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Michigan – The Heart of the Midwest

“Mishigami” was the name the Native American tribe of the Ojibwe gave to their home region. It roughly translates as “large lake.” The French adopted it in the 17th century and called the area henceforth “Michigan,” a name still valid today. It is a very fitting name indeed. The state of Michigan is surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes, namely Lake Superior, north of the Upper Michigan Peninsula, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and of course Lake Michigan. Its extensive lake shores make Michigan the main tourist attraction among the Midwestern states. Americans and foreigners alike swarm the “Great Lakes State” every year to enjoy its vast areas of natural beauty, take a dip in one of the lakes, and relax among the hospitality of the locals.

Michigan is separated into two parts, the Upper and the Lower Peninsula, by the Mackinac Straits, the transition between Lakes Michigan and Huron. One can pass the straits very easily by simply crossing the Mackinac Bridge, five miles in length, which makes it the third longest suspension bridge in the world. Both peninsulas together extend over almost 100,000 square miles. The total population of Michigan nears 10 million, the 8th overall among US states. This, of course, does not take into account the hundreds of thousands of tourists who people the Michigan shores and hinterland throughout the year.

Michigan, US state since 1837, was traditionally a much sought-for source of copper, iron, and lumber. The state’s economy, however, changed radically, when Henry Ford opened his first car manufacture plant in Detroit’s Highland Park. Being the first to introduce assembly line production to the car industry, Ford expanded rapidly and changed Detroit forever. The Detroit metropolitan area today has some 4.4 million inhabitants.

Harbor Country

Only some one and a half hours of driving over from Chicago, Harbor Country on the Southeastern shores of Lake Michigan boasts some of the most beautiful sunsets in the US, as well as great beaches and fine accommodation. Located some miles south of the popular tourist town St. Joseph, the shores of Michiana, New Buffalo, Lakeside or Sawyer are simply magnificent.

Visitors can take a stroll on one of the plankwood sidewalks and enjoy a freshly-brewed coffee in one of the many dockside cafes. After a day at the beach, one can climb one of the high dunes, equipped with a bottle of wine or two from the local wineries, to witness the spectacular sunset over the lake. The Warren Dunes are among the most picturesque dunes of the area. For those who want to stay, all kinds of great accommodation is provided, from budget lodging like bed & breakfasts to upscale hotels, many places are equipped with a lake view.

St. Joseph

A little further north, St. Joseph, another popular lakeshore town, welcomes thousands of tourists each summer, many of them Chicago residents, looking for a relaxing time not too far from the metropolis. If the sight is very clear at night, one can even see the lights of the Windy City on the horizon. The lighthouse in St. Joseph is an ideal target for a bike tour or a walk from the town center. The “Riviera of the Midwest,” as St. Joseph has been dubbed, sports some of the finest beaches in Michigan, and is also very popular among young people. St. Joseph has some luxurious accommodation and great restaurants, most notably Schu’s Grill and Bar, where you might meet boxing’s greatest Muhammad Ali, who lives just a few miles away on a farm in Berrien Springs, and is said to be a regular customer at Schu's.

Straits of Mackinac

Going from the Lower to the Upper Peninsula, one has to cross Mackinac Bridge. For a lunch break, one can stop by at Fort Michilimackinac, in the 18th century a French and later British fortification, which is today a great historic site. It is located on the southernmost tip of the Upper Peninsula, near Mackinaw City. It is an open-air historical museum, with military parades, cannon fire and similar attractions. In 1960, the fort became a National Historic Landmark. Close by stands the Old Mackinac lighthouse, inaugurated in the late 19th century.

Lake Superior Shore

Lake Superior was in the times of old one of the most dangerous lakes to travel on. The Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point describes the most important ship catastrophes and displays many items from the wrecked ships, especially from the largest sunk ship, the Edmund Fitzgerald. Whitefish point, a cape in Lake Superior, was one of the most dangerous spots and one can still visit the Whitefish Point Light Station.

The larger area is a great place for a longer stay since there are so many great trips one can make. The Tahquamenon Falls, not far from Whitefish Point, are very impressive and situated in a beautiful State Park. The Upper Falls are among the biggest falls east of the Mississippi, transporting up to 50,000 gallons of water per second. Below the falls, one can rent a canoe and paddle 17 miles downstream to the Rivermouth area. Another great canoeing experience in this beautiful region is the Two-Hearted River, which inspired Hemingway for a short story. The river ends right behind the dunes of Lake Superior. Paddling downstream, one passes almost no civilization, just beautiful woods, sandy shores and river bends.

Sault St. Marie

Michigan’s first city is situated right on the border to Canada. One of the major attractions are the world-famous Soo Locks, one of the biggest worldwide. Another great venue is the local brewery and winery, where you can make your own wine and beer. Sault St. Marie is also an ideal place to spend one or more nights. The city hosts some of the finest accommodation, ranging from cozy pensions, over mid-range motels and hotels to vacation condos and apartments. Even houseboat lodging is provided!

Michigan, the most popular tourist destination of the Midwest, has something to offer for everyone. Whether you are looking for a relaxing vacation on the fine sandy beaches along Lake Michigan’s shore, for the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula, or for vacation in one of the historic cities like Sault St. Marie, Michigan will not disappoint you!

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