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Why the Great Lakes have the best of both worlds
Posted on 01/11/2018

NatureUnited States of America

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The Great Lakes, shared by the US and Canada, are five of the world's most spectacular bodies of water. Formed around 14,000 years ago, these lakes have been key points of commerce, culture and interest for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. Here's a little more about each lake region to bring out the adventurer in you.

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  • The wolf-shaped lake
    The wolf-shaped lake

    Lake Superior is the largest of the five Great Lakes and is shaped just like the head of a wolf. Like in most of the other lake regions, here you'll find a myriad of intricate rock formations and beaches rivalling the Mediterranean.

    What sets Lake Superior apart is its size and diversity. It touches the edges of three US states and the Canadian province of Ontario, and is considered the lake with the largest surface area in the world. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (shown here) is just one of national parks to be found here, and stretches 42 miles along Superior's coast.

  • Superior subterranean chambers
    Superior subterranean chambers

    Created by erosion and the freezing and thawing of ice, these sea caves can be found on the Apostle Islands off Lake Superior's western shore, or on the nose of the wolf, if you will. Devil's Island, Sand Island and the western edge of the mainland are the best places to see these spectacular creations of nature. The topography changes depending on the season, and when the water is choppy it makes a dramatic view from afar. When the water is calm, however, the caves can be kayaked and experienced up-close.

    For scuba divers, it's also possible to get a glimpse of shipwrecks at Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve, sometimes called "the Graveyard of the Great Lakes".

  • More than just Michigan
    More than just Michigan

    Although the state of Michigan has a lot to offer nature lovers in its own right, Lake Michigan can actually be reached via three different states: Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois.

    Sand dunes are this lake's real draw, with two main parks: Indiana Dunes and Sleeping Bear Dunes. The former offers 50 miles of trails across a variety of terrain including wetlands and coastline. The latter offers climbs of the 450-foot-tall sand dunes, beautiful beaches, and there are even some ghost towns for urban exploration.

    Quad biking is available in both parks, as are a variety of watersports, but it's also nice to just lie down and enjoy the silence. Camping is availble for those who just can't get enough of Lake Michigan's serenity.

  • The windy city
    The windy city

    The Great Lakes calls to mind images of unfettered nature and extreme weather conditions, but there are many cities along the banks of these iconic lakes. Chicago is just one of them. With its world-class theatre scene, foodie culture and Midwestern friendliness, Chicago is a bustling metropolis perched on the shores of Lake Michigan. Surprisingly, it doesn't get its nickname from the incredible wind that whips around the skyscrapers in winter. In the late 1800s, the name was popularized by the Chicago Tribune, describing the hot air that local, corrupt politicians were spouting.

  • Mighty Mac
    Mighty Mac

    Spanning the strait between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan you'll find the Mackinac Bridge. At 5 miles long, it gives the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco a run for its money, and is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It connects Michigan's Upper Peninsula with its Lower, and there's an annual bridge walk every Labor Day.

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Due to the Great Lakes' strategic position, they've been an integral part of North America's growth and development. However, this means they've also been subject to heavy pollution in recent decades. At one point, several rivers around the Great Lakes caught fire due to their high level of waste and chemicals. Since then and with concerted effort on the part of conservationists and activists, the lakes and waterways of the region have started to return to their former glory.

Related Articles:

America's best secret national parks

A photo guide to all that's great about the Great Lakes

The Canadian Great Lake making waves

Canada's incredible ice formations

Canada's national parks go entry-free in 2017