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Best Lakes in Michigan: A Comprehensive Guide to Top Destinations

Michigan, known as the Great Lakes State, boasts an incredible variety of picturesque lakes, making it an attractive destination for water enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With options ranging from pristine and tranquil waters to bustling and lively shores, there’s a lake suitable for every taste and preference.

Kayaking the sunset Torch Lake MI
Kayaking the sunset Torch Lake MI

Some of the most popular lakes are found within the Great Lakes region, providing stunning beaches and unique attractions for those who crave excitement. In contrast, the state’s inland lakes, such as Lake Michigamme nestled in the Upper Peninsula or tranquil Bass Lake near Traverse City, offer peaceful retreats for those looking to relax or connect with nature. With over 11,000 lakes scattered throughout the state, there is no shortage of options to choose from when exploring Michigan’s beautiful aquatic landscapes.

Specific Lakes

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes, is known for its beautiful beaches and family activities. With a picturesque shoreline and numerous charming towns connected by the West Michigan Pike, the area offers plenty of opportunities for fun and relaxation. Visitors can enjoy craft beer breweries, wineries, and sandy beaches along the way.

Lake Huron

Pristine turquoise waters and breathtaking shoreline sunrises make Lake Huron a top choice among Michigan’s lakes. The second-largest of the Great Lakes, it features numerous lakeside parks, gorgeous beaches, and historic lighthouses. Lake Huron is also home to 30,000 islands, making it an explorer’s paradise.

Lake Superior

Surrounded by Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan, Lake Superior is the largest and coldest of the Great Lakes. Its rugged shoreline and crystal-clear waters offer exceptional opportunities for kayaking, sailing, and fishing.

Lake Erie

The smallest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is known for its diverse wildlife, including numerous bird species and a vibrant fish population. With plenty of opportunities for boating, fishing, and wildlife watching, it’s a naturalist’s dream.

Torch Lake

Torch Lake, located in Antrim County, is one of Michigan’s clearest inland lakes. With a depth exceeding 285 feet, it is also the state’s deepest. Its popular sandbar and impressive clarity make it a must-see destination.

Houghton Lake

As the largest inland lake in Michigan, Houghton Lake offers a range of recreational opportunities, including boating, fishing, and swimming. Its picturesque shores are dotted with resorts and vacation rentals, making it an ideal destination for families.

Higgins Lake

Higgins Lake, known for its crystal-clear water and sandy beaches, is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. With plenty of opportunities for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports, it’s a great choice for a summer getaway.

Gun Lake

Nestled between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, Gun Lake is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It offers excellent fishing, boating, and swimming opportunities, as well as beautiful hiking and biking trails around its shores.

Silver Lake

Located in Oceana County, Silver Lake is a popular destination for dune buggy enthusiasts. With its sandy shores and clear waters, it offers ample opportunities for water-based activities. In addition, the surrounding area boasts several campgrounds and vacation rentals.

Burt Lake

Burt Lake, situated in Northern Michigan, is an ideal spot for boating, fishing, and other water-based activities. Its serene setting makes it a perfect destination for a relaxing vacation or weekend getaway.

Top Lakes for Recreational Activities

Michigan is home to numerous inland lakes, providing many opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy various recreational activities. In this section, we will explore some of the best lakes in Michigan for activities such as swimming, fishing, kayaking, hiking, and boating.

Swimming and Beaches

Crooked Lake, located just outside of Petoskey, offers a maximum depth of about 20 feet, making it perfect for swimming. With calm and warm waters, visitors can enjoy the beautiful beaches and swimming spots this lake has to offer.

Torch Lake, situated in Antrim County, is known for its crystal-clear water and depth of over 285 feet. It is one of the clearest inland lakes in Michigan, and the popular sandbar is a must-see for visitors.


Lake Michigamme, located 40 miles west of Marquette, is among the state’s largest lakes, covering 4,300 acres. With 16 islands and three beaches, this lake attracts fishing enthusiasts with its abundance of fish species.

Another popular fishing destination is Torch Lake, where a variety of fish species can be caught, and the deep waters create an exciting fishing experience.

Kayaking and Canoeing

Michigan has many options for kayaking and canoeing enthusiasts. The vast 4,300-acre expanse of Lake Michigamme offers a great environment for exploring the lake’s numerous islands and waters.

