Lake Michigan is the only North American Great Lake located entirely within the United States. It is bordered by several States, with Michigan to the north and east, Wisconsin to the west, and Illinois and Indiana lying southward. The lake is connected to Lake Huron via the Straits of Mackinac. But is it possible to cross it by bridge?
There is a bridge across Lake Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge which connects Mackinaw City with St Ignace. The 5-mile crossing takes around 10 minutes. It is also possible to take a ferry to St Ignace and explore Sault Ste. Marie State Forest Area.
If you're looking to venture across Lake Michigan to explore the natural beauty and forests to the north, or to marvel at the other Great Lakes of Superior and Huron, then read on to find out how to travel across the lake, what travel options there are, and some of the best things to do when you arrive.
Is there a bridge across Lake Michigan?
There is a bridge across Lake Michigan, on the northern shores of the lake at one of its narrowest points between Mackinaw City and St Ignace. The Mackinac Bridge is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world and is an incredible feat of engineering at about 5 miles long.
The bridge spans the Straits of Mackinac, which connects the two great lakes of Michigan and Huron and offers amazing panoramic views across the Lakes and beyond.
Mackinaw City lies to the north of the State of Michigan, on the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula. The iconic bridge is a popular tourist attraction in itself, with visitors also keen to explore the impressive Victorian architecture and Fort Michilimackinac, where you can learn all about the area's history.
How to travel across Lake Michigan
|Origin City||Total Distance||Total Time|
|Harbor Springs||40 miles||50 minutes|
|Glen Arbor||150 miles||2 hours 45 minutes|
|Detroit||295 miles||4 hours 10 minutes|
|Chicago||420 miles||6 hours 20 minutes|
|Cleveland||450 miles||6 hours 30 minutes|
|Cincinnati||530 miles||7 hours 30 minutes|
Via Mackinac Bridge
|890 miles||13 hours|
Traveling across Lake Michigan is easily accessible from many major cities in the US and the table above gives an indication of travel times. If your route involves crossing the bridge, then the journey time will be 10-15 minutes longer, and if you are taking the ferry, then this will add a further 30 minutes to your trip.
Driving across the Mackinac Bridge
A trip across the Mackinac Bridge is an excellent way to view the vast expanse of the great lakes of Michigan and Huron. The quaint resort community of Harbor Springs lies around 35 miles southwest of the bridge and the I-75 N connects Mackinaw City with Detroit to the south.
The crossing itself takes around 10 minutes, although this can increase in busier traffic, and the speed limit on the bridge is 45 mph. On rare occasions, the bridge has been closed, mainly due to ice making the bridge dangerous to drive on.
This can occur in the winter months, so if you are making the trip at this time of year, always check ahead for traffic and weather updates. High winds can also result in temporary closures.
The crossing is getting more popular each year, and the increased traffic can lead to delays at the toll booths, especially during the summer and at peak times.
The bridge has 2 lanes in each direction and once you've reached St. Ignace, there are a number of attractions in close proximity, such as Straits State Park, Wawatam Lighthouse, Fort de Buade Museum, and the Museum of Ojibwa Culture.
Taking the ferry across Lake Michigan
You can take a ferry across Lake Michigan from Mackinaw City to St Ignace via Mackinac Island. The Shepler's ferry crossing takes a little over 30 minutes, although this is weather dependent, as it visits Mackinac Island before heading to St Ignace, making the bridge crossing the quicker option.
There are passenger-only and vehicle ferry services available and during peak season, the ferries operate frequently throughout the day, with departures every 30 minutes. It is advisable to book tickets online in advance.
Taking the ferry is a relaxing way to enjoy the stunning scenery as you cross the Straits of Mackinac and also explore the picturesque Mackinac Island.
If you do wish to visit, it is a car-free island, so traveling as a foot passenger will be necessary. On arrival, you can enjoy the peace and tranquility and explore the sights via a horse-drawn carriage, a popular way to get around.
The Island is rich in history, with Native American Settlements and Fort Mackinac, where you can learn all about the island's colorful past. There are many scenic trails, dramatic cliffs, and beautiful forests to explore before sampling the renowned local fudge.
There are several other ferry options across Lake Michigan. If you'd like to learn all the details about how to take the ferry across Lake Michigan, here is our detailed guide.READ MORE - Is there a ferry across Lake Michigan?
How long does it take to travel across Lake Michigan?
As it is only a short distance between the Lower and Upper Peninsula of Michigan which are separated by Lake Michigan, traveling across the Lake is only a short journey.
If you choose to drive over the Mackinac Bridge, the 5-mile journey can be completed in around 10 minutes and is the quickest way to travel across the Lake. There is a toll and during busy periods, queues at the toll booths can add to the journey time.
