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A trip around the Great Lakes leaves nothing out

By Sandra Scott

Copley News Service


HOMES, that unforgettable elementary school mnemonic for recalling the names of the five Great Lakes, also spells a great vacation. Driving around the lakes makes for an unforgettable trip that encompasses world-class cities, thundering waterfalls, sweeping sand dunes, unsurpassed bird watching, vast forests, wineries, diving on shipwrecks, unique accommodations, slices of history, hundreds of lighthouses and much more.

Driving around any of the Great Lakes is a "shore" bet for an exciting vacation offering unsurpassed variety and adventure for the traveler who takes the time to seek out the wonders along the largest freshwater system in the world.

Lake Huron, the second-largest Great Lake by surface area, is the fifth-largest freshwater lake in the world. It has the longest Great Lake shoreline. The area is heavily forested and sparsely populated, with scenic areas tailor-made for the outdoor lover.

Lake Huron's Georgian Bay is the largest bay on the Great Lakes. Early explorers listed Georgian Bay as a separate sixth lake because it is nearly separated from the rest of Lake Huron by Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world. Georgian Bay is large enough to be among the world's 20 largest lakes.

It is an all-season getaway with activities as diverse as snowmobiling on groomed trails to fly fishing in one of the areas many rivers.

In addition, visitors can take an island tour on the Island Queen, visit ghost towns, laze on a sandy beach in a hidden cove, explore a tiny village hugging limestone cliffs, hike a quiet wooded trail or shop in a quaint town on Bruce Peninsula.

Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes in surface area. The lake lies 325 feet below Lake Erie, at the base of Niagara Falls. The falls were an obstacle to navigation into the upper lakes until the Trent-Severn Waterway, along with the Welland and Erie Canals, were built to allow ships to pass around this bottleneck. Time your trip to take in one of the many festivals.

The New York State Seaway Trail is a 454-mile scenic route paralleling Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Traveling the trail takes you to sophisticated cities, quaint villages, fishing ports, historic Fort Niagara and thundering Niagara Falls.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, where horse and carriages trot down the flower-lined streets in front of the elegant Prince of Wales Hotel, is hard to surpass for ambience. Take in a performance at the famed Shaw Festival.
In multicultural Toronto, visit the CN Tower, Ontario Science Center, Casa Loma, Bata Shoe Museum, Art Gallery of Ontario and dine in one of the ethnic neighborhood restaurants before heading off to the theater.

Lake Michigan, the third-largest Great Lake by surface area, is the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the world. The northern part of the area around the lake, called the UP or Upper Peninsula, is covered with forests and sparsely populated, while the southern portion is heavily populated and includes Chicago. The world's largest freshwater dunes line the lakeshore.

Along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, Michigan's Gold Coast, visit quaint towns and walk on the sandy beaches. Stroll the re-created Dutch Village on Windmill Island and climb the 230-year-old DeZwaan Windmill to learn how the mill operates and be treated with a panoramic view of the area. Near Silver Lake, go bounding over Sahara-like dunes in a 12-passenger dune buggy with Mac's Dune Buggy.

By surface area, Lake Erie is the fourth-largest of the Great Lakes but the smallest by volume. Small towns and cities dot the south shore, while on the Canadian side bird-watchers can visit one of several wildlife refuges, including one of the world's birding hot spots, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

Check out the famed covered bridges of Ashtabula County, the old-fashioned resort town of Geneva-on-the-Lake with penny candy and great lake views, and peaceful enclaves a short ferry ride from the mainland where you can enjoy bird watching on one of several islands.

Revitalized Cleveland, besides being a great sports town, is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Detroit, the Motor City, is the birthplace of the muscle car and Motown. And just 10 miles from downtown Detroit is the historic Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.

Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes in surface area and volume. Superior could contain all the other Great Lakes plus three more lakes the size of Lake Erie. It is sparsely populated and known for its clear, cold water and agate beaches.

A drive along the north shore of Gitchee Gumee, the Native American name for Lake Superior, offers awesome views of the rugged coastal area and attractions like the Canadian Carver and Agawa Indian Crafts retail outlets. Rockhounds will find gravel beaches famous for their yield of agates and other gemstones.

At Grand Portage National Monument, the fur trade flourished hundreds of years ago. Visitors can browse the restored stockade and great hall. From Grand Portage ride the daily excursion boat to Isle Royale National Park, characterized by wolves and moose, the wild North Woods, clear waters and rugged shoreline. A number of state and national parks offer facilities all along the route.

Accommodations around the lakes range from the ordinary to the extraordinary. You can have tea at the Chicago's Drake Hotel while listening to a harpist or visit Mackinac Island where you can rock away the hours in unsurpassed grandeur on the Grand Hotel's 660-foot porch - the world's longest. Lighthouse lovers will want to stay in Big Bay Point Lighthouse on Lake Superior or at Tibbets Point Lighthouse hostel on Lake Ontario. Campsites are plentiful.

Try some of the local specialties. No trip to Wisconsin's Door Peninsula is complete without eating at a fish boil. Hungry guests gather outside around an open fire waiting for the call "Boil over!" - the signal that the huge pot of whitefish, onions and potatoes is ready. In Buffalo stop at the Anchor Bar, where the finger-lickin' buffalo wings originated.

Spring. Summer. Winter. Fall. Any time is a great time to circle the lakes. Explore one lake at a time or drive the entire 6,500-mile Great Lakes Circle Tour, a scenic, international road system connecting the five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

General information: www.great-lakes.net.

Ontario: www.ontariotravel.net, (800) 668-2746 (ONTARIO).

New York: www.iloveny.com, (800) 225-5697 (CALL-NYS).

Ohio: www.ohiotourism.com, (800) 282-5393.
Indiana: www.indianatourism.com, (800) 289-6646.

Michigan: www.michigan.org, (888) 784-7328 (78-GREAT).

Wisconsin: www.travelwisconsin.com, (800) 432-8747.

Minnesota: www.exploreminnesota.com, (800) 657-3700.

Illinois: www.enjoyillinois.com, (800) 226-6632.

Seaway Trail: www.seawaytrail.com, (800) 732-9298 (SEAWAY-T).

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