Torch Lake, known for its clarity, is also an excellent spot for kayaking and canoeing, providing paddlers with beautiful views as they navigate the water.

Hiking and Camping

Michigan’s lakes offer a wide array of hiking and camping opportunities. At Lake Michigamme, visitors can explore the surrounding wilderness and find numerous trails for hiking as well as several campgrounds.

The shoreline areas near Torch Lake also offer beautiful trails and scenic views for hikers to enjoy. Some campgrounds are located nearby, providing a perfect spot for a lakeside camping experience.

Boating and Sailing

For boating and sailing enthusiasts, Michigan’s inland lakes provide ample opportunities. Torch Lake, being the deepest inland lake in Michigan, is a popular destination for boating, offering numerous boat launch sites and marinas.

Lake Michigamme, with its vast size and many islands to explore, is another top spot for boating and sailing, where visitors can rent boats or bring their own to enjoy the water.

Best Lakes for Winter Activities

Michigan boasts numerous picturesque lakes that offer a variety of winter activities. In particular, the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan regions are home to some of the most adventurous and breathtaking lakeside excursions.

In the Upper Peninsula, Lake Michigamme stands out as one of the largest inland lakes, spanning 4,300 acres and offering ample space for ice fishing enthusiasts . Its pristine frozen waters provide the perfect setting for catching fish like walleye and pike. In addition to ice fishing, visitors can explore Lake Michigamme’s three beaches and 16 islands, enjoying the serene winter landscape.

Lake Superior, being one of the Laurentian Great Lakes and referred to as Gichi-gami in the Ojibwe language, carries a wealth of winter activities to satisfy outdoor adventurers . Along the shores of Lake Superior, visitors can enjoy ice fishing, cross-country skiing, or ice climbing on its frozen waterfalls.

In Northern Michigan, Boyne Mountain Resort is a top destination for winter sports . Located near Boyne City, the resort features 60 ski runs, 12 lifts, seven terrain parks, and 415 acres of skiable land. The resort’s proximity to Lake Charlevoix offers the unique opportunity for ice fishing after a day on the slopes.

Many other lakes throughout Michigan’s Great Lakes region provide the perfect setting for winter activities, including ice fishing, ice skating, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. Each lake offers its unique charm and picturesque backdrop that makes a wintertime visit a memorable experience. So whether you’re visiting the Upper Peninsula or exploring Northern Michigan, rest assured that there’s a lake waiting to turn your winter adventure into an unforgettable memory.

History and Shipwrecks

The Great Lakes region, consisting of Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, and Lake Erie, has a rich history and provides numerous fascinating shipwreck sites for visitors and diving enthusiasts alike. The lakes have been a crucial part of transportation and industry for centuries, with thousands of vessels traversing their waters. Unfortunately, many of these ships have met tragic ends and now rest on the lake bottoms.

In Lake Michigan, one of the most famous shipwrecks is the Lady Elgin, which sank on September 8, 1860 after being rammed by the schooner Augusta during a storm. This tragic event resulted in the loss of 300 lives, marking it as the greatest open water disaster on the Great Lakes. The incident led to new regulations requiring all vessels on the Great Lakes to carry running lights (source).

Lake Huron features the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Michigan’s first national marine sanctuary. This underwater preserve contains more than 100 historic shipwrecks in and around Thunder Bay, offering a unique opportunity for divers to explore Michigan’s maritime history (source).

Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world, also has its fair share of shipwrecks. The most famous of which is the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank during a violent storm in November 1975. All 29 crew members perished in the disaster, and the wreck remains a haunting reminder of the treacherous conditions that can occur on the Great Lakes.

In Lake Erie, divers can explore numerous shipwreck sites, thanks to the shallow waters and vast number of vessels that traveled its waters throughout history. Notable wrecks in the area include the SS Indiana and the SS Wenonah, offering eerie glimpses into bygone eras of transportation and industry.

The Great Lakes region is not only rich in history and shipwrecks, but it is also renowned for its breathtaking sunrises and accessible diving locations. Visitors and locals alike can enjoy the natural beauty of the area while exploring the underwater treasures that tell the story of Michigan’s maritime past.