Maritime Michigan: Trip Ideas that Celebrate the Great Lakes State

Michigan is bordered by more than 3,000 miles of freshwater coastline, so it’s no surprise that water plays a starring role in the state’s history, culture and outdoor recreation.

People aboard a tall ship sailing on the water.
Tall Ship Appledore | Photo Courtesy of Todd Zawistowski

Share This

Whether your idea of a great getaway includes shipwreck lore or kayak outings, maritime science or sunset cruises, you’re sure to discover remarkable water-themed gems in the Great Lakes State.

Science, History and Shipwrecks

A shipwreck under water in Lake Huron near the shore.
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Great Lakes Maritime Heritage CenterAlpena

America’s only freshwater national marine sanctuary combines marine science with tales of Great Lakes sailing and shipwrecks. The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center serves as a history and science museum. The marine animals and the shipwrecks within the sanctuary itself can be explored by glass-bottom boat tours, shipwreck dives and shallow wreck kayaking and snorkeling excursions.

Port of Ludington Maritime MuseumLudington

Ludington’s car ferry heritage comes to life within a historic Coast Guard boathouse. Great Lakes shipboard life is laid out through artifacts and interactive displays, including a simulator for piloting the Pere Marquette ferry into Ludington Harbor.

Michigan Maritime MuseumSouth Haven

Explore South Haven’s maritime travel at exhibits within five museum buildings. Outdoors, the Maritime Museum showcases a fleet of vessels, including a replica 19th-century sloop, a 1941 USCG motor lifeboat and a 1929 Chris Craft Cadet.

A lighthouse on the shore of Lake Superior
Whitefish Point | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

Great Lakes Shipwreck MuseumParadise

You could easily spend half a day at Whitefish Point, exploring the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum located inside an 1861 lifesaving station and lighthouse. Artifacts tell the stories of ships lost in nearby Shipwreck Alley, including the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Marquette Maritime Museum and LighthouseMarquette

After shooting photos of the brilliant red Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, visitors can pop into the adjacent Marquette Maritime Museum. Displays cover Lake Superior shipwrecks (including the Edmund Fitzgerald), early Coast Guard operations and one of the Great Lakes’ largest collections of Fresnel lenses, which are used in lighthouses.

Dossin Great Lakes MuseumDetroit

Learn about southeast Michigan’s maritime history and environment at this Belle Isle attraction. There’s a special emphasis on the nautical history of the Detroit River and its impact on the making of the Motor City.  

Great Lakes Cruises

Sandstone cliffs over Lake Superior
Boat Tours at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

Pictured Rocks CruisesMunising

Learn about the science, history and legends of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on a spectacular boat tour. The two- to three-hour narrated cruises depart from Munising and offer views of the park’s towering, red-and-orange-colored cliff faces from Lake Superior.

Isle Royale National Park Boat ToursIsle Royale

The rugged beauty and seclusion of Isle Royale National Park rank among Michigan’s most celebrated wilderness experiences. Once you’re on the island, book one of a half dozen narrated boat tours aboard the MV Sandy to learn more about Isle Royale’s geography, history, lighthouses and wildlife.  

Friends Good Will Tall Ship – South Haven

South Haven’s Michigan Maritime Museum offers cruises aboard its replica 1810 sloop, the Friends Good Will. The crew tells the history of 19th-century Great Lakes commercial sailing and includes guests in the process of sailing the ship.

A tour boat in the Soo Locks.
Tours in the Soo Locks | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

Famous Soo Locks Boat ToursSault Ste. Marie

Since the 1950s, one of the most popular ways to immerse yourself in the Eastern UP is aboard a Soo Locks boat tour. The iconic yellow and blue boats offer 90-minute cruises featuring close-up views of the world’s largest parallel locks system.  

Appledore Tall Ship AdventuresBay City

Spend a day cruising Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron aboard the tall ships Appledore IV and Appledore V. Book a sunset tour, a Great Lakes history-themed sail or a STEM educational outing from their home port in Bay City.

Traverse Tall Ship Co.Traverse City

Traverse City’s two-hour sunset cruises take visitors on a Grand Traverse Bay excursion that includes a pizza dinner, beer and wine tastings, or locally-based Moomers Ice Cream.

Paddling Tours

A woman kayaking around a rock formation in Lake Huron
Turnip Rock | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

Kayak around Turnip Rock – Port Austin

Rent a kayak or SUP from Port Austin Kayak to experience some of Lake Huron’s most spectacular Great Lakes sites, including paddles around Turnip Rock and other rock formations and shallow shipwreck viewing.

Detroit River Sports – Detroit

The Detroit River’s long history – from its earliest Indigenous residents to its importance as a modern-day commercial hub – can be experienced from the seat of a kayak. Detroit River Sports’ expert guides share these tales on guided paddles around downtown Detroit and Belle Isle.

Woods and Waters Kayaking ToursHessel

Venture east of the Straits of Mackinac for a guided trip through the Les Cheneaux Islands. History, science and nature come to play in the waters of northern Lake Huron.

Two woman stand up paddle boarding on a bay
Grand Traverse Bay | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

Paddle Traverse City – Traverse City

The long twin arms of West and East Grand Traverse Bay provide paddlers with dozens of quiet coves and inlets to explore. Favorite destinations include Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park, Clinch Park and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Pictured Rocks Kayaking – Munising

Join a full or half-day guided kayaking tour of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with Northern Waters Adventures. Paddling trips lead travelers to such popular landmarks as Miners Castle, Bridal Veil Falls and Kissing Rock Passage.

Great Turtle Kayak ToursMackinac Island

Explore the shores of Mackinac Island on a guided kayak or stand-up paddle boards (SUP) tour. You’ll enjoy a unique perspective of Michigan’s favorite island as well as views of Mackinaw City, St. Ignace and the Mackinac Bridge. 

Get out and explore these freshwater maritime experiences in Michigan today!

About the Author: Amy S. Eckert writes about travel in destinations around the world from her home base in Holland, Michigan.