They say the best thing isn’t owning a boat, it’s having a friend who does. Whether you are that friend, or just someone who longs to spend summer hours out on the water, it’s time to hop aboard a Michigan boat. Luckily, there are some incredible options.

Tall Ships

There are few sights more majestic on a Michigan summer day than watching a tall ship breeze its way through a bay. Onlookers almost can’t resist snapping a pic, so imagine how much more thrilling it must be to be on board. For years Bay City has been welcoming tall ships for its festival. Now Baysail welcomes would-be sailors onto its Appledore schooners to set sail on the Saginaw Bay.

Further north, the Traverse Tall Ship Company hoists the sails for journeys aboard its Tall Ship Manitou. The majestic vessel is a replica of an 1800s cargo schooner, similar to those that sailed the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. They offer sunset sails, brunch cruises, and even summer trips built around enjoying local favorite, Moomers ice cream. They also have the classic yacht, Scout, which is ready to whisk you away on a luxurious private cruise for up to 6 guests. Sail the spectacular waters of Grand Traverse Bay for a couple of hours or take the whole day and head over the horizon.

Shipwreck Glass Bottom Boats

With Great Lakes comes great responsibility, and at times, ferociousness. For as long as ships have been sailing these magnificent lakes, there have been wrecks. The watery floors of Superior, Michigan, and Huron are littered with the carcasses of old vessels. The stories are riveting, and so is the opportunity to see what’s left. For some, that means scuba diving, but for most of us, our best opportunity is aboard a glass bottom boat.

Thousands of miles of deep blue water in Thunder Bay, near Alpena, are home to an estimated 200 shipwrecks, with nearly 100 identified to date. Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary provides trained guides on Alpena Shipwreck Tours. They provide an informative and interesting narration throughout the journey through Shipwreck Alley. The bottom of the boat is glass, and the water is crystal clear, so guests can even take photos. During the 2½ hour cruise you will experience magnificently preserved shipwrecks, scenic shorelines and majestic lighthouses.

If your travels have you in the Upper Peninsula instead, head to Munising. There you can explore Lake Superior’s natural underwater museum featuring a rare, fully intact, wooden sailing ship that was built before the Civil War and sits only a few feet from the surface of the lake. Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours will take you on a 2-hour excursion that features two different shipwreck sites, rock cliffs, caves, a historic lighthouse, and the exquisite beauty of Grand Island and Munising Bay.

Heritage Vessels

For those who have a hankering to sail back in time, head to South Haven. The Michigan Maritime Museum offers several historic boating opportunities. Perhaps the best known is a pirate ship adventure that kids adore on the Friends Good Will. It’s a replica 1810 sloop. If a swashbuckling adventure is not your idea of fun, you can also board the ship for a relaxing day or sunset sail.

Alternatively, the Lindy Lou is an electric-powered replica river launch, like those used in the late 1890s through the 1930s. They used to deliver guests to resorts and help fill the lazy hours of summer with relaxing diversions. This 3-mile round-trip cruises travels upstream to the covered bridge of the Kal-Haven Trail, while the captain regales passengers with the life and history of the Black River.

Through the museum you can also experience adventure aboard USCG Motor Lifeboat 36460. This boat, built in 1941, starred in the Disney film The Finest Hours. It represents one of the most widely used and relied upon rescue boats in Coast Guard history. For a romantic twist, try their 1929 Chris-Craft Cadet, aptly-named, Merry Time. Those cruises offer chauffeured luxury on Lake Michigan and the Black River.

Trees dot the shore of the wildlife-rich Shiawassee Flats, known to many as the Everglades of Michigan.


Over on the opposite side of the state, the sunrise coast offers one of the state’s richest and most diverse wildlife habitats. Thanks to the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, and a little help from Lake Huron, this area is known to many as the Everglades of Michigan. It’s a swampy section of coastline, rich with birds and marine life, that can truly only be experienced by boat.

For nearly two decades, Johnny Panther Quests Adventure Trips has been bringing people through the Shiawassee Flats. Traveling through the area requires a particularly shallow craft. Enjoy the migrations of waterfowl and raptors in early spring. Marvel at the lush foliage of summer. Take in the crimson colors and migrations of fall. Whichever season you choose, there are ample opportunities to spot bald eagles, beaver, deer, ducks, herons and shore birds.

