 thru July 8, from noon to midnight. With 13 stages, over 800 musical acts and 900,000 concertgoers, Milwaukee’s Summerfest qualifies as a standalone vacay destination.
Depending on how you measure, Lake Huron is either the second or third largest of the Great Lakes and possesses the longest shoreline at 3,827 miles.
Connected to Lake Michigan by the Straits of Mackinac, Lake Huron is 206 miles long and 183 miles wide, and averages about 195 deep, although it’s the deepest point is 750 feet. Lake Huron’s 30,000 islands, including Mackinac Island, are attributed to the vast expanse of shoreline.
Harkening back to an earlier time, Mackinac Island welcomes its visitors to an authentic Victorian village. Transportation is limited to horse and buggy, bicycle or foot.
Located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, the entire island is a National Historic Landmark, and the Mackinac Island State Park has been recognized by National Geographic as one of the 10 finest state parks in America. The Mackinac Island Lilac Festival is the largest summer event on the island, featuring festivities such as the coronation of the Festival Queen and Court, and a 10k run.
And despite being populated by only 500 permanent residents, the island also claims to be America’s Fudge Capital. It’s known for its delicious fudge shops, which still use 19th-century recipes, as well as the Mackinac Island Fudge Festival, held in late summer.
Lake Erie is the southernmost of the Great Lakes. It touches four states: New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, and its main outlet is Niagara Falls. The Niagara River, the source of the falls, connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Thrill-seekers worldwide travel to a peninsula located along the shores of Lake Erie called Cedar Point, where a 364-acre amusement park bearing the same name waits.
Tripping Lake Erie practically demands that any self-respecting amusement park aficionado include Cedar Point, the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World,” in their plans. Located near Sandusky, Ohio, Cedar Point claims the summer of 1870 as its first season and is America’s second-oldest operating amusement park.
Cedar Point routinely sets records, accommodating over 3.5 million visitors seasonally with 72 rides, including 18 roller coasters (six over 200-feet), and an 18-acre waterpark. This season, the park debuted its newest record-breaker, the Steel Vengeance, hailed as the world’s first steel-on-wood hybrid roller coaster to stand over 200 feet tall.
The last and smallest in the Great Lakes chain, Lake Ontario, is flanked on the west side by Toronto, Ontario, and on the south by New York State. The lake lies about 15 miles from the base of Niagara Falls, and all of the water from the Great Lakes flows through it, into the Atlantic Ocean.
There are 712 miles of shoreline, much of it near urban Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Myriad Toronto-area events and destinations vie for travelers’ attention, but the Redpath Waterfront Festival and the Casa Loma castle are two contenders that are sure to satisfy the most demanding wanderlust.
Redpath Waterfront Festival
From food, music and nautical programs, the annual weekend-long Redpath Waterfront Festival showcases land and water-based entertainment, promising something for everyone. Every three years, the event welcomes a fleet of TALL SHIPS® to the festivities. This year includes Aqua Cirque, an H2O themed extravaganza with surfing hula-hoop artists, nautical contortionists, and water-themed aerialists, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Waterfront Artisan Market.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors cross the threshold at Casa Loma to tour “Toronto’s Camelot,” the opulent former ‘medieval’ castle estate of Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, built in the early 1900s. Tourists have access to all four levels of the castle, as well as the estate’s five-acre grounds, which include stables; a carriage room and garage, which is home to its own vintage automobile exhibit; estate gardens, wooded hillside and even a “Secret Garden.”
America's heartland has it all; natural wonder, adrenaline-junkie thrills, gastronomic glories, cultural curiosities and historical heirlooms. The Great Lakes area is a vast national treasure, truly a destination more than worthy of consideration for your next vacation — or two, or three.
Whichever path you choose for your Great Lakes adventure, chances are you won’t get to it all. But if at first you don’t succeed, you can try, try, again.