The Michigan Great Lakes Challenge

The Michigan Great Lakes Challenge

Four friends and their dogs swim in all of the Great Lakes that border Michigan in one day.

By: Drew Mason

Photography by: Drew Mason 

The Great Lakes are an essential part of Michigan’s identity. Four of the five Great Lakes — Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie — border the state to create more than 3,000 miles of freshwater shoreline. They literally define the shape of the state! A Michigan summer isn’t complete without a visit to one of the many beaches, lighthouses, trails, campsites, cliffs or beach towns along the coast. From the rocky and rugged shores of Lake Superior to the white sandy beaches in the Lower Peninsula, there is plenty to explore.

Lighthouse on Michigan's Great Lakes

To celebrate the spirit of summer in Michigan, my friends and I recently attempted to complete a fun challenge: swim in all four of the Great Lakes that touch Michigan in one day. It was the perfect summer road trip adventure.

The trip was inspired by my early-childhood memories on the Great Lakes. Each summer, my family would go camping in northern Michigan. My brothers and I climbed Michigan’s massive sand dunes, swam in the cold Caribbean-blue water, hunted for bugs in the forests and camped in parks along the coast. At night we’d crawl into our sleeping bags smelling like sunscreen and campfire and doze off to the distant rumble of waves crashing on the shore. Those early experiences made a big impression on me, and the feelings we shared during those summer adventures ignited a desire to experience as much of the lake life as I could in one trip. I recruited a few friends to join me and we started to create a plan, which included bringing our dogs on the adventure. 

Beach on Michigan's Great Lakes

With the goal of completing the challenge between sunrise and sunset, we decided to go on the summer solstice. Not only is it the longest day of the year, it’s also the official first day of summer, and we couldn’t think of a better way to welcome the promise of warm weather than to swim in the Great Lakes. It is possible to swim in all five of the Great Lakes within 24 hours, but we omitted Lake Ontario to keep our trip manageable within daylight hours. With several options for swimming locations, it was hard to decide exactly where to go! We chose to start at Lake Erie and drive north — at a safe and legal speed — to Lake Superior, hitting Lake Huron and Lake Michigan on the way. The final route was chosen based on driving distance, pet-friendliness, natural beauty, and maybe some personal preference as well.

With 650 miles of adventure ahead of us, the four of us and the two dogs greeted the solstice sunrise on the shore of Lake Erie at Sterling State Park. It was a chilly morning, but we had no time to waste. We counted down, “3…2…1…” and ran screaming into the chilly water. Our road trip had officially begun! 

Dog jumping into Michigan's Great Lakes

After Lake Erie, we drove north to Tawas Point State Park for our swim in Lake Huron, then farther north to Petoskey State Park to swim in Lake Michigan. The dogs swam at Zoll Street Beach in nearby Harbor Springs for their Lake Michigan dip. We then drove north across the Mackinac Bridge to enter the Upper Peninsula, and headed west to Little Presque Isle Park at Lake Superior for our final destination. As we pulled up to the parking lot, with the sun hanging low on the horizon, we all shared a feeling of relief. We made it! There was one thing left to do … together we ran down the beach toward the water and celebrated our final swim in Lake Superior. Our Michigan Great Lakes Challenge was a success!

Swimming in Michigan's Great Lakes


We all shared a tremendous feeling of accomplishment as we watched the sun dip below the horizon. The challenge took us to some of my favorite lake destinations, but in truth the experience highlighted only a fraction of the region’s beauty. One of the best things about this challenge is the ability to make it your own adventure. With beautiful locations in practically every corner of the Great Lakes, this challenge is easily customizable and welcomes anyone with an appetite for road-tripping fun.

This story was also highlighted by the Pure Michigan campaign. Additional details of this route, as well as sample itineraries of alternative routes, can be found at


Read more of our stories in Issue 23 of Lake and Company.