Famous for glacier-sculpted lakes, stunning sandstone cliffs, and fantastic food and wine, there are a number of must-see places worth visiting along the massive freshwater Great Lakes. These eleven strikingly beautiful small towns worth visiting in the Great Lakes region offer magical experiences like Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Apostle Islands, or watching the grapes get crushed in Niagara On the Lake's famous Niagara Ice Wine. There are so many epic adventures to explore in the Great Lakes region. Don't miss your chance to visit these breathtaking and awe-inspiring hidden gems and crown jewels of the Great Lakes area.
Munising, Michigan, is home to the famous Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, notable for its 15 miles of sandstone cliffs overlooking the Lake Superior shoreline, the largest freshwater lake in the world. Home to just under 2,000 folks, Munising’s charming views of sandstone cliffs with ribbons of color from minerals like copper, iron, and manganese against teal blue waters are the most aesthetically hypnotizing in the entire Great Lakes area. Step into the wonder of Michigan at the Alger County waterfalls in Munising Creek for views of water tumbling off a 50-foot sandstone cliff. Take a trip over to Grand Island, one of the most breathtaking overlooks of pristine beaches, lush hardwoods, and secluded, inland lakes.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
The location where Lake Huron meets Lake Michigan is Mackinac Island, a stunningly beautiful location with views of the suspension bridge dividing the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan. Join the community of around 500 people who live a vibrant life on the island steeped in a love for historical traditions. A true jewel of the Great Lakes, Mackinac Island is an opportunity to step back in history. The car-free streets are full of bicycles and horse-drawn carriages with unforgettable landmarks all within walking distance.
Take the ferry from Mackinaw City to the Island to enjoy their famous fudge made from traditional recipes that have been passed down in the region. Head over to Fort Mackinac and touch the old cannons that have been preserved since the days when the Island was between the biggest ports in the northern United States.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Cook County is home to the North Shore harbor village of Grand Marais, Minnesota, a place worth visiting for the sensational sights of the Northern Lights over the enchanting Lutsen Mountains. Situated between Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountains with a population of 1,340, Grand Marais is a serene and relaxing destination that comes to life in the summer. Check out the towering, historic lighthouse or watch the sailboats cruise by along the glass-like freshwater lake.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is an area where motors and electricity are not promoted, and a Dark Sky Sanctuary has lookouts that offer peeks at the glimmering Northern Lights shimmering across the night’s sky. Hop on the ferry and take a day trip to Isle Royale National Park, an island in the middle of the grand Lake Superior, for the best fishing around.
The scuba diving center of the Great Lakes and home to 4,000 residents, Tobermory, Ontario, offers folks one of the most surreal experiences on Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Head down to the teal blue waters of Cyprus Lake, the location of the world-famous grotto located at the northern tip of the Bruce Peninsula National Park.
Situated in the Fathom Five National Marine Park, known for the best freshwater scuba diving, Tobermory is the location of over 20 historic shipwrecks that are worth going under to visit. Stop by Greig’s Caves for a truly awe-inspiring experience exploring the formations created from years of powerful coastal shores. Explore the expensive set of 10 limestone caves with breathtaking views of Georgian Bay from 300 ft above water level.
Bayfield, Wisconsin, is the gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and home to the best kayaking in the world. Lighthouses sit along the fresh, lush green landscapes that cut off into sandstone cliffs as if at random, and visits to the Meyers Beach sea caves offer striking views of the formations from below.
With a population of 600 people, this charming area is filled with local influence and outdoor experiences that tourists love. Witness the power of Lake Superior by paddling, rowing, scuba diving, or sailing deep into the cliff edge to explore the magnificent caverns. The harbor town is also full of U-pick orchards, wineries, and a harbor steeped in maritime culture.
Located on the Southern tip of Lake Michigan, Chesterton, Indiana, is worth visiting for its striking beauty. Home to about 14,000 people and Indiana Dunes State Park, Charleston is a place where widespread beaches offer great swimming, soft sand, and a waterfront that you’ll fall in love with. Enjoy views of colorful sails moving across the bright blue sky where Chicago can be seen on the other side. Take a visit to Cowles Bog, where you can experience an environment that sustains magnificent plant diversity and habitats, with a 4.7-mile trail to explore.
