Lake Huron was originally called La Mer Douce, the sweet or freshwater sea by French explorers. Later, Lake Huron took its name from the Huron Indian people who lived along its beaches. This Great Lake forms the eastern outline of Michigan's "Mitten," including the distinctive "Thumb" which is dotted with port towns and shelters Saginaw Bay. The Lake Huron shoreline of the Lower Peninsula is often referred to as the "Sunrise Side." Its waters also touch the Eastern Upper Peninsula, meeting Lake Superior to the north via the St. Marys River at Sault Ste. Marie, and mingling with Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.
Lake Huron is the second largest Great Lake and the fifth largest fresh water lake on the planet, with a surface area of 23,000 square miles. First paddled by Native Americans, and then voyageurs, traders and missionaries in the late 1600s with the start of the fur trade, Lake Huron became a vital shipping route. The waters of this Great Lake, however, could be treacherous and its storms deadly; the particularly disastrous weather of November 9, 1913, sank ten ships to the bottom of Lake Huron and drove many others into port.
At the bottom of Lake Huron rests more than 1,000 known shipwrecks with some 200 of them off the northeastern shore near Alpena. The underwater historic sites are protected by the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and are destinations for scuba divers, snorkelers and even kayakers to explore. On land, visitors tour the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena and several lighthouses in the region.
Beaches of Michigan are home to 120 lighthouses that once served as navigational aids to ships; 30 of them stand along the Lake Huron beaches and many are open or accessible to visitors. Boaters today enjoy sport fishing, sea kayaking and sailing--these waters annually challenge sailors in the Bayview Mackinac Race, better known as the Port Huron to Mackinac race. Public sailing and private charter opportunities are offered on board the schooner Appledore IV for those without their own vessels.
Dozens of recreational areas dot Michigan's eastern Great Lake regions, from lakefront state parks in "The Thumb" to the northern "Tip of the Mitt" and the Mackinac State Historic Parks. The automobile-free Victorian resort destination of Mackinac Island continues to welcome visitors to the Straits of Mackinac as it has since the late 1800s, when city dwellers began to discover the refreshing qualities of a Michigan Great Lakes escape.
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