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5 Reasons to Visit the Great Lakes Megalopolis

5 Reasons to Visit the Great Lakes Megalopolis

Lake Michigan/Chicago

This vast region is full of beauty, culture, and adventure.

The vast area that stretches across the Great Lakes of North America is full of beauty, culture, and adventure. Here are just a few reasons you’ll want to explore it.

Nurture Your Inner Nature-Lover

Pictured RocksPhoto by Justin Heap on Unsplash

While known for its numerous big cities dotted along the Great Lakes coasts, the areas between boast a natural paradise (yet you’re never too far from civilization). From its thick pine forests jutting up from clear-water shores to gorgeous rock formations and cascading waterfalls, the area offers outdoorsy types endless options for nature-loving adventure and awe-inspiring landscapes.

Some must-see spots include the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, off the southeastern coast of Lake Superior, with massive sandstone cliffs and waterfalls that pour into the lake; the Sleeping Bear Dunes in northern Lake Michigan touts some of the best hiking and biking trails in the Midwest; and the Apostle Islands are home to 21 islands in Lake Superior. You can also learn about the area’s pre-colonial history at Grand Portage National Monument, the only U.S. National Park co-run by an Indigenous Tribe (Grand Portage Ojibwe).

Enjoy The Great ‘Gay’ Lakes

LGBT flags waving at Toronto's gay pridePhoto by Teddy O on Unsplash

Just about all the larger cities and towns across the megalopolis contain thriving queer communities, so leave your fears of Midwest homophobia at home (but researching the specific place you plan on visiting to ensure it is safe for queer and POC folks is always a good idea).

If you’re up for a border crossing, check out Toronto, Canada, which is just a hop, skip, and jump from northwestern New York. The aptly named “Gay Village” is full of hip cafés, restaurants, and LGBTQ+ bars and nightclubs. Toronto’s thriving drag scene is home to dozens of legendary queens (including Brooklyn Hytes, Scarlett BoBo, and Priyanka of Canada’s Drag Race).

In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, located off the western shores of Lake Michigan, Riverwest and Bay View are the most popular gayborhoods in town. And while you’re there, do make time to visit the city’s oldest gay bar, This Is It!, now co-owned by drag superstar and Wisconsin native (and Out Traveler cover model), Trixie Mattel.

Take a European Vacation — in North America

Montreal on the water at sunsetPhoto by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

Though technically north of Lake Ontario, the connecting St. Lawrence River leads you into Quebec, Canada — and to its famed cities, Montréal and Québec City, making it a relaxing reprieve from American life.

The French province is so dedicated to preserving its European roots that you’ll truly feel like you’ve crossed the Atlantic. Both cities are filled with authentic French bistros, amazing art (in public and in museums), historical architecture, and beautiful parks. But you may want to brush up on your francais before heading up — everything from street signs to restaurant menus are almost exclusively in French (though most folks speak English as well and are quite friendly).

Have a Ferris Bueller-esque Day Off

person holding blue Chicago Cubs capPhoto by Blake Guidry on Unsplash

Chicago, at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, is known for having some of the most exciting queer hotspots and best drag shows in the Midwest. With endless options for fine dining, great shopping, and a vibrant nightlife, the Windy City is the way to go.

The bustling metropolis is also filled with art, culture, and architecture, from Wrigley Field to the Adler Planetarium to the Art Institute of Chicago (where Ferris Bueller’s best pal Cameron famously gazed at George Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” in the iconic ’80s flick).

Could ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ really be done? Washington Post found out.

Delightful Daytrips, by Land or Sea

Niagara FallsPhoto by Akbarsait NoorMohamed on Unsplash

Though the Great Lakes megalopolis is geographically huge, the numerous cities and harbors that connect it makes for easy travel via car, train, or ferry.

The countless fun day and weekend trips you can take include hopping from Milwaukee over to Madison, Wisconsin, a very progressive LGBTQ-friendly college town about an hour west, or taking a short road trip from Buffalo, New York, to Toronto (with pitstops like Niagara Falls along the way). Or perhaps a breezy boat ride across northern Lake Michigan from Green Bay to the quaint and remote town of Traverse City is just what the doctor ordered.

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