Aerial view of Grand Haven, Michigan lighthouse. Image credit Dennis MacDonald via Shutterstock.

10 Small Towns in Great Lakes Region to Visit for a Weekend Getaway

Think of mesmerizing waterfronts, gorgeous beaches, sea caves, and sandstone cliffs, and The Great Lakes region come to mind. This area comprises five lakes: Lake Superior, Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Ontario, spanning the United States and Canada. Together, they make up one-fifth of the earth's most extensive freshwater system while offering some of the best beaches in North America. The lakes are also surrounded by pristine, charming small towns suitable for an unforgettable weekend getaway. These towns offer everything from picture-perfect shorelines of lakes and stunning cliffs and coves to cultural and historical diversity in one weekend. Looking for an ideal destination to have an unforgettable weekend? Check out these small towns in the Great Lakes Region. 

Winthrop Harbor, Illinois

Marina with boats in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois at sunset
Marina with boats in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, at sunset.

Winthrop Harbour lies on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan and has the most prominent Marina of all five Great Lakes. Visitors here will be met with the North Point Marina, the town's highlight and a hub for fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, and other water sports activities. The city is also home to gorgeous powdery sand beaches where visitors can soak up the sun and enjoy magnificent scenery.  

Also, Illinois Beach State Park is close to the Marina, covering 4,160 acres and 6 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The beach here receives the most attention and offers abundant swimming, picnicking, boating, and birdwatching opportunities. For nature lovers, the rest of the park comprises dune areas, black oak forests, wetlands, and prairie. 

Cobourg, Ontario

Rocks on the shoreline of Lake Ontario during sunset near Cobourg, Ontario
Rocks on the shoreline of Lake Ontario during sunset near Cobourg, Ontario.

Cobourg is a quaint town on the shores of Lake Ontario which welcomes visitors with its idyllic beaches, such as Cobourg Beach. This beach is the perfect destination to swim, sunbathe, and enjoy picnics. For boat rentals to explore the lake further, visit the Cobourg Marina, or for simple relaxation, spend the day at the beach and walk around its lovely promenade for sightseeing. 

In addition, the Cobourg East Pierhead Lighthouse is one place no visitor should miss in this town, mainly because it offers astonishing views of Lake Ontario. Apart from the beaches, Cobourg is also home to historic attractions such as Victoria Hall, a historic center and town hall opened in 1860 and features neoclassical architecture and a grand concert hall for performances. 

Mackinac Island, Michigan

The Harbor at Mackinac Island with buildings and boats on the shore
The Harbor at Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island in Michigan is one of the most unique Great Lakes region towns to spend a weekend. The absence of cars (including electric bikes) on this island after it was banned in 1895 by a local ordinance makes it a relaxing weekend hideaway destination. It offers that vibe of living in a forgotten era, with bicycles and horse-drawn carriages dominating the streets instead of cars. 

The town is primarily a state park and sits near the confluence of Lakes Michigan and Huron, offering scenic views of the suspension bridge between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. For the best panoramic views of Lake Huron, head to Arch Rock, the island's most prominent rock formation, or check out Sunset Rock. Visitors can also engage in the town's history by visiting one of its forts, Fort Mackinac, to see military arsenals and relics. 

Kelleys Island, Ohio

Sunset from the shores of Kelleys Island over Lake Erie in Ohio.
Sunset from the shores of Kelleys Island over Lake Erie in Ohio.

Kelleys Island on the western basin of Lake Erie offers abundant outdoor recreation and adventures for all visitors year-round, earning her the nickname "An Island For All Seasons." The island has a scenic beach for swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, or scuba diving to see the 50 shipwrecks beneath the waters of Lake Erie. While on this island, also check out its world-famous Glacial Grooves formed by the movement of giant glaciers that created Erie Lake. These grooves (scratches cut in bedrock) measure about 400 feet in length, 15 feet in depth, and 35 feet in width.

Hikers and bikers can journey on the one-mile North Shore Loop Trail that leads to the island's best treasure: the rare alvar habitat and Nature Preserve. An alvar is a limestone-based biological environment with little or no vegetation, and Kelley's Island has the best preserved alvar habitat in Ohio. 

Grand Haven, Michigan

Grand Haven Michigan Lighthouse on Lake Michigan and Grand Haven State Park
Aerial view of Grand Haven, Michigan lighthouse. Image credit Dennis MacDonald via Shutterstock.

Grand Haven is a scenic lake town on the shores of Lake Michigan that features a gorgeous 1.5-mile boardwalk. Visitors can stroll along the promenade from Chinook Pier to the south pier and lighthouse for sightseeing, photography, and shopping since the path also links to downtown. The town is also home to the Grand Haven State Park, which has a beautiful beach and offers kayaking, swimming, and sunbathing opportunities. Grand Haven also features festivals such as the Kite Festival in spring, the Coast Guard Festival in winter, and Grand Haven Musical Fountain, a summer light and water display show. 

Chesterton, Indiana

Crowded Indiana Dunes beach in summer.
Crowded Dunes Beach in Chesterton. Image credit Adriana.Macias via Shutterstock.

