People at Marblehead, Ohio lighthouse.

These Towns in the Great Lakes Come Alive in Spring

Appropriately named, North America's Great Lakes are mind-bogglingly beautiful. Responsible for one-fifth of the freshwater supply on the planet, the astounding region comprises five lakes—Erie, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Superior—touching the US states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, as well as the Canadian province of Ontario. The expensive shores are dotted with peaceful towns and even cities, with water views from the shores to the horizon, as if looking out into an inland sea!

Find lush nature preserves in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, or visit Arcadia, Michigan, along one of the state's most beautiful drives, aptly named the Scenic Highway. Marblehead, Ohio, on Lake Erie, and the small Ontario town of Terrace Bay, on Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater body by area, both feature lighthouses. Waking up with nature, from the US to Canada, these tiny waterfront towns magnify the immense surrounding beauty while coming alive in spring for a getaway to savor and remember.

Arcadia, Michigan

Tourist binoculars at Lake Michigan overlook near Arcadia, Michigan
Tourist binoculars at Lake Michigan overlook near Arcadia, Michigan.

This lakeside town, along the shore on the east side of Lake Michigan, is a dreamy springtime getaway. From waterside strolls to lounging at sunset, experience the beauty of Northern Michigan after a short drive up the Scenic Highway to Inspiration Point, the highest elevation platform on this side of Lake Michigan. Featuring a park and a deck with telescopes, visitors can compare the views from Arcadia Sunset Station, downtown. Home to its own Arcadia Lake as well as the pristine Arcadia Beach Natural Area with breathtaking views from the beach, the Arcadia Marsh Boardwalk is a fantastic idea for a hike. Here, nature wakes up in the fresh spring breeze under the first warm sunrays through the stunning forest carpet of wildflowers.

Offering easy access via M-22, one of Michigan's most scenic drives, according to National Geographic Traveler Magazine, this tiny town of under 650 residents magnifies the natural allure of the sweeping shoreline. In the spring, families enjoy the uncrowded sandy shores for strolls and lounging, as well as excellent fishing, boating, and kayaking. It is the perfect time to hound Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course, one of America's best, with unobscured views of the lake. Don't wait for a rainy day to get acculturated at the First Lady of Aviation, Harriet Quimby's house, or on a stroll through the Historic Arcadia Museum.

Copper Harbor, Michigan

The Copper Harbor Light is a lighthouse located in the harbor of Copper Harbor, Michigan
The Copper Harbor Light located in the harbor of Copper Harbor, Michigan. Image credit Dennis MacDonald via Shutterstock

Perched at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, where serenity prevails, this picturesque village is an unmissable northernmost community in the Great Lakes State. Copper Harbor, where adventures begin and end at sunset over Lake Superior, is best to visit in the clear springtime weather, which makes the colors and each sight most vivid here in the world of its own. Copper Harbor is a favorite outdoor escape between Fort Wilkins State Park to the east and Hunter’s Point Township Park to the west, while the lakeside is perfect for lounging after adventures. The copper throughout the area, which is partially composed of some of the world's oldest exposed rock, is akin to the Grand Canyon. From the traffic-free Brockway Mountain Drive to the crowdless Astor House Museum, get an unobscured selfie by the Historic Fort.

This Upper Peninsula postcard-like town is aglow, from the local warmth to the rock tint and sunsets, with access points to the harbor from Brockway Avenue, as well as Third Street Memorial Park and the waterside Sixth Street Boardwalk. Steeped in history and modern culture, there are regular lively events and music performances, as well as Gratiot Street's shops and restaurants with trailheads and a local microbrewery. Don't miss a stroll along the designated walkway for pedestrians and cyclists, Bernard Street, a tranquil route along the greater Hunter’s Point Pathway. Home to under 100 year-round residents, Copper Harbor is the perfect first getaway of the season for refreshing hikes to Haven Falls and Eagle River Falls, with uncrowded and friendly vibes in the local hospitality that fosters a sense of belonging.

Grand Marais, Minnesota

The beautiful waterfront of Grand Marais, Minnesota.
The beautiful waterfront of Grand Marais, Minnesota.

This former fishing village turned into a bohemian paradise is a popular springtime retreat in Minnesota, named "America's Coolest Small Town" by Budget Travel Magazine. Attracting like-minded artists and hippies, but also families, its unique list of memorable attractions includes the North House Folk School, where visitors can experience the art of basket making, canoe building, blacksmithing, and more as a fun, bonding pursuit.

Not far from Ontario, between Lake Superior and the jagged Sawtooth Mountains, Grand Marais could not be more deserving of one of the "Top 10 Beach Getaway" titles, according to Outside Magazine. Home to the famous Angry Trout Cafe, it is a sweet first spot to hit after the drive for its wild shrimp sandwich along the lakefront. Situated on the 57-mile Gunflint Trail, a path between the town proper and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Loon Lake Lodge is a great place to wind down after a day of adventures. With delicious dining on-site, you will feel rested to jet set for marine exploration in the morning for over 1,100 lakes in the area over canoeing adventures.

