The best time to visit the National Parks of the Great Lakes is in the summer months because of the region’s brutal winter climate. When late spring arrives, the Great Lakes National Parks on Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior awaken from a long winter’s nap and prepares for visitors like you to arrive to enjoy the unsalted life!
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The Great Lakes consists of 5 fresh water lakes in the United States. As a kid growing up on Lake Erie, it was considered a sin for any Great Laker to not know what they all were. Even so, my geography teacher taught us simple way to remember their names.
She wrote the word HOMES in big white letters on chalkboard. Each letter in the word HOMES started the first letter of each of the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes and bordering states are incredibly rich in Native American history and culture. As well, the Great Lakes also was a battleground for the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
But, America’s prominent fresh water Lakes region has amazing geological differences from one Great Lake to another.
The most treasured though, is our U.S. National Parks up on the lakeshore. According to the National Park Service, The Great Lakes region contains 4 National Parks.
But there’s also several National Lakeshores, National Monuments, and National Memorials up in the Great Lakes region.
So, let’s check out those National Parks of the Great Lakes. Let’s see how each of these amazing Great Lakes National Parks, unsalted Lakeshores, a National Monument and even a National Memorial are why you should visit them!
Must Visit National Parks of the Great Lakes
Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park, one of America’s forgotten parks, is situated right smack dab in the middle of North America in northern Minnesota.
However, while located on any of the Great Lakes, it is less than a day’s drive to Lake Superior.
That said, Voyageurs is known for its’ smaller lakes and islands of forests, rock formations and geological wonders that date back to millions of years ago.
And although Voyageurs National Park is surrounded by thousands of miles of lakeshore coastline, motorized personal watercraft is prohibited within the park itself. Thus, making it the perfect place to paddle, fish, and swim without being disturbed by motors or boat wakes.
That said, commercial boat tours and water taxis can take you to Kabetogama Peninsula’s interior lakes to explore the interconnected water routes.
Now, if you love to camp, Voyageurs National Park doesn’t disappoint with their 270 lakeside campsites.
And, if you enjoy a good peaceful hike to explore the northern woodland habitats, you’re definitely in for a treat! While some of Voyageur’s hiking trails are accessible by vehicle, others you can only get to by boat.
Voyageur’s National Park has some of the most beautiful stargazing amidst the jet black dark skies.
But, if you’re wanting to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, you’ll need to pack your parka and snow boots! The winter months are the best time to see Aurora Borealis.
✰ PRO TIP ✰ Help preserve our National Parks by practicing good hiking etiquette.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located near Cleveland, Ohio on Lake Erie.
However, Cuyahoga Valley is a different kind of National Park than what most envision what a typical national park is or should be.
Cuyahoga Valley has no impressive mountain views, heart-pounding deep canyons or breathtaking landscapes. This Great Lake national park is more of an urban park situated along the Cuyahoga River.
In it’s day, this man-made waterway central was a way to ship goods and expand industry across the Great Lakes region into and even beyond the 19th century.
Today, Cuyahoga Valley National Park consists of 33,000 acres of protected land. An estimated 3 million visitors come from all over the world to experience this interesting concept of a National Park.
The National Park Service manages 14 hiking trails at Cuyahoga Valley; one of which includes a boardwalk stairway hike to well-known Brandywine Falls.
But the park is most familiar to locals for the great 87 mile Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail where visitors can run or jog, take a scenic stroll or enjoy a bike ride.
If you’re going to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I highly recommend visiting on a weekday. But also, you’ll want to plan your visit for early or later in the day due to parking constraints.
Whether you’re biking, kayaking, running or hiking through the national park, you can board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad (for a fee) at any of their stations throughout your visit.
✰ PRO TIP ✰ Check out our video below that tells about our visit to northern Ohio that includes Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
✰ PRO TIP ✰ Did you know that visitors can now ride bicycles in National Parks?
Isle Royale National Park
Another lesser known of the Great Lakes National Parks is Isle Royale National Park.
This National Park is actually a cluster of isolated islands in Michigan on Lake Superior near the United States and Canadian border. Because this Great Lakes National Park endures brutal winter weather, it’s only open to visitors from April 15 to November 1 (dates may very according to NPS).
Isle Royal National Park stretches to almost 390 miles of lake shoreline and over 406,000 acres of marine water. While palm trees aren’t part of the habitat of this island paradise, there’s miles upon miles of wilderness and vast thick forests pines and deciduous trees.
What makes Isle Royale so intriguing is that it’s not accessible by car which is reason for its’ lack of popularity. But, that’s a good thing!
This Great Lake National Park’s island wilderness habitats are home to thousands of wildlife species. Most notable wildlife dwellers are the moose, wolves, red fox, beaver, river otters, eagles, owls, and hawks.
Far from the bright lights and big cities, Isle Royale National Park the perfect place to heighten your outdoor senses. There’s plenty of birding, hiking, and kayaking to go around for everyone.
And if you’re into scuba diving, there’s great dive sites in the Lake; including intriguing shipwrecks.
But for you hiking enthusiasts, the 40 mile Greenstone Ridge Trail links the Windigo Harbor in the west and Rock Harbor in the east.
And let’s not forget, you can tour the 19th-century Rock Harbor Lighthouse and small museum.
And speaking of lighthouses, there are two other lighthouses at Isle Royale National Park; Menagerie Island Light, Rock of Ages Light and Passage Island Light. However, these Great Lakes lighthouses are not accessible by foot.
