When three of the largest freshwater lakes in the world border your shores, you naturally have an affinity to the water. For centuries, Native American birch canoes, sailing sloops, giant freighters and cruise ships have plied our waters. They have carried furs and massive logs, Christmas trees, copper and iron ore from here to distant shores to help build America. They have transported passengers who came to visit or stay to work the land, in the mines, factories, shops, schools and businesses. These maritime vessels brought goods, food, livestock, seeds and vehicles to our harbors. And, at times, they carried soldiers and sailors who fought to claim our land for their foreign countries.
Our maritime stories are intertwined in who we are and who we will continue to become in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. You can become part of that story, too, when you explore:
- The Historic Sign Walking Tour in St. Ignace, which captures many of the maritime highlights of Michigan's second-oldest city. Learn about the impact of commercial fishing dating back to the late 1800s that is still active today. Find out about the watery graveyard of the Straits of Mackinac, where numerous ships lie in the State Bottomland Preserve. This area between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas protects shipwrecks and items lost from passing ships as a historical resource and popular attraction for recreational divers. Also see the historic Mackinaw Boat Edith Jane, one of many Mackinaw Boats built in the area to transport passengers and goods, service commercial fisheries and carry mail and written messages from shore to passing ships. As you walk from sign to sign, learn much more about how Lake Michigan and Lake Huron shaped this area’s history.
- Les Cheneaux Maritime Museum is in Cedarville’s O.M. Reif Boathouse (circa 1920s). It features displays of vintage boats, marine artifacts, antique outboard motors, historic photos of area boating, a boat building workshop and a gift shop. An Antique and Wooden Boat Show is held annually to showcase these classic Great Lakes vessels.
- DeTour Passage Historical Museum & Maritime Park features exhibits of early marine operations and equipment as well as stories of what it was like to live here in DeTour Village during its early years. This is also a great site to watch present-day Great Lakes and international freighters pass by.
- The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie is an engineering wonder and tribute to human ingenuity. Thanks to these locks, freighters over 1,000 feet in length can navigate from Duluth, Minnesota through the St. Marys River and onward into the Atlantic Ocean and beyond. Nearly 7,000 vessels pass through the Locks annually hauling nearly 86 million tons of cargo. You can watch these locks in action from an observation deck, the Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours or Original Soo Locks Boat Tours.
- Museum Ship Valley Camp is located in Sault Ste. Marie. This retired ship logged more than 3 million miles over its 49 years of service. Now it is filled with hundreds of artifacts, paintings, shipwreck items and displays related to maritime history.
- The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point presents world-class exhibits that tell the story of the haunting world of Lake Superior shipwrecks, including the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. In addition to the museum, you will see Whitefish Point Light Station and several other historic maritime buildings.
- Freighter Watch Sites at the Straits State Park in St. Ignace, Point Iroquois Lighthouse in Brimley and South Harbor in Marquette let you see maritime history in the making. Look from shore at U.S. and international freighters out on the water, or watch a handful of Great Lakes freighters stop by the ore docks in Marquette each shipping season. Located near Presque Isle Park, these massive ships load 9 million tons of taconite pellets each year.
- Grand Marais Maritime Museum and Light Keeper’s House Museum in Grand Marais captures the stories associated with the U.S. Lighthouse Service, the U.S. Life Saving Service and the U.S. Coast Guard. These maritime tales of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore date back to 1874 and teach you about the present, too.
- Glass Bottom Boat Shipwreck Tours in Munising (circa 1992) is the first tour of its kind in America. It introduces you to Lake Superior’s underwater museum. During the two-hour tour you will pass over two shipwrecks, the "Bermuda" and "Herman H. Hettler," as well as around the southern shores of the historical Grand Island.
- Marquette Maritime Museum and Lighthouse includes displays of Great Lakes maritime history plus the history of U.S. submarines fighting during World War II in the Philippines.
- Eagle Harbor Light Station, Maritime and Commercial Fishing Museums on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Learn how the stories of copper mining, commercial fishing and shipping shaped the lives of people during the boom years of this beautiful peninsula.
- Carl D. Bradley Lakeview Memorial Park in Manistique preserves the memories of the sailors who lost their lives in 1958 when this self-unloading Great Lakes freighter split in two during a violent Lake Michigan storm.
These are some of the key sites to visit that honor the U.P.’s maritime past, but each Great Lake sunrise and sunset is a call to share these stories for generations to come.