20 Things to know before taking a Great Lakes roadtrip

Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

1. Since 2009, travelers of all nationalities will need a passport to travel between the USA and Canada.

2. If traveling during summer, book in advance. August is high season around the Great Lakes and nearly every campground close to the lakes will be full. The same goes for hotels/hostels in Chicago, Toronto, etc. Make reservations!

3. Gas prices vary considerably by state, but gas anywhere in Canada will be more expensive than the USA.

4. Camping is extremely popular around the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, that means it is expensive as well. Even basic tent sites can run 30-40 USD a night! However, this is still the way to go if traveling on a budget–especially if you can split the cost with a friend.

5. In general, most Americans agree that driving 10mph over the speed limit or less will be slow enough to avoid a run in with police. In Ontario, 15-20kph over is the equivalent standard.

6. The Great Lakes are always cold. If you plan on swimming in the crystal clear waters, bring a wetsuit or have a towel and a change of clothes ready. (You can check water temperatures around the lakes here)

7. Be sure to check the current USD/CAD exchange rate

8. Many towns around Lake Huron and Superior are tiny by most standards and therefore competition can be limited. Attraction prices (ex. kayak rentals) can be much higher than places with numerous options.

9. Almost all of the Great Lakes are on Eastern Time, with the exception of western parts of Lake Superior and the western shore of Lake Michigan. Map

10. Niagara Falls can be visited from either the US or Canada. The US side allows you to be up close to both of the falls, but offers limited views. The Canadian side is hundreds of feet from the falls, but offers spectacular views of both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls.

Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side

Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side

11. Be sure to bring plenty of cash for tolls.

12. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and is therefore generally the warmest in the summer, and the most frozen during the winter.

13. The Great Lakes technically have tides, but they are unnoticeable. The water levels never vary significantly during the short term.

14. Be mindful of the weather. Winds out of the wrong direction can lead to massive ocean-like waves that could cancel kayak tours and boat cruises. The wind blowing off the lake can also have a significant effect on the surrounding air temperature and snowfall amounts during winter.

15. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is commonly abbreviated as U.P. leading to the nickname “The yoop” and “Yoopers.”

16. The U.P. is famous for their meat pie variant, called the Pastie (pronounced pass-tee)

17. If you are looking for fresh local fish, try Whitefish. Lake Superior is full of them.

18. Be mindful of wildlife. Take precautions to avoid encounters with bears or other wildlife at your campsite or car.

19. There are many shipwrecks around the Great Lakes. With the proper cold water equipment, this is an excellent scuba diving area.

20. There are four National Lakeshores in the USA. Two are located on Lake Michigan (Indiana Dunes/Sleeping Bear Dunes) and two on Lake Superior (Pictured Rocks/Apostle Islands). They are all popular destinations and well worth a visit.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

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