Aerial view of Petoskey, Michigan.

7 Serene Towns In The Great Lakes For A Weekend Retreat

As the name implies, the Great Lakes are a group of massive freshwater lakes and the general name for a region that spans from the Midwest to the northeastern portion of the United States and touches several states and Canadian provinces. Comprised of Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Erie, the shores of these great lakes are home to several major cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee, Clevland, Thunder Bay, and more. Many smaller towns dot the shorelines, too, and many of them are perfect for a weekend escape from the big city. Let's look at seven of these so that you can better plan your next weekend road trip.

Traverse City, Michigan

Aerial view of Traverse city marina in Michigan
Aerial view of Traverse City Marina in Michigan.

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City offers a fun escape for weekend retreat seekers. Known for its cherry orchards and vineyards, the town has a vibrant culinary scene along with numerous wineries. Traverse City State Park provides a tranquil setting for outdoor enthusiasts, offering hiking trails and wonderful scenic overlooks. For a comfortable stay while in town, consider the Bayshore Resort, offering lakeside accommodations and easy access to downtown attractions.

Notable landmarks include the historic Front Street, renowned for its boutique shops, and the Dennos Museum Center, showcasing contemporary art and exhibitions. Traverse City's blend of natural beauty and cultural/culinary attractions makes it ideal for a relaxing weekend getaway.

Petoskey, Michigan

Aerial view of the Waterfront Park in Petoskey, Michigan
Aerial view of the Waterfront Park in Petoskey, Michigan.

Tucked away in Little Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan, Petoskey charms all with its Victorian buildings and scenic waterfront. Visitors can stroll along the Gaslight District, which is lined with small local shops and eateries, or explore the nearby Petoskey State Park for hiking and beachcombing.

The Terrace Inn offers a historic lodging experience featuring plenty of rooms and elegant dining options. Local landmarks include the Petoskey Marina, where you can enjoy a boat tour and/or waterfront dining, and the Odawa Casino Resort for evening entertainment. With a population of just around 5,900, this small town provides a fantastic getaway in northern mainland Michigan for anyone looking to get out of the city.

Grand Marais, Minnesota

U.S. Coast Guard Station of North Superior at Grand Marais, Minnesota
US Coast Guard Station of North Superior at Grand Marais, Minnesota.

Sitting on the wild shores of upper Lake Superior, the picturesque town of Grand Marais is significant for its stunning natural surroundings and small-town charm, with a tiny population of only about 1,400 full-time residents. Looking to immerse yourself in the storied wilderness of northern Minnesota? Be sure to check out Superior National Forest. Just a short drive away, this massive and forested park is full of hiking trails and wildlife viewing opportunities. After a long day, relax along the pristine beaches of Artists' Point.

For somewhere to rest your head, the East Bay Suites has comfortable accommodations with views of the lake and modern comforts. While in town, also be sure to take a look at the Grand Marais Art Colony, which showcases local artwork, and the North House Folk School, which offers workshops on traditional crafts.

Saugatuck, Michigan

The Kalamazoo river running through Saugatuck, Michigan.
The Kalamazoo River running through Saugatuck, Michigan.

With its sandy beaches and robust arts scene, Saugatuck can offer you a weekend of relaxation and cultural exploration. You can spend your days here lounging on Oval Beach or browsing the downtown core's numerous art galleries and boutiques.

For outdoor adventure, visit the nearby Saugatuck Dunes State Park, which is ideal for birdwatching and hiking. Don't miss the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, which often features rotating exhibits from local artists from the area and various performances. Staying for multiple days? The Wickwood Inn in the heart of town is a well-rated inn with luxurious amenities, and it is strongly recommended to try out one of their gourmet in-house breakfasts.

Bayfield, Wisconsin

Cityscape view of Bayfield Wisconsin, as seen from the shores of Lake Superior
Cityscape view of Bayfield, Wisconsin, as seen from the shores of Lake Superior.

With a minuscule population of just under 600, Bayfield is truly a small town packed with natural sights and opportunities for outdoor recreation. One of the must-see natural landmarks near Bayfield is the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, known for its sea caves and pristine beaches. If you are feeling hungry after a day of seeing the nearby parks, try sampling the locally-grown produce at the Bayfield Farmers Market.

The Rittenhouse Inn is an elegant accommodation with tasty gourmet dining options and is near the wilderness surrounding the town. Stuff to see while in town includes the Bayfield Maritime Museum, highlighting the town's maritime history, and the Madeline Island Ferry Line, providing access to nearby islands.

Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio

Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio
Lake Erie in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio.

On the south-central portion of Lake Erie, Geneva-on-the-Lake is a great place to spend a weekend that is conveniently halfway between Cleveland, Ohio, and Erie, Pennsylvania, a short drive from each. Take a walk along the historic downtown strip, where you can find fun things to kill an afternoon, like vintage arcades and ice cream parlors, or simply relax on the sandy beaches of Geneva State Park. For sleep, The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake is a pleasant hotel near the lakefront with onsite dining options, too.

Take a trip to the Old Firehouse Winery, which hosts live music and regular wine tastings. Take the chance to bring your clubs to the Geneva-on-the-Lake Golf Course, perfect for a leisurely round of golf in the warmer months of the year.

Ephraim, Wisconsin

Ephraim, Wisconsin
The quaint town of Ephraim, Wisconsin.

The smallest town on this list, with a tiny population of only about 280, Ephraim certainly does not lack in things to see and do. Located on the shores of Door County's Green Bay, Ephraim is an idyllic small town with scenic beauty and an interesting history. Make sure to see the Anderson Dock, a gallery with local artwork and a great spot for stunning sunset views over the lake. To get a taste of the previously mentioned history of Ephraim, the Ephraim Historical Foundation preserves the town's heritage through exhibits and tours year-round.

Walk around the historic district, containing many cool little stores and restaurants. If you're interested in getting out on the water, you can park your sailboat along the bay at either the Ephraim Yacht Club or The Yacht Club at Sister Bay in the nearby town of Sister Bay. The Eagle Harbor Inn provides a cozy place to stay for the night.

Find An Escape Anywhere Around The Great Lakes

In the serene towns dotting the Great Lakes, each weekend retreat you can take part in promises fun, education, and, better yet, relaxation. From the sandy shores of Lake Michigan to the rugged landscapes of Lake Superior, these destinations offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. You may seek adventures outdoors in a vast park or crave cultural immersion in a historic district; these towns have something for every traveler. So, get your bags ready and gas up your car for a journey to discover the hidden gems awaiting along the Great Lakes' expansive shores.

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