The five Great Lakes are super popular tourist and vacation destinations. Not only can visitors enjoy the many coastal activities, but they can also visit various islands in the Great Lakes. There are at least 35,000 islands in these five lakes. Although the Great Lakes are freshwater lakes, they share a lot of characteristics with inland seas. They are massive, interlock, and have a diverse ecology with unique wildlife and plants.
It’s difficult to choose which of these 35,000 Great Lakes islands to visit. Lucky for you, we have broken it down by choosing the 12 best islands in the Great Lakes for boating, camping, and more!
1. Beaver Island
Beaver Island is the largest island in Lake Michigan, with a surface area of 55.8 square miles. This island has a rich history. First, immigrants settled in the 1800s and created a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints haven. The island even crowned a king. Despite this interesting start, Beaver island has a massive tourist industry in fishing, camping, and lodging. To get to the island, visitors must take the Beaver Island Ferry. Not everyone is interested in fishing, but you can also enjoy the natural sites by hiking trails on the island. Because of a lack of pollution and lights, you can clearly see the starry sky at night. You will easily see why this is one of the best islands in the Great Lakes.
2. South Bass Island
South Bass Island is a stunning island with lots to do for families. There is a massive state park located on tall white cliffs. Visitors can enjoy the 3.7-mile-long island in Ohio’s Lake Erie. Despite being small, it is the third largest island in Lake Erie. This unique island is nicknamed the “Key West” of Lake Erie. You can shop, walk, hike, camp, fish, and kayak on the island. Put-in-Bay is the only community on South Bass Island, and it is the party capital of the lake. Walleye and perch are common in the shallow waters near the island. You can also stop and see pretty sights like the Marblehead Lighthouse.
3. Summer Island
Summer Island is not the most popular island, but it is a hidden gem in Lake Michigan. This island sits at an elevation of 689 feet, with its highest peak reaching 710 feet above sea level. Most of the island is part of the Lake Superior State Forest. Not only is it a beautiful sight with lots to do, but it is also home to an archeological wonder registered on the National Register of Historic Places as the Summer Island site. The clear and cool water is perfect for taking a dip. You can also enjoy Summer Island’s limestone rocky shores and cliffs.
4. Middle Bass Island
Middle Bass Island is one of the most visited islands in Lake Erie, Ohio. It is part of a collection of Bass islands, with this one situated directly in the center. It is notably shaped like the big dipper, and many tourists enjoy visiting because of its quiet and serene nature. When first discovered by the French, Middle Bass Island was named the Island of Flowers because of the large and colorful wildflowers that grew throughout the island. However, German immigrants acquired the island for grape cultivation and founded the Golden Eagle Winery. Now the island is owned by the state of Ohio. They have designated large portions of the island as part of the Middle Bass Island State Park, a natural paradise.
5. Hog Island
Hog Island is one of the smaller islands in Lake Michigan, but it’s the fourth largest island in the Beaver Island archipelago. It is 4 miles long and right next to Garden Island, another popular vacation destination in Lake Michigan. You can enjoy the low and swampy terrain for a few nights by camping. There are plenty of yellow perch and smallmouth bass in the water. If fishing is not your preference, you can also birdwatch and see if you can spot the threatened common tern.
6. Fish Island
Fish Island is a fisher’s paradise. It got its name because of the vast population of trout near the island. It is a thin island that looks a lot like a line from an aerial view. The terrain is rocky with sandy beaches. Just a quick trip away is a fishing sandbar with an abundance of wildlife. Not only can you fish on Fish Island, but you can also hike, birdwatch, stargaze, and more. It is often overlooked by other islands nearby, making it one of the best islands in the Great Lakes if you are looking for peace, quiet, and some alone time.
