Check out Michigan’s Great Lakes heritage adventures, discover big fish tales, explore lighthouse lore, or bed-down for the night aboard a historic sailing vessel—our maritime and fishing history is full of fun, excitement and intrigue.
A long, low “whoa” is the only word you’ll likely to utter as you gaze at a primordial-looking lake sturgeon gliding by in a pond at the Wolf Lake Fisheries Interpretive Center (six miles west of Kalamazoo in Mattawan). Wolf Lake is one of six working fish hatcheries the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) operates, and stands out for its interpretive displays and interactive exhibits. Inside the visitors center, be sure to see the re-creation of the interior of a DNR “fish car,” once used to transport hatchery fish. Outside, you can get a close-up view of lake sturgeon, northern muskellunge, northern pike and other Michigan catches in a large freshwater pond that includes an observation deck. Periodically throughout the year, fry (young fish) of all sizes wriggle around in the hatchery’s ponds—the largest of which is 25 acres. Take a guided tour, or explore on your own along nature trails that wind through the grounds.
From about 1880 to 1940, passengers from urban areas such as Chicago, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids escaped hot, sticky city summers by traveling aboard immense cruise-ship-like steamers to resort towns along the northern Lake Michigan shore. “Go By Boat—It’s Fun Afloat!” reads an ad that’s part of a display about Great Lakes steamships at the White River Light Station Maritime Museum (15 miles north of Muskegon near Whitehall). Built in 1875 by Captain William Robinson, the light station now serves as a physical reminder of the rich nautical history of Michigan. Visitors can climb the spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse tower, browse the many 19th- and early 20th-century photographs and examine a collection of nautical artifacts.
Return to Steamship Days
Restoration is underway on a turn-of-the-century steamship in Manistee (65 miles southwest of Traverse City). The S.S. City of Milwaukee, a National Historic Landmark, has a new coat of paint and a new home on Manistee Lake. First launched in 1930, the steamship, which carried passengers and cars across Lake Michigan, could even haul an entire freight train on its 350-foot-long railcar deck. You can tour the ship or stay on board overnight in passenger or crew quarters, enjoying coffee on deck and breakfast in the passenger dining room.