For you campers, there are plenty of places to stay whether it’s tent camping, boat camping or in a nearby resort lodge or cabins in Rock Harbor and Windigo.
Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park was a former National Lakeshore. But in 2019, Indiana Dunes earned it’s designation as being America’s 61st National Park.
Located in northwestern Indiana, Indiana Dunes is the perfect summer destination to enjoy 15 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan’s southern region.
This lakeshore national park has quite the diverse ecosystem of old wilderness and wetlands, prairies and sand dunes.
For outdoor recreation, summer is the perfect time to hike along the park’s 50 miles of hiking trails that pepper the 15,000+ acres.
If you’re up for a hiking challenge, check out Diana of the Dunes. It tells the story of how Alice Mabel Gray hiked and lived in the dunes on her own in an abandoned shanty for over 9 years. Living in the early 1900s, she took an interest in the history, ecology, and preservation of Indiana Dunes.
If your’e a cycling enthusiast, you can ride your bicycle on the 9.2 mile Calumet bike trail and the 7 mile Porter Brickyard bike trail.
Camping at Indiana Dunes National Park consists of 66 camp-sites; 53 drive-in campsites and 13 hike and carry-in sites.
From birding, beaching and hiking to watching magnificent sunsets, Indiana Dunes National Park leaves no stone unturned. Visitors can join a birding expert from the Dunes-Calumet Audubon Society on for a migration birding hike.
And if you just want to enjoy a day at the beach, there’s plenty of sand to enjoy the summer sun and a cool lake breeze.
Other Great Lakes National Parks worth the visit
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Just east of Miners Beach in Wisconsin’s North Woods on Lake Superior, it’s hard not to notice the colorful mineral stains that streak the sandstone formations. Hence, how Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore earned its’ name.
It’s magical color process happens when the groundwater seeps through the cracks and trickles down onto the rock formations.
To get to Pictured Rocks, you can either take a guided kayak tour or a two and a half hour boat tour. But, there’s hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and sightseeing for you to enjoy at this lakeshore paradise!
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
In Michigan’s lower peninsula along Lake Michigan’s north east shore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sits southeast of the Manitou Islands.
Though not designated a national park, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is obviously known for her huge sand dunes which makes her a pinnacle destination. And though it’s a two and a half hour car ride from Indianapolis, the adventure that awaits you is totally worth the drive!
According to Michigan.org, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore also contains many cultural features including an 1871 lighthouse, three former Life-Saving Service Coast Guard Stations and an extensive historic farm district.
There’s lots to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes. If you’re into hiking, there’s 13 hiking trails that each have their own trailhead parking.
Biking is also a fun outdoor activity you and your family can enjoy during your visit. The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail provides over 20 miles of accessible walking and biking trail.
Being a Lakeshore National Park, there’s tons of water recreation to enjoy; fishing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, and swimming. But, the big attraction at Sleeping Bear Dunes is the 450′ tall Dune Climb! The pitch of the dune is a very steep 33 degrees! But, it’s worth it once you schlep yourself to the top.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Located on Wisconsin’s shore of Lake Superior, Apostle Islands National Seashore is worth the trek either by cruise, sail, paddle or your own two feet. But, as you’ll learn as we did, this natural exhibit is more about the marine side of the lakeshore. It includes 21 islands along the 12 mile mainland.
But, Apostle Islands takes the reign as hosting 9 lighthouse towers on 6 of its’ islands. But I gotta say, as an avid kayaker, the real treat is paddling out to the amazing water caves, cliffs and sandstone formations.
✰ PRO TIP ✰ The NPS recommends only to use a sea kayak while paddling on the lake in the Apostle Islands.
Grand Portage National Monument
Located on Lake Superior’s north shore in Minnesota, Grand Portage National Monument is a preservation project of the North American historic fur trading between the Ojibwe Tribe and Northwest Company.
Also known as Gichi Onigamiing or the Great Carrying Place, Grand Portage got it’s name from its’ 8.5 mile portage where furtraders and tribal members carried their canoes and gear overland for thousands of years.
Grand Portage National Monument manages and preserves over 700 acres that includes the historic depot located on Lake Superior, the site of Fort Charlotte on the Pigeon River with the Grand Portage connecting the two depots.
The 8.5 mile portage corridor and Fort Charlotte contain the majority of the Monument’s semi-wilderness habitat.
Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial
Located on beautiful Put-in-Bay, an island on Lake Erie off Ohio’s lakeshore, Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial commemorates the most decisive battle in the War of 1812 where Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry led his naval fleet to victory.
Only 5 miles from the U.S. and Canadian border, the 352′ tall International Peace Memorial column rises over Lake Erie. It’s a reminder to celebrate peace between the United States, Canada and Great Britain.
The Perry’s Victory Visitor Center has an impressive museum chocked full of artifacts from the Battle of Lake Erie.
But, the only way to get to Put-in-Bay is by ferry boat from the mainland. But once you get there, I highly recommend renting a golf cart to get around the island.
✰ READ MORE ✰ Learn more about the Battle of Lake Erie at The Historic Waterfront Port of Erie, Pennsylvania
Wrapping up why you should visit the National Parks of the Great Lakes
What did you think about these amazing National Parks that are nestled along the Great Lakes? While they may not be as big and grand as other National Parks, those in or near the Great Lakes are just as beautiful, intriguing and ready for you to explore and enjoy!
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