Lake Michigan, the world’s sixth largest freshwater lake, puts the “great” in Great Lakes. It’s salt-free and shark-free and enjoyment of it can also be, well, free. Living on its shores is one of the best parts of summer in Chicago. Don’t miss out on these fun ways to enjoy our natural treasure.
Become a Junior Ranger
There are a few ways kids can learn about Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which has 15 miles of shoreline on the lake. The Beachcomber Junior Ranger worksheets encourage kids to explore the beach and take an hour or less to complete. Kids who finish get a junior ranger sticker. The regular Junior Ranger booklet takes longer to complete and has kids visit different spots in the park. When they’re done, they earn a Junior Ranger badge.
The Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education is open to the public during the summer. Inside, kids can explore interactive exhibits and check out turtles, fish and snakes. Outside, the Nature Play Zone gives them a chance to explore and return to an old-school style of unstructured nature play with activities like building forts out of driftwood. Visitors can try kayaking (they have kid-sized kayaks) and paddle boarding on Friday afternoons at 1 p.m. at West Beach Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Take the Lake Michigan Circle Tour
If you are looking for a summer road trip, you can’t drive on the lake, but you can drive all the way around it. The Lake Michigan Circle Tour gives you a look at the lake from all sides. The route stays close to the shore using state highways. The complete circle is 900 miles and passes through Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Keep an eye out for the dozens of lighthouses along the way. Even if you don’t want to go around all of Lake Michigan, there are many great destinations along the shore that are great for a day trip or a week away.
Help take care of the lake
The Shedd Aquarium’s Great Lakes Action Days (GLADs) and Adopt-a-Beach events put volunteers to work caring for the ecosystem and restoring habitats in and around Lake Michigan. The days take place several times each month. Volunteers of all ages can join in and families are welcome. It’s a great opportunity for little ones to become citizen scientists and learn about the 3,500 species of plants and animals that depend on the lake for survival.
Weigh an anchor (or two)
Heading out on a boat is a great way to experience Lake Michigan from a slightly different perspective. There are numerous options for families looking to cruise, ranging from yachts to tall ships to speed boats and everything in between. Select a sail to see the sunset or the fireworks from Navy Pier or just to experience the lake and the stunning Chicago skyline. If your little one is itching to be the captain, the Chicago Yacht Club offers sailing classes for children as young as 5.
Watch the sunrise
Watching the sun rise over the lake can be a magical sight, and makes for a fun outing if your little ones are early risers. Montrose Beach and Promontory Point are favorite spots in the city to see it. Pack a breakfast picnic and make it a special event. If you don’t want to be up super early, save this for later in the summer. Sunrise on Labor Day is at 6:20 a.m., more than an hour later than it is on the summer solstice in June.