Midwest Shipwreck Destinations for Families

Dive into Michigan's rich maritime history at one of these shipwreck sites and nautical museums in the Great Lakes area.

The Great Lakes are more like inland seas and they don’t give up their secrets — unless you go out of your way to explore the various maritime museums or accessible shipwreck sites, that is.

From small wood schooners that went down in the 1800s to more modern vessels, such as the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Great Lakes are the final resting place for more than 6,000 ships and their estimated 30,000 crew members.

Learn more about those lost lives and the ships that went down at one of these Midwest shipwreck destinations. Some are educational hubs while others are the remnants of actual wrecks, but all of them will teach you and your family more about the lakes and help you build respect for the power that they hold.

Bullhead Point

  • Address: Near Bullhead Point City Park, Duluth Avenue, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
  • Cost: Contact Parks & Recreation for details

See what’s left of the Ida Corning, the Oak Leaf and the Empire State — three limestone fleet vessels that were burned to the waterline at Bullhead Point. These wrecks are very close to the shoreline in water up to 10 feet deep and are easily accessible to dive, snorkel or kayak.

Chicago Maritime Museum

You’ll find this educational hub on the River Level of the Bridgeport Art Center. Take a stroll through 300 years of Chicago’s waterways, including the 1915 capsize of the Eastland and the Lady Elgin collision. There’s information on the city’s lighthouses and U.S. Life-Saving Stations, too.

Dossin Great Lakes Museum

This 16,000-square-foot museum tells more than 300 years of history through artifacts and displays. It is home to such displays as the William Clay Ford Pilot House, a freighter that was scrapped in 1987, along with the bow anchor of the Edmund Fitzgerald and cannons from the Battle of Lake Erie during the war of 1812.

Erie Maritime Museum

Explore the history of Lake Erie and this educational spot. Climb aboard the U.S. Brig Niagara — a reconstructed version of an 1813 vessel of the same name. Plus, maritime art, models and the plow of the USS Michigan/Wolverine, which was scrapped in 1949.

Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours

See Lake Superior’s shipwrecks like you never have before! These two-hour, fully-narrated boat cruises feature a see-through bottom so that you and your family can look down on two historic wrecks including a fully intact wooden ship built before the Civil War. Offers breathtaking views of beaches, cliffs, lighthouses and more.

Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

The museum is located near the Whitefish Point Light Tower, which is the oldest operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. The area is known as “Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast” and The Shipwreck Museum Gallery offers displays of artifacts and exhibits including the bell of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Take a walk down to the shores of Lake Superior on the barrier-free boardwalk while you’re there.

Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve

Are you and your older kids into diving? This preserve is one of the most popular dive sites in the state and features the Three Brothers — a steam barge that hauled lumber before running aground in 1911. It’s located about 150 feet off shore in seven feet of water at the bow and 45 feet at the stern. You can also see the wreck of the Alva Bradley and The Morazan.

Note: Diving can be dangerous. Be sure to take a diving course or build up your experience before diving for shipwrecks.

National Museum of the Great Lakes

This museum will teach your family how the lakes were used over the years. Learn about the fur traders of the 1600s, Underground Railroad operators in the 1800s, rum runners in the 1900s and more. Visit the Shipwrecks & Safety area for first-hand accounts of sinkings and artifacts from the wrecks. You can even climb aboard the Schoonmaker Museum Ship or the Museum Tug Ohio for an additional charge.

Paddle Harbor Beach 

The remains of three schooners sit off the coast of Harbor Beach just a few feet below the surface, which make them perfect to kayak or paddleboard by. The Dorcas Pendell was built in 1884 and is both the most intact and closest to the surface. You can also see the George H. Waud, which ran aground in 1902, and the John Wesley. All crew members survived all three wrecks.

Tall Ship Windy

The Tall Ship Windy is the official flagship of the city of Chicago and it offers all kinds of boat rides for families to enjoy. Kids will love the Discovery Sail, which will teach them about the ecology, history and physics of sailing (along with a few sailing stories). There’s also a Chicago Skyline Sail and Friday Night Pirates Pub Sail.

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