The Great Lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior gave shape to the land and to the legacy of the Eastern Upper Peninsula. These inland seas, carved by glaciers more than 12,000 years ago, have been the source of life and livelihood for Ancient people, European missionaries, explorers and fur traders, the armies of three nations, fishermen, loggers, miners, and industrialists. Construction of the first of the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie in 1855 made it possible for vessels to navigate the St. Mary’s River, and opened passage between Superior and the other Great Lakes.
In the late 1800s steamships full of vacationers escaping city heat followed the waters to Mackinac Island and eventually to the shores of the U.P. Maritime heritage runs deep in The Great Waters. It’s something to explore and experience above and below the surface of what early sailors called the “Sweetwater Seas.”’
A variety of museums piece together the maritime history of The Great Waters, from pleasure boating to the heavy work of freighters.
• Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum: A compound of historic maritime buildings located at Whitefish Point on the eastern end of Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast, where 200 lost vessels rest. Museum exhibits include the recovered bell of the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald, which went down with her crew of 29 in a November 1975 storm.
• The 1861 Lightkeepers Quarters at the oldest operating light on Lake Superior and 1923 Surfboat House for the Coast Guard’s Lifeboat Rescue Station.
Guests can book a room at the Coast Guard crews quarters at the Whitefish Point Light Station.
• Les Cheneaux Maritime Museum: A 1920s boathouse is the fitting setting for telling the boating story of this12-mile stretch of Lake Huron coastline and archipelago of 36 islands that constitute Les Cheneaux (The Channels).
• Museum Ship Valley Camp: Exhibits fill the cargo holds of this 550-foot long freighter, which logged 3 million miles on the lakes from 1917-1966. Sault Ste. Marie and operates as an on-water museum.
The Great Lakes have swallowed thousands of ships over the centuries, and Michigan’s 11 Underwater Preserves protect the resting places of the wrecks. Great Waters is home to these four Underwater Preserves:
• Alger: Seven wrecks at lie at depths from 12 to 90 feet, and divers can also explore Lake Superior sea caves on the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Those who want to see shipwrecks without getting wet – and hear the narrated history behind schooners active during the fur trade, and later - can take a glass-bottomed boat tour out of Munising and view wrecks that appear closer than they are.
• DeTour Passage: Novice divers like the shallow waters of six Lake Huron sites at the far eastern tip of the U.P.
• Straits of Mackinac: 15 shipwrecks lie in waters from 40 feet to 207 feet, and an underwater “rock maze” offers photo ops.
• Whitefish Point: 17 vessels, from a wooden schooner to modern lakers, rest in Lake Superior at depths to 270 feet.
The Great Waters shoreline is dotted with more than a dozen of these important navigational tools. Many operate as museums, some stand as photogenic symbols of the romance of the seas.
• Lighthouse Keeper Programs: Volunteers pay to stay in a lighthouse and tend to tour guide duties and light tasks.
DeTour Reef Lighthouse, offshore Drummond Island in St. Mary’s River
St. Helena Island, Straits of Mackinac
Crisp Point (daytime duties only; no lighthouse accommodations), AuSable, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Great Lakes Boat Building School
The wooden boat is the cottager’s traditional means of transportation in the channels and bays of Les Cheneaux Islands, an archipelago of 36 islands in the eastern U.P. In 1926 the world’s first Chris Craft dealership opened in the village of Hessel, which each August hosts the Antique Wooden Boat Show. Les Cheneaux (The Channels) is a natural location for the Great Lakes Boat Building School, which offers an associates degree program and summer workshops in hand-building classic canoes, kayaks and dories. The only such school in Michigan opened in the village of Cedarville in 2007.
Pleasure boaters have plenty of docking options along The Great Waters; reservations are suggested.
• Lake Huron: Mackinac Island State Dock, Saint Ignace Municipal Marina, Hessel Marina, DeTour State Dock
• Lake Michigan: Garfield Township Marina-Naubinway, Manistique Marina
• Lake Superior: George Kemp Downtown Marina and Charles T. Harvey Marina-Sault Ste. Marie, Whitefish Point State Dock, Little Lake State Dock, Burt Lake Township Marina, Munising Bayshore Marina