Lake Michigan is the third largest of the Great Lakes, and the only Great Lake located entirely in the United States. Lake Michigan’s name is derived from the Ojibwa tribe word mishigami, which means “large lake.” The French entrepreneur and woodsman Jean Nicolet was the first European to explore Lake Michigan in 1634. Since that time the number of people living along the shore of Lake Michigan has grown to 12 million. Even with the major port cities of Chicago, Milwaukee, Gary and Green Bay giving an urban flavor to parts of the coast, Lake Michigan offers over 1,500 miles of pristine coastline for boaters and sailors to enjoy.
Starting Point – DuSable Harbor, Chicago, Illinois
Docking in the Chicago Loop offers cruisers the best that the third most populous city in the U.S. has to offer. Museums, parks, public art and a magnificent waterfront are just a short walk from the marina. DuSable Harbor is adjacent to the Navy Pier, an iconic city landmark over 100 years old with 50 acres of attractions for an authentic Chicago experience. Extending along the shoreline for 18 miles is the paved Lakefront Trail where visitors can run, walk, or bike with views of the waters of Lake Michigan. Go on an urban trek, or just pick a spot off the trail to relax, picnic and enjoy the cityscape.
LEG 1. Anchor’s Way Marina, St. Joseph, Michigan
Estimated Mileage: 54 nm
St. Joseph is nestled on the southern tip of what has been termed “The Riviera of the Midwest.” This deepwater port town is a growing resort community. Race down a towering dune at the Warren Dunes State Park or ride historic hand-carved carousel horses at the must-see Silver Beach Carousel. St. Joseph’s lakeshore is also lined inland with some of the nation’s finest orchards and vineyards.
LEG 2. Sergeant Marina Saugatuck, Michigan
Estimated Mileage: 40 nm
Known as the “Art Coast of Michigan”, Saugatuck is home to dozens of working painters, sculptors, and other artists. Located on the Kalamazoo River, it is also home to Oval Beach, one of Conde’ Nast Traveler’s “Top 25 Beaches in the World” and recognized as USA Today’s “Best Small Coastal Town”. The best way to reach the beach is a five-minute ride by the hand cranked Chain Ferry. From there, climb to the top of Mount Baldhead, a forested sand dune with spectacular views.
LEG 3. Harbor View Marina, Ludington, Michigan
Estimated Mileage: 83 nm
With an assortment of sites, activities, and rich cultural opportunities, it’s no coincidence that Ludington has long served as one of Michigan’s favorite destinations. Located where the mouth of the Pere Marquette River meets Lake Michigan, Ludington became a major Great Lakes shipping port in the late 1800s. To keep shipping safe, lighthouses were built north and south of the lake extending 30 miles, which offer popular tours for today’s visitors.
LEG 4. Leland Township Harbor, Leland, Michigan
Estimated Mileage: 87 nm
Leland is a picturesque village located on a sliver of land between Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau. Leland’s historic Fishtown, is an authentic working fishing village that has been around for generations, and has all the nostalgia and unique shops to offer. All of the shops, restaurants, galleries and museums are located within a short distance with easy access to the areas public beaches.
LEG 5. Suttons Bay Village Marina, Suttons Bay, Michigan
Estimated Mileage: 36 nm
The village of Suttons Bay lies midway up the eastern shore of the Leelanau Peninsula, home to two dozen vineyards and wineries open for tours and tastings. Follow the Old Mission Peninsula winery trail and sample the fare to your heart’s content. Suttons Bay Adventure seekers are welcome to hop aboard the Inland Seas Tall Ship to view picturesque bay views, rent a bicycle and head down the TART Trail for a true northern nature ride or try your luck at Leelanau Sands Casino.
LEG 6. Charlevoix City Marina, Charlevoix, Michigan
Estimated Mileage: 30 nm
Charlevoix was a popular resort community for wealthy Chicagoans in the early 1900s. During Prohibition, Chicago’s infamous gangsters made Charlevoix’s Colonial Club their summer destination of choice. Some of the most popular attractions in Charlevoix are the guided walking tours of the Mushroom Houses and Castle Farms. Downtown Charlevoix features boutique shopping, restaurants, and world class events set along Round Lake which connects to Lake Michigan below the historic drawbridge.
LEG 7. Harbor Springs Municipal Marina, Harbor Springs, Michigan
Estimated Mileage: 18 nm
Nestled along the deepest harbor in the Great Lakes lies the charming waterfront of Harbor Springs. Golfing and bicycling are popular activities, but it is the unparalleled shopping experience that is the biggest draw. Fine art galleries, unique apparel stores, intimate gift boutiques and local specialty shops abound along the waterfront and nearby streets.
LEG 8. Beaver Island Marina, Beaver Island, Michigan
Estimated Mileage: 33 nm
In the mid-1850s Irish fisherman from around the Great Lakes and as far as County Donegal in Ireland, came to Beaver Island. As Irish immigration increased, Beaver Island became known as “America’s Emerald Isle.” Time slows down here, offering a serene, relaxed way of life. Tour the island by bicycle or rent a car and spend the afternoon circling the island.
LEG 9. Shipyard Island Marina, Washington Island, Wisconsin
Estimated Mileage: 119 nm
Cruisers can tie up at Fayette State Park Dock in Garden, Michigan if the cruise from Beaver Island to Washington Island is too long of a stretch. Washington Island is a destination for an adventure. It starts with a five-mile ferry ride across the once-treacherous waters of Death’s Door, where Green Bay and Lake Michigan meet. Once ashore, visitors embark on a tour of one-of-a-kind shopping and great restaurants. Washington Island is popular for its tranquil landscapes and laid-back way of life.
LEG 10. Harbor Club Marina, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Estimated Mileage: 43 nm
Sturgeon Bay is the regional hub and has a vibrant nautical heritage. Don’t miss the Door County Maritime Museum, the 20,000-square-foot waterfront space features the John Purves, a restored 1919 red tug, plus exhibits about the Great Lakes’ haunted lighthouses. Sturgeon Bay offers much more than looking: here lies the heart of Door County’s music scene, a vibrant arts mecca, and historic shopping districts with dining, pubs, and cozy coffee shops.
LEG 11. Manitowoc Marina, Manitowoc, Wisconsin
Estimated Mileage: 54 nm
Known as Wisconsin’s “Maritime Capital,” Manitowoc celebrates its past and present as a shipbuilding center with fascinating attractions. The Wisconsin Maritime Museum is the main reason to visit Manitowoc. The museum’s jewel in the crown jewel, the USS Cobia, is a World War II U.S. Navy submarine. Take the tour and see the bunks where men slept above torpedoes, learn why most of the crew showered with their clothes on and hear why submariners were the best-fed members of the military.
LEG 12. Port Washington Marina, Port Washington, Wisconsin
Estimated Mileage: 49 nm
With its Art Deco lighthouse and picturesque harbor, Port Washington is as charming as any coastal village. Port Washington has one of the largest charter fishing fleets on the Great Lakes, and is the home of Port Fish Day, billed as the “World’s Largest One Day Outdoor Fish Fry.” Main Street is the port’s historic downtown district with ample dining, entertainment and shopping with the feel of New England. Visitors can spend a day sport-fishing on the lake, or bike the 30-mile, paved Interurban Trail.