Your dog might not agree they are "great lakes" when she discovers that dogs are not allowed on Michigan state beaches and most county and town beaches. In-season, the metropolises of Indiana, Illinois , Ohio and Wisconsin are even more restrictive. But all is not lost for the outdoor canine adventurer when visiting the Great Lakes. Here are the 8 best places to take your dog here:
1. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Lake Superior, Michigan
Possessing the largest surface area of any freshwater lake in the world, there is enough water in Lake Superior to easily fill the other four Great Lakes to overflowing. Lake Superior is known for its cold water and rugged shoreline but there are some sandy beaches scattered across its 300 or so miles of southern shores. Other beaches are more of the cobble variety. Most of the shoreline is sparsely populated which bodes well for finding a dog-friendly beach.
The "pictured rocks" on the south shore of Lake Superior were painted by mineral stains on exposed cliffs scoured by glaciers. The colorful streaks on the cliffs - as high as 200 feet above the water - result from groundwater that seeps out of cracks in the rock. The oozing water contains iron, limonite, copper, and other minerals that brush the cliff face with colors as they trickle down. In 1966, the Pictured Rocks were preserved as America's first national lakeshore. The park stretches along Lake Superior, the world's largest freshwater lake, for 40 miles.
Dogs are not allowed to trot everywhere in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore's 72,000 acres (a detailed pet area map is available) but there is plenty of superb canine hiking on tap here. Day hikes lead to clifftops and cobble beaches through hardwood forests and windswept dunes. The best beach for dogs is at the western end of the park where dogs are allowed on Sand Point until the trail begins to climb the cliffs.
2. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Lake Michigan, Michigan
Long ago, according to Ojibway Indian legend, a forest fire ravaged the Wisconsin shoreline driving a mother bear and her two cubs into the waters of Lake Michigan. The three bears swam for safety across the entire lake but the two cubs tired in the crossing. The mother bear continued to the shore and climbed a high bluff to wait for her cubs who couldn't make it and drowned within sight of shore. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear. The national lakeshore, established in 1970, protects 35 miles of dunes - the highest 480 feet above the lake - that are the product of several glacial advances and retreats that ended 11,000 years ago.
Your dog isn't allowed to make the Dune Climb up a mountain of sand but she may thank you for that. Otherwise dogs are welcome on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore trails. The best canine hike is the Cottonwood Trail off the popular Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. The loop leads out into dunes speckled with the bleached remains of overwhelmed trees and the hardy survivors adapting to their sandy world. The rollicking trail, open May to October, is completely on thick sand that, while soft to the paw, can tire an unfit dog.
In the north section of the park the Good Harbor Bay Trail is a flat, wooded walk. Most of the starch has been taken out of the Lake Michigan waves here for gentle canine swimming. More adventurous dog paddlers will want to test the frisky waves in the southernmost Platte Plains section. You have your choice of trails here to choose how much you want to hike before reaching the surf. The 13 mid-length trails throughout the park are all hiker-only. Dogs are not allowed on North or South Manitou Island, both floating just offshore.
3. Lake Michigan Sand Dunes Lake Michigan, Michigan
The year 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Mackinac Bridge that connects the lightly populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan to lower Michigan. Traditionally the bridge has attracted hunters and other woods-loving types but that list should also include beach-loving dog owners.
Just across the bridge on the Upper Peninsula head west on Route 2 out of St. Ignace and eight miles past the town of Brevort you will come to an unnamed, unsigned stretch of dune-backed, sandy white beach. Pull off the water-side of the road and park your car. There are miles of beach and not much traffic so there will be plenty of room for your dog to romp in the Lake Michigan waves. If you need facilities, travel a bit further west to the Lake Michigan Picnic Area.
4. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Lake Michigan, Indiana
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a park of striking contrasts. More than 1,400 plant species have been identified within park boundaries, ranking it 7th among national parks in native plant diversity. Growing zones clash here at the southern base of Lake Michigan so southern dogwood mixes with arctic bearberrry and northern conifer forests thrive alongside cacti. The park itself stands in stark relief from the industrial surroundings of Gary, Indiana and Chicago. The national lakeshore was designated in 1966 and preserves 25 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
Canine hikers will also find the dog-friendly trails, with dips and climbs, to be of a different style than the generally flat northern Indiana area. The high point on the dunes is 123-foot Mt. Baldy at the extreme eastern point of the park - you can make this short, sandy climb your first or last stop. If you take your time, even older dogs can make it to the top or you can hike a trail around Mt. Baldy directly to the beach.