Great Lakes RV Trip Recommendations with Happy Trails Family

If you are looking for an awesome route for your RV trip this summer, look no further! Our journey through the Great Lakes region took us through all five of… The post Great Lakes RV Trip Recommendations with Happy Trails Family appeared first on RVshare.

Great Lakes RV Trip Recommendations with Happy Trails Family
northern most point in great lakes region, family picture

If you are looking for an awesome route for your RV trip this summer, look no further! Our journey through the Great Lakes region took us through all five of the Great Lakes and seven states. Here are our highlights from each destination.

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New York

Our first stop in the Great Lakes area was upstate New York. While New York City is famous for its bustling city life, upstate New York offers the opposite experience with incredible landscapes filled with rolling hills and even caves! Our family’s first ever cave tour together was here. During our road trip, we were treated to glimpses of the stunning shoreline of Lake Ontario, adding to the scenic beauty of our journey.

Where to Stay

Four Mile Creek State Park is only 20 minutes from Niagara Falls and offers an incredible view of Lake Ontario. You can even see Toronto across the lake! For those of you who want to save some money check out Sugar Hill Fire Tower in Schuyler, NY it’s a beautiful free boondocking site where you can climb the fire tower and watch the sunrise. You can stay for free for up to 14 days! 

What to Do

  • Niagara Falls State Park: Visiting Niagara Falls is an unforgettable experience. It is the oldest state park in the U.S. with numerous walking trails, picnic areas, and viewpoints. From the roar of the falls to the misty air, it’s a sight to behold and not to miss. We went on the Maid of the Mist boat tour for a thrilling adventure to see the waterfall up close and get soaked.
Rainbow and maid of the mist ferry at Niagara Falls  in the great lakes
Rainbow and maid of the mist ferry at Niagara Falls
  • Watkins Glen State Park: This park boasts stunning natural beauty, with its famous gorge trail featuring 19 waterfalls and breathtaking rock formations. Kids will love exploring the winding paths, crossing stone bridges, and marveling at the cascading waterfalls along the way.
  • Howe Caverns: we had fun exploring our families first ever cave! At this awesome underground adventure you can cruise along the River Styx, marvel at stunning limestone formations, and explore the cave’s geological wonders.

Ohio

Visiting Ohio to see the picturesque shores of Lake Erie offers a fantastic blend of natural beauty and family-friendly activities, making it an ideal destination for a memorable Great Lakes adventure.

Where to stay

If you are a Thousand Trails member they have a great spot in Kenise Lake that offers plenty of fishing, hiking trails, and family activities! It’s located about an hour from Cuyahoga National Park! 

What to Do

  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park: Initially unimpressed by this National Park, we soon discovered its hidden charm. The Ledges Hiking Trail is a rather easy hike, filled with climbing, sliding, and exploring giant crevasses, it quickly became a favorite of our trip. The park, different from other national parks, offers unique landscapes and a more intimate experience with nature. Be sure to plan your hike to end at sunset for a truly breathtaking experience.
  • Brandywine Falls: This is the perfect destination for any outdoor enthusiasts seeking both stunning waterfalls and a scenic hike! We had fun doing school here at their beautiful picnic area and then ended our day with a fun hike to the falls. 
  • Imagination Station in Toledo: If you have younger kids, we definitely recommend Imagination Station in Toledo, Ohio. We met up with some friends there, and had an absolute blast exploring all of the science exhibits and optical illusion displays. 

Michigan

Michigan was one of our favorite states on this trip! With its diverse landscapes, rich history, and abundance of outdoor activities, it’s easy to see why.