7. Manitoulin Island
Manitoulin Island is an interesting island in Lake Huron bordering Ontario, Canada. Fun fact, it is the largest lake island in the world! Within this 1,068 square mile lake are at least 100 smaller inland lakes. It is an old island with a rich history. Archeologists have found evidence pointing to cultures living on the island dating from 10,000 BC to 2,000 BC. The island is so massive, in fact, that it has 108 freshwater lakes perfect for swimming, fishing, and kayaking. On the many hiking trails, you can see the jaw-dropping deep blue waters and rocky white cliffs. Thousands of visitors travel to Manitoulin Island yearly for the Haweater Festival in August.
8. Turtle Island
Turtle Island is situated in Lake Erie between Ohio and Michigan. It is an adorable island with a large population of seagulls. Before European settlers, the Miami tribe lived and hunted for seagull eggs on the island. Turtle Island is now privately owned, with the remains of multiple historic buildings. Visitors can view the remains from a boat, including the abandoned Turtle Island Lighthouse. While it is restricted, locals recommend at least viewing the strange private island from afar. Some people have gotten lucky and gotten permission from the owner to explore the ‘lost’ island.
9. Isle Royale
It would be impossible to make a list of the best islands in the Great Lakes without mentioning Isle Royale. This island is one of the most popular destinations in the Great Lakes because of its natural beauty and size. It is for adventurers and includes zip-lining courses, fishing piers, and breathtaking spots through a hiking trail. There are massive and vibrant pine trees that line the island, providing shade while backpacking and camping. Isle Royale is also part of the only national park in Michigan, the Isle Royale National Park.
10. Devils Island
Devils Island is a very popular and crowded island in Lake Superior. It is well-known for its tall lighthouse and interesting rock-cave formations on its northern shore. Kayakers and swimmers frequently visit these caves. The rocks are a sandy-red color, perfect for taking clear pictures. When the weather is rough, it can be dangerous to head into the caves as the thick waves crash inside. When visitors are tired from kayaking and swimming in the refreshing waters, they can also hike the many trails on the island. Some of these trails lead to an old engine house made of limestone and the lighthouse.
11. Kelleys Island
Feeling bored at Kelleys Island is almost impossible. There is a lot to explore within the island and its many parks, gardens, and trails. Kelleys Island, in Lake Erie, is a 4.41 square mile village with a small lake. Most of the island is made up of limestone and dolomite from the Pleistocene era. While the island receives a lot of guests, the majority of the island is forested. Scuba diving is allowed, and you may even get lucky and see any of the 50 shipwrecks surrounding the island. Many fish and freshwater eel species have made homes underneath the shipwrecks.
12. Pelee Island
Last but not least, we have Pelee Island. This turquoise and vibrant forest green island is located in Lake Erie in Ontario, Canada. It is an agricultural island with dozens of different products like wheat, soy, grapes, and corn. This island has been occupied for at least 10,000 years, first by the indigenous people, but in the late 1700s, European settlers formed communities within the island. Now, in the 21st century, thousands of tourists visit Pelee Island yearly to enjoy the countless opportunities to swim, birdwatch, camp, hike, and enjoy annual festivals like the Annual Springsong Weekend.
Summary of the Best Islands in the Great Lakes
|Beaver Island Ferry, hiking trails.
|South Bass Island
|South Bass Island State Park, Marblehead Lighthouse, Put-In-Bay village.
|Lake Superior State Forest, limestone cliffs, archaeological site; not accessible to public.
|Middle Bass Island
|Middle Bass Island State Park, historic Lonz winery
|Part of the Beaver Island archipelago, next to Garden Island.
|Abundant trout fishing, hiking, birdwatching.
|Largest lake island in the world; Mississagi Lighthouse, hiking trails, 108 freshwater lakes.
|Seagull population, Turtle Island Lighthouse; privately owned island.
|Part of Isle Royale National Park; zip-lining courses, fishing piers, and a hiking trail.
|Lighthouse, hiking trails, and rock-cave formations.
|Village, small lake, forest, parks, gardens, scuba diving, and trails; 50 shipwrecks around island.
|Agricultural island with wheat, soy, grapes, and corn; occupies for at least 10,000 years.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Focqus, LLC
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