road trip travel planning Travel Research

Contemplating 5 Great Lakes road trips on 5,000 miles of road

a view of a city from a window
Lake Michigan seen from Park Hyatt Chicago

One of the areas of North America I have always wanted to dedicate some time to travel around are the Great Lakes. Yesterday I came up with the idea of a Great Lakes road trip to focus on circumnavigating all five Great Lakes: Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Turns out to circumnavigate all five lakes by road is around 5,000 miles of driving through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ontario, where the Canadian province borders four of the five lakes.

After analyzing distances I decided the trip for me would need to be four or five separate trips to focus on one or two lakes at a time. Most of the lakes can be driven around comfortably in 7 days with Lake Superior the biggest challenge at more than 1,300 miles and 27 hours drive time making more than one week desirable.

While June to September might be ideal for driving conditions, I don’t think I can realistically work in my first USA road trip before September.

Great Lakes Road Trips
Lake Ontario Toronto to Toronto 652 miles/1,050 km – 13 hours drive time.
a map of a road
Lake Ontario
Lake Erie Cleveland to Cleveland 628 miles – 12 hours drive time

a map of water with red points

Lake Huron Detroit to Detroit 1,023 miles – 21 hours drive time

a map of the ocean

Add another 450 miles and 10 hours driving time to drive around Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay in Ontario.

a map of a road

Lake Michigan Chicago to Chicago 1,126 miles and 21 hours drive time.


a map of a lake

Lake Superior Duluth Minnesota to Duluth 1,325 miles in 27 hours drive time.

a map of a lake

Circumnavigating all five Great Lakes by road approaches 5,000 miles in distance with 100+ hours drive time.

Once I actually looked at distances and road routes around the Great Lakes, it became apparent this idea would require several trips for me to achieve since I do not foresee blocking out a month of time to drive around the Great Lakes.

I have seen Lake Michigan from Chicago, Lake Erie from Erie, Pennsylvania and Lake Ontario from Toronto. In 1981, I traveled by train through Ontario, Canada hugging parts of Lake Superior. Lake Huron is the only Great Lake I have never seen.

a view of a city from a window
Lake Michigan seen from Park Hyatt Chicago

A Great Lakes road trip adventure may not come to fruition in my travels. It is just a travel idea that might get shelved in favor of focusing more on New England, Quebec and Maritime Canada, places where I truly have a passion to explore again.

Still, after no significant road trips in the USA since 2016 and a huge stash of Choice Privileges and IHG Rewards Club points for hotel reward nights, my driving foot is getting itchy for some time on the road with just me, music and a camera ready to snap the local scenery.

Now I just need to keep an eye out for when car rental prices, airfare and low reward rates combine for a cheap road trip adventure.

States I have Been

The Great Lakes are one of several road trips I was looking at over the past week. Part of my motivation for some road trips in 2019-2020 developed out of examining the states I have been and states I have not visited in more than 20 years.

Only two states I have never visited:

  1. North Dakota
  2. South Dakota.

Three states I have not been to in more than 40 years:

  1. Delaware – traveled to Dover Air Force Base in 1969, but don’t recall going back to Delaware since.
  2. Oklahoma – I lived several years in Oklahoma as a child and attended 2nd and 3rd grade there.
  3. New Mexico – I also lived in New Mexico when I was in 5th and 6th grade and rode a Greyhound bus across the state in 1977.

Eight states have only been road trip travel on my way to some other destination during three cross country relocation drives 1992-1996 between California and New England during which Kelley and I drove through 26 states:

  1. Indiana
  2. Kansas
  3. Missouri
  4. Montana
  5. Nebraska
  6. Ohio
  7. West Virginia
  8. Wyoming

Seven states I visited in the 1990s as destinations, but have not been back to since.

  1. Arkansas
  2. Connecticut
  3. Kentucky
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. Rhode Island
  6. Vermont (resident of Vermont 1979-80).
  7. Wisconsin

This leaves 30 states I have traveled around since 2000.

  1. Alabama 2016
  2. Alaska 2007
  3. Arizona 2008
  4. California (home)
  5. Colorado (many times)
  6. Florida (2010-2019 many times)
  7. Georgia (2014-2015 drive out of Florida road trips)
  8. Hawaii (2012)
  9. Idaho (2003-Alaska Airlines elite status runs)
  10. Illinois (2010-2014; mostly Chicago)
  11. Iowa (2014 media tour)
  12. Louisiana (2016 media tour)
  13. Maine (resident 1994-96; last visit 2000).
  14. Maryland (National Harbor conference 2011)
  15. Massachusetts (Boston 2015; Amherst resident 1992-94).
  16. Michigan (Detroit 2014)
  17. Minnesota (Minneapolis 2014)
  18. Mississippi (Gulf Coast 2016 road trip)
  19. Nevada (frequent trips)
  20. New Hampshire (2000)
  21. New Jersey (2007)
  22. New York (Albany 2005; NYC 2012)
  23. North Carolina (Outer Banks 2014; Ashville, Western Mountains 2015)
  24. Oregon (2008, 2011, 2012 road trips)
  25. South Carolina (2014, 2015 road trips)
  26. Tennessee (Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg 2015)
  27. Texas (Dallas 2016)
  28. Utah (road trips 2011-2014; 2015 Sundance Film Festival).
  29. Virginia (2014 road trip; attended 6th and 7th grade in Newport News; spent time in Roanoke/Salem area 1977, 1981, 1992).
  30. Washington (Seattle trips and road trips 2007-2011)

Great Lakes road trips would take me back to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and allow me to see more of Michigan and Minnesota.

Kelley wants to travel back to New England to revisit Maine. A road trip around Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York would allow us to conduct genealogical research on my wife’s family ancestors and revisit some of the towns where we lived in the 1980s and 1990s.

A road trip around Arkansas and Tennessee would allow me to conduct genealogical research on my own family roots. Mexico and the Philippines are the international side of my ancestry.

Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota are a road trip unto themselves. Must admit though that even as an 8-year-old I was not too impressed with Oklahoma as a destination. South Dakota and North Dakota have been places I thought about flying to simply for bragging rights to say I have traveled through all 50 states. Fargo, North Dakota could fit into the Lake Superior road trip. Mount Rushmore South Dakota is a sight to see and learning yesterday there is a Choice Hotel within 4 miles of Mount Rushmore with Ascend Collection K Bar S Lodge at 20,000 points per night gives even more incentive.


  • Bob May 20, 2019

    If you decide to circle Lake Huron, lunch is on me in Harrisville, MI.

  • Dale May 20, 2019

    I’ve done Duluth to Duluth (I’m from the WI-UP border), and it’s a really nice road trip. I live in Amherst, ma now and miss that lake.

  • Bobo May 20, 2019

    Seriously Ric, you have such a great blog. Really appreciate these types of posts.

  • Lisa Poe May 21, 2019

    Have you been to the headwaters of the Mississippi? You can include that in your Lake Superior trip also.

    I also hear the upper peninsula of Michigan is pretty amazing, especially in cherry season – that one is on my list.

  • Ric Garrido May 22, 2019

    @Lisa – Lake Itasca provides more incentive to fly to Fargo, ND. I was checking out low car rental rates from FAR airport at $220 per week.

    Currently cherry season in California.

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