Lower Peninsula Highlights:

  • Henry Ford Museum: A full day’s worth of exploring the development of planes, trains, and automobiles, including the actual bus that Rosa Parks rode on, which helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: An unforgettable experience, featuring towering sand dunes, stunning views of Lake Michigan, and a variety of outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, and wildlife watching. This was our favorite spot in Michigan and we spent a few days here exploring! 
  • Mackinaw City: We had fun exploring this small but charming little town with pretty views. The boys found their way through their first 3D mirror Maze, got to check out some cool shops, and had fun playing on the beach near Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. 
Boys looking out at Lake Superior sitting on a dune  part of great lakes rv trip
Boys looking out at Lake Superior sitting on a dune

Upper Peninsula Highlights:

  • Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: This place is beautiful! With dramatic cliffs, colorful sandstone formations, and opportunities for hiking, kayaking, and exploring the stunning shoreline of Lake Superior it’s a must visit. 
  • Search for Yooperlites: Be sure to bring a UV flashlight to hunt for Yooperlites, the unique rocks that glow under UV light! While we didn’t find any on our late-night hunts along the shores of Lake Superior, the experience was thrilling. Lake Superior is the only place in the world where these glowing rocks can be found, making the adventure well worth the effort.
  • Glass Bottom Boat Tour: Journey through time and beneath the waves on a glass-bottom shipwreck tour at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was a truly awesome experience! We had such a great time and got to see two shipwrecks beneath Lake Superior!

Wisconsin

Embark on an adventurous journey through Wisconsin as part of your Great Lakes expedition. Explore stunning parks, experience the thrill of kayaking on Lake Michigan, and enjoy exciting tours to discover the area’s hidden gems.

Where to eat

We don’t eat out at restaurants often since living on the road fulltime in an RV requires a lot of budgeting, however when we heard of this place we had to visit. Buffalo Phil’s in Wisconsin Dells, Wl is such a cool place. They offer delicious food and everything gets delivered by train which is so fun! Plus you get to sit next to an awesome Lego city display! They also have an extensive Star Wars Lego section!

What to Do

  • Cave Point County Park in Sturgeon Bay: We used our Tucktec Kayaks to adventure through the waters of Lake Michigan. No matter how many times we told the boys that this was a lake and not an ocean, they were convinced there were sharks! This was mostly due to the sheer size of the lake and the sometimes large waves, making it look and feel like an ocean. If you’re feeling adventurous, look for a perfect spot to cliff jump while you’re there.
  • Original Wisconsin Duck Boats: A fun land-to-water tour that takes you through scenic landscapes, splashes into the Wisconsin River, and provides a unique and exciting way to explore the area.
  • Discovery World in Milwaukee: We rode our bikes right along Lake Michigan from a nearby park to get here and spent the afternoon exploring interactive exhibits and aquariums. This museum is part of the ASTC passport program so be sure to mention this so you can get into the museum free!
Duck Boat Tour in Wisconsin Dells
Duck Boat Tour in Wisconsin Dells

Minnesota

Minnesota offers a mix of nature and fun attractions. From the rugged shores of Lake Superior to the tranquil waters of Voyageurs National Park, the state boasts a diverse range of natural wonders to explore.

Where to stay

Wooden Frog Campground! It’s nestled amidst the stunning wilderness of northern Minnesota, this campground offers a serene and rustic retreat for outdoor enthusiasts. It offers some lake front sites and is very close to the National Park. 

What to Do

  • Voyageurs National Park: Explore the numerous lakes and lush forests of this stunning National Park. With over 40% of its area comprised of interconnected waterways, it’s best explored by boat. While we didn’t get to experience it by boat, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the park on foot and would have discovered even more of its beauty and hidden gems from the water. Keep an eye out for wild Juneberry trees for a sweet nature treat!
  • Northernmost Contiguous Point of the United States: We made the journey to the North West Angle Inlet! We had taken a picture at the Southernmost Point Buoy in the Florida Keys over the winter, and wanted one next to the Northernmost Point in the Contiguous US. This was no easy day trip as even though they claim it to be “contiguous”, you still have to pass through Canada in order to get there! So you have to cross the border 4 times for a round trip! The only way around this is to take a ferry from the city of Warroad to the Inlet, fly in a seaplane, or wait for winter when the lake is so frozen you can drive a vehicle over the ice. The ferry and seaplane options are expensive and there’s no way we were going to visit here in the middle of winter so we opted for crossing the border.
  • Mall of America: This mall is MASSIVE! It took us three days to explore, including a day at Nickelodeon’s theme park located inside the mall. With lots of cool shops, restaurants, and fun activities, it offers something for everyone.
boys at nickelodeon universe in the mall of america part of great lakes rv trip
The boys at Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America.

