Lake Michigan has long been a favorite boating destination for water lovers. The third largest of the Great Lakes, this beautiful lake is located entirely in the U.S. Lake Michigan cruising is a popular choice for boaters and sailors who don’t want to deal with Canadian Customs while still being able to cross one of the Great Lakes.
Lake Michigan is home to many exciting cities and enchanting small town ports to enjoy. Sailors can explore over 1,500 miles of coastline while soaking up the sun and waves. Some of the excellent harbors and marinas have been compared to world-renowned locations like Emerald Landing in Seattle and the Montauk Yacht Club in the Hamptons.
If you haven’t experienced all Lake Michigan offers, now is the time to set sail. Enjoy the Native American History of the area or explore one of the country’s exciting cities for the day. But, first, let’s look at a few of the top Lake Michigan cruising destinations and list the things you want to do.
#10 Chicago’s DuSable Harbor
If you are looking for some urban excitement after a day on the lake, you must stop at DuSable Harbor in Chicago. Located in the Chicago Loop, there are plenty of sights and activities to fill your day at DuSable Harbor. Take the whole family on a short stroll into the city to enjoy a museum, restaurants, or the views from the waterfront boardwalk.
DuSable Harbor is next to the iconic Navy Pier, spans over 50 acres, and has been an important historic landmark for more than 100 decades. The waterfront is packed full of attractions that will thrill the whole family.
#9 St. Joseph’s Anchor’s Way Marina
Spend an afternoon exploring the charming town of St.Joseph’s on Lake Michigan. Located just 54 miles from Chicago, this marina can be reached after a morning cruise with an entire afternoon to explore the dunes surrounding the area. This is a deepwater port and is becoming a popular and growing resort community. If you want to get a unique view of the shoreline, you can climb one of Warren Dunes State Park dunes. Don’t miss a ride on the historic Silver Beach Carousel and settle down to enjoy a glass of local wine at one of the town’s fine eateries.
#8 Saugatuck‘s Sergeant Marina
Located a short distance up the Kalamazoo River, Sergeant Marina is a favorite haunt of artists who want to capture the area’s unique beauty. According to USA Today, known as the “Art Coast of Michigan,” Saugatauk’s Oval Beach is revered as one of the top beaches in the U.S. and the best small coastal town.
So if you are looking for a way to spend the day enjoying the water and the beach, this is the spot for you. From the charming small-town atmosphere to the fantastic views at the top of the sculpted sand dunes that line the lakefront, it’s not surprising that Saugatauk draws in more than a million visitors each year.
#7 Ludington’s Harbor View Marina
Ludington has been a center for cultural history for over a century. Harbor View Marina is located just outside this small town, right at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River, where it meets Lake Michigan. Ludington became one of the busiest shipping ports on the Great Lakes during the 1800s. With so much water traffic, there was a need for several lighthouses to guide the ships into port safely. Several lighthouses still stand today and offer daily tours.
#6 Beaver Island
Beaver Island, located just 35 miles from Charlevoix, Michigan, is the perfect place to spend the day with the family. It is known for its rich history and laid-back beauty. The pristine beaches and charming small-town atmosphere make this a perfect spot to stop on your cruise of Lake Michigan. This island is known as America’s Emerald Isle; this island is the most prominent outcropping in the lake but still maintains a primitive and secluded feel. Take a stroll on the beach, wander through the old town or get on your bikes and tour the recreation area for which the island is famous.
#5 Leland Township Harbor (Fishtown)
You can’t miss a visit to Fishtown, located in the heart of the delightful village of Leland. Nestled on a tiny island between Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau, it remains a working fishing village today. The area is packed with historic buildings, marine and fishing museums, and many cafes and restaurants to enjoy. Take in the nostalgia of the area and learn about the workings of the fishing industry, which the whole family will enjoy.
#4 Charlevoix City Marina
Just 30 miles outside of Chicago lies the historic town of Charlevoix. This picturesque little town was once the summer vacation home for some of Chicago’s most notorious gangsters during the Prohibition era. Visitors can take a guided tour of the Colonial Club, home of the upper-class residents of the island’s turn-of-the-century population. There are many places to stop and take in all the history of the area, or you can enjoy the day on the shores of Round Lake, which connects to Lake Michigan. The town has galleries, gift shops, and restaurants to enjoy.
#3 Leelanau’s Suttons Bay Marina
Wine lovers will love to spend the day at Suttons Bay. It is home to dozens of wineries and vineyards. These world-class wines are perfectly paired with the local cuisine at any fine restaurant in this tranquil small town. You can give up the helm of your boat for the afternoon and let the captain of the Inland Seas Tall Ship do all the work as you sail across the Leelanau Peninsula. You can also rent a bicycle and enjoy the abundant nature of the TART trail system.
#2 Harbor Springs
Less than 200 miles from Chicago lies a hidden gem for shopping lovers. Harbor Springs Marina is nestled in the deepest peninsula on the lake. The fascinating town is home to some of the most exclusive and unique shopping opportunities. Enjoy a round of golf at the world-class course just outside of town, or and spend the day shopping and exploring this charming town. There are dozens of restaurants, clothing boutiques, art galleries, and craft shops to fill your day with exciting buying adventures.
#1 Green Bay’s Washington Island – Shipyard Island Marina
If you plan a weekend on the lake, chart your final destination to the glorious Washington Island. Boaters and sailors can cast a line at the Shipyard Island Marina and set off for a day of adventure. You will need to brave the turbulent waters of the Death’s Door stretch at the meeting point of Lake Michigan and Green Bay aboard a ferry for a five-mile journey to your destination.
Of all the Lake Michigan cruising destinations, Washington Island is just the ticket for those who enjoy a quieter and more relaxed life. The island is packed full of fun for the whole family. You can take a historical tour, visit one of the many art galleries and museums, and finish your visit by enjoying a delicious meal at one of the local restaurants.
Closing Thoughts on Lake Michigan Cruising Destinations
There are dozens of beautiful and exciting harbors and ports along the vast shorelines of Lake Michigan. So get out on the water today and explore new sights and destinations.