“But which?” Barb wanted to know, “Which Great Lakes island should I go to first?”


Barb getting special instruction from Jeanne, our Pilates instructor, after asking the Which-Island Question.

We’d just finished an hour of doing Pilates together at South Oakland Fitness. Barb wanted to start planning a trip to a Great Lakes Island Basin right now, immediately, even before she has a copy of Great Lakes Island Escapes: Ferries and Bridges to Adventure in hand . . .

And it is a great time to plan an island trip. Ferries are already running or will be soon. I, myself, plan to head for Pelee Island this Friday, the first day the ferry will make a trip to the island in 2016.

. . . But Barb’s question wasn’t a question I’d really ever been asked before.

Over the two years of 27 research trips I made to Great Lakes Basin islands (136), I planned my island adventures based on when whichever traveling companion who wanted to accompany me to a particular island was available. If I wasn’t doing research and didn’t have consider the availability of another traveler, how would I decide which island to visit?

I’ve given some thought to Barb’s question since she asked it, and I’ve come up with three preliminary questions you might want to ask yourself if you, like Barb, are deciding which Great Lakes Basin island to visit.

1. Do you want to cross the United States-Canadian border . . . or not?

There are plenty of islands to visit on each side of the border. And crossing the border is no big deal if you have the proper documentation. (Requirements are generally more rigorous for entering the United States, regardless of where you live.)


My sister-in-law Noreen biking past the welcome sign on Walpole Island, unceded territory, an island that has never belonged to the United States or Canada

Remember, even if you go to a Great Lakes Basin island that belongs to neither the U.S. or Canada–Whitefish Island (Batchewana First Nation), Bkejwanong (Walpole Island First Nation), or Kawehnó:ke (a.k.a. Cornwall Island, belonging to the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne)–your trip may involve a border crossing. As an American citizen, I had to cross the border to Canada before I could enter the first two of these three islands.

Depending on which side of the border you’re on, you will pay more or less for goods and services. Today, Monday, March 28th, one U.S. dollar would be worth $1.34 in Canada, but the exchange rate fluctuates daily. Over the decades I’ve regularly been going to Pelee Island, I have experienced the reverse situation in terms of the currency exchange rates.

While some islands have neither and others have both, you can expect some differences at gas stations and liquor stores, depending on which side of the border you’re on:

  • Canada uses the imperial gallon and the United States uses the U.S. gallon. One imperial gallon is approximately 1.2 U.S. gallons. Gas tends to be more expensive in Canada for a variety of reasons, including the exchange rate and taxes.
  • Unlike in the States, if you are on the  Ontario mainland, you would generally buy your liquor, wine, and beer at the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) or beer at The Beer Store. On some Canadian islands, neither type of store is available, or there may just be an LCBO (check the hours if you plan on shopping). Some islands–on both sides of the border–also have a winery or brewery.

*Barb’s Answer: Turns out, Barb has the proper documentation to cross the border and is open to visiting either an American or Canadian island.

2. Are you looking for an island on which to to camp . . . or not?

Of all the Great Lakes Basin islands accessible by ferry or bridge that I visited, I’ve only visited one island where, in order to visit, we had to camp: North Manitou Island, a part of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, in Lake Michigan.


My friend Kathy in the dappled shade of our North Manitou Island campsite.

The reason must one plan to camp if planning to visit North Manitou Island is because of the ferry schedule (in addition to a lack of overnight accommodations). You get dropped off by the ferry on one day and the soonest you can be picked up is the following day. So a visit to the island involves a night spent in the eight-site Village campground or backcountry camping.

On many Great Lakes Basin islands, even if there are no overnight island accommodations, there are nearby mainland accommodations.

* Barb’s Answer: Barb and her husband Nick have camped, but they are not interested in camping on their first Great Lakes Basin island adventure.

3. Do you want more to do on the island than just hike, bike, and/or engage in water sports . . . or not?


Kayaking the lagoon on Presque Isle State Park

Most Great Lakes Basin (GLB) islands offer beautiful island scenery as well opportunities to hike, bike, swim, and/or kayak or canoe.  However, many GLB islands offer other natural, historic, and cultural attractions as well.

*Barb’s Answer: While she and Nick have nothing against hiking, biking, or water sports, Barb would like to engage in some additional activities on her first GLB island adventure.

 Narrowing the List of GLB Islands to Meet Barb’s Interests

Given Barb’s answers to my three questions–and considering the 136 Great Lakes Basin islands accessible by bridge or ferry–here’s a preliminary list of 19 possible island destinations (listed in order of the GLB’s downstream flow) on which she–or you–may find a variety of island adventures:

  • Madeline Island, WI
  • Washington Island, WI
  • Beaver Island, MI
  • Mackinac Island, MI
  • Bois Blanc Island, MI
  • St. Joseph Island, ON
  • Drummond Island, MI
  • Manitoulin Island, ON
  • Harsens Island, MI
  • Grosse Ile, MI
  • Pelee Island, ON
  • South Bass Island, OH
  • Kelleys Island, OH
  • Grand Island, NY
  • The Toronto Islands, ON
  • Prince Edward County, ON
  • Amherst Island, ON
  • Wolfe Island, ON
  • Wellesley Island, NY

I have some more questions ready to ask Barb this week that should help pinpoint the ideal island for her first Great Lakes Basin island trip by next week, so she can start planning. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, what island questions do you have that I might ponder on Pelee?


A Pelee sunset from another spring