Great Lakes (USA-Canada)

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Great Lakes cruise port

Canada and USA Rivers

Local Time
2023-12-06 10:16

min: 17 °F (-9 °C) / max: 33 °F (1 °C) 26°F
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Min / Max Temperature33 °F / 1 °C
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  Port Map

North America's Great Lakes (aka Laurentian Great Lakes) are five large freshwater lakes connected (via the Great Lakes Waterway and Saint Lawrence Seaway) to the Atlantic Ocean. The lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario) are either on or near the USA-Canada border (only Lake Michigan is entirely within the USA), making the Great Lakes a two-nation inland waterway system. The five lakes are interconnected (via the Great Lakes Waterway) which allows year-round passenger and cargo shipping operations.

The Laurentian Great Lakes are the planet's largest group of freshwater lakes and the world's second-largest (after Russia's Lake Baikal) by combined water volume (5439 mi3/22671 km3) accounting for ~1/5th (21%) of the world's surface freshwater. Lake Baikal has water volume 5666 mi3/23615 km3) or ~23% of the Earth's surface freshwater. Due to their huge sizes, these lakes are like inland seas, with characteristics like great depths, rolling waves, sustained/storm-speed winds, strong currents.

Great Lakes' water flow starts from Superior and via Huron-Michigan-Erie to Ontario, from where continues (via the St Lawrence River) towards the Atlantic. The lake basin is fed by numerous rivers and also contains several thousand smaller lakes and ~35000 islands.

Great Lakes map of waterways (lakes, rivers, canals, bays)

The Great Lakes are judicially divided among one Canadian province (Ontario) and eight American states (Michigan/MI, Wisconsin/WI, Minnesota/MN, Illinois/IL, Indiana/IN, Ohio/OH, Pennsylvania/PA, New York/NY). Ontario and Michigan are bordered via three lakes (Superior, Huron, Erie). Erie and Ontario are commonly referred to as "lower lakes" while Michigan, Huron and Superior as "upper lakes".

Next are listed the 5x lakes and their main stats.

Lake Superior has surface area (31700 mi2/82000 km2), water volume (2900 mi3/12000 km3) max depth (1333 ft/406 m), largest cities in the USA (Duluth MN, Marquette MI, Sault Ste Marie MI, Superior WI, and in Canada (Sault Ste Marie ON, Thunder Bay ON).

Lake Michigan has surface area (22300 mi2/58000 km2), water volume (1180 mi3/4900 km3) max depth (925 ft/282 m), cities in Illinois (Chicago), Indiana (Gary), Wisconsin (Green Bay, Sheboygan, Milwaukee, Kenosha, Racine) and Michigan (Muskegon, Traverse City).

Lake Huron has surface area (23000 mi2/60000 km2), water volume (850 mi3/3500 km3) max depth (748 ft/228 m), largest cities in Michigan USA (Alpena, Bay City, Port Huron) and in Ontario Canada (Collingwood, Owen Sound, Sarnia).

Lake Erie has surface area (9910 mi2/25700 km2), water volume (116 mi3/480 km3) max depth (210 ft/64 m), largest cities in the USA (Buffalo NY, Toledo OH, Erie PA, Detroit MI) and Ontario Canada (Cleveland, Lorain, Sandusky).

Lake Ontario has surface area (7340 mi2/19000 km2), water volume (393 mi3/1640 km3) max depth (804 ft/245 m), largest cities in New York USA (Rochester NY) and Ontario Canada (Hamilton, Kingston, Mississauga, Oshawa, Toronto).

map of Great Lakes USA ports and harbors

Great Lakes Waterway's locks, canals and channels

Great Lakes Waterway's primary connecting rivers and canals are Chicago and Calumet rivers (connecting to Mississippi River), St Marys River (Soo Locks/interconnects Superior and Huron), Mackinac Straits (Michigan and Huron), St Clair River (Huron and St Clair), Detroit River (St Clair to Erie), Niagara River (Niagara Falls/Erie and Ontario), Welland Canal (Erie and Ontario), and St Lawrence River (part of the St Lawrence Seaway/Ontario to St Lawrence Gulf-Atlantic Ocean).

The Waterway has two main lock systems - Montreal to Lake Ontario (2x American plus 5x Canadian locks) and Welland Canal (8x Canadian locks).

The Seaway canal system comprises 5x canals (15x locks) - South Shore Canal (2x locks/connects Montreal with St Louis Lake), Beauharnois Canal (2x locks/interlinks lakes St Louis and St Francis), Wiley-Dondero Canal (2x locks/connects to St Lawrence Lake), Iroquois Canal (1x lock), Welland Canal (8x locks/interlinks lakes Ontario and Erie).

Due to the locks' sizes/capacity, the Great Lakes Waterway provides access to vessels with max LOA length 740 ft (226 m) and max width/beam 78 ft (24 m). Each lock fills with ~91 million L of water (~24M US gallons) in 7-10 min. Passing through a lock takes a ship ~45 min.


