Lake circuit offers endless summer fun

You can go 'round the world in 80 days this summer, but if you haven't got that kind of time, why not spend just a couple exploring the Great Lakes Circle Tour in the states bording Lake Michigan. The route covers 425 miles in Wisconsin, 575 in Michigan, 60 miles in Illinois and 40 in Indiana.

Most likely you've seen the signs around Milwaukee that bear the name of the trail, but no explanation. This 1,600-mile tour takes in most every town along the shore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois. You can either follow the tour around its full circuit or do half of it, returning across the lake on the S.S. Badger carferry that runs between Manitowoc and Ludington, Michigan. To read more about the S.S. Badger, click here.

What's most intriguing about the tour is the variety of locations you'll encounter. From the windswept sand dunes of the Ludington area to the old world charm of Milwaukee to the major Chicago metropolitan area to the quaint towns dotting the route in between.

If you start in Milwaukee and head north, check out Manitowoc, which you can discover by clicking here. Then head up to Door County and check out some of the places mentioned in this guide.

The tour also takes you through Peshtigo, which was detroyed by fire on October 8, 1871. Even though more than 1.2 million acres were destroyed and nearly 1,200 people killed in the blaze, which began as a forest fire, it was overshadowed in world news by the Chicago fire on the same day. That fire killed 300. The Peshtigo Fire Museum and Cemetery (400 Oconto Ave., 715-582-3244) is housed in St. Mary's Church, the first church built after the town was destroyed.

You'll then head up to the Upper Peninsula and down into Michigan's lower peninsula. Before crossing the majestic Mackinac Bridge, stop in at the Father Marquette National Memorial and Museum (720 Church St., 906-643-9394) in St. Ignace. This tribute to the Jesuit priest and missionary who was a pioneer in the Lake Michigan region includes displays, audiovisual programs, hands-on exhibits, interpretive trails and a great view of the Mackinac Bridge.

Pere Marquette died near Ludington but his remains were moved to St. Ignace and buried beneath the St. Ignace Chapel. The site was rediscovered in 1877 and made into Marquette Mission Park (500 N. State St., 906-643-9161).

Head south and discover the Ludington region, which is discussed in this guide.

When you get to the southernmost point on Lake Michigan, visit the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and State Park (1600 N. 25 East, Chesterton, 219-926-7561). This sanctuary began with the 1925 purchase of a 2,200-acre plot, thanks in large part to the lobbying efforts of Hull House founder Jane Addams and poet and journalist Carl Sandburg (a one-time Milwaukee resident).

You'll next head through Chicago and you'll have no trouble finding things to do there. When you make it through, read our guide to some fun things to do in Northern Illinois.

Before pulling into your driveway, pop in to Racine and visit the revitalized downtown area or the beautiful lakefront. Better yet, visit the stunning Frank Lloyd Wright-designed SC Johnson Wax building and take a tour. Tours leave from the Golden Rondelle Theater, that spaceship-like building that was designed and built for the 1964 World's Fair and was moved to Racine when the fair was finito.

If you need still more fun, you can visit the tourism sites of the individual states here: Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois. When you get back post a talkback with your Great Lakes Circle Tour stories.

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