Illinois

Include Illinois on your Great Lakes adventure for a mix of vibrant city life and serene natural beauty. Explore Chicago’s iconic skyline and the venture beyond the city to discover many historic and state parks. Illinois was a special stop as we met up with distant family members and got in some much needed family time!  

What to Do:

  • Millennium Park/ Chicago: We took the train to Chicago to visit the incredible Millennium Park! Unfortunately, the famous Cloud Gate sculpture was under construction and fenced off. The boys were pretty disappointed that they weren’t able to go up close to it and see their reflection but we reminded them that we’ll be back one day and that things don’t always work out how you expect them to. They had fun getting soaked at the Crown Fountains! It was such a cool day exploring the Windy City and seeing all the tall buildings. 
  • Cantigny Park:  Exploring history one tank at a time here at this military park! This is such an awesome park which has 12 armored vehicles dating back to WW1 out on display that the kiddos can climb all over and explore. This park also features stunning gardens and an amazing first division museum! Entrance is only $5 per vehicle! 
  • Starved Rock State Park: We loved this beautiful park in Oglesby. Its history is as dark as it sounds, but there is also a lot to learn about the Native American Tribes that used to live there, and the hikes are undeniably beautiful.
  • Rock Guardians of Rockford: Did you know that Rockford, IL is guarded by these stoic 12 foot rock giants?! These rock guardians are made of boulders and located in beautiful Sinnissippi Park right along the bike path. The boys had fun coming up with theories about how they thought the rock guardians come alive once and year and roam the earth. Given a name like Rockford it is little surprise that the city’s silent protectors would be made of rock.

Indiana

Spend your days hiking through rolling dunes, swimming in the clear waters of Lake Michigan, or simply relaxing on the sandy shores. We wish we had more time to spend here and are already planning our return to add to our Indiana adventure memories! 

Where to stay:

Did you know? At the Indiana Dunes National Park Visitor Center you can park your RV overnight for free in their large parking lot! This was extremely helpful for us as the boys needed a little extra time to finish up their junior Ranger books and turn them in the next morning at the visitors center. 

What to Do:

  • Indiana Dunes National Park: Include a stop at Indiana Dunes National Park offers breathtaking views of Lake Michigan, invigorating hikes through towering sand dunes, and relaxation on pristine beaches. 
  • The Dune Succession Trail: Although this trail loop is only 0.9 miles it has a strenuous climb up more than 270 stairs and offers a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and Chicago. The trail led us to West Beach, where we enjoyed a delightful day playing in the refreshing water and building a variety of sand houses!
  • Cowles Bog trail: a popular but not crowded hike. This approximately 4.7-mile loop sandy trail offers diverse ecosystems from woodlands to wetlands. The trail leads to the shores of Lake Michigan which is a breathtaking reward after a tiring hike and an ideal cooldown spot. The boys couldn’t get enough of the refreshing water, making for a wonderful afternoon.

Conclusion

This is just a glimpse of our highlights from our trip through the Great Lakes Region. It was incredible; each state and lake offered unique experiences. There’s still so much left to explore in these states, and we’re eagerly looking forward to another trip one day!

Resources for the Great Lakes:

Camping in the Great Lakes

Rent the perfect RV for a Great Lake Roadtrip

Read more from Happy Trails Family:

RV Money Saving Tips with Happy Trails Family

Boondocking on the Beach with Happy Trails Family

ASTC Passport Program with Happy Trails Family

Best Family-Fall Friendly Hikes in Southern New England with Happy Trails Family

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