Mackinac Island view from Fort Mackinac in Michigan.

The Best Small Towns in the Great Lakes Region To Chill Out

The Great Lakes region is a beautiful area that includes the Canadian province of Ontario and eight states in the US: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The Great Lakes is one of the largest freshwater ecosystems in the world, spanning more than 750 miles. The area’s diversity offers stunning views of nature, outdoor adventures, and the perfect small towns to chill out and relax. These picturesque towns provide historical landmarks for history buffs, serene walks through forests and meadows for nature lovers, and sandy beaches for all to enjoy. Whether you want to shop at boutique stores in a historic district, eat the catch-of-the-day at local restaurants, or enjoy annual festivals, these towns are the best places in the Great Lakes region to rejuvenate and unwind.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Homes along the water and the church in Mackinac Island
Homes along the waterfront on Mackinac Island.

If you are looking for a serene place to get away from traffic, Mackinac Island is a great place to visit. The picturesque town sits in northern Michigan on an island of the same name in Lake Huron. Since the town does not allow motorized vehicles, it is the perfect place to chill out. The stunning island also offers outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts. The town is home to Mackinac Island State Park, Michigan's first state park, with 70 miles of hiking and walking trails through lush forests, scenic lakeshores, and beautiful meadows. Along with its natural beauty, the town provides several historical landmarks for history buffs to explore, including Fort Mackinac. The fort was occupied by British troops during the War of 1812. Today, visitors can take a stroll through the quaint downtown area and shop at boutique stores, and eat at locally-owned restaurants.

Grand Marais, Minnesota

US Coast Guard Station of North Superior at Grand Marais, Minnesota on Lake Superior.
Harbor at Grand Marais, Minnesota, on Lake Superior.

Grand Marais is a beautiful town located in northeastern Minnesota. Nestled between the Sawtooth Mountains and Lake Superior, Grand Marais is the oldest art community in the state. You can discover traditional crafts at the North House Folk School, explore hidden treasures at local shops, and even take an art class at the renowned Grand Marais Art Colony. While the area boasts a thriving art scene, the town is also home to stunning beaches, parks, and nature trails. The nearby Fall River offers beautiful views of the Fall River Waterfall. Outdoor thrillseekers also enjoy the many hiking and mountain biking trails in the charming town. A great place to walk, hike, and see the stunning views of Lake Superior is the Grand Marais Breakwater Trail. While you are there, be sure to check out the Grand Marais Lighthouse.

Port Clinton, Ohio

Perry Beach Port Clinton Ohio Summer Fun
Perry Beach Port Clinton, Ohio.

The charming town of Port Clinton, Ohio, is a great destination to explore local wildlife, enjoy scenic views of nature, and even windsurf in Lake Erie. The town’s Waterworks Park provides outdoor enthusiasts with a chance to fish in Derby Pond or along the Great Lakes pier, chill out on the sandy beaches of Lake Erie, and take a tour of the historic Port Clinton Lighthouse. The lighthouse also hosts several annual events, including the Walleye Festival during Memorial Day weekend and the Lighthouse Festival in the summer. For people looking for a unique experience, you can get in touch with your wild side at the town’s drive-thru African Safari Wildlife Park. You can feed giraffes, zebras, alpacas, and more animals from your car! If you are looking to rest and unwind, the charming downtown offers cafes, art galleries, and local stores in a beautiful setting.

Two Rivers, Wisconsin

East River view in Two Rivers Town of Wisconsin
Two Rivers town of Wisconsin.

The town of Two Rivers sits at the confluence of the East Twin River and West Twin River. These rivers flow into Lake Michigan, offering scenic views of nature, several sandy beaches to enjoy, and parks to explore. Among the parks, Neshotah Park is a popular destination for tourists due to its beautiful sandy beach, large playground, and inviting picnic areas. Nature enthusiasts also enjoy a visit to Woodlands Dunes Nature Center and Preserve. The 1,500-acre preserve is a great place to hike, kayak, take a serene walk in nature, and relax in the beautiful butterfly garden. However, a trip to Two Rivers would not be complete without a tasty treat because the town is the birthplace of the ice cream sundae in 1881! You can enjoy a sundae and the history of the town at the Washington House Museum and Visitors Center.

St. Joseph, Michigan

Aerial view of St. Joseph, Michigan with views of downtown, the state park, the St. Joseph Lighthouse, and St. Joseph River
St. Joseph, Michigan, with views of downtown.

Located in southwestern Michigan along the banks of Lake Michigan, St. Joseph is a unique blend of small-town charm and natural beauty. The town has seven pristine beaches, including the 1,952-acre Warren Dunes State Park, where visitors can swim, sunbathe, and explore the dunes. Grand Mere State Park is another popular site for people to chill during both the summer and winter. The Grand Mere Nature Area offers sand dunes, beach woods, and trails for visitors to hike in the summer and cross-country ski during the winter. St. Joseph is also home to the St. Joseph River, which flows through the heart of the town. Visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the riverwalk, kayak in the river, or even take a boat tour of the town. The quaint downtown provides a great place for visitors to chill and shop, dine, or explore historic buildings from the 1800s.

Grand Portage, Minnesota

High Falls of Pigeon River at Grand Portage State Park
Pigeon River at Grand Portage State Park.

Grand Portage is a small town situated on the shore of Lake Superior, surrounded by beautiful forests and waterways. The town is home to several parks and natural areas, such as Grand Portage State Park, home to a 120-foot waterfall, and the Spirit Tree, which is over 300 years old. The park also offers easy hiking trails for those looking to relax in nature and extremely rugged trails for outdoor thrillseekers. The paved trail to the waterfalls also offers scenic views of the Pigeon River, the international border between the United States and Canada. The town is also rich in history and cultural heritage. The Grand Portage National Monument shares the history of the indigenous people from the area and the legacy of the fur trade era. In the summer, visitors can hike along 8.5 miles of trails in the monument or snowshoe in the winter.

Huron, Ohio

A lighthouse and jetty on Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio
Lighthouse on Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio.

Huron is a charming town located along the southern shore of Lake Erie. The town is known for its beautiful parks, rivers, and beaches, including Nickel Plate Beach. This popular beachfront is perfect for swimming, fishing, and sunbathing. While you are there, be sure to grab a bite to eat nearby at the Sand Bar, a local restaurant that provides delicious fish and homemade pizzas.

A trip to this charming town also must include a stop at the historic Huron Lighthouse. Located along a one-mile pier, visitors can explore the lighthouse, fish, and birdwatch on the pier. Another great place to birdwatch and take in nature is Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve. Nature lovers can hike along two trails in the 472-acre preserve, which attracts more than 300 species of birds annually.

From exploring historic lighthouses to viewing breathtaking waterfalls and enjoying a day on the beach, the Great Lakes region has something to offer everyone. The area is home to exciting annual festivals, natural beauty, and trails that are fun to explore in any season. Whether you want to chill in a charming downtown district, shop at boutique stores, or take a tranquil nature walk, these small towns are the perfect place to chill out.

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