Michigan’s Unique Boat-Tour Opportunities

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A sunset tour through the Soo Locks provides a striking and unusual experience. Courtesy of Soo Locks Boat Tours

With more than 3,200 miles of coastline, Michigan is a boater’s dream. But you don’t have to own a boat to enjoy the beaches, fishing, sunsets cruises and other water-related attractions the Wolverine State has to offer. Whether you are looking to explore the beautiful dunes on Michigan’s western shores, the rocky coast of Lake Huron, or the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula, you can always hitch a ride on someone else’s boat instead.

There are plenty of boat tours and private charters available in Michigan’s coastal towns, such as sunset cruises and sailing trips. But, for those looking to do something a little different, there are unique floating tour options, as well.

The 65-foot schooner Serenity. Photography Courtesy of Tim Morris

On the West Michigan coast, the sister towns of Saugatuck and Douglas welcomed a new attraction in 2019: the 65-foot schooner, Serenity, operated by Sailing Saugatuck.

After operating a smaller vessel out of South Haven for nearly 10 years, company owner Tim Morris decided to expand the fleet and make the Red Dock in Douglas the Serenity’s home port. Serenity is an authentic, 65-foot steel-hulled, two-masted schooner cruising the Kalamazoo River. A trip aboard presents passengers with a different view of the Saugatuck riverfront, including wildlife like deer, bald eagles, muskrat and more making occasional appearances during many cruises.

Serenity also is available for private charters for groups of 24 or less. It’s perfect for weddings, family reunions and other celebrations. Guests are even welcome to decorate Serenity to match their cruise’s theme.

“I’m a working boat owner,” said Morris. “I want to give our guests a unique experience with every trip.”

Serenity sails from May 1 to Oct. 31. To make reservations or learn more about Serenity, visit sailingsaugatuck.com.

More than 200 ships have been claimed by the unpredictable weather and rocky shoals, earning Thunder Bay and the surrounding area the nickname, “Shipwreck Alley.”

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has its own unique boat tours available. For those interested in Great Lakes shipping and its history or the locks that make shipping traffic possible, Soo Lock Boat Tours offers passengers the opportunity to “ride with the freighters.”

The 65-foot schooner Serenity. Photography Courtesy of Tim Morris

Based on the waterfront in Sault St. Marie, the tour brings passengers up close and personal with the huge freighters as the tour boats mingle with the commercial vessels that cruise on the St. Mary’s River.

Soo Locks Boat Tours also provides guests with the opportunity to experience the process of “locking through” the system, rising and falling with the giants in the busy Soo Locks as the freighters transit between lakes Superior and Huron.

The company also offers other cruises from mid-May through mid-October, including sunset and dinner cruises, lighthouse tours, sightseeing adventures and private charters. For more information or to make reservations visit soolocks.com.

On Michigan’s East Coast, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary lies near one of the most dangerous waterways in the Great Lakes. More than 200 ships have been claimed by the unpredictable weather and rocky shoals, earning Thunder Bay and the surrounding area the nickname, “Shipwreck Alley.”

A tour boat floats over the W.P. Rend which sank in 1917. Photography Courtesy Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Today, more than 100 shipwrecks have been discovered, many of which are clearly visible on the bottom of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary to guests of Alpena Shipwreck Tours — without the need for a wetsuit and dive gear.

Leaving from the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center Museum in Alpena, passengers can view the well-preserved wrecks of schooners, cranes and barges from the comfort of the 65-foot, glass-bottom tour boat, Lady Michigan.

The boat’s lower deck is equipped with glass viewing wells that provide a clear view of the wrecks that lie in 20 feet of water or less.

The Monohansett propeller. Courtesy Alpena Shipwreck Tours

According to Heritage Center Museum Manager Andrew Augustyn, there is nowhere else in the Great Lakes like Thunder Bay to see shipwrecks without diving.

“The clarity of the water is unrivaled,” said Augustyn, “except by the Caribbean.”

The company offers a variety of other tours too, including evening shipwreck cruises to Thunder Bay Island, a Fourth of July fireworks cruise and private charters aboard the Lady Michigan.

The Great Lakes Heritage Center Museum is open year-round. Alpena Shipwreck Tours operates its glass-bottom excursions from mid-May through the first week of October. For reservations see: alpenashipwrecktours.com. ≈


Chuck Warren is a licensed captain and boating writer based in Grandville.

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