Belfast Telegraph

TRAVEL GUIDE: Great Lakes of North America

I’ve been to Hell and back and if I get the chance, I may well go back again. The states of Michigan, (where Hell is), Illinois and Ohio kind of blend into each other and it’s where I discovered the pleasures of the Great Lakes of North America.

The Great Lakes represent the largest expanse of fresh water in the world with a unique and diverse landscape. This region is the size of continental Europe and covers eight states.

This was possibly one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. My adventure break in the Great Lakes brought a whole new meaning to the term ‘swinging sixties’ with yours truly literally suspended from a rope, zip-lining high above the trees and loving every screaming moment of it. Driving ATV, or all terrain vehicles, was another adrenaline rush, maybe only surpassed by doing a flip over in a tiny four-man plane as the sun set deep in the sky.

After that, horse-riding on a ranch in Brighton, Michigan seemed almost chilled!

A Great Lakes break is not just for the young and agile, although the others in the group definitely qualified. And it’s a holiday that can easily be combined with a stay in New York or Toronto (only hours away by car).

The main attraction in Hell is the General Store set up by Vietnam vet John Colone. It sells souvenir T-shirts, the usual shot glasses, fridge magnets etc, and also does wedding catering. Half an hour’s drive brought us to the Brighton recreational stables run by one Helluva handsome rancher and his wife. My dilemma there was how to climb on board the majestic mare I’d been allocated because she was blonde like me, but I needn’t have worried as we all had to use the bales of hay provided to mount.

The uncharacteristically fine late October weather made for a leisurely hack through the forest, followed by a hayride through the pumpkin fields at Mayhews in a surrey. We spent our first week under the leadership of young Joe Vargo from Columbus who quite rightly suspected we’d be ravenous when we arrived and brought us to his local diner. You couldn’t make it up.

From an eatery that probably hadn’t changed since the 1960s, it was on the road again and onwards to our first sleep stop at the Glenlaurel, a Scottish Country Inn. Nestled in 140 heavily wooded acres, Glenlaurel is in the process of creating a replica links style golf course with eight holes as built in the British Isles over 400 years ago.

I began to feel nervous as we set off for the magnificent Hocking Hills the following morning for a canopy tour, described as ‘the region’s most adventurous way to soar over autumn’s colourful vista’.The new higher, faster, longer Super Zip takes visitors right over the Hocking River and we also flew over caves, rock cliffs, waterfalls and some of the tallest and prettiest trees.

Nature lover meets thrill seeker just about describes it. Rappelling back down to earth, was the most breath-taking experience of all. Hocking Hills also offers hot air ballooning or a fabulous scenic tour, which we took with veteran pilot and flight instructor Harry Sowers in his Cessna, soaring over several local counties at sunset. Meeting Harry was just as thrilling as the ride itself.

An afternoon hike to Old Man’s Cave, one of the park’s most popular attractions was made all the more enjoyable by our guide, naturalist Pat Quakenbush who talked us through the history of Hocking Hills where early man first inhabited the caves over 7000 years ago. We later hooked up with Trent Walters from ATV World.

At first, I have to admit, I tried to cry off when I realised not only the speed these vehicles can do, but the terrain we were about to cover. But before long, the newly formed adrenaline junkie was back and careering over rows of huge tyres, uphill and deep descents through heavily forested woods with deers and other wildlife popping out for a peep.

Next day, after breakfast on the run, we moved on to Lake Erie Shores and Islands and caught the Miller Ferry to Put-In Bay.

Choice lobster and succulent seafood made lunch at the Boardwalk a very welcome affair before we took a tram ride round the little island on a super sunny day.

We stayed at Sawmill Creek Resort for our visit to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. Cedar Point is one of the most popular family destinations in the world, with 75 rides including some of the fastest and longest you’ll ever experience. (I chickened out!).

There’s the top thrill Dragster at 420 feet tall, the Maverick that launches through a 400feet tunnel and the Magnum, if you fancy taking off at 72mph before you even tackle the 200 feet rollercoaster.

A visit to a local farm market and winery seemed a sedate option next day and Quarry Hill had some fine wines on sale.

Regardless of the weather, which was fine for us, you can surf and swim at the Kalahari Resort in Sandusky 365 days a year.

America’s largest indoor waterpark offers accommodation, an animal reserve, a spa and much more besides. What a way to start a visit to a new city.

Lexi, our next guide in Cleveland, escorted us on the Great Lakes Brewing Company tour in the city’s West Side. It’s the state’s first microbrewery.

Slept well at the Downtown Crowne Plaza Hotel before an early start for perch fishing on Lake Erie. All on board a charter boat with bait, tackle, licences and rods provided.

I’d never ever gone fishing before but beginner’s luck saw me thrilled, yet again, to catch three enormous yellow perch out in the depths.

From Positively Cleveland it was onwards again, to Pure Michigan for our first meeting with new guide, the truly delightful Barbs Barden.

Dinner outdoors with Barbs and Dave Lorenz was gargantuan and gorgeous and we got an insight into how very different the people from the Mid-West are from their East and West Coast compatriots.

Over the next couple of days we enjoyed our trip to Hell, riding in Brighton and another first for me, when we had a golf lesson with the pro at Huron Meadows Golf & Country Club. Well, you can’t be good at everything!

I showed real skill at driving the golf cart across the hiking trails and cross-country ski trails , however, until I thought I was back in an ATV and tumbled the thing.

Because of the enormous variety of trees, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula rates among the best ‘fall foliage’ in America and is a spectacularly beautiful sight with great sunsets. A guided tour aboard the Island Queen across one of the country’s largest man-made lakes displayed Kensington Metropark in all its autumn glory before we were captivated by the tranquillity of a well-stocked Butterfly House.

And how better to complete the adventure trip of a lifetime, than by a final Zip Line, Highropes Adventure Course and tour through the Howell nature Centre. There’s only one word to cover this Great Lakes trip — awesome.

  • For further information on the Great Lakes of North America visit greatlakesnorthamerica.co.uk or call 08456 020 574


Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph