Marine News from the Great Lakes

Family Fun While Boating Great Lakes Islands

Published: Thursday, July 30, 2020
By: Robin G. Coles

One of the best ways for families to enjoy boating is by “keeping it fun.” “Fun” means Family, Unity, New (and Exciting). Let me explain! At two different boat shows, I put up a flip chart and asked women the following question: If they could change one thing about boating with their guy, what would it be?

Well, the attendees put together another list. This list included things to do while boating with a family. They are:

  • Go for a picnic on an island nearby
  • Explore more places
  • Dock for a couple hours, get off the boat, and go for a walk.

So with these in mind, here are five islands to enjoy family fun time with your kids.

1. Put-in-Bay, Ohio

In Ohio, Put-In-Bay offers some of the most panoramic views in all the Lake Erie Islands. This is a great place to continue at-home educational programs. Stop by the Butterfly House or the Nature and Wildlife Center. The island has a lot of adventures for the kids, too, such as Perry’s Cave and War of 18 Holes Miniature Golf. To get around the island, you can take a tour by train where kids will love showing off their sticker, or use golf carts to travel to the monument—at the top, you can see everything.

Everything here is easily accessible from the marina. Businesses are within walking distance. For the more mature, check out Heineman Winery and Crystal Cave. If the group is tired and wants to head back to the boat, check out the dock-and-dine options available.

2. Mackinac Island State Park, Michigan

If you’ve ever been to P-Town, MA, or thought about going, Mackinac Island’s charm is quite similar. The only difference is you won’t find vehicles at all on Mackinac Island. Technically on Lake Huron, this island takes up more than 80% of Michigan’s oldest state park; you’d swear it’s on Lake Michigan. Established in 1895, this means once you pass Main Street, you may end up exploring the state park. Additionally, horses, walking, and bicycles are your primary modes of transportation.

“This is my favorite island to visit,” says Jim Coburn, a Michigan boater. “At 6am you can hear the clop, clop of horses as they go by. It’s like taking a step back in time without the cars. I highly recommend the Grand Hotel where some famous movies have been made.”

Historical markers are all around re-telling the stories of interesting events from yesteryear. Fort Mackinac takes you back to the War of 1812. You’ll find people dressed in period clothing acting out rituals, re-enactments, and firing the cannon. One exhibit shows how island residents received vaccines back then.

The butterfly house here is the third oldest live butterfly exhibit in the United States. Deliveries take place weekly from around the world.

3. Manitoulin Island, Ontario

In Northern Ontario, Manitoulin Island has plenty of weird and brilliant world records. It is the largest island within a lake, within an island, within a lake in the world. Wow! And, the largest island in a freshwater lake in the world.

To keep up with all that, Manitoulin Island has some funky names of their hiking trails, falls, ranches, gardens, lookouts, and bays, not to mention their cultural foundation and lighthouse.

The famous hiking trail is the “Cup and Saucer.” This has 7.5 miles of hiking trails and 1.2 miles of adventure involving ladders and rock climbing. To do this, plan on at least 1.5 hours for the smallest trail.

The island has 10 lighthouses with Janet Head in Gore Bay being the most accessible. Light pollution on the island is minimal, rewarding Gordon’s Eco Park the Dark Sky Preserve designation from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Telescopes are set up at night and resident experts point out stars and constellations.

4. Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands are known for fabulous rock formations and six historic lighthouses. Depending on who you ask, some will say there are 22 islands. Others insist there’s only 21. Either way, there’s plenty to keep you busy.

Devil’s Island is known for its sea caves. Stop and listen to the sound of water moving in and out of the caves as water pushes through small holes in the sandstone formations. On the opposite side of the island is the lighthouse. To get there, try paddling via kayak.

There’s a lot of history on the Apostle Islands group dating back to 1856 with the first lighthouse built on Old Michigan Island. Four other islands have lighthouses or towers. Other activities include beaches, galleries, historic sites, kayaking, hiking, and camping.

5. Thousand Islands, New York/Ontario

Located between Upstate New York and Southeastern Ontario, the Thousand Islands group sits at the head of the Saint Lawrence River and consists of 1000+ islands.

Here, you can also travel back in time to at least 1860 when pirates and prohibition bootleggers patrolled the waters.

Aquatarium at Tall Ships Landing features exhibitions where kids can explore the “HMS Ontario” shipwreck, touch a starfish, steer a ship, and predict the weather.

Skywood Eco Adventure Park features a Treetop Village. Young ones can play safely with ramps, nets, and slides. For the older ones, try the ziplines, canopy tours, and aerial games.


There you have it. Five spots on the Great Lakes where you can spend a day or more so everyone can run wild after staying-in-place these past few months.

At both boat shows where I presented my original question, crowds would gather in front of the flip chart, read what the women had to say, and then laugh. Guys got into the act and gave their own feedback, so I ended up with a "Man's Page" also. It proved to be a great exercise because it gave both men and women a chance to voice what “bugs/irritates" them about boating together, and perhaps come to a greater understanding.

The number one complaint that came out of this exercise was not to come home and say “Honey, look what I just bought!" With that in mind, remember that boating is F.U.N. and should include your spouse/significant other/children in the buying process all the way through to the use of the boat.

Editor’s Note: Due to pandemic regulations and ongoing updates to them, please be certain to check ahead before visiting!

About the Author

Robin is a passionate marine enthusiast and sailor who has interviewed countless industry experts; in the US and abroad. As a freelance writer and business strategist, she helps her clients create, replace, and update both technical and non-technical documents. Her articles include travel, suddenly-in-command, technology and boating secrets, to name a few. Robin is a member of International Travel Writers and Publishers Alliance (ITWPA) and Boating Writers International.

Robin’s also the author of “Boating Secrets: 127 Top Tips to Help You Buy and Enjoy Your Boat”. This interview series of 11 marine industry experts walks you through everything you need to know from buying a boat to selling it, plus making a living as a professional sailor. It is available in both print and kindle at

tags: Great Lakes, Travel

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