The Great Lakes: Home of National Lakeshores

Did you know that there are only three National Lakeshores (designated by the National Park Service)? And all three of them are on the Great Lakes!  These three parks offer up year round fun and some of the best views of the nation’s biggest lakes.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Comprising twenty-one islands and shoreline, Apostle Islands are the only national lakeshore located outside of Michigan (in northern Wisconsin). Apostle is famous for its sea caves, making it perfect for a canoeing or kayaking adventure! If you’re lucky you might be able to visit in the wintertime when the ice is frozen and you can explore the sea caves on foot – this is one of my biggest Great Lake bucket list items, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to get the timing right yet. Check out the official Facebook page for up to date information about ice conditions. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

This national lakeshore is located on the northwest coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, about 22 miles away from Traverse City, MI (check out some cool guides to Traverse City, home of the National Cherry Festival, here and here!)

Sleeping Bear Dunes is 35 miles of beautiful white sand shoreline along Lake Michigan, and North and South Manitou islands. The dunes themselves tower hundreds of feet above the water, and if you’re brave enough you can run down and take the 2 hour long trek back to the top!

The park is named after the Ojibwe legend of the sleeping bear. According to legend, there was a devastating forest fire in Wisconsin on the west side of Lake Michigan. The fire drove a mother bear and her two cubs right up to the shoreline, and in desperation to escape the fire they set out across the lake determined to reach the other side. After miles and miles of swimming the two cubs started to fall behind. Once the mama bear reached the other side, she climbed up a hill and waited for her babies. Even though the cubs never made it, the mama bear stayed on the shore and waited for her cubs until the Great Spirit covered her with mountains of sand and created two islands (North and South Manitou) to commemorate her cubs. 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the “pictured rocks” are actually  beautiful sandstone cliffs that jut out over Lake Superior. There’s also five miles of sand dunes, inland lakes, and plenty of wildlife! Pictured Rocks is another great place to canoe, kayak, paddleboard, or whatever your preferred water transportation method. There are also glass bottom boat tours of several shipwrecks around the cliffs. The wildlife preserve surrounding this stretch of beautiful northern Michigan coastline is one of the best places in the U.P. to camp and backpack. For a comprehensive backpacking guide to the small lakes and along the coastline of Pictured Rocks, check out this guide!

And of course, I can’t mention the U.P. without shouting out the all time best food item ever invented: the pasty. Now, don’t get them confused with [PAY-sties], these are [PAH-sties]! They are a delicious meat and vegetable filled pastry that’s perfectly handheld but also the most delicious variation of a meat pie you’ll ever find. Originally from Cornwall, England, pasties were made for tin miners to take underground with them for lunch. They migrated to northern Michigan with the copper mining boom and you can still find pasty shops in prominent mining towns throughout the US – but they are a Midwest specialty! Munising (the town outside of Pictured Rocks) has several pasty places that are a must if you are in the area. You’ll be able to find them in most towns in northern Michigan and Wisconsin. 

About the Author

Marie Hetherington is a Wild Bum Guide Architect! Be sure to check out all of her amazing travel guides right here.

Marie Hetherington

Marie Hetherington