Lake Huron is the second largest of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one with no major city on its shores. Like the other four lakes, it was formed as glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age more than 10,000 years ago. Lake Huron's shores touch the state of Michigan to the west and Canada's province of Ontario to the north and east. Shaped like a leaf with three tips, the lake measures 206 miles at its longest point and 183 miles wide.
Thanks its 30,000-plus islands, Lake Huron boasts more shoreline than any of the other Great Lakes. Cruise ships entering Lake Huron from Lake Michigan via the Straits of Mackinac typically call first at Mackinac Island (pronounced "mack-i-naw"), one of the highlights of a Great Lakes itinerary. Located in the state of Michigan, Mackinac Island can only be reached by plane, ferry or ship.
Stepping onto Mackinac Island is like entering a time capsule. No cars are allowed. Horses, buggies and bicycles are the means of transport here -- make that 600 horses (you'll understand why carriage drivers constantly warn tourists to watch their step). Two highlights of the island are the restored Fort Mackinac and the resplendent Grand Hotel. The fort was established by the British in 1780 and later served as headquarters for John Jacob Astor's fur trading company. The Grand Hotel opened in 1887 for well-to-do summer vacationers and still retains its upper-crust Victorian appeal.
Manitoulin Island, in the northern part of Lake Huron and Ontario, is the largest freshwater island on the planet. Cruise ships dock at Little Current for cultural excursions focusing on Canada's indigenous Ojibwe people -- think dancing to the beat of many drums.
Many of Lake Huron's smaller islands lie in the northeastern part of the lake, in an area known as Georgian Bay and often called the sixth Great Lake. Several cruises spend a day in the area, and it's the ideal time to head for the sun deck, sit back and enjoy the scenery. On a clear day, expect to see rugged granite coasts, white pine forests, sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, lavish homes and Flowerpot Rocks (rocks stacked in the water to resemble flowerpots).
Canadian cruise ports in Georgian Bay include Parry Sound for hiking or biking and Midland where you might kayak or walk along a boardwalk to look for native wetland critters.
During a day of cruising between ports on Lake Huron, you're bound to see a number of cargo ships carrying coal, grain or iron ore. There are two main types of these immense bulk carriers. Lakers are the largest, measuring up to 1,013 feet in length. In fact, they are too large to fit through the locks leading to the Atlantic and spend all their time cruising on the Great Lakes. Hence the name, lakers. Salties are the second type of carrier. These container ships are smaller and headed to the Atlantic Ocean and beyond via the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Upon reaching the southern tip of Lake Huron, cruise ships navigate the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair, bound for the port of Detroit. Alternatively, ships might stop across the Detroit River in Canada at Windsor, Ontario. From there, ships enter Lake Erie on the way to Niagara Falls.
Three cruise lines offer full summer seasons on the Great Lakes: Victory Cruise Lines, Pearl Seas Cruises and Blount Small Ship Adventures. French cruise line Ponant visits the Great Lakes for fall color cruises. In 2020, German-based Hapag-Lloyd joins lines cruising the lakes with two cruises between Chicago and Toronto.
Updated October 10, 2019