American author Jerry Dennis has been exploring these shores for years.
For his new book, The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas (St. Martin's Press), Dennis crewed for four weeks on a tall-masted schooner, sailing from Lake Michigan through the length of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
His book examines the geography, history and ecology of the world's motherlode of freshwater, and relates the adventures of his voyage. In an interview from his home in Traverse City, Mich., Dennis shared some of his favourite travel destinations on the five lakes.
"In Lake Superior, there are a few places I always go back to," says Dennis, naming Isle Royale National Park, an archipelago on the U.S. side of the border, just south of Thunder Bay, Ont; Canada's Pukaskwa National Park, near Wawa, Ont.; and the Keweenaw Peninsula, which juts into the big lake from northern Michigan.
"Isle Royale is really wild," he says of the park with no roads, 36 backcountry campsites, one lodge, 900 moose and access only by water. "It's a great place to hike and canoe.
"Pukaskwa has towering cliffs that are just breathtaking. And, on the Keweenaw Peninsula, there's lots of solitude, enormous remote beaches, and a string of villages that are a lot like some of the fishing villages I've been to in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick."
Dennis lives on Lake Michigan, not far from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. "It's one of the largest and most extensive networks of freshwater dunes in the world," he says. "Great beaches."
Near the northern tip of Lake Michigan is Beaver Island, most famous as the site where, in the mid-1800s, a renegade Mormon named James Strang established a colony of followers, declared it an independent realm, took several wives, and named himself king. His reign ended 1856 when he was assassinated by a couple of displeased subjects.
"Beaver Island is a still a big secret as a destination," says Dennis. "It has lodging, terrific restaurants and a great Irish pub" -- the Shamrock.
The biggest city on the lakes, Chicago, is also the best in terms of preserving and cherishing its waterfront. "Today, along Lake Shore Drive ... are 15 miles of nearly continuous parks and public beaches, ball fields, tennis courts, golf courses and marinas, all linked by jogging and biking trails," Dennis writes.
"Some of Chicago's finest attractions -- Alder Planetarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, Shedd Aquarium, Navy Pier -- are more interesting for being at the edge of the lake."
On Lake Huron, Dennis is partial to Drummond Island, Mich., near Sault Ste. Marie -- "It's a quiet place, not promoted much, but has a couple of elegant resorts" -- and Ontario's Killarney Provincial Park.
In Lake Erie, Dennis recommends the walleye fishing between Toledo and Sandusky, Ohio, "but the place I found most interesting is Long Point (Ont.). It's rich with history -- tales of rum smugglers during Prohibition."
Dennis says he hasn't spent much time on the shores of Lake Ontario. "But I liked what I saw of the Thousand Islands. It's a place I would like to go back to."
-- Canadian Press