While a loosely-organized "circle route" around Lake Superior was promoted by local tourist organizations as early as the 1960s, the first official (and signed) Great Lakes Circle Tour was the Lake Michigan Circle Tour. The only single-nation Circle Tour (Lake Michigan being the only Great Lake completely within the US, of course), the LMCT also is the longer of the two Circle Tours in the state.
Initially working in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Transportation, the West Michigan Tourist Association (WMTA) helped to make the first of the official Great Lakes Circle Tours a reality. After Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana all jumped on board with the concept and helped complete a closed loop around the lake. A short history from the WMTA website:
The Circle Tour route and its first Guide were the culmination of innovation and hard work by the WMTA staff, led by visionary Jack Morgan of the Michigan Department of Transportation. Just 14 months after Morgan introduced his Circle Tour concept in 1987, agreement was reached on routes and signed to be posted along all 1,100 miles of Lake Michigan's shoreline.
WMTA was tapped to produce the first guide book. More than a dozen years later, the publication continues to help travelers navigate the four-state route, which winds through some of the nation's wildest country and one of its largest urban centers.
When the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal ran articles in 1988 about the colorful, 52-page Guide, no one on WMTA's staff anticipated public reaction. On Monday following the story, 150 callers from the Chicago area alone requested the new publication. Two days later, an overburdened mail carrier unloaded 700 requests for the Guide from Illinois and Wisconsin. The next day, more than 1,000 mail and phone requests poured in.
Lake Michigan Circle Tour Route
In Wisconsin, the mainline of the LMCT follows signed state highway routes in its entirety, although in some places the nearest state highway to the Lake Michigan may be several miles away. This route listing lists the official route as well as any locally-designated and marked "Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loops," which are generally posted with brown signs. These loop routes are detailed below the mainline route below:
- The Lake Michigan Circle Tour enters Wisconsin from Illinois via STH-32 and proceeds northerly through the downtowns of Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee, all the while following STH-32 religiously.
- In northern metropolitan Milwaukee, the LMCT joins I-43/STH-32/STH-57 heading northerly into Ozaukee Co.
- At Grafton, the tour departs I-43 to remain on STH-32 and continues through Port Washington.
- On the north side of Port Washington, the tour rejoins I-43 and contines northerly via I-43/STH-32 toward Sheboygan.
- At Exit 123, the circle tour departs I-43 and continues northeasterly via STH-28 into Sheboygan.
- At STH-23, where STH-28 ends and STH-42 begins, the LMCT continues northwesterly via STH-42 back to I-43 at Exit 128.
- The route continues northerly via I-43 from Sheboygan to Manitowoc.
- At Manitowoc, the circle tour leaves I-43 at Exit 149 and continues into downtown via US-151.
- In downtown Manitowoc, the route continues northerly via US-10 to STH-42. Also in downtown Manitowoc, a rather unique Lake Michigan Circle Tour spur route begins: travelling straight across the lake via Lake Michigan Carferry's S.S. Badger carferry!
- On the north side of Manitowoc, the tour continues northerly via STH-42 through the communities of Two Rivers, Kewaunee and Algoma into Door Co and the Door Peninsula.
- At STH-57, the LCMT turns northeasterly via STH-42/STH-57 past Sturgeon Bay.
- The route then heads northeasterly along the Lake Michigan side of the peninsula via STH-57 through Jacksonport, meeting back up with STH-42 in Sister Bay.
- In Sister Bay, the LMCT turns back southwesterly via STH-42 through Egg Harbor to Sturgeon Bay once again.
- Southwest of Sturgeon Bay, the tour continues southwesterly via STH-57 into Green Bay.
- At Green Bay, the circle tour transitions to the final seven miles of I-43 northwesterly to that highway's northern terminus at US-41/US-141.
- The LMCT then turns northerly via US-41/US-141 in Howard.
- A the US-41/US-141 split in Abrams, the circle tour veers northeasterly to follow US-41 through Oconto and Peshitgo on its way to Marinette.
- At Marinette, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour enters Michigan on the US-41 Interstate Bridge linking that city with its sister, Menominee, on the other bank.
- Continue on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour route into Michigan at the Michigan Highways website.
Note: The "Circle Tour Road Route" description from the GLIN website is not only vague, but incorrect! Ignoring the vague routings in the Door Peninsula, Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Port Washington, the route also doesn't traverse "US-43" (that would be "I-43"). The routing of the LMCT on the GLIN website is Michigan is flat-out incorrect! The route included on this website has been personally researched by the website author in the field.
Lake Michigan Circle Tour Loop/Spur Route
While most Lake Michigan Circle Tour spur and loop routes simply involve an alternate highway routing diverging from the mainline route, this particular spur route is unique among them. On August 29, 1998, Lake Michigan Carferry's S.S. Badger which ferries automobiles, trucks and passengers between Manitowoc, Wisconsin and Ludington, Michigan was officially designated as a Lake Michigan Circle Tour spur route. The route traverses the following path:
- From the mainline Lake Michigan Circle Tour route in downtown Manitowoc at jct US-10 & US-151, the route heads southerly via US-10 along 10th St, easterly via Madison St and northerly via Lakeview Dr to the carferry docks.
- The route then traverses Lake Michigan itself via the S.S. Badger carferry.
- In Ludington, Michigan, the route leaves the carferry docks and heads northerly via US-10/James St.
- Downtown, the route turns easterly via US-10/Ludington Ave and heads to a connection with the LMCT mainline at jct US-31 east of the city.
Back to: Great Lakes Circle Tour page.
- Official Lake Michigan Circle Tour - from the West Michigan Tourist Association (WMTA). The WMTA helped to coordinate the first of the Great Lakes Circle Tours in the 1980s.
- Great Lakes Circle Tour - information from the Great Lakes Commission. It was the GLC who originally established the Great Lakes Circle Tours and continues to provide information on many aspects of the Great Lakes region.
- Lake Michigan Circle Tour - from the Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN), which "is a partnership that provides one place online for people to find information relating to the binational Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region of North America." Please note that the "Circle Tour Road Route" description from the GLIN site is not only vague, but incorrect! (See note above following LMCT mainline route description.)
- Shoreline Charms - an article by Donna Marchetti about the Lake Michigan Circle Tour from the Michigan Living magazine published by AAA Michigan.
- S.S. Badger Carferry - links Manitowoc, Wisconsin with Ludington, Michigan and has been officially designated as a spur route on the Lake Michigan Circle Tour.