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    Lake Michigan: what to see from Chicago to the splendid Gold Coast

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    The immense Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakes to be entirely on American soil: its shores touch 4 states (Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois) for a total of 900 miles, which can be covered in about 15 hours (but without ever stopping). And it is little if you think that Lake Michigan is actually joined to Lake Hudson by the Makinac Strait.

    Already the name "Michigan" - from the Indian chippewa meicigama: "great water" - makes us understand that this it's not really a pond: the size of Lake Michigan, in fact, suggests more of a sea than a lake and there are some details that could even mislead someone. In addition to the boundless beauty of the landscapes, they have an effect:
    • the presence of ben 105 headlights along the coast (a list here): they are more than Maine's celebrated lighthouses!
    • the splendid white beaches with dunes, the islands wild
    • the possibility of doing business surfing:video if you don't believe it, check this out
    • the length of the crossing from one side of the lake to the other: for example, it takes 4 hours from Ludington (Michigan) to Manitowoc (Wisconsin). The two towns even have a different time zone.

    Lake Michigan is also famous for being the Chicago lake, since the great and cold metropolis of Illinois faces the western side of the immense body of water. The cold winter temperatures of the Mid West also give rise to an interesting phenomenon with a great aesthetic impact: during frosts the surface of the lake can freeze up to 90% of its extension (the latest records belong to the two-year period 2014-15). When the ice evaporates, Chicago creates a spectacular landscape: the lake is a single sheet of ice covered in vapors, and skyscrapers rise in the distance.


    • Lake Michigan: what to see?
      • The beaches of Chicago
      • Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
      • Shipshewana: An Amish-themed detour
      • The Gold Coast of Michigan: two towns
      • Ludington State Park
      • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
      • Leland
      • Manitou Islands
      • Traverse city
    • Shortcuts by lake from Michigan to Wisconsin ...

    Lake Michigan: what to see?

    Given the extension of the lake and the large number of attractions to visit in a hypothetical complete tour (the so-called Lake Michigan Circle Tour), I decided to propose my favorite places along the east coast that - touching Illinois and Indiana - goes from chic Chicago to Traverse City, in Michigan. The stages are indicated so that they can be covered by an itinerary of about 6 hours (without breaks) that goes from south to north, feasible in 2-3 days.

    The beaches of Chicago

    Many forget that Chicago offers the possibility of a real one seaside life: the 27 lake beaches available in the city are very popular in summer, thanks to the lively range of sports and recreational activities. On the waters of the Lake Michigan a Chicago you can do stand up paddling (SUP), kayaking, ride a jet ski or, more simply, go for a swim and lie on a towel in the sun: if you are worried about the water temperature, keep in mind that in August and September it fluctuates between 20 and 21 °, so you can also take a bath. The beaches are free to enter. The summer season runs from May to September.

    • North Avenue Beach: one of the most famous and equipped city beaches in Chicago. Worth a visit if only for the variety of human types that flock to it during the warmer months (1600 N Lake Shore Dr).
    • 12th Street Beach: near the Adler Planetarium, you will find the slender strip of sand of 12 Street Beach, in a somewhat hidden position. For this reason it is definitely less popular than the previous one (1200 S Linn White Dr).
    • Montrose Beach: wide beach bordered by a pleasant green space where you can relax after swimming. You can do water sports, walk the dog on the dog beach or have a drink at the The dock, a popular beachside venue where parties, events and concerts are held (4400 N Lake Shore Dr).
    • Margaret T. Burroughs Beach: on the slightly dated guides you might find it with the name of 31st Beach. In recent years this beach has been greatly revalued and now offers many possibilities for recreation: areas dedicated to fishing, picnic areas, restaurants and a small playground much loved by skaters. Moreover, as in a good part of the beaches in the south of Chicago, you can see the downtown skyline (3100 S Lake Shore Dr).

    Advice on where to sleep in Chicago

    From Chicago it is also possible to do one cruise on Lake Michigan, which allows you to have an exceptional view of the skyline. Here are various options available:

    • Lake Michigan Sightseeing Cruise: 40-minute Lake Michigan cruise with stunning city views - economic choice -
    • Speedboat tour on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan: not only will you see the Wind City skyline from the waters of the lake, but you will also enter the meanders of the Chicago River to see the beautiful architecture of the city - original choice -
    • Sunset Buffet Dinner Cruise: The setting sun sparkles over Chicago's skyscrapers. The Spirit of Chicago cruise will take you to Lake Michigan to see this show and will offer you live entertainment and a buffet dinner to cheer your stomach - romantic choice -
    • Odyssey Dinner Cruise: 3-course dinner cruise on a luxury ship. In the summer it is also possible to see the fireworks, but the evening is always full of fun with DJ and dance floor - class choice -

    Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

    South of Chicago are the beautiful beaches ofIndiana Dunes State Park which extend along the lakefront at the height of Chesterton. But that's not all: the short coastal stretch of Lake Michigan located in the northern borders of Indiana also offers its visitors an important and varied network of trails within theIndiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

    If you are only interested in reaching the beach, drive along the IN 49 to the dedicated car park in Porter Beach (Chesterton), pay the entrance fee and enjoy the lake in total tranquility. If you want to hike, not far from the beach, take path no. 4 which rises to Mt. Tom, from the top of which you can see the lake and the industrial area of ​​Chicago, while behind it there are numerous ecosystems: oak forests, pine forests, beech woods, swamps and colonies that are home to protected species of birds.