Soo Locks Experience

From the wonders of nature to the marvel of engineering that connects Lakes Superior and Huron. The Soo Locks raise and lower boats between the levels of Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes using a series of gates and chambers. Both water and boats are moved solely by the force of gravity. It’s cool to stop by the platform and watch freighters go through, but even cooler to experience the process from your own vessel.

Choose either the Original Soo Locks Boat Tours or Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours for a live narrated cruise on the beautiful St. Mary’s River. You’ll eventually pass through the Soo Locks, for both an up-bound and down-bound lockage. Additionally, the trip includes views of both the U.S. and Canadian Locks, passage under the International Highway Bridge, and cruising alongside giant ships. While taking in other sights, you can learn about the rich history of the Soo Locks and Michigan’s oldest city, Sault Ste. Marie.

Close-up photo of mineral-stained rocks

Pictured Rocks gets its name from the streaks of mineral stain that decorate the cliffs, which are best visible from a vessel in Lake Superior.

Pictured Rocks Excursions

Heading up from Sault Ste. Marie, we arrive at one of the most beautiful places in the country, without a doubt. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the state’s absolute gems, with incredible views, wonderful trails, and refreshing waterfalls. Though, to really grasp what makes it so spectacular, you have to venture offshore.

For over 50 years, Pictured Rocks Cruises has been guiding visitors to this majestic spot. Their boat cruises are 2½ to 3 hours, traveling into and alongside the most visually stunning 40 miles of shoreline on the Great Lakes. They offer 3 distinct Michigan cruises:  the Classic Cruise, the Spray Falls Cruise, and the Sunset Cruise. Each cruise departs from the Munising City Dock.

If you prefer a little more adventure with your sightseeing, there are a couple of other unique options. The Riptide Ride covers twenty-five miles of breathtaking shore in just 90 minutes. The thrill may leave you a little breathless, as well. For even bigger action, combine a big vessel with a small one. Paddle Pictured Rocks will take you for a wonderful boat trip along the shore, then drop you into a kayak to get up close and personal with the amazing natural paint of the rocks. Whichever of these options is more your style, you’ll be glad you got to see this wonder from the waters of Lake Superior.

Riverboat Cruises

Even when you’re exploring the interior of our state, wonderful watercraft experiences await. Of course there are options to get into a canoe, kayak, or fishing boat, but you can also take a journey on a much larger vessel. Riverboats are often associated with the South. We may not have rivers that are as wide as the Muddy Mississippi, but they still offer lovely views and a glimpse back at simpler times.

The Michigan Princess is an authentic, Victorian-style vessel that has become an icon in the Lansing area. Meanwhile, the Grand Princess is a classic replica of a 19th century steamboat, that chugs down the river with whom she shares her name. For those who are old enough to remember and love the old Boblo Boats, the Detroit Princess will bring back fond memories as she cruises the Detroit River with views of Motown and Canada. Are you planning to be in Frankenmuth? The Bavarian Belle would love to welcome you aboard.

Ferry Rides

Similar at times to riverboats, ferries can also be found all around the state. In places like Seattle and New York City, people frequently take those to work. Here in the Great Lakes State, most of the time we happily use ferries to take us to fun. Of course, you can hop aboard many a different ferry to land at Mackinac Island. That is a quintessential Michigan experience.

You can also catch a ride to Beaver Island, which is known as America’s Emerald Isle. How about an adventure to Drummond Island? There you can search for mushrooms, wildlife, and puddingstones. Want to be one of those rare individuals that makes it to the fifth least visited National Park in the country? Catch a ferry out of Houghton or Copper Harbor, destined for the peaceful and stunningly beautiful Isle Royale. You might even see a moose!

Each of these different boats and destinations offers visitors a completely unique experience. Try one, or give them all a go. Afterall, Michigan is a state where you are never more than six miles from a body of water, and thanks to many small businesses around the state, we all have friends with boats.

Author: Lisa Diggs

Lisa Diggs is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, business consultant, avid traveler, and founder of The Catalyst Company, LLC, Michigan Positivity Project, and Buy Michigan Now.