As one of the world's largest freshwater ecosystems spanning more than 750 miles, the Great Lakes holds a deep history of maritime stories along United States and Canadian waterways.
These stories tell tales of war heroes such as U.S. naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry who defeated the British squadron in the War of 1812’s Battle of Lake Erie. Or they chronicle one of the most mysterious tales in shipwreck history — the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald — where 29 men vanished on Lake Superior in 1975 without a cause ever discovered.
From larger-than-life battleships that sunk enemy fleets to archives and artifacts tucked within historic walls, the five Great Lakes are home to tons of educational sites. Attend events and lectures, browse collections, take virtual tours, or stand at the helm of a glorious vessel that played a critical role in history at the following museums.
This visitor’s center sits across from Bayfront Festival Park and Duluth Entertainment Convention Center’s waterside festival grounds. Check out displays through the multi-level museum and free public programs throughout the year.
Where to Dock: Lakehead Boat Basin
Witness the last remaining above-water whaleback ship in the world along these Wisconsin waterways. After sailing its final journey in 1972, the SS Meteor is permanently berthed on Barker’s Island where guests can tour the ship’s pilot house and learn about its Twin Ports shipbuilding history.
Where to Dock: Barker’s Island Marina
Along Lake Superior’s southwest shoreline, 22 islands make up the Apostles archipelago. Take a deep dive into the region’s history and experience this waterfront museum’s events, boatbuilding projects and the annual Blessing of the Fleet Concert.
Where to Dock: Apostle Islands Marina
Tour the stunning Marquette Harbor Lighthouse built in 1853 and discover maritime exhibits that await inside this museum’s historic stone walls. Paranormal Lighthouse lecture series and free children’s workshops are offered throughout the year.
Where to Dock: Presque Isle State Harbor
Home of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald’s bell, learn about the notorious shipwreck mystery at this fascinating site. In conjunction with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, the team continuously finds new discoveries and frequents underwater research with a 47-foot survey vessel, R.V. David Boyd, capable of diving to 1,400 feet.
Where to Dock: Whitefish Point State Dock
Tour World War II submarines, explore shipwreck artifacts, view photographs and historic vessels, and learn all about Wisconsin’s maritime history at this location. Popular festivities include the week-long SubFest and 4th of July events.
Where to Dock: Manitowoc Marina
The port’s former U.S. Coast Guard Station transformed into a charming museum showcasing local maritime industries that shaped the Lake Michigan region. Ludington’s iconic North Pier Light and historic SS Badger car ferry are among the top sites to see.
Where to Dock: Ludington Municipal Marina
Docked along the Muskegon Lake Channel, take a tour of two World War II vessels: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter McLane and USS Silversides submarine. Learn about war stories within the site’s two- story museum and check out seasonal events including lectures, ceremonies, festivals and plays.
Where to Dock: Safe Harbor Great Lakes
South Haven, MI
This museum boasts a selection of vessels from a huge fleet for guests to explore the local waters. Embark on an adventure sail on the 1810 replica top sail sloop, Friends Good Will, take a journey on the electric-powered replica river launch, Lindy Lou, or a enjoy lake cruise on the 1929 Chris-Craft Cadet, Merry Time. Purchase a ticket to cruise the South Haven shores and get free museum admission with your ride!
Where to Dock: South Haven Municipal Marina
Take a chronological cruise through maritime history on the River Level on the Bridgeport Art Center. Immerse yourself in exhibits such as the Ralph and Rita French Canoe Collection and history of the Great Lakes frigates and French fur traders.
Where to Dock: Chicago Harbors
Rogers City, MI
This unique location shares more than artifacts — it honors memories of local legends from Native American traders and 21st century captains to Coast Guard lighthouse keepers and lifesaving station employees. The museum offers its own Great Lakes Maritime Hall of Fame collection that’s worth viewing.
Where to Dock: Rogers City Yacht Harbor
This center explores the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and offers many educational sites and activities. Visit the seasonal shipwreck site moorings, kayak, snorkel or take a glass bottom boat tour.
Where to Dock: Alpena Marina
Serving for more than 50 years, the Huron Lightship was the last operating lightship on the Great Lakes, retiring in 1970. She is now a National Historic Landmark open to public tours.
Where to Dock: Bridge Harbour Marina
Port Huron, MI
This lovely waterside facility celebrates Great Lakes history with educational opportunities. Check out speaker programs, video presentations and visit the small museum inside this maritime center.
Where to Dock: Bridge Harbour Marina
Discover a full scope of Great Lakes history at this national museum. Tour two museum ships: the 617-foot Col. James M. Schoonmaker and the historic tug Ohio. The website also provides extensive online exhibits and virtual tour options.
Where to Dock: Safe Harbor Toledo Beach
Learn about Sandusky Bay history throughout the campus and explore sites including the Howman Boathouse and Motor & Engine Room. Attend lectures, board Lyman boats or see what’s working in the boat-building school.
Where to Dock: Oasis Marinas at Battery Park
Built in 1925, this 618-foot historic freighter is now a popular Cleveland landmark that allows guests to experience the golden era of steamships. The Great Lakes Science Center offers multiple exhibits to explore.
Where to Dock: Oasis Marinas at North Coast Harbor
In the heart of the Historic Bayfront District, this museum is the homeport of the U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of Oliver Hazard Perry’s relief flagship during the Battle of Lake Erie. Observe maritime art, shipbuilding tools and artifacts, and enjoy fresh baked goods and sandwiches from Thelma’s Tasty Temptations on-site, plus concessions in the lobby.
Where to Dock: Perry’s Landing Marina
Port Burwell, ON, Canada
Across the Canadian border on Lake Erie’s north shore, discover the region’s shipbuilding history and climb the 55-step lighthouse for a picturesque view of the port.
Where to Dock: North Erie Marina
Hamilton, ON, Canada
Tour the massive HMCS Haida warship, flagship of the Royal Canadian Navy. Known as Canada’s “fightingest ship,” Haida sank more surface tonnage than any other ship during World War II. This tribal-class destroyer later joined the Trainbusters Club during the Korean War where ships were required to destroy an enemy locomotive. HMCS Haida destroyed 2.5 trains.
Where to Dock: Harbour West Marina
Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, Canada
This museum explores the region’s rich history and maritime heritage along this Lake Ontario town. Exhibits feature important collections honoring the local indigenous people.
Where to Dock: Port Dalhousie Pier Marina
Guests can comb through over 4,000 artifacts, images and documents at this location nestled in the Historic Maritime District. The museum offers cruises to tour the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse just offshore at the west arrowhead breakwater.
Where to Dock: Oswego Marina
Kingston, ON, Canada
This nautical museum ventures through Lake Ontario maritime history with various ship models, artifacts and paintings. Take a guided tour of the Kingston Dry Dock to learn about the area’s social and economic heritage. Also check out the SS Keewatin steamliner.