Skipping Across the Great Lakes on a Skip-Gen Trip


This past summer I had a marvelous trip to Prince Edward Island, Canada, planned with my 12-year-old granddaughter – which COVID totally torpedoed, of course.

As I worked my way through Plans B, C, and D, all the time wondering if a trip would really be possible, I finally came up with a winning plan: an almost exclusively outdoor trip with a definite “water” theme.

What is it about water in nature? It holds an almost universal appeal, whether it’s a serene lake, a waterfall, swift rapids, or crashing waves. For us, our time around water turned out to be a refreshing and exhilarating experience – exactly what anyone could hope for during these challenging times.

So what did we do? We hit all five of the Great Lakes – with Niagara Falls thrown in as a bonus. How did we do it? Read on…

Day One – Biking Along Lake Huron

We stayed in Mackinaw City the first night, stopping by Lake Huron for a sunset-swathed view of the Mighty Mac Bridge that connects the “mitten” part of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula.

Early the next morning, we took a ferry under the bridge and on to Mackinac Island for a glorious day of bike riding and sightseeing.

biking on Mackinac Islandbiking on Mackinac Island

Since no cars are allowed on the island, transportation options are limited to walking, biking, and horse-drawn vehicles. We chose the first two as the most conducive to social distancing, and started with bikes. 

horse-drawn transportation on Mackinac Islandhorse-drawn transportation on Mackinac Island

The trip around the 8.2-mile perimeter of the island is surprisingly easy – all paved and mostly flat. From every angle of the island we found amazing views: interesting rock formations, gentle white waves lapping under fluffy white clouds, blue waters melting into blue skies. 

We kept our bikes for nearly four hours so we could also ride around town and then head inland to the Grand Hotel. After turning in our bikes (and circling back to a few shops to pick up some famous Island fudge!), we took a return ferry, crossed the Mackinac Bridge, and drove on to Munising for our first night in the Upper Peninsula.

Day Two – Lake Superior

Lake Superior is unlike any other lake I’m familiar with – so remote and wild and gorgeous. We loved viewing Miner’s Castle rock formation and Miner’s Falls and wound up spending quite a bit of time at Miner’s Beach, wading and climbing and picking up rocks.

Miner\'s BeachMiner\'s Beach

From there we headed south to visit Kitch-iti-kipi or “Big Spring,” a place on my granddaughter’s bucket list. And no wonder! The water is surreal in its beauty.

No motor mars the serenity for the slow-moving wooden ferry glides across the spring along a cable pulled by passengers. In the center of the ferry is an open space of water through which large fish can be observed, clearly seen swimming up to 45 feet below.

Finishing our trek across the Upper Peninsula, we hugged the northern and then western shore of Lake Michigan on into Wisconsin. Here we visited Lake Winnebago, near where her father was born.

Day Three – Lake Michigan

After a leisurely morning, we boarded the S. S. Badger car ferry for our four-hour voyage across Lake Michigan. We couldn’t have asked for a more picture-perfect day for our crossing.

voyage across Lake Michiganvoyage across Lake Michigan

We opted for our own stateroom for social distancing, so we alternated between the beautiful views from the deck and resting in our own room. And yes, Grammy coughed up $5 so Sophia could have Internet for the last hour…

Day Four – Leisure Day

Don’t forget to schedule some downtime when traveling with a grandchild. It’s good for both of you! In Ludington we spent the morning watching a favorite movie plus a few episodes of I Love Lucy, (another favorite).

In the afternoon, we did fit in a visit to Buttersville Beach, just south of Ludington, and marveled at the colored rocks and the beach’s patchwork of tan, black and red sand.

Buttersville BeachButtersville Beach

Day Five – Lake Erie

Heading home to Pennsylvania, but still two Great Lakes to go! A longer day of driving for sure, so stopping for dinner at the home of a dear college friend was a real treat.

Carolyn lives less than a mile from the shores of Lake Erie. At her local beach, we soaked up the sights and evening sun before heading to our final destination for the night: Niagara Falls, New York.

Day Six – Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario

I have been to Niagara Falls many times in the past but never like this. On this beautiful morning, there were no crowds. At all. We arrived first thing in the morning and had our pick of parking places. At the Falls, we walked right up to the rails: no problem posing for pictures or keeping our distance from others.

It wasn’t until we headed out about 10 a.m. that we began to see other visitors arrive. Although not allowed into Canada, of course, from the American side we were still able to get “up close and personal” with the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls.

Niagara FallsNiagara Falls

Maybe next time we will be able to take the Maid of the Mist boat ride or visit the Cave of the Winds but on this trip, we steered clear of anything that might have crowds – and we still had a marvelous time! (It was my granddaughter’s first visit to Niagara Falls.)

One more Great Lake to go… just 20 minutes north of Niagara Falls, Lake Ontario stretches in glorious splendor between New York and Canada.

skipping rocksskipping rocks

Here we found a little town park with a stretch of rocky beach where we lingered, hiked along the shore, and skipped rocks. (She was better at it than I was!) Then, we tore ourselves away to turn the car towards granddaughter’s home. But we had done it – all five Great Lakes in less than a week!

Day Seven – Going Home

Onboard the S. S. Badger I had bought a license plate spelling the “GR8 Lakes.” A perfect souvenir – so we had to take a photo once our trip was complete!

The cloud of Covid that hung over our summer had a silver lining after all. The prescribed precautions encouraged us to stay outdoors and away from others as much as possible. Turns out, that’s not so bad, especially during the summer.

We used common sense – and a lot of hand sanitizer. We wore our masks. (We joked that Mackinac Island should be called “Mask-inac Island” this summer!)

We packed a lot of our own food. We didn’t use restaurants except for take-out. We avoided crowds, even outdoors. We chose our destinations wisely and only stayed at places with strict sanitation protocols.

I’m glad I never gave up on a trip because we learned that, with proper precautions, it is still possible to travel, enjoy life, and make sweet memories!

Have you traveled this summer despite the pandemic? Where did you go? How did you plan your trip? Do you think that traveling is still possible – outdoors and with safety precautions in place? Please share your thoughts and stories!

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