If you wish to take the ferry, then the journey from Mackinaw City to St Ignace, stopping off at Mackinac Island along the way, takes around 30 minutes, although you will need to allow extra time to check in, board, and disembark the ferry.
How much does it cost to travel across Lake Michigan?
Taking the bridge from Mackinaw City to St Ignace costs $4 for a one-way journey, and $8 for a return trip. Prices remain the same all year round the toll booths accept major credit and debit cards and phone payments.
Riding on the ferry across Lake Michigan from Mackinaw City to St Ignace costs $34 for a return trip. You can buy combination tickets for several people which do make the ticket prices cheaper. The ferry doesn't provide year-round service and operates between late April and the end of October.
Where does the bridge across Lake Michigan start and end?
Mackinac Bridge across Lake Michigan connects the Lower and Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and the southern end begins in Mackinaw City.
Popular in the 17th-century fur trade, today the area is popular with outdoor enthusiasts with Wilderness State Park located nearby, with its excellent hiking trails, and opportunities for swimming, biking, and birdwatching.
Downtown Mackinaw has a variety of shops and boutiques and has a lively and vibrant feel, along with plenty of places to sample the delicious local cuisine.
Crossing bridge leads you to the town of St Ignace, perfectly situated on the waterfront of the Upper Peninsula where you can enjoy its beautiful beaches and take a swim in the Lake. The area has a rich Native American and French heritage and there are many museums showcasing the area's fascinating history and culture.
With such an eclectic cultural history, St Ignace is home to various events and festivals that take place throughout the year, including the popular Annual Labor Day Mackinac Bridge Walk, one of the only opportunities to cross the bridge on foot, as it is closed for traffic.
Things you need to know about traveling across Lake Michigan
If you are traveling across the Mackinac Bridge, be ready for the toll booth at the bridge plaza and have payment ready however you choose to pay.
Be mindful of the weather conditions, especially if crossing in winter when the bridge may be closed in particularly adverse conditions, and if it's windy, it may make the crossing uncomfortable.
The bridge is busiest during peak season when you may experience slight delays, and Friday afternoons between 2pm and 6pm, and Sundays between 10am and 4pm are also best avoided if possible.
Do allow time to check in and board when taking the ferry, and always arrive an hour before the departure time.
Best time to travel across Lake Michigan
St Ignace is most prevalent in summer, and the Upper Peninsula city turns vibrant as the city puts on shows and festivals to welcome visitors. The Native American Festival in May and the Highlander Festival in June celebrate the area's history and culture and throughout the summer, there's live music by the bay, wine tasting, historical teachings, and more.
Also during the summer, between July and early September, there's a firework display every Saturday over the bay, and a weekly farmers market every Thursday.
The improved weather makes the sandy beaches more appealing and the longer days allow greater opportunity for enjoying the many hiking and biking trails and exploring the wilderness.
Visiting in winter offers the chance to indulge in winter sports, where you can enjoy cross-country skiing in the Hiawatha National Forest and enjoy the natural landscape in its white winter coat.
The area is a hotspot for snowmobiling and there is an extensive network of trails, where you can also take a guided tour along the winter trails.
The annual winter carnival in February brings the local communities together for dog sled races, snow volleyball, and a host of other events that allow locals and visitors alike to come together in celebration.
Things to see once you travel across Lake Michigan
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is blessed with rugged natural beauty, lush forests, waterfalls, and stunning shorelines and is the perfect getaway for embracing the great outdoors. Here are some of our favorite attractions when visiting the area.
- Mackinac Island - Embark on a short ferry ride to Mackinac Island, where you can escape into a world of Victorian-era charm. This enchanting destination, free from motorized vehicles, offers a true getaway experience.
- Castle Rock - Situated on the outskirts of St Ignace, Castle Rock is a natural limestone formation that rises 195 feet above Lake Huron. Climb the staircase to its pinnacle and be rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding forests, lakes, and the magnificent Mackinac Bridge.
- Museums - Immerse yourself in the rich heritage of St Ignace through a visit to its prominent museums. The Fort de Buade Museum provides fascinating insights into the region's history, spanning from Native American tribes to early French explorers. For a deeper exploration of the area's native heritage, visit the Museum of Ojibwa Culture.
- Explore nature - Immerse yourself in the captivating beauty of Horseshoe Bay Wilderness. Consider taking a day trip to hike the breathtaking trails of Grand Marais, or if you prefer a more local experience, venture onto one of the picturesque paths like the Huron Boardwalk.
- Beaches - Discover a multitude of sandy beaches in and around St Ignace. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the renowned Lake Michigan Sand Dunes, which are considered among the finest in the Midwest.
- Local cuisine - Indulge in the delectable flavors of the region by savoring local favorites. Treat yourself to a mouthwatering pasty, delicious fresh whitefish, and complete your trip by sampling the locally made fudge, an absolute delight.