Great Lakes Choices

Well, I am thinking about a trip to the Great Lakes. Some of the coastline I have seen sure looks spectacular. I’ve been thinking for many years of trips to the Apostle Islands, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and somewhere near the north shore of Lake Superior. Just now though, on TV, I saw something about the Bruce Peninsula and more generally, Georgian Bay and am thinking that might be the most spectacular of all. My idea trip would be either a couple day trips from a fixed campsite, or a 4-5 day trip with different campsites each night that would be an out and back. I seem to keep seeing the same pictures of Pictured Rocks making me think that this I could take it in in a full day or at most two. What I’m wondering now though is how redundant the Apostle Islands, North Shore, and Georgian Bay would be in terms of magnificent geology. From the pictures I’ve seen, I’m wondering if I should just plop down on Bruce Peninsula for 5 days or so and do various trips around there. Well, for those who have been to more than one of these places, I generally am just interested in hearing your comparitive opinions. To which sites would you most like to return? For paddling, like most, I would prefer to avoid long monotonous shorelines. I like huge rock formations, indented shorelines, and crystal clear water is also pretty cool. I am guessing that Georgian Bay and the Apostle Islands might be less likely to have weather that would keep me on shore. Well, thanks for any input. I’d like to visit them all but realistlcally would only have time to drive to and kayak a couple.

So may chocies in the GL
I’ve done trips in most of the places you mentioned. Pictured Rocks and Apostle Islands have similar spectacular formations. The former is a long coastal paddle while the latter is mostly island hopping. I would allow extra time for getting windbound at either. The Apostles have the highest density of bears in the country, so be prepared for that.

We did the Mink and McCoy Islands (Georgian Bay) last year and enjoyed that. The Bruce Peninsula has more cliffs, etc. and is a scenic coastal paddle, but we were looking for the self-support, open water experience. There are about 30,000 islands in GB, so possibilities are endless there, much less on the entire GL. I’ve been paddling all five for years and have yet to scratch the surface of possibilities.

I strongly recommend thoroughly researching any location and prepping yourself with training, practice and gear to deal with adverse conditions. In many places, the water is cold (even in summer) and the waters can become quite violent on short notice (shipwrecks are in ample supply for viewing in the clear waters). Rough shoals and clapotis are encountered in may places. In Bayfields, WI (jumpoff point for the Apostles), about every other t-shirt says “The lake is the Boss.” They’re not kidding.

All great choices, but…
don’t forget Sleeping Bear Dunes in Lake Michigan. The dunescapes are incredible, and with the Manitou Islands there are a bunch of trips available.

I can only comment on Georgian Bay

– Last Updated: Mar-29-12 7:37 AM EST –

and the NE side of Superior from Thunder Bay to the Soo.

Neither are similar. The NE shore has waterfalls that enter the lake directly and a rugged topography. Its got cliffs and pocket beaches. It is possible to do out and back from Hattie Cove to somewhere and back in four or five days .

Georgian Bay from Klllarney to the Massassauga has a much lower profile. It has a lot of power boat traffic. The Pukaskwa coast (above) has none.

Its possible to base camp in Georgian Bay and do various trips such as in the French River Delta.

You can also go to Rossport outside of Thunder Bay or Silver Islet and paddle at the base of some islands and peninsulas with thousand foot high cliffs..such as Sleeping Giant.

Google Puskaskwa National Park. I would not day trip there..things come up suddenly and you might not make it back to camp. Best to always have your gear with you.

Also Google Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Prince Edward Island (Georgian Bay) and French River Provincial Park. I have been to Pictured Rocks and it was ok but crowded and it really isn't big nor especially spectacular to me compared to the other shore of Superior.

do the Bruce
More options on the Bruce peninsula for staying protected should weather be adverse but still great scenery.

The Le Chenoix islands with Drummond at the end makes for really enjoyable day trips from a base camp or start in Hessel and paddle out and around Drummond for a sweet 4 to 5 day adventure.

Also consider
The Beaver Island archipelago. Beaver Island itself is interesting, both scenery wise and historically. We stayed at Garden Island on a protected cove and did day trips from there. There is a native American cemetery on Garden Island that is very interesting and worth seeing. You get to Beaver Island and back via ferry (32 miles).

timing is everything
The scale of the pictured rocks is pretty impressive no matter how much of the GL coastline one has seen, and the colors are remarkable up close. There’s only one way to get that view. Just west of pictured rocks, the rock type changes suddenly and significantly.

If you go in spring or fall the crowds are down. It all depends on what you’re looking for, whether you want a completely isolated experience or to take in the natural beauty.

my $0.02
You can’t see all of the great lakes in once place. All of the places you name are unique. Kayamedic does a good job of describing the variety of the north shore.

Having said all that, Pictured Rocks has a convenient location, and the scale and color is unmatched IMO. And there are numerous campsites that cater to paddlers. You could paddle the rocks in two days, and/or paddle Grand Island for a one-day side trip. If you’re looking for remote wilderness, though, it’s not found as often at the Rocks.

