When thinking about loafing around on a beach, Florida, California and Hawaii immediately come to mind — the Great Lakes, not so much. But they should. The Great Lakes have almost 10,000 miles of shoreline, more than three times the combined coastlines of Hawaii, California and Florida. And while the Great Lakes may not be too great for surfing, their beaches do rival the best saltwater beaches.
What makes a beach perfect for spending the day is a very personal decision, one that combines childhood memories with the currency of our desire to just chill. Because of the length and breadth of each of the Great Lakes, Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior each offer a unique take on the American summer getaway.
Whitefish Point, Paradise, Mich.
The name of the town says it all about this beach: Paradise. Located at the tip of the isolated spit that guards Whitefish Bay, it has commanding views of the ore freighters that pass by as they ply Lake Superior. Not only can you walk this sandy beach for miles, but Whitefish Point has a namesake lighthouse, fully restored and open for tours. It is the oldest continually operated lighthouse on the lake. Next door is the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, a nod to the fact that the Edmund Fitzgerald went down just 17 miles from here. A short walk away is the Bird Observatory, where the annual spring migration of hawks, eagles, vultures and falcons is documented. Nearby, Tahquamenon Falls State Park offers a hike to the hidden upper and lower falls, where the waters are tinged amber by the tannins from cedar, spruce and hemlock trees.
Paradise Beach, Grand Marais, Minn.
The name Paradise is definitely trending on Lake Superior, and for good reason. This North Shore beach is a mecca for agate hunters. Lake Superior acts as a giant rock tumbler that polishes these semi-precious gemstones just waiting for rock pickers to discover them. And visitors, young and old alike, never seem to tire of trying their hands at the time- honored pastime of stone skipping.
Pelee Island, Ont.
This island is just about as far south as you can get in Canada. Pelee Island is the largest of the nine lake islands of provincial Ontario on the western half of Lake Erie. While the other islands, including Big Chicken, Little Chicken and Hen, are not much more than navigation hazards, Pelee is ringed by beaches that are connected by a 20-mile circular Waterfront Trail. Most of the beaches are sandy, great for digging and building castles, while other beaches are made of pebble and stone. Sunset Beach, just north of the ferry terminal, is the ideal spot for toasting the end of the day with a glass of Pelee Pink from the local winery.
Cedar Point Beach, Sandusky, Ohio
The sand beach of Cedar Point amusement park is in the best tradition of Coney Island. Roller coaster aficionados appreciate the proximity of this beach, since Cedar Point is the Roller Coaster Capital of the World. At last count it had eighteen roller coasters, including a few vintage wooden varieties and ones for young coaster lovers in training, which makes for a full day of thrills and screams. Boaters especially like this beach, since access to it is included as an amenity when docking at Cedar Point Marina.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Empire, Mich.
Sand, sand and more sand, it is everywhere, whether on the 35 miles of pristine beaches or atop the massive bluffs towering 450 feet above the lake. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was named “ the Most Beautiful Place in America” in 2011, and that description is true to its word. There are a half dozen well-visited beaches, however, with so many hiking trails and long walks along the water, finding solitude on an unnamed beach is quite easy. Popular Glen Haven offers more than a stunning beach and beautiful views of the Manitou Islands, it also has a historic village restored to its 1920s appearance. At that time, it supplied cord wood to passing steamships and had a thriving cherry canning factory. Nearby, and not to be missed, is the U.S. Life-Saving Service Maritime Museum.
Nicolet Beach, Fish Creek, Wis.
Door County is synonymous with summertime fish boils, and Fish Creek is a haven for tourists seeking that unique mix of whitefish, onions and potatoes, expertly cooked by a boil master. Adjacent to Fish Creek on Green Bay is Peninsula State Park. The park’s Nicolet Beach is the area’s most well-known sandy spot and is a place to see and be seen. It can be particularly crowded on weekends, but whether arriving by car, bicycle or boat, it is always a fun location for a day-long party with good friends. After spending the day at the beach, taking in an evening performance of the Peninsula Players at their nearby lakeside summer theater ends a perfect Door County experience.
Sandbanks, Picton, Ont.
Take the world’s largest fresh-water sand bar and barrier sand dune, turn it into a provincial park and they will come. That was the premise of opening Sandbanks Provincial Park in 1970, and come they have. The park and its surrounding beaches are visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year from Ottawa, Toronto, Quebec and New York State. In addition to swimming, Sandbanks offers opportunities for biking, birding, canoeing, fishing and hiking.
Hamlin Beach, Hamlin, N.Y.
A “lovely family beach in a beautiful State Park” is a typical Trip Advisor review that neatly sums up Hamlin Beach State Park. The clear water and long sandy beach combined with plenty of sites for tent and trailer camping make this beach an ideal location to relax for a few days and let the world go by. Taking the time to fish for salmon and trout round out a leisurely stay.
Lakeside Park, Rogers City, Mich.
This downtown park is the center of all summer recreational activity in Rogers City. Stretching along ten acres of Lake Huron waterfront, and anchored by a state-of-the-art municipal marina, are a sandy swimming beach, playgrounds, volleyball and basketball courts. A large bandshell hosts concerts throughout the summer, and there is a Nautical Festival each August at the park. A special feature of Lakeside Park is the Sailor’s Memorial dedicated to the crews of Great Lakes freighters who have lost their lives while underway.
Not only do Great Lakes beaches contribute to the pleasures of summer, many of these beaches are open to the public year round. And there is nothing more spectacular than hiking along Sleeping Bear Dunes in the late spring and watching a family of deer scampering along the beach as the ice breaks up on Lake Michigan. That’s the time to stand up and applaud Mother Nature for her beauty.
Capt. Jeff Werner has been in the yachting industry for over 25 years. In addition to working as a captain on private and charter yachts, both sail and power, he is a certified instructor for the USCG, US Sailing, RYA and the MCA. He is also the Diesel Doctor, helping to keep your yacht’s fuel in optimal condition for peak performance. For more information, call 239-246-6810, or visit MyDieselDoctor.com. All Marinalife members receive a 10% discount on purchases of equipment, products and supplies from Diesel Doctor.