The Great Lakes are the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world, and seeing even one of these bodies of water and their shoreline is a bucket list item for many travelers. After all, this region of the United States is surrounded by folklore and historical sites that span many different topics of interest. From shipwrecks to lighthouses and natural rock formations, there are many exciting landmarks to add to your itinerary.
You can also find activities that fit a wide range of different skills and abilities. Whether you take a walk on an accessible hiking path with your loved ones or go on a kayaking adventure is up to you, but you’ll find that it’s easy to plan the perfect trip with so many things to do.
While it might seem hard to believe, it is possible to see all five of the lakes within a single road trip when you know the right route to take. As you explore this overview of how to take a Great Lakes road trip from Chicago, remember to keep your options open to include veering off for a few side excursions. Many of the best Upper Peninsula hotels line this route, allowing you to spend a night or two in towns that inspire you to do some additional exploring.
Head to Indiana Dunes National Park
Once you’ve loaded up the car, your group is likely to be eager to start seeing all the sights that they’ve been looking forward to for weeks. The Indiana Dunes National Park is only about an hour away from Chicago, which gives you the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and start creating wonderful memories of your trip.
The Indiana Dunes National Park offers several historical sites along with opportunities to go horseback riding, bird watching, and fishing. Taking a few moments to enjoy some new or favorite outdoor activities helps to get everyone in the right mood for enjoying the rest of your trip.
Drive On to Cleveland, Ohio
As you head into Cleveland, you’ll be able to enjoy checking out the first lake on your itinerary. The Cleveland Lakefront Nature Preserve is a great place to visit to check out Lake Erie. Here, you can enjoy seeing butterflies, frogs, and native plant life all within the unique landscape that makes up the Lake Erie shoreline.
If you have time, you can also visit the Port of Cleveland, which is one of the largest ones you’ll find around the Great Lakes. Paddleboarding, swimming, and kayaking are all activities that people enjoy along Lake Erie, and you can also enjoy a tourist boat cruise that lets you enjoy a waterside view of the sunset.
Continue to Buffalo, NY
If you feel like you’re veering far from the rest of the Great Lakes and your favorite Upper Peninsula hotels, then don’t worry. This stop takes you to the end point of Lake Eerie and makes it possible to check out Lake Ontario. Along the way to Buffalo, you’ll encounter Lake Erie Beach Park along with some roadside eateries that are sure to be a hit with your group. Depending upon the timing of your arrival, you may also choose to stay here before moving on to Niagara Falls since this next city leaves so much room to explore.
Dive Into Niagara Falls
While you might be eager to check out the best authentic motels in the Upper Peninsula, this stop is well worth waiting a little longer. Niagara Falls straddles the U.S. and Canadian borders, and you’ll be able to view the beautiful landscape and waterways where Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario. Whether you spend a whole day here or several hours, you’ll be able to knock your second Great Lake off your bucket list before heading to see the rest.
Push Forward to Bay City, Michigan
Your route to Bay City brings you to Lake Huron, the third Great Lake on your itinerary. While you’re here, you can also enjoy checking out the Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum, where you can walk on board a real-life destroyer ship. Alternatively, you might opt to enjoy some dinner and dancing on an entertainment cruise that takes you out onto Lake Huron. Either way, you’ll be making some great memories as you head closer to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula hotels and local landmarks.
Make Your Way to Mackinac Island
On your way to Mackinac Island, you’ll pass through Traverse City, which is worth a stop if you just can’t wait to see Lake Michigan. Or, you can go straight to your primary destination, which is located right between the two Great Lakes of Huron and Michigan. This island is known for being full of old-world charm since motorized vehicles are mostly banned here. You can travel through the island in a horse-drawn carriage or by foot to view all of the amazing historical sites.
Check Out Marquette
Now, you are truly entering the Upper Peninsula area, where you might want to take a moment to look for the best Michigan hotel to stop at as you enter the final parts of your trip. Marquette and Munising are filled with beautiful natural scenery that includes the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, where you can go on a kayaking tour to see waterfalls and arches that take your breath away.
Plan a Side Excursion to Ironwood
If you’re loving the beautiful scenery, then this is a great time to extend your trip by taking a side jaunt to Ironwood. This Upper Peninsula town offers the opportunity to learn more about the history of the mining industry in the area, and your route here can take you through the Porcupine Mountains. While the Porkies might not have a Great Lake in them, you can view the Lake of the Clouds, which is another common bucket list item for people to see in the area. After you’re done touring, then spend a night in the best Michigan motel before moving on to the final parts of your Great Lakes adventure.
Go From Sturgeon Bay Back to Illinois
Sturgeon Bay provides you with a gorgeous place to enjoy the final moments of your trip to the Great Lakes as you travel down the western perimeter of Lake Michigan. This bayside city is well-known for being one of the top places to go bass fishing in the world. You can also check out the Door County Maritime Museum and visit the Potawatomi State Park to check a few more items off your bucket list before you head back to your starting point in Chicago.
Following this Great Lakes road trip from the Chicago route takes approximately ten days, but you’ll want to leave a little extra room for spending a night or more in your favorite Upper Peninsula towns. At the Indianhead Motel, we frequently welcome visitors that are making epic road trips, which is why we’ve set up comfortable rooms with all of the amenities you need to rest up and prep for the next leg of your trip. As you begin the last leg of your Great Lakes road trip, we’re here to make sure you have everything you need to finish it out in style.