Yes, swimming occurs in Lake Michigan, but only during beach season. This season starts the Friday before Memorial Day and goes straight to Labor Day. Beaches are open for individuals to swim from 11 am to 7 pm when the lifeguards are on duty.
It is advisable to take caution when swimming in the Great Lake. Swimmers ought to be aware of their abilities plus pay close attention to the signs posted before taking the plunge. If you follow the warning and signs, you will be fine.
1961 was the year Ted Erikson swam across Lake Michigan. He swam for over 36 hours in conditions comparable to a storm. This feat gave him the title of the first person to swim across the Great Lake. [source]
In 1998 Jim Dreyer set a new distance record by swimming Lake Michigan from Wisconsin to Michigan. Jim Dreyer became the first person to swim a mid-lake.
In 2020, a six-man team swam Lake Michigan in a relay. Jon Ornée, Dave Ornée, Matt Smith, Nick Hobson, Jeremy Sall, and Todd Suttor swam the distance in about 21 hours. [source]
Ideal Places For Swimming In Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is second only to Lake Superior by volume. Lake Michigan touches the states of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. The range of beaches covers lonely expanses of shoreline to beach towns to urban centers.
April is ideal for swimming as the water temperature is warm. Mid-June to Mid-September is also when swimmers experience the best weather for going to the beach.
The location of ideal beaches are in national and state parks, so there is the possibility of an entrance fee. This fee for residents of Michigan ranges from $6.00 for Mopeds to $18.00 for Commercial daily passes. A $12.00 state pass is available for purchase at the time of registration of license plates. Non-residents have to pay $36.00 for annual passes and $10.00 for daily entry.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
This park hosts seven beaches, ranging from inland beaches on the North Bar Lake to long stretches of sand along Lake Michigan. The decision of which beach to choose depends on your temperature tolerance level and the type of beach you prefer.
Platte Point Beach and Esch Road Beach are also two popular spots, especially for children to wade in the water or float on inner tubes along the calm waters.
This beach is perfect for water toys, kayaking, or paddleboarding. Additionally, the children can amuse themselves with the Whirlpool Compass Fountain with water jets projecting water several feet in the air.
The south pier at Silver Beach provides a bit of exercise in the form of fishing for people that wish to take a try at it.
North Ave Beach
North Ave Beach is an urban beach providing a lively scene including kayaking, water bikes, Jet Skis, wakeboards, and paddleboards. Beach volleyball is extremely popular on this beach.
Indiana Dunes State Park
This park boasts 15 miles of sandy beach. There are eight beaches in total. The most preferred beach is West Beach, where a lifeguard is on duty, and there are restrooms, bathhouses, and picnic tables.
Holland State Park
Holland State Park is synonymous with sugary soft sand. Paddleboarding, kayaking, and other watercraft supplies are readily available, or you can bring your own. The park is an excellent spot for watching the sunset and camping.
Reasons To Take Caution
Lake Michigan is the second-largest Great Lake, but it is also the deadliest lake. The lake received this title due to the number of drowning each year, with an average of 38. [source]
Some of the below reasons deal directly with contamination or pollution, so the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has implemented the Lake Michigan Beach Monitoring and Notification Program. This program partners with beach managers and staff that collect and test water samples
Due to the shape of Lake Michigan (eggplant) and the north to south orientation, there are deadly currents that could form. Authorities at times close off beaches and post warnings alerting swimmers not to enter the hazardous waters.
The rip currents develop from high winds coming across the lake’s surface. The winds are extremely fast as there are no obstacles in the water to slow them down.
Large amounts of water forced towards the shore escape by a rip current which forms a stream of water in the opposite direction. Swimmers getting caught in a rip current might be taken away from the shore. The rip currents are enough to proclaim the title from the San Francisco Bay and the Mississippi river of being the place where people have to think twice before swimming.
Presence Of Bacteria
Most of the beaches that border Lake Michigan monitor the levels of E. coli several times a week. Depending on their findings, the beaches are closed off, or posted signs warn beachgoers about the potential dangers.
E. coli can result in diarrhea, vomiting, and infection. Authorities also use this information as evidence of feces in the water. This presence means that other harmful bacteria or even pathogens are present.
Fecal matter is the host for E. coli and can enter the water via runoff or overflow from farms, waste management plants, or even pets on the beaches. But scientists have discovered that the main culprit is seagulls and other water birds.
Reduced Water Quality
Besides being a preferred recreational location, Lake Michigan is the source of drinking water for millions of individuals, including the origin of tap water for the residents of Chicago.
Unfortunately, toxic chemicals can pollute the waters and affect both uses. State authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency monitor the lake to ensure the water stays safe. However, there are reports of chemicals leaking into the lake.
Citations were issued to US Steel several times for dumping or leaking chromium in Lake Michigan. Residents on the southern section of the lake reported chemical smells and, on occasions, left the lake with infections and rashes.
The wind and the waves typically prevent the lake from freezing during the winter season. Although the water in Lake Michigan remains cold all year round, temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit can result in hypothermia.
Swimmers might suck water into their lungs when they gasp after the surprising effect of the cold water. The body temperature decreases 25 times faster, possibly taking the swimmer’s strength. Once the body temperature of a human falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothermia can develop.
Exposure To Parasites
Globally, Giardia and Cryptosporidium are parasites that result in waterborne illnesses. The parasites enter the water once it comes into contact with the feces of infected individuals or animals.
Waste management facility overflows, runoff from agriculture, or improperly functioning sewage systems can introduce these parasites into the lake.
What Is At The Bottom Of Lake Michigan?
The deepest section of Lake Michigan measures approximately 925 feet. Below these waters, scientists discovered a prehistoric carving of a mastodon, an ancestor of the modern-day elephant, plus a series of stones oriented in the shape of a ring, closely resembling the Stonehenge. [source]
There is also an eleven-foot statue holding a life-sized crucified Jesus Christ. The white marble statue lies beneath the waters of Lake Michigan as a memorial to those who have passed away while diving.