Five Great Lakes in 24 hours: 18 hours, 900 miles, one adventure

Five lakes, 24 hours. Sounds crazy, right? I read about the five Great Lakes in 24 hours challenge on the Pure Michigan blog and immediately knew it was something I had to try. On July 20, my friends Jordan, Billy and I packed up Billy’s Ford Fusion, swung by Battle Creek to pick up our friend Aly, and head up north to camp. We conquered all five Great Lakes the next day.

Our trip started off a little rocky. We got to our campsite in Empire, Mich., around 2 a.m. and, after spending more than an hour fighting with our tents, gave up and slept on the ground. My alarm went off just an hour later and I pressed snooze once or twice—until I heard a coyote howl. I leapt out of my makeshift bed, woke up my friends and we began our adventure.

Lake Michigan, 5:30 a.m. I checked the temperatures for each lake the day before, and according to my results, Lake Michigan was supposed to be the warmest. It wasn’t. It could’ve been because it was 5:30 in the morning and no sane person would be swimming in Lake Michigan at that hour, but it was absolutely freezing. We jumped in (I might’ve screamed when I dove under), splashed around and ran right out.

Lake Michigan

Lake Superior, 9:45 a.m. We got to Brimley State Park and saw what no swimmer likes to see: the red flag telling us to stay out of the water. We were on a strict schedule and didn’t have time to look for another beach on Lake Superior, so we got in anyway. Luckily, someone came down after we got out and told us the red flag was up because they had seen lightning earlier that morning—which was good, because I thought we might be covered in some terrible bacteria and was about to desperately comb the campsite for the nearest shower. Fun fact: Lake Superior, which I was expecting to be so cold it turned my toes bright blue, was the warmest lake.

Lake Superior

Lake Huron, 1:30 p.m. We took a few inadvertent detours on our way to Lake Huron (one involved almost driving down a snowmobile trail), but still managed to get there on schedule. Lake Huron was the most interesting lake because we had to wade in for a while before it was deep enough to dive under. Even then, it wasn’t that deep, so my swimsuit was full of sand when I got back to the car.

Lake Huron

Lake Ontario, 8:45 p.m. The sun was setting as we pulled into Hamilton, Ontario. Lake Ontario was the rockiest beach and my least favorite lake (despite the beautiful sunset), but that was probably because my damp towel didn’t warm me up when I got out of the water, so I stood there shivering as we took our pictures. I’m looking forward to going back during the day with a dry towel.

Lake Ontario

Lake Erie, 11:45 p.m. Our last stop was at my parents’ cottage at Rondeau Provincial Park in Ontario. As I raced down to the beach and dove in, there were two thoughts racing through my head: I can’t believe we finished in 18 hours. And I am so, so, so excited to take this stupid bathing suit off. The best part about Lake Erie? My parents gave us dry towels.

Lake Erie

Eighteen hours, about 900 miles, one incredible adventure. I already have a plan for next year: Try again on the summer solstice, starting on Lake Ontario and ending on Lake Michigan. I’ll watch the sun rise on Ontario and set on Michigan. Who’s with me?

[Photos from Aly Dregne]


9 thoughts on “Five Great Lakes in 24 hours: 18 hours, 900 miles, one adventure

      • Tammy says:

        Annie, We rented a 15 passenger van and will be leaving Cincinnati on Sat. for our trip: Sunset at Niagara Falls, Sunrise at Mackinac Bridge. Is it difficult to find beaches to stop at? We can’t afford to waste too much time searching. Shall i check the local parks? I thought it involved skinny dipping???

      • Annie says:

        Hi Tammy!

        Finding beaches to stop at isn’t too difficult, but I did have some trouble when I just tried to Google beaches. What I’d do is search the cities you want to stop at and check their websites to see if they have any public beaches. If you’re on Twitter, you could see if those cities have Twitter accounts and tweet them for advice! (That’s what I did for our Lake Ontario stop.) You could check out the local parks, but some parks close at certain hours. That might not necessarily be a problem, unless the park locks up for the night. (There’s a local park in my hometown that has a locked gate after hours.)

        If you’re crunched for time, I’d suggest making a game plan before you leave for your trip. We knew exactly which beaches we were going to stop at, mapped out our route and figured out how much time we could spend at each beach. (Make sure to include time to stop for gas, food and the bathroom! And if you can, try to avoid getting gas in Ontario–it’s crazy expensive.)

        Our trip didn’t involve skinny dipping since we did it during daylight, but that doesn’t mean yours can’t! Just adding another element to the experience. :)

        Let me know if you need any more suggestions! Good luck!

  1. sayvan says:

    Would love to know where you went to on Lake Huron? We are thinking of trying this adventure on the Labour Day Weekend. We live in Ontario, west of Toronto. We will probably drive up to the Sault Ste Marie the night before and begin from there….

    • Annie says:

      We were at Starlight beach in Alpena, MI. That’s exciting that you’re trying this trip, too! Which lake are you planning on ending at? It might be easier to start on Lake Michigan, near the northern part of Michigan.

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