Dive Into the Michigan Great Lakes Challenge


In Michigan, swimming in the Great Lakes is one of the best and most classic ways to enjoy summer. Even on the hottest days, the cool fresh water is sure to quench your thirst for summertime adventure.
 
Michigan’s two iconic peninsulas were carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago, making way for four of the Great Lakes: Huron, Superior, Erie, and Michigan. To celebrate that Michigan is the only state to touch 4 of the 5 Great Lakes, we attempted the “Michigan Great Lakes Challenge” -- to swim in Lake Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie in one day, between sunrise and sunset.
 
Jumping into Michigan's four Great Lakes
Completing the Michigan Great Lakes Challenge | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan
    
We selected a very special day to try and accomplish the Challenge: the summer solstice. The solstice is the longest day of the year and the first official day of summer. We couldn’t think of a better way to welcome the summer season than to jump in four of the Great Lakes and travel across the entire state!
 
The Michigan Great Lakes Challenge requires careful planning and preparation. As we had a couple dogs joining our crew, we had to make sure that the beaches we chose were dog-friendly. Because the Challenge is a race against the clock, mapping out every detail of our trip was crucial to finishing on time. We planned out everything, like which state park we would stop at on each lake, which gas station we would refuel at and where we would grab a bite to eat. 
 
Walking a dog at Little Presque Isle
Walking a dog at Little Presque Isle | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan
   
The Great Lakes wouldn’t be complete without Lake Ontario, and it is possible to drive through Canada and make it there as well, but for our trip we wanted to have a little extra time at each of our four destinations so we focused on the four Great Lakes that touch Michigan. Also, save yourself time by obtaining your pass to enter the state parks before you leave--and despite the thrill of trying to complete the Challenge, remember to always follow Michigan’s traffic laws and speed limits. 
 
Here’s where we traveled during our experience of the challenge, as well as other ways to swim your way through Michigan’s Great Lakes. 
   

Lake Erie: William C. Sterling State Park

ARRIVAL TIME: 5:55 AM

Lake Erie Sunrise
The sunrise over Lake Erie, Sterling State Park | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

  
We decided to start on Lake Erie because it faces east, and we wanted to see the sun peek over the horizon to start the day. There is no sight more beautiful than the morning sun reflecting off the water on the Sunrise Coast. This made it an early morning at Lake Erie, but definitely worth losing an extra hour or two of sleep. 
 
We selected William C. Sterling State Park -- the only Michigan state park on the shores of Erie --as our swimming location. There was plenty of shoreline to choose from, and because it was so early in the morning, we were the first ones there and had the whole beach to ourselves. After swimming out into the chilly water and dunking my head under, I knew it was going to be a long day--but I also knew that I couldn’t turn back.

Erie to Huron Driving Time: 3 hours 15 minutes
 

Lake Huron: Tawas Point State Park

ARRIVAL TIME: 10:30 AM

The Lighthouse at Tawas Point
Tawas Point Lighthouse | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

We took a slightly out-of-the-way trek to visit Tawas Point State Park. One of the reasons is because of its dog-friendly beach, as we had two canine companions with our group who wanted to swim with us. If you take this route, this is a good location to enjoy lunch on the deck overlooking the beach and see one of Michigan’s iconic lighthouses that has guided ships for over a century, the Tawas Point Lighthouse.

Huron to Michigan Driving Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
 

Lake Michigan: Petoskey State Park

ARRIVAL TIME: 3:00 PM

the beach at Petoskey State Park
Petoskey State Park | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

While the Straits of Mackinac would be the fastest way to get to Lake Michigan, as our final destination was across the Mackinac Bridge, we decided to visit Petoskey State Park. By the time we arrived, the day was at its hottest point, which made the water seem very cold in comparison! But by the time we got back to the car, our feet were warm from the sand and sun, and the cold water was calling for us to jump back in.
  
The dog swimming in Lake Michigan
Zoll Street Beach | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan
   
We made a quick stop at Zoll Street Beach to let the dogs swim and play before heading north toward our final destination.

Michigan to Superior Driving Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
 

Lake Superior: Little Presque Isle State Forest

ARRIVAL TIME: 8:30 PM

Little Presque Isle
Little Presque Isle | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan
     
Crossing the Mackinac Bridge is always a special experience. It’s a reminder of the vastness of our beautiful state. Despite starting at the crack of dawn, we had no time to waste if we wanted to make it to our final destination on Lake Superior before sunset. 
 
We selected Little Presque Isle State Forest as our access point to Lake Superior just west of Marquette. Luckily, this beach pointed slightly west and was perfect for watching the sun set. The sun was low in the sky as we trudged through the sandy beach to the water. The cool evening air forced us to work up a little extra courage before finally jumping in. Our worries of Lake Superior’s famously-chilly waters were met with refreshing relief. The water was absolutely wonderful and swimming out into the waves to dunk our heads under for the fourth time gave us all an incredible sense of accomplishment. 
   
Challenge Pariticpants
Michigan Great Lakes Challenge Participants | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan
     
The Challenge was completed, and we had created some unforgettable memories across Michigan in one day through it all. 
 
Total Driving Time: 9.5 hours

 

Alternate Routes 

Below are a few other routes you can take if you want to conquer the Michigan Great Lakes Challenge. Good luck!

   
Starting Point - Lake Superior 

Lake Superior: Muskallonge Lake State Park 
Travel: 2 hours 30 minutes
Lake Michigan: Wilderness State Park
Travel: 2 hours 30 minutes
Lake Huron: Negwegon State Park
Travel: 4 hours 10 minutes
Lake Erie: William C. Sterling State Park

Total Driving Time: 9 hours 30 minutes

 

Starting Point - Lake Huron

Lake Huron: Cheboygan State Park 
Travel: 1 hour 30 minutes
Lake Superior: Brimley State Park
Travel: 2 hours 50 minutes
Lake Michigan: Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park
Travel: 4 hours 15 minutes
Lake Erie: William C. Sterling State Park

Total Driving Time: 8 hours 30 minutes

 

Starting Point - Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan: Van Buren State Park 
Travel: 3 hours
Lake Erie: William C. Sterling State Park
Travel: 2 hours 10 minutes
Lake Huron: Bay City State Park
Travel: 3 hours 30 minutes
Lake Superior: Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Total Driving Time: 9 hours



About the Author: A photographer and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, Drew Mason has been a part of the Travel Michigan team for three years. When he’s not creating content for the state of Michigan’s travel campaign, he can be found hiking and camping with his dog in the backcountry around the Great Lakes.