Clear turquoise waters, snorkeling, sailing, white-sand beaches, and pink sunsets–no, this isn’t the Caribbean. Those aren’t palm trees. They are pines, maples, and oaks. This isn’t an ocean or a tropical island. This is Michigan and those beautiful, clear blue waters are lakes. And, they are here to remind us that paradise, in these uncertain times, is very close at hand.
Whether it’s fishing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing, tubing, dune scaling, camping, or whiling away the day on the beach, Michigan boasts over 11,000 inland lakes and over 3,000 miles of freshwater coastline that’s waiting to be explored and enjoyed.
8 Top-Rated Lakes in Michigan
- Lake Huron
- Lake Superior
- Torch Lake
- Lake Michigan
- Glen Lake
- Silver Lake
- Crystal Lake
- Higgins Lake
1. Lake Huron
Lake Huron, the second-largest of the Great Lakes, tops the list for its pristine turquoise waters, unparalleled shoreline sunrises, numerous lakeside parks, gorgeous beaches, and historic lighthouses. French explorers proclaimed it La Mer Douce, “the freshwater sea.”
What’s more, Lake Huron is home to 30,000 islands! Island hopping, anyone?
Stop by the tiny Dollar Island or escape to enchanted Mackinac Island. With its car-free streets, stunning wilderness covering most of the island, and delicious fudge, it’s a no-brainer vacation spot. No wonder Forbes magazine called it a “secret celebrity hideaway.”
Despite depths of over 300 feet, Michigan’s Lake Huron boasts crystal waters throughout. So bright and refreshing, you’ll have to convince yourself this isn’t a private tropical island, but one of the world’s largest lakes right here in Michigan.
Nearby towns: Cheboygan, Lexington, Harrisville, Rogers City, and Port Austin.
2. Lake Superior
Whether it’s superior to the other Great Lakes is a matter of opinion. However, there is no argument this Michigan lake’s water is some of the cleanest and clearest. And, in terms of surface area, it is the Earth’s largest body of freshwater!
If your idea of a Michigan Lake vacation includes exploring sea caves, scaling majestic sandstone cliffs, climbing to the top of Split Rock Lighthouse, and locating breathtaking waterfalls, look no further than Lake Superior. Its natural beauty–rugged, scenic, and tranquil–is truly superior!
Surrounded by stunning wilderness, you’ll want to savor Lake Superior in the most natural way–camping, hiking, bird watching, and fishing.
Likewise, thrill-seekers undaunted by often dangerous rip currents can plunge into these frigid waters or discover its intrigue and secrets at The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.
Nearby towns: Marquette, Copper Harbor, and Grand Marais
3. Torch Lake
At 19 miles long and 300 feet deep, this glacial lake is Michigan’s longest.
The sediment at Lake Torch’s bottom is predominately pulverized calcium carbonate (limestone), which is also found in the Caribbean. According to the Torch Conservation Center, it accounts for the lake’s visibility of up to 30 feet on an extra sunny day.
Torch Lake has plenty of space where you can frolic in warm, blue waters reminiscent of the Caribbean. Don’t act too surprised when you see people snorkeling, paddleboarding, waterskiing, and kayaking on this crystal-clear lake. Similarly, the lake’s long white sandbars are particularly popular among boaters who gather around them like white moths to an azure flame.
Check out the lovely little beach at William E. Good Day Park, where you will find picnic tables, grills, a playground, and a boat launch.
Nearby towns: Traverse City and Charlevoix
4. Lake Michigan
You can’t talk about the best Michigan lakes without mentioning Lake Michigan, which has joined Lake Huron as the state’s clearest lakes.
And, you can’t talk about Lake Michigan without praising the beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore— a stunning 35 mile stretch of the lake’s eastern coastline. It’s almost impossible to describe its beauty. That’s perhaps why there are plenty of bluff overlooks where you can snap one of those worth-a-thousand-words photos.
If you are up for the challenge, scale the dunes, which can tower over 450 feet above the water. You’ll be well rewarded–sweeping coastline views and a stunning vista of inland Leelanau Country.
Hike the scenic Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, although nobody would blame you for opting to sprawl on the sugar sands, getting up only to cool off in the sparkling waters.
If you decide to stay, and you will, there are numerous camping sites, including fully equipped and more spartan options.
