The Great Lakes Circle Tour encompasses four of the five Great Lakes and the south shore of Lake Ontario, extending up the St. Lawrence River. The entire route is approximately 7 000 km (or 4 375 miles for my American friends). This is a road trip that is definitely one for any bucket list and without crazy technical roads or mountains, it is an ideal trip for motorcycles.
I feel that we tend to take the Great Lakes for granted and that is a shame because there is a tremendous variety of things can that be done without travelling vast distances. From wild forests to upscale wineries, everything can be found around the Great Lakes. Check the list below for some of our recommendations when planning your own Great Lakes adventure.
Hiking and Camping
There are so many parks around the Great Lakes that you can easily find a place to camp, especially if you plan in advance (unlike me…ahem). Most require pets to be kept on leash so make sure that you pack a tie-out or some other way to secure them if you do camp. Also, make sure you have documents for your dogs as some places, like New York State, require proof of rabies vaccination. There are many places to stop for a hike, some barely a dirt spot on the side of the road while others are full trail systems. In the winter, the trails get a thick layer of snow, perfect for snowshoeing and skiing. Some trail systems are dedicated to snowmobiling in the winter and all-terrain vehicles (ATV’s) in the summer. Some of the places listed we have visited before but they definitely deserve to be mentioned here as well.
Best Places to Hike and Camp Around the Great Lakes:
These massive sand dunes were just so much fun to walk and Leo was in sand-rolling heaven.
Even though we drove through in cold weather and weren’t able to camp, we were still able to stretch our legs on the many trails as we drove through.
Stunning cliffs with bands of different colours tower over the water of Lake Superior. It is also next to the town of Munising so a delicious coffee was only a short trip away.
The campsites are on one side of the road and the shore of Lake Michigan is on the other but this park get bonus points for safety as a bridge connects the two over the roadway.
A large park with some wide and level trails making it ideal for senior dogs, parents pushing a stroller, little legs, or anyone using mobility devices. A brewery in the park is a nice bonus.
The packed parking lots that we drove by in this park attest to it’s popularity. We found several places on the side of the road that allowed us to safely park the car and walk the rocky beaches of Lake Superior.
There are plenty of areas to camp but we made the most of trails to hike and explore. The blue waters of the river and dramatic walls of the gorge make it a destination all of it’s own.
Talk about blue waters: Lake Huron, and the Bruce Peninsula especially, have waters a shade of blue that rival that of the Caribbean.
One of my most favourite campsites ever was in Lake Superior Provincial Park.
There is no camping in this small park but it is a destination for anyone wanting to watch migrating birds or monarch butterflies. It’s the farthest point south in Canada and has the same latitude as California.
You can camp on the iconic Sleeping Giant and the park is conveniently close to Thunder Bay and the Trans-Canada Highway.
This campground is on Lake Erie and has large sites, some of which are on a lake allowing you to fall asleep to the sounds of loons calling.
Places to Eat
One of the best parts about road trips are finding new places to eat. While good food can be found almost everywhere, there are a few standouts from our trip around the Great Lakes.
I love donuts. I looooooooove donuts. Not only did this spot have some fantastic donuts but the swag was just adorable.
If I love donuts, I go insane for chocolate and these two shops have amazing chocolate products. In fact, The Chocolate Garden has the finest truffles I have ever had and the richest mocha imaginable. Almost any other chocolate product can be found at Vineyard Gourmet Chocolate.
A double decker bus dishes out extraordinary food, including fish tacos made with locally caught whitefish.
Walleye caught from the north channel of Lake Huron and a mass of french fries makes a huge and satisfying meal.
Few things beat sitting on the side of a lake while eating delicious BBQ and sipping local beer. We found all of that here.
Any meal is better when you call it a skillet and a park next door provides a great place to sit and share the meal with some four-legged travelling companions.
When I’m going to be driving long distances, coffee is an essential product. We stopped at lots of cafes and coffeeshops and here are some of the most memorable.
This spot is found at the end of an alley and was one of my favourites for the patio. The cortado was pretty amazing too.
A coffee shop in an outfitters store. A great combo!
Grab a book, a cup of coffee, and even some locally roasted beans at this cafe a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan.
A small drive thru hut on the side of the road whips up a delicious caffeinated beverage and even hands out cookies to dogs. Truly the way to my heart.
I loved the name of the cafe and I was won over by the spiced iced coconut latte.
If you’re a fan of Pilot beans like I am, you’ll find them here. Being a short drive from the Trans-Canada Highway is a bonus for the road trip warrior.
Breweries Around the Great Lakes
The craft brewing industry is exploding, much to the excitement of beer drinkers like myself. Not only is beer delicious but many breweries are dog-friendly so my dogs can join me when we take a break from travelling. Milwaukee may be known for beer but you will find breweries dotting the shores of the Great Lakes. Make sure you check ahead if you’re planning to visit as we found some had the weirdest hours.
