The Great Lakes

Eight states and two nations border these vast inland seas. Bustling cities stand along their shores. But they also boast waterfront serenity and natural beauty.

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Big cities (Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Buffalo) skirt this five-lake chain, as do smaller cities built on lake-based trade and manufacturing (Erie, Pennsylvania; Toledo, Ohio; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Duluth, Minnesota; and Rochester, New York). The area offers mile after mile of undeveloped, quietly scenic lakefront and time-stopping resort islands. Total shoreline (islands included) measures 10,210 miles.

Glaciers gouged out the Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario). They touch eight states―Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York―plus vast Ontario, Canada. Superior has the largest surface area of any freshwater lake in the world. Even the little guys, Erie and Ontario, are so large (871 and 712 miles of shoreline, respectively) they feel more like seas than lakes.

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Water sports rule, particularly in summer. Damaging waves and erosion are rare compared with ocean coastlines.

Known for its Midwestern and Canadian friendliness, the region also offers easy travel between the United States and Canada.

Excellent wine-growing exists, especially at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario; Pelee Island on the Canadian side of Lake Erie; northwest Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula; and southwest Michigan.

Dozens of classic lighthouses dot the shore. Parks include Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (sand dunes, North and South Manitou islands) and Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve (more than 100 shipwrecks), both in Michigan; the Indiana Dunes National Seashore (dunes, beaches, wetlands, wildlife) in Indiana; Apostle Islands National Seashore (hiking, paddling, nature) in Wisconsin; Presque Isle State Park (boating, beaches) in Pennsylvania; Gooseberry Falls State Park on Lake Superior's North Shore (waterfalls, history, cross-country skiing) in Minnesota; and Point Pelee National Park (unusual mix of plants and wildlife), jutting into Lake Erie in Ontario.

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