    All accommodations available in Chesterton

    Shipshewana: An Amish-themed detour

    Shipshewana, an Amish village in Indiana

    It's not right on the lakeshore, but it's a detour worth taking if you're in this part of Indiana: Shipsehwana it is a tiny rural reality in the Amish county Indiana, a little less known to tourists than Pennsylvania, but still of some importance. We talked more about this pleasant town and the traditional uses and customs of its inhabitants in our article on how to visit Shipshewana.

    The Gold Coast of Michigan: two towns

    La Gold Coast is the name that the beautiful coast of the state of Michigan has earned thanks to its enchanting views of the lake: New Buffalo, Lake Michigan Beach, St. Joseph, South Haven are quiet towns surrounded by greenery that offer accommodations with lake views, beaches and food and wine itineraries to discover the vineyards that stretch out in the innermost region. But I am talking to you about two towns that I like very much, Saugatuck e The Netherlands.


    On the banks of the Kalamazoo River, a tributary of Lake Michigan, rises the small Saugatuck, a town that is a healthy bearer of the typical Gold Coast atmosphere. The small town center gathers near the pier: a pretty one historic ferry it allows you to walk along the river, but it is also worth taking a stroll down Butler Street to visit the antique shops and the local bars and patisseries. On the side of Lake Michigan is the Oval Beach with its dune, reachable from the river along a path that crosses Mt. Baldhead, from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of Lake Michigan.

    All accommodations available in Saugatuck

    The Netherlands

    A Dutch corner on the banks of the lake michiganThe Netherlands. We also talked about this curious town in the article dedicated to Holland and Frankenmuth, the Little Bavaria of Michigan. The streets of Holland's Downtown, leaning on the other side of Macatawa Lake, are Dutch in style and a tour of the typical shops will be pleasantly alienating. On the lakefront, at 2215 Ottawa Beach Rd, the scenographic is absolutely worth a visit Big Red Lighthouse. Also worth seeing Tunnel Park (66 N Lakeshore Dr): for once access to the beach does not require the "climbing" of a dune, but the comfortable crossing of a tunnel. And then, as soon as you come out… what a view!

    All accommodations available in Holland

    Ludington State Park

    This is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Michigan and in my opinion the success is completely deserved: this natural area has everything to fascinate the enthusiasts of Lake Michigan, who in fact flock to the many campsites in the area. Kilometers of paths immersed in the shady forest, a wide beach from which to enjoy splendid views sunsets on the lake, a romantic lighthouse (Big Sable Point Lighthouse) hidden in the most remote area of ​​the park, reachable via a path that winds along the dunes. It is also possible to rent canoes and travel the suggestive river routes of the neighbor Hamlin Lake or take a stroll along the Lost Lake, bordered by a walkway for hiking.

    The natural area of ​​Ludington State park is located north of the town of the same name: it can be reached via the M-116 N, the only road that runs along the lakefront.

    All accommodations available in Ludington

    Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

    The Michigan coast facing the lake is full of memorable scenic drives, but I point out the one Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (7 miles), which enters the splendid scenery of the woods of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This road will give you incredible views: I quote the most famous, the Dune Overlook. For a complete experience, don't forget to go to the parking lot Overlook 9 e 10: in no time at all you will find yourself on the top of a high dune overlooking the lake, with dizzying views over the expanse of crystalline water. If you like, roll down but don't get in the water!

    Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive begins north of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Center - access to the park requires a fee. The town of reference for visiting the park is to the south and is called Empire.

    All accommodations available in Empire

    Da Frankfort instead an interesting part tour with trekking experience guided, to discover the paths that climb up the dunes: overnight accommodation in tents is provided for the more adventurous spirits who like to wake up with an ever-changing panorama.

    Trekking guidato alle Sleeping Bear Dunes


    Fishtown di Leland

    If after the Sleeping Bear dunes you haven't already stopped for a bite to eat in the tiny Glen arbor, you can do it to Leland, a fishing village that deserves attention for two reasons:

    • la Fishtown, with its traditional wooden houses, typical restaurants and the fish market;
    • il port, from which ferries leave for the two pristine ones Manitou Islands: North Manitou Island e South Manitou Island.

    All accommodation available near Leland

    Manitou Islands

    La visit of Manitou Island it is recommended for those who love walking: the best scenarios of the two islands are reserved for this category of people, endless expanses of sand, pristine woods, lonely lighthouses that stand out over crystal clear waters, abandoned cottages in desolate clearings ... Below I recommend an organized tour which is the case for those who want to immerse themselves in the wild nature of North Manitou Island with the support of a guide: the experience is total, because it includes the overnight stay in a tent in the most remote areas of the island.

    Organized tour to discover North Manitou Island

    North Manitou Island
    South Manitou Island

    Traverse city

    Traverse city, wedged in a bay, is half an hour from Empire and is known for both cherries than for his own vineyards: the Old Mission Peninsula - which cuts the bay in two - it hosts over 30 wineries that produce excellent wines. In the center they are located restaurants and breweries that can satisfy the most demanding palates. The National Cherry Festival, and here really one cherry leads to another!

    All accommodations available in Traverse City

    Shortcuts by lake from Michigan to Wisconsin ...

    If you want to reach Wisconsin from Michigan by lake you can do it by ship, even transporting the car. Here are the two routes available:

    • Ludington – Manitowoc: operator SS. Badger (4 hours)
    • Muskegon – Milwaukee: operatore Lake Express (3.30 ore)

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