Dog-friendly breweries around the Great Lakes that we have visited and recommend:
Green Bush – patio only (Sawyer, Michigan)
Tahquamenon Falls – patio only (Tahquamenon State Park, Michigan)
Voyageur Brewery Company – patio only (Grand Marais, Minnesota)
Windmill Brewery – tasting room (Johnstown, Ontario)
Sleeping Giant Brewing Co. – tasting room (Thunder Bay, Ontario)
St. Francis Brewery – patio only (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Wineries Around the Great Lakes
There are bustling wine areas in Ontario, New York, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Many of the wineries will allow four-legged travellers to visit the patios and walk (leashed) among the vines. Some even welcome dogs into the tasting rooms. Yay!
Dog-Friendly Wineries around the Great Lakes we Have Visited and Recommend:
Three Dog Winery – dogs welcome inside and in the fields (Picton, Ontario)
Contessa Winery – patio only (Coloma, Michigan)
Dog Parks Around the Great Lakes
Happily, we stumbled onto quite a few parks.
Cove Road Dog Run Area (Goderich, Ontario)
Kindog Dog Park (Kincardine, Ontario)
South Dundas Waterfront Dog Park (Morrisburg, Ontario)
Clay French Park (Orillia, Ontario)
Moreau Dog Park (Thornbury, Ontario)
Evans Dog Park (Evans, New York)
War Dog Memorial: dedicated to the animals that served during conflicts (Eastlake, Ohio)
Farm Stands and Orchards
If you visit the Great Lakes region during the summer, there are farm stands everywhere and no shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables to enjoy, not to mention local crafts. We also saw orchards where you can go to pick your own apples, peaches, apricots, and cherries. The places listed below are far from exhaustive, but these are the regions that really stand out for me.
Best places to visit for farm-fresh produce:
I’ll admit that my biggest obsession with Coloma is The Chocolate Garden but it is in the middle of a bustling agricultural area so you can balance out the chocolate with some veggies.
Rochester (New York)
There are so many farms and orchards just outside of Rochester.
This area is renowned in Ontario for being the best place to get fruits and vegetables.
Door County (Wisconsin)
As I drove through Door County I was struck by how similar it felt to the Niagara region.
The Great Lakes are so big that they have a commercial fishing industry. There is a wide variety of fish in the Great Lakes including smallmouth and rock bass, lake trout, Atlantic salmon, yellow perch, whitefish, and musky. Outfitters can be easily hired to take you out on the water or just throw your line out from a pier. When the lakes freeze over, it’s time to break out your gloves and climb into the ice fishing huts that seem to pop up over night.
A fantastic way to see the Great Lakes is from the water. There are boat tours that will take you out on the water or you can rent a canoe or kayak and explore on your own. If fact, I would love to paddle a kayak along the shore of Lake Superior and Pictured Rocks Lakeshore. Larger cities have “booze cruise” tours as well.
It’s only natural that historically people would concentrate along the shores of the Great Lakes for the transportation of goods, commerce, and as a food source. Perhaps it’s just the anthropologist in me, but I like to spend some time in historic areas and see how communities change and adapt. If you drive around the Great Lakes, you’ll be able to find everything from First Nations communities, colonial forts, and centres of industrialization. The larger cities often have guided tours and many smaller towns have self-guided walks. The best part is that you will not have to go far to see all of those attractions in a very short period of time. I have a few listed below that left an impression and some that I would have liked to visit if we had had the time and not been travelling during a heat wave.
Marquette Park: a display dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen and a P-51 Mustang (Chicago, Illinois)
Bay City, Michigan (Saginaw Valley Naval Ship Museum)
Whitefish Point, Michigan (Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is dog-friendly outside the buildings)
Johnson’s Island, Ohio (Johnson’s Island Civil War Prison)
Kingston, Ontario (Fort Henry National Historic Site is dog-friendly)
Toronto, Ontario (Fort York National Historic Site is dog-friendly)
Madeline Island, Wisconsin (Madeline Island Museum)
Ok we didn’t get a chance to explore many of the iconic city attractions but we did pass by many of them. Here is a list of places that we did visit, some we would like to visit if they ever welcome dogs, or if we weren’t baking on the sidewalks:
Buckingham Fountain: the fountain made famous by the opening sequence of “Married with Children” (Chicago, Illinois)
Millenium Park: to see the “bean” (Chicago, Illinois)
Mackinac Island: an island on Lake Michigan that does not allow cars (Michigan)
Tunnel of Trees: this was one of the prettiest sections of roadway that we have had the pleasure of driving (M-119, Michigan)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: it speaks for itself (Cleveland, Ohio)
Boulevard of 500 Flags: we did stop here and it is a good place to be reminded about sacrifice (Eastlake, Ohio)
Cedar Point Amusement Park: roller coaster capital of the United States (Sandusky, Ohio)
Niagara Falls: take a helicopter ride over the falls (Ontario and New York)
Big Nickel: it is literally a giant nickel (Sudbury, Ontario)
Terry Fox Memorial: memorial dedicated to a Canadian icon who set out to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. Unfortunately his “Marathon of Hope” was cut short near the memorial site. (Thunder Bay, Ontario)
Curious about all the places we visited on our Great Lakes vacation? Read about it from the very start here.