Typical cargoes shipped via the Great Lakes Waterway include breakbulk steel (beams, coils, slabs), project cargoes (machinery, windfarm components), dry-bulk (fertilizers, grains, aggregates), liquid-bulk (chemistry and petroleum products, biofuels), containerized cargoes (boxships carrying TEU-containers).

For regularly scheduled dredging (cleaning and deepening) works along the waterway is often contracted Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company LLC (1890-founded, Houston Texas-based heavy construction contractor). The company is currently ranked the USA's largest provider of dredging and land reclamation works and demolition.

Great Lakes cruise routes

The post-COVID 2022 was the most successful/record-breaking year for voyages on the Great Lakes. The season featured ~150,000 cruise ship tourists (+25% over 2019) served by 9x boats and producing an economic impact of US$125+ million. For season 2023, the Great Lakes ports expected ~170,000 cruise tourists (+15% over 2022) with an estimated economic impact ~US$180M.

Currently, the largest by capacity Great Lakes cruise companies are Viking Cruises USA (ships Viking Octantis, Viking Polaris), Pearl Seas Cruises (Pearl Mist), and the Canadian company St Lawrence Cruise Lines (Canadian Empress). Other travel brands that offer Great Lakes voyages are PONANT and Tauck (fleet).

Until 2023 (Nov) AQV-American Queen Voyages offered 3x itineraries with the ships Ocean Navigator and Ocean Voyager.

  • The 9-day "Chicago to Niagara Falls" itinerary starts in Chicago (overnight hotel) and visits Mackinac Island, Sault Ste Marie (Soo Locks passage), Manitoulin Island (Little Current), Cleveland OH, and ends in Port Colborne (for Niagara Falls/Ontario)
  • The 11-day "Detroit to Montreal" itinerary starts in Chicago (bus travel to Detroit) and visits Cleveland OH (Lake Erie) and Ontario Canada's Port Colborne (Niagara Falls), Toronto (Lake Ontario), Gananoque and Cornwall (St Lawrence River), Quebec City (overnight) and ends in Montreal, with included bus travel back to Detroit.

The last one is the reverse 11-day "Montreal to Detroit" itinerary.

Viking Expeditions currently offers the following Great Lakes cruisetours.

  • 15-day "Great Lakes Collection" itinerary (Duluth to Toronto) visits Duluth MN (also Duluth Small Island in Lake Superior), Thunder Bay ON (also Thunder Bay Island in Lake Huron), Sault Sainte Marie MI (Soo Locks), Mackinac Island, Algoma WI, Alpena MI (Presque Isle Park), Manitoulin Island, Georgian Bay Ontario (La Cloche Lake, Frazer Bay, Park Islands, Killarney ON, Parry Sound ON), Windsor ON (Point Pelee), Cleveland OH, Port Colborne (Niagara Falls), Welland Canal, and ends in Toronto.
  • . The reverse 15-day "Toronto to Duluth" itinerary is also offered.
  • 8-day "Niagara and the Great Lakes" itinerary (Toronto to Milwaukee) visits Toronto, Niagara Horseshoe Falls, Welland Canal, Port Colborne (Niagara Falls), Point Pelee National Park (Lake Erie), Detroit, Presque Isle Park (Marquette MI/Lake Huron), Alpena MI, Mackinac Island, and ends in Milwaukee (overnight).
  • 8-day "Undiscovered Great Lakes" itinerary (Thunder Bay to Milwaukee) visits Thunder Bay ON, Silver Islet ON, Duluth MN, Apostle Islands WI, Houghton MI, Ste Marie Bridge and St Mary's River (Soo Locks passage), Mackinac Island, and ends in Milwaukee.
  • 8-day "Great Lakes Explorer" itinerary (Milwaukee to Thunder Bay) visits Milwaukee, Mackinac Island, Georgian Bay (Parry Sound, Park Islands, Killarney, La Cloche Lake, Frazer Bay), Ste Marie Bridge and Saint Mary's River (Soo Locks), Silver Islet ON, and ends in Thunder Bay ON (Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park).

The next map shows Viking's Great Lakes itinerary (ports and destinations visited in the USA and Canada) all the way between Duluth and Toronto.

Viking Great Lakes cruise itinerary map

Due to the increased Great Lakes cruise passenger traffic, in 2022 were opened two new US Customs and Border Protection facilities - in Cleveland OH and Duluth MI, in addition to the existing ones in Detroit MI and Sault Ste Marie MI.

Port Great Lakes cruise ship schedule shows timetable calendars of all arrival and departure dates by month. The port's schedule lists all ships (in links) with cruises going to or leaving from Great Lakes, USA-Canada. To see the full itineraries (ports of call dates and arrival / departure times) and their lowest rates – just follow the corresponding ship-link.

8 June, 2024
American Queen Voyages Cruises cruise lineOcean Navigator
12 June, 2024
American Queen Voyages Cruises cruise lineOcean Navigator
22 June, 2024
American Queen Voyages Cruises cruise lineOcean Navigator
26 June, 2024
American Queen Voyages Cruises cruise lineOcean Navigator

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