Sleeping Bear Dunes is great for the same reasons. Close to a large town, great scenery and huge dunes. Sandy beaches so landings are manageable in rough water.

To me the apostles have great potential for sudden changing conditions. I’ve seen the coast but only want to go back when I can tour the outer islands. Caves are much more numerous than at Pictured Rocks.

The Georgian Bay has it’s own identity and appearance and I’ve always wanted to paddle there. But I really think the east end of Superior is underutilized. Gorgeous, again the dramatic scale, a place you can easily get away, and more variety, than say, Isle Royale.

Of course if remoteness is part of the package, the north shore of Superior would probably be the best bet.

Georgian Bay
Has more sheltered water due to all of the islands and is a beautiful place to paddle and camp.

I’ve done a trip from Hartley’s Bay on the French river, down the river to Georgian Bay and camped on islands for 4 days and then back again. I’d love to do it again.

best known "secret"
Is north shore of superior, some of the most remote coast with the best wildlife and beautiful scenery.

Pukaskwa NP, or Silver Islet to rossport trip are the two best.

All Good Choices If…
I have paddled all of these areas. Lake Superior IS the boss. A teenager drowned at Apostle Islands last year just crossing from shore to Sand Island. These are beautiful areas but you must be prepared.

Pictured Rocks is very cool but there are few places to land once you commit to the cliffs. The campsites require pre-registration and the DNR is a bit picking about it. My wife and I paddled the 18 miles (out and back) covering Miner’s Castle to the falls in one afternoon.

Apostle Islands has a lot of open water crossings (3-4 miles typical) and the weather can change quickly. When we were there a group of Boy Scouts (about 15) all capsized and had to be rescued. If you don’t respect The Lady, she will make you pay. Make sure you understand camp bearproofing there. Bears are everywhere there.

Lake Superior Provincial Park is very nice also. Very remote, with good backcounrty camping. Again, Lake Superior must be respected. This ares is mostly exposed to The Lady, with waves building from the west. When we went, we paddled to The Devil’s Chair (an island) and made a tobacco sacrifice. This is supposed to ensure flat water. It did - we had beautiful weather.

Enjoy the Great Lakes but be prepared.

Wind - West to East
Things to think about - “fetch”

How long and far will wind blow over water before it

touches the spots you want to paddle ?

Is there some protection, islands, peninsula, bays

you can duck into if the weather changes, and it will !

Alpena, and Thunder Bay often get overlooked.

Lots of choices
Others have offered good advice so far, the upshot being that each place you mention has a unique character all its own. I’ve paddled in most of the places mentioned.

Briefly, I’d suggest the Apostles as good trip destination with beautiful scenery but also more opportunities for safe weather shelter if needed; with so many islands, one can duck out of bad weather more easily than most other places on Lake Superior. Still plenty of potential for dangerous conditions, but also a bit more protected. A great place to get your feet wet in big-water conditions.

The Pictured Rocks are not the tallest cliffs on the Lake, but perhaps the most colorful and spectacular, and they rise right up from the water, allowing an intimate view.

Photos here:

Trip report here:

Video here:

The Thunder Bay/Sleeping Giant/Rossport area is equally beautiful:

Good luck!


Thanks for all the helpful input
Well, I’m now thinking that I’d like to do two trips. One which would involve the Apostle Islands (maybe 4 days) and Pictured Rocks (maybe 2 days), and another involving Pukawska Natl Park (~5 days) and the Bruce with 3-4 paddling days maybe around Five Fathom Park and a couple hiking around days.

Now I’m wondering about logistics. Does anyone have any suggestions regarding multi-day rentals of reasonably good quality sit-inside touring boats? I would assume this must be available at the Apostles since its such a kayaking mecca. I would have a rental car so can’t do any long-distance car topping and would prefer not to cartop at all but could use some foam pads for short trips from a shop to the ramp or campground.

Only been to PR 1 & Apostles 4 times
have not made the others YET!

Obviously I prefer the Apostles of the two. We refer to the “Call of the Caves” the sound as the water plops, gurgles, echoes, and booms is unforgettable. When the waves are just right certain caves are surround sound as soon as you paddle into them. And the experience will change as the wind and sunlight vary.

As said on any of the big water conditions can get interesting quickly. Having a few friends who know how to do rescues is a big comfort and a wise choice.



For kayak rentals you might want to
contact Living Adventures in Bayfield or Trek and Trail also in Bayfield.

I like Lands End for Tobermory paddling

Northern Waters
At Pictured Rocks:

Another Rental Option
Down Wind Sports in Marquette, MI is a good option for the Pictured Rocks area.

scuse me if I missed it
Pardon me if missed this info in previous posts of yours, I haven’t been around in a while and I don’t mean to offend. Can you be more specific about your “advanced” skills? Are they cold water skills? Will you be going alone as it sounds? What month? Will you be bringing your own drysuit from Georgia to Lake Superior? It should be considered mandatory, not optional. Although some of the places you are interested in can be quite calm for days or weeks in mid-summer, they can also turn deadly in minutes especially if you aren’t prepared for the kind of cold that Superior can be.