Marblehead, Ohio

People visiting the Marblehead, Ohio lighthouse
People at Marblehead, Ohio lighthouse. Image credit gg5795 via Shutterstock

Marblehead, the small waterfront community in between Ohio's wetlands and the southern shore of Lake Erie's manicured beaches, starts drawing tourists in the spring. With an uncrowded feel along the waterfront downtown and a lake breeze through the streets, this picturesque town of fewer than 1,000 residents, is a refreshing escape from the city with a number of renowned landmarks. Home to some of the best lighthouses in the US, the Marblehead Lighthouse is a destination for nationwide influencers and shutterbugs to get the most out of the gorgeous white structure.

Built to guide the mariners and the shipment of goods between Cleveland and Toledo to the entrance of Sandusky Bay, the safest harbor, it is a lovely backdrop and gorgeous up close at the tip of the peninsula. Moreover, in the spring, you won't have to battle some of the 25,000 annual tourists to climb up top for unparalleled views of the pristine lake. The alluring town with good vibes offers plenty of places to relax outdoors, perhaps with a wino or beer in hand, like at the Rocky Point Winery, with its fantastic selection and scenery. Don't miss a walk across Lake Point Park while the anglers enjoy serene reeling from one of the shores, or take up the opportunity for a chartered fishing vessel with a cast-away-at-the-sea feel.

Terrace Bay, Ontario

Aguasabon falls in Terrace Bay, Ontario waterfalls and canyon leading to Lake Superior
Aguasabon falls in Terrace Bay, Ontario waterfalls and canyon leading to Lake Superior.

Missable in the blink of an eye, this tiny town with a big heart and a bright lighthouse as its anchor is home to about 1,500 residents. Dead-center on Lake Superior's north shore, Terrace Bay offers minute access to the Aguasabon Falls and Gorge, just northwest of downtown. Featuring impressive wilderness options on every side, springtime is a huge advantage to visit after a rainfall for the cascading spectacle of a lifetime. The picturesque town, with marvelous views of the lake and its own uncrowded Terrace Bay Beach with gentle waves lapping at the shore, is a great jumping-off point to see the nearby Slate Islands Provincial Park and Mortimer Island, of which some theories trace its origins to a fallen meteorite. The most avid can explore this wildlife habitat on foot, home to woodland caribou and arctic-alpine plants, as well as its own Slate Islands Lighthouse.

The thundering 100-foot Aguasabon Falls, just off Route 17 within a billion-year-old gorge that was carved into rocks, is great to explore on a hike with photos from different angles. Don't miss the prime 33-mile stretch of the Casque Isles Hiking Trail, sectioned into five for various levels, longevity, and a number of entry points for different views, including forests, lake overlooks, and acres of unspoiled wilderness.

Winthrop Harbor, Illinois

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

Find this peaceful village along the border with Wisconsin and fall hard for its quintessentially Illinois springtime charm. The most wonderful waterfront location on the western shore of Lake Michigan offers access from downtown to the huge North Point Marina. Comprising over 4,000 acres of preserves like the central Spring Bluff Forest Preserve and the barren North Dunes Nature Preserve with the clearest waters, the sunrises here are spectacular, thanks to the easterly orientation. Don't miss the paved Robert McClory bike path or veer into the rough, expansive wilderness of the preserves.

Make it a whole fun day of adventuring to sight a downy yellow painted cup and trailing juniper in the spring, with fowl overhead like the Henslow's sparrow and common snipe, as well as hawks that frequent the area during migration. The six miles of coastline beckon for strolls with views of the largest marina anywhere on the Great Lakes and its own capability of housing 1,500 vessels. A boat lover's Nirvana, visitors without a vessel are welcome to charter a boat on the lake, including sailing excursions and mega-popular fishing trips, where the salmon practically jump out of the waters to be caught. The spectacular fishing pier extends into the lake for strolls, while trails meander around other fishing ponds in town for hiking with a rod.

Straddling both the United States and Canada, the total footprint of the Great Lakes is nearly 95,000 square miles, which is a larger area than the United Kingdom. The many lakeside towns awaken in the fresh spring breezes from the lake, under the first sunrays, promising uncrowded and rewarding opportunities both on land and water.

As picture-perfect as they get, clear weather and diverse geography foster a beautiful atmosphere for photography, activities, or simply lounging to encompass the views in the prevailing tranquility. Arcadia offers a forest carpet of flowers along its boardwalk, while Copper Harbor is partially composed of some of the world's oldest exposed rock, akin to the Grand Canyon.

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