Traverse City, Michigan
Absorb yourself in luxurious outdoor experiences in Traverse City, Michigan, the delicious cherry capital of the world. Hosting a population of 15,000 people, check out the delightful culinary dishes unique to the region and explore the diverse farm-to-table experiences available nearby. Walk past the majestic, Old Victorian homes along the waterfront before watching the luxurious sailboats meander through the waters against a strikingly bold sunset. Check out Sleeping Bear Dunes for sweeping vistas of freshwater beaches and lookouts of Lake Michigan that will take your breath away.
Angola, New York
Previously called "Evans Station," Angola, New York, is a village of about 2,000 folks who adore living along the shores of the abundant Lake Erie. A suburb of Buffalo sitting 2 miles from the freshwater beaches of Lake Erie, Angola, is home to Evangola State Park. Evangola is an arc-like shoreline with a natural beach and views of riveting waves rolling in from the expansive Lake Erie. Travel up the cliffs at the park for striking views of the lush and vast rolling landscape below. Afterward, head down to Woodbury Winery & Vineyards and grab a drink while smelling the fresh crops sourced nearby.
Niagara On the Lake, Ontario
Niagara On the Lake is a vibrant village in the heart of Ontario’s wine country with a population of around 18,000 people. Take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage along the well-preserved, 19th-century, historic downtown area. Housing over 40 wineries, Niagara On The Lake is a must-visit for anyone who enjoys the culinary arts.
Try the world-renowned, sensationally sweet Niagara Icewine and get to the roots of Ontario’s best food and wine. Check out Inniskillin Wines, Wayne Gretzky Estates, or Reif Estate Winery for a walk through the most fruitful vineyards in Canada. A short drive through Niagara Falls and into New York will bring you to the site of Fort Niagara, used during the War of 1812, which sits across the Niagara River from Niagara On the Lake.
Agawa Bay and Batchewana First Nation, Ontario
Agawa Bay and Batchewana First Nation are in Algoma Country along the northern coast of Lake Superior. Found in the North Algoma District, whose entirety hosts a community of around 6,000 people and situated in Lake Superior Provincial Park, Agawa and Batchawana Bay is home to the stunningly beautiful Katherine's Cove with access to the iconic hidden gem of the Great Lakes, Bathtub Island. Katherine's Cove is perfect for anyone looking to explore the bright-colored rocks shimmering under clear waters along the Lake Superior Shoreline. Bathtub Island is a perfect place to check out a bigger rock for the day. An island surrounded by pristine, blue and green freshwaters, Bathtub Island has a basin-like impression that creates a natural, freshwater bathtub overlooking Lake Superior.
The sand is soft, and the water is shallow, making it easy to access the Island from shore. Browse the beach for Lake Superior's famous banded gems called Agate, which are bright orange and can be found along the shoreline. Head over to Agawa Pictographs or take a drive through Batchawana Bay, one of the most serene coastlines of Lake Superior. A short ride east of the city of Sault Ste Marie, Algoma Country in Ontario is one of the most picturesque and charming places in the Great Lakes area.
Coburg, Ontario, is the largest town in Northumberland County, with a vibrant, waterfront community of about 20,000 folks. Located on Lake Ontario and a short train ride from the Greater Toronto Area, Coburg is worth the visit. Home to the epic Coburg beach, folks visit this charming town for fun in the sun, thrills on the water, and views of a cozy harbor, active downtown, and lively marina. Check out Burnham Family Farm Market or Moore’s Orchards for some of the freshest produce surrounding Lake Ontario.
A cycling dream, Coburg is the starting point for attractive trails such as the Rice Lake Ramble or Shelter Valley. Take the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail through Coburg or head down to Victoria Park for an afternoon in the historic downtown area.
The Great Lakes offer some of the most beautiful natural wonders, and the nearby towns are steeped in that local culture. Throw these towns and villages on your bucket list because you won't want to miss your opportunity to make memories that will last a lifetime. Feel your heartbeat and adrenaline rush from the edges of the sandstone cliffs in Bayfield, Wisconsin, or dig your toes in the sand at Coburg Beach on Lake Ontario. These hidden gems offer the most memorable views and experiences in the Great Lakes region. Jump in the majestic freshwaters, walk along the rocky, mineral-rich shorelines, and relax in the beauty of Mother Nature.