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BY DONNA MARCHETTI



A weathervane points toward the water in Montague, just one town along the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. The weathervane is the world's largest.
In what one destination will you find the world's largest weathervane, a replica of the Liberty Bell, the world's biggest grandfather clock, an underwater bridge and the world's largest musical fountain?

If you guessed the shores of Lake Michigan, you're right. These are just a few of the intriguing, fun and diverse things to see along the 1,600-mile shoreline tour that encompasses parts of Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois.

From big cities to quaint towns, lively waterfronts to secluded beaches, this Great Lake offers something for all ages and just about every travel palate - resorts, shopping and dining, kid-pleasing attractions, wilderness areas and historical sites.

"It's a great place for families," says Cathy Kenngott of Akron, Ohio, who visits the lakeshore with her husband and children. "Even if the weather isn't good for being at the beach, there's always something else to do."

The dominant feature of the eastern shore is fine, white sand with miles of beaches and long stretches of towering dunes. Swimming and relaxing on the beach are popular activities, so is scaling the dunes - some of which reach as high as 450 feet.

Ahoy, Mate! Two little ones pretend to be captain aboard one of the Tall Ships anchored in South Haven.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore on the south end and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the north end both have designated areas for ambitious climbers. (Note that some dune areas are off limits to climbers for safety and ecological reasons.)

At Silver Lake State Park, near Pentwater, visitors can walk, climb or picnic on 2,000 acres of rolling, undulating dunes that stretch from beautiful Silver Lake to Lake Michigan. Thrill seekers enjoy roller coaster-like rides over the dunes at nearby Mac Wood's Dune Rides and at Saugatuck Dune Rides farther south.

If learning about dunes is more your speed, stop at the newly renovated E. Genevieve Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park north of Grand Haven. There you'll find exhibits and a slide show that explain dune ecology, as well as 10 miles of trails through the park's dunes.

AT A GLANCE
For your next vacation, hop in your car and follow the green "Lake Michigan Circle Tour" signs around the 22,300-square-mile Great Lake through four states.

Visitor Contacts: For more information, visit these Web sites:
  • Michigan: www.michigan.org
  • Illinois: www.enjoyillinois.com
  • Indiana: www.state.in.us/tourism
  • Wisconsin: www.travelwisconsin.com


  • Lake Updates: Glovebox Guidebooks, (800) 289-4843, in Saginaw publishes the informative Lake Michigan: A Guide to Small Towns, Rural Areas and Natural Attractions written by Donna Marchetti. It's available at most bookstores. To order the Lake Michigan Circle Tour & Lighthouse Guide, visit the West Michigan Tourist Association's Web site at www.wmta.org and click on publications.

    AAA Resources: For TripTik routings, TourBook guides, maps and your other travel-planning needs, call the AAA Member Service Center at (800) AAA-MICH (222-6424). Trip routings and the TourBook database covering each state along the Circle Tour route also are available online at www.aaamich.com.



    The Tall Ship Malabar heads out of Traverse City.
    SALMON AND SAILS
    The eastern shoreline also offers numerous activities that will get you onto the water. Fishing is a popular sport in Ludington, where more than 40 charter boats take anglers out to try their luck at the salmon and trout that abound in the area. If tall ships are your weakness, head for Traverse City, where the Westwind, a 66-foot, two-masted topsail schooner, makes daily excursions into West Grand Traverse Bay. Active water lovers enjoy kayaking along the Lake Michigan shoreline or on the pristine Crystal River at Glen Arbor. Tubing, canoeing and kayaking on the Platte River near Frankfort, make great family adventures.

    All that activity is bound to generate an appetite, and there are plenty of interesting places to fuel the fun. Stop at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor for chocolate-covered cherries, homemade cherry pie or the best ever white chocolate and cherry cookies. At Dog 'n Suds Drive-In at Montague, you can pull up for creamy draft root beer and hot dogs delivered curbside.

    Mackinaw Pastie & Cookie Co. in Mackinaw City offers a taste of a traditional Cornish food, the hearty meat-filled pies that once filled the stomachs of hungry copper miners. Afterward, stop at Marshall's Fudge and Candy Co., where the same family has been making old-fashioned confections for more than 75 years.

    Along Michigan's Upper Peninsula wilderness is the Hiawatha National Forest, an 880,000-acre tract of public land that tempts outdoor enthusiasts with undeveloped beaches, camping, hunting, canoeing, mountain biking and hiking.

    Perhaps the most popular of the U.P.'s outdoor attractions is Kitch-iti-kipi at Palms Book State Park, a natural spring of crystalline, emerald-colored water. Visitors can peer into the depths from a platform over the springs to watch the gushing water and resident trout.


    Enjoy Milwaukee's River Walk at dusk on a warm summer evening.
    The western shore has the greatest contrasts, from the big cities of Chicago and Milwaukee in the southern half to the popular, charming villages of Door County, Wis., in the north. But don't forget what's in between - these lesser-known Wisconsin towns have plenty to offer.

    At the Peshtigo Historical Museum and Fire Cemetery in Peshtigo, you can learn about the devastating fire that swept through the town in 1871, killing more than 800 people in just one hour.

    In Kewaunee, board the tugboat Ludington and hear the story of its role in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. At Two Rivers, wander through the Historic Rogers Street Fishing Village to get a feel for this French-Canadian fishery established in 1837.

    Be sure to save plenty of time for Sheboygan, which boasts one of the prettiest waterfronts on the lake. The Riverfront Boardwalk, along the Sheboygan River downtown, curves past working fish shanties, boutiques, galleries and restaurants. On the lakeshore, the Lakefront Promenade winds through parks and past the marina to a beautiful, sandy public beach.

    While in Sheboygan, stop and see the remains of the Lottie Cooper, an 1876 schooner that sank in 1894. It was salvaged in 1990, reassembled and put on display beside the lake. Nearby, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has changing exhibits of visual arts with an emphasis on innovative, contemporary works.


    A colorful show of water, music and light sets off Dewey Hill in Grand Haven.
    UNUSUAL STOPS
    Now, about those unusual attractions mentioned earlier. The world's largest weathervane stands 48 feet tall along U.S. Highway 31 in Montague. Its 26-foot arrow alone weighs 800 pounds.

    The world's biggest grandfather clock is at the entrance to Svoboda Industries, a manufacturer of wood products in Kewaunee, Wis. Built in 1976, the clock measures 35 feet high.

    The replica of the Liberty Bell hangs below the 65-foot clock tower at Bayfront Park in Petoskey. Both the bell and clock were built in 1902 for the Buffalo Exposition.

    The underwater bridge is in Manistique. It isn't really underwater, but it looks as though it is - an illusion that put the bridge into Ripley's Believe It or Not.

    The world's largest musical fountain enthralls visitors to Grand Haven, where during a 20-minute music, water and light show, it pumps 40,000 gallons of water through 8,000 feet of pipes to send streams 125 feet into the air.

    If you knew the locations of all five attractions, give yourself an "A"in Lake Michigan trivia. If you knew a couple of them, that's still pretty impressive. If you couldn't pinpoint any, well, just imagine how many more surprises await you along some of the country's most beautiful shoreline.


    Explore the dunes with a group. Trips depart from Silver Lake Sand Dunes near Saugatuck.
    CLICK FOR MORE
    For additional information, the Great Lakes Commission has established a Web site for all of the Great Lakes circle tours. There are two ways to reach it: visit www.great-lakes.net/tourism/circletour or www.glc.org - click on tourism.

    Also, read more in the following pages. Great stops, shops and more are highlighted in the stories. ML

    Donna Marchetti is a freelance writer from Cleveland who has written extensively about touring the Lake Michigan shoreline.

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