Family Getaways: Great Lakes Beach Towns

More Great Lakes Escapes

Munising, Michigan

By Deborah R. Huso

I never thought I'd find a place in the United States with water as perfectly aqua blue as the Caribbean. Then I discovered Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, just east of Munising on Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Chapel Beach, my family's pick for water fun, is located near the sandstone formation of Chapel Rock and adjacent to the famous cliffs. Our adventure starts with the easy three-mile hike in from the parking area off Chapel Road. For swimming we can reach by car, we head to Twelvemile Beach.

No trip here would be complete without some kayaking on Lake Superior, gliding within touching distance of 200-foot sandstone walls painted with mineral stripes of copper, blue, and green. Outfitter Northern Waters (northernwaters.com) provides guided trips (if your children weigh less than 75 pounds, call ahead), which let you peer down at sunken shipwrecks.

For a full-day hike, we like the ten-mile Chapel-Mosquito loop, with a picnic lunch overlooking the archway at Grand Portal Point. The Au Sable Light Station is a favorite, too. Hike along the beach trail to see old shipwrecks washed onto the sand. Visitor information: munising.org. Rental cottages: homeaway.com and vrbo.com. National Lakeshore campgrounds: nps.gov/piro

Traverse City, Michigan

By Tammy Stables Battaglia

Our sons -- Jimmy, age 11, and Zach, 14 -- always look forward to a trip up north to Traverse City, at the pinky tip of Michigan's mitt. The reason: nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The boys love running along the wooden walkways to the jaw-dropping 450-foot bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan. At the nearby Dune Climb, we all hike up, then slide, roll, and tumble back down in the soft sand.

Along with shops, wineries, and restaurants, beaches are the draw at Traverse City. Busy Clinch Park Beach is right downtown; the spectacular shore of Leelanau State Park is a terrific place for wading, swimming, and hunting for Petoskey Stones, fossilized coral with starlike designs.

To get out on the water, the boys "crew" on the 47-foot Nauti-Cat catamaran (nauti-cat.com). When the kids were small and we all fit in one canoe, we'd take floats down the Platte River to the sandy shore of Lake Michigan. Now a tube is their transportation of choice.

Lodging in Traverse City runs from high-end resorts like the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (grandtraverseresort.com) to mom-and-pop motels and campgrounds, to rental cottages. Visitor information: traversecity.com and michigan.org. National Lakeshore: nps.gov/slbe

Madeline Island, Wisconsin

By Laura Billings Coleman

Many of Lake Superior's beaches aren't just cool -- they're downright cold. That's why my family loves Madeline Island, a 25-minute ferry ride from Bayfield, Wisconsin. Here, the 22-island Apostle chain provides protected conditions for playing in the waves and paddling kayaks. In the evening, we can pedal bikes to the historic village of La Pointe for pizza and ice cream.

There's not much else to do on Madeline Island, but that's part of its charm. For our three sons -- ages 7, 9, and 11 -- the 35 square miles equal one big playground, great for nature walks through wetlands and boreal forests, treasure hunts at Chequamegon Bay, and stargazing and s'more-making at the island's two campgrounds. On rainy days we go back in time at the Madeline Island Historical Museum or visit the old school turned public library for a good book (like Louise Erdrich's The Birchbark House, the story of a young Ojibwa girl growing up here in the 1800s). Just beware that you may end up on island time. "I can never remember what day it is here," my 11-year-old mused during our last visit, a sure sign of a successful family getaway. Visitor information and lodging options: madelineisland.com. Ferry details: madferry.com

Originally published in the June/July 2013 issue of FamilyFun

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