Go on to explore the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, composed of over 20 wineries, and Best Wine Region nominee by USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Travel Award Contest.
Nearby Towns: Holland, Ludington, Muskegon, Grand Haven, Petoskey, and Saugatuck
5. Glen Lake
Surrounded by rolling dunes and patches of lush green forest, Glen Lake‘s remarkably crystal clear waters are the stuff of fairy tales.
Once connected to the nearby giant Lake Michigan, Big Glen Lake (130 feet deep) and the equally lovely Little Glen Lake (13 feet deep) are their own entities and, when combined, make up over 6,000 acres of surface water. Rent a pontoon or deck boat, or ride the waves on Jet-Skis.
Additional onsite activities include canoeing, kayaking, sailing, or good ol’ lakeshore lounging.
Those that enjoy bird’s-eye views can take the Alligator Hill trail–a moderately hilly, but shaded climb that offers breathtaking views of Lake Glen and Lake Michigan.
Nearby Towns: Glen Arbor, Empire, and Leland
6. Silver Lake
Separated from Michigan Lake by soaring dunes, this basin-shaped lake is relatively shallow, with a maximum depth of 23 feet. Coupled with a predominantly sandy bottom, it is ideal for bringing the whole family for lakeside relaxation and adventure. It also tends to be less crowded.
The fun doesn’t stop at multiple beaches. The surrounding area boasts numerous parks, lakeside camping, and ample opportunities to enjoy the 2,000 acres of sand dunes on foot, sandboard, or ORV riding in a specially designated area where you can bring your own vehicle or rent one onsite.
Or you and the family can spend the day at the beach building epic sandcastles. Who needs toys when miles of sand is your playground?
Nearby Towns: Hart, Ludington, and Muskegon
7. Crystal Lake
As the name suggests, Crystal Lake boasts some of the most transparent waters in Michigan.
The Betsie Valley Trail, which circumvents this beautiful lake and offers a picturesque 22-mile ride or hike, is an excellent way to scope out the lake and the surrounding area.
Stop by the Point Betsie Lighthouse, a 19th-century lighthouse, and museum. You can even rent the keeper’s quarters located on the building’s second floor. The adjacent beach is excellent for an evening stroll where you can search for washed-up treasures and feast your eyes on a magnificent sunset.
Nearby Towns: Frankfort, Beulah, and Elberta
8. Higgins Lake
Higgins Lake is a large, spring-fed lake popular and well-loved for its deep, clear waters, and abundant fishing opportunities. Before the arrival of European settlers, this 9,900-acre body of freshwater was called Majinabeesh by the Chippewa people. It means “sparkling water.”
With depths reaching 135 feet, it supports trout, bullhead, carp, catfish, perch, and bass.
Two state parks, located on the south and north ends of the lake, offer visitors plenty of shoreline activities and amenities such as sandy swimming beaches, marinas, playgrounds, picnic areas, and excellent lakeside camping.
Nearby Towns: Roscommon, Grayling, and Houghton Lake
Clean, clear, at times spectacularly blue, green, and turquoise, these freshwaters–tucked into the serene wilderness–are nothing short of natural wonders. Their beauty is just the start of what lakes in Michigan have to offer. And, according to the state’s official site, “you’re never more than 6 miles from a body of water or 85 miles from a Great Lake.” Paradise is indeed closer and more local than you think!
Lakes in Michigan FAQ
Four of the Great (and largest) Lakes in the United States, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Erie are found within Michigan. They share borders with seven other states: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
The fifth Great Lake, Lake Ontario, is in Canada and touches New York.
Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that’s entirely inside the United States.
With over 3,000 miles of Great Lakes coastline, and with the nickname “Third Coast” there is no shortage of beaches in Michigan. Everyone has their favorite. However, the best beaches in Michigan include Lake Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Point Beach and Grand Haven City Beach, Lake Superior’s Twelvemile Beach and Copper Harbor, and Lake Huron’s Cheboygan State Park Beach.
According to the Michigan Tech Research Institute, lakes Michigan and Huron are now clearer than Lake Superior, due to, in part, less phytoplankton in their waters.
The particular color found in blue lakes is attributed to several factors: algae levels, depth and its interaction with sunlight and sediment, and type of lake, for example, glacial. Torch Lake, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and Lake Glen are said to be the bluest lakes in Michigan.
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