Want a beach vacation that offers world class diving, secluded beaches, and unlimited water sports? This may sound like it is somewhere in the Caribbean, but a summer in Northern Michigan offers just that! Michigan is blessed with four of the five Great Lakes, all of which create a water lover's playground for adventurers.
Water Sports in Northern Michigan
You don't have to leave the mainland to enjoy a Caribbean vacation. These water adventures will help you make the most of your summer in Northern Michigan. So grab a margarita, put an umbrella on the cup, sit back, and enjoy these surprisingly Caribbean water adventures that you can do in the UP.
If you want to feel like you are going to the Caribbean, an island escape is a great way to set the mood. Beaver Island is the largest island in Lake Michigan and has water sports, sunset dining, and deserted beaches. Our trip to Beaver Island took us on an archipelago adventure with Mike Weede of Paradise Bay Charters, where we went scuba diving to explore some old shipwrecks.
The Great Lakes are a mecca for wreck diving because countless ships litter the lake beds. Visibility has increased over the years due to zebra mussels clinging to ships coming from Europe's Caspian Sea. Ships that used to lie in a murky fog now sit in crystal clear waters with up to 100 feet of visibility.
After a day on the water, head over to Beaver Island Lodge for a sunset dinner offering an innovative menu designed by Chef James Mason. This local favourite offers wine pairings and inventive cocktails with their menu du jour.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Stand up paddle Boarding, also known as SUP, is a sport that can be done anywhere in the world. Once you get the hang of it and find your balance on the board, it's a great workout and an excellent way to explore shorelines.
In Alpena, we met our guide for a shipwreck paddle from Waterworks Park. Several shipwrecks are located just off shore from Alpena, and paddles can range from just a half a mile out to longer full day trips of 5 miles.
When the sun is shining and the water's calm, you feel as if you've been transported to a Caribbean Island while searching for old pirate ships. It's an amazing feeling to paddle over the ships laying in the water below.
You can book paddle boarding tours at Performance Locker.
The shipwrecks of Michigan can be explored by snorkeling as well. If you love swimming, don a mask and fins and get in the water for a dip. Many of the ships lie in 10-20 feet of water, so you can dive down and get a close up view of a bygone era. It's best to hire a guide who knows the water and where the shipwrecks are. Snorkelling is a lot of fun, but swimming out offshore can be tiring, so take precautions.
We mixed our snorkel trip with the paddle board and had a place to relax after paddling out to the wrecks. You can rent wetsuits, paddle boards, and snorkeling gear from local dive shops and hire a guide. In Alpena, we went with the Performance Locker located in Mich-e-ke-wis Park.
If you want to visit something unique, Petoskey has an underwater shrine in Little Traverse Bay. The shrine is built to remember divers who have lost their lives and each winter there is an event where people can peer through the ice to see the 11 foot monument.
Glass Bottom Boat Tours
If getting in the water isn't your cup of tea, you can take glass bottom boat tours just like they offer in the Caribbean. Alpena Shipwreck Tours offers tours from May through October and visits several of the 116 shipwrecks in the area. The waters off the coast of Alpena are some of the most treacherous in the Great Lakes, and they caused many a ship to go down.
Alpena was declared a National Marine Sanctuary and has attracted divers from around the world including Jacques Cousteau's son Jean-Michel Cousteau as well as Titanic discoverer Robert Ballard.
Sea kayaking doesn't only have to happen in salt water. One of our favourite things to do on the Great Lakes is to go sea kayaking. You can go anywhere along the endless coast. There are shipwrecks to explore, islands to circumnavigate, and inlets to enter. Something we loved about sea kayaking on Beaver Island was that you could also kayak on an inland lake. When the weather is bad, you can still go out!
Note: kayaking the Great Lakes can be dangerous, as weather can turn quickly. Make sure to check the weather, and that you should be confident that you have enough skill to go out alone. Don't go too far from shore and if you are unsure, hire a guide.
Kayaking on Beaver Island can be booked through Happy Paddle.
For a true Caribbean feel, get out on a sailboat and take in the beautiful Michigan sunsets. From the picturesque town of Charlevoix on Lake Michigan to the maritime mecca of Alpena on Lake Huron and everywhere in between, you can join a sailing charter or sunset tour to see it all and get a taste of what sailing the Great Lakes is like. You can even help out the crew if you want to try your hand at pulling ropes and tying knots.
When we travel to the Caribbean we love doing water adventures. Not everyone can always get away for a week in the South, though, so instead try an adventure closer to home and put Northern Michigan at the top of your summer adventure list.