Chesterton is a beautiful city on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, which is about an hour's drive from Chicago. The town makes for a perfect weekend getaway in the Great Lakes as it is home to the Indiana Dunes State Park, which features a scenic beach for picnics, camping, birding, and swimming.

Chesterton is also home to towering dunes, rising to 200 feet above Lake Michigan and featuring several hiking trails to explore the landscape. One of the most notable trails here is the 9.1-mile Calumet Trail that runs through the park and leads to the neighboring Indiana Dunes National Park, where 15 miles of beaches and more sand dunes await exploration. As an alternate option for a calmer weekend retreat, head to downtown Chesterton to see its many art studios, galleries, boutiques, and local craft stores.  

Tobermory, Ontario

The Cove, located in Bruce Peninsula National Park on the shores of Georgian Bay.
The Cove is located in Bruce Peninsula National Park. Image credit Nathan Bai via Shutterstock.

Tobermory is a small harbor village at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, which splits Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. It is regarded as the scuba diving melting pot of the Great Lakes, with many shipwrecks beneath the waters. Visitors can either scuba dive or take a glass-bottom boat cruise to see the wrecks. The Bruce Peninsula National Park, located east of the town, is a tourist hotspot boasting a picturesque and dramatic landscape.

Also, seasoned hikers can explore the Bruce Trail footpath around the jagged Niagara Escarpment that winds through waterfalls, gorges, and forests. Visitors may also paddle on Cyprus Lake to see a magnificent grotto formed by waves. Guests here are welcome to take the relaxing boat cruise to Flowerpot Island or climb the trail above Greig's Caves to capture scenic views of Georgian Bay 300 feet above sea level!  

Bayfield, Wisconsin

Bayfield, Wisconsin and Lake Superior aerial view during summer
Aerial view of Bayfield, Wisconsin, with Lake Superior. 

Bayfield is a magical town on the shores of Lake Superior that serves as a gateway to the Apostles Island National Lakeshore. This location makes the city a top spot for kayaking and boating, which offers opportunities to see the gorgeous sea caves on Apostles Island. 

Visitors can embark on an Apostles Island cruise to see the 22 islands and lighthouses here for even more excitement. Alternatively, take a ferry to the largest of them, Madeline Island, where gorgeous beaches, art studios, galleries, and bars are waiting to be explored.   

Lake Superior is an excellent destination for many water activities, including boating and scuba diving. History buffs can also learn more about the area's history by visiting the Bayfield Maritime Museum to see maritime artifacts and exhibitions.  

Grand Marais, Minnesota

Grand Marais Lighthouse against the backdrop of the Sawtooth Mountains on Lake Superior
Grand Marais Lighthouse has a view of the Sawtooth Mountains on Lake Superior. 

Grand Marais is a picturesque town between Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountains in Cook County, Minnesota. Thus, it sets the stage for a thrilling weekend of adventures. Once in this town, visitors can head to Lake Superior to enjoy boating, kayaking, and fishing to watch the waves crash onto cliffs. Next, walk to the lighthouse to catch scintillating town views and watch the sunset at the pier. Artist's Point - a small pine-covered island forming a cliff on Lake Superior, is another exciting place to see close to the lighthouse. 

For art lovers, several artworks, studios, and galleries are all over the town and on the lake's shore to admire and maybe purchase. Alternatively, make the weekend all about hikes by hiking the Gunflint Trail, which is 57 miles long. This trail is a paved scenic byway that starts from Grand Marais and runs through Superior National Forest to the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness area, with views of Canada.  

Munising, Michigan

"The Coves" on Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located in Munising, Michigan.
"The Coves" on Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

For a thrilling and unforgettable weekend getaway, head to Munising in Michigan. This charming small town on the shores of Lake Superior is the closest to the stunning Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, where dramatic sandstone cliffs form a cape on the waters of the massive lake. Visitors can capture the spellbinding beauty of these cliffs by kayaking and boating; if lucky, the kayaks could pass under some of the natural limestone arches. The views are incredible, but there is more. 

The lakeshore is a bustling playground for picnics, idle walks, and sunbathing, with hiking trails leading to picturesque waterfalls like Munising, Miner, Chapel, and Mosquito Falls. Chapel Falls can be accessed via a 1.2-mile forest walk, while Mosquito Falls requires a 3-mile loop. Also, Miner Falls can be reached via a 6-mile one-way trail, while Munising Falls is located at the end of an 800-foot paved trail. 

The Great Lakes Region is naturally endowed with captivating landscapes, beaches, and forests, including small towns along its banks. These towns share the natural beauty of the lakes and top it with their own cultural and recreational offerings. Thus, they are highly sought-after as vacation destinations and weekend getaways. From the awe-inspiring sandstone cliffs of Lake Superior in Munising to the car-free streets of Mackinac Island in Lake Huron, almost every kind of traveler will find unique attractions in these towns to extend their stay. Some are best visited in summer, while some can be seen year-round. Regardless of the season, one thing is sure in these small towns - fun and relaxation every weekend. 

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