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Ontario’s Beachin’ Great Lakes

Some of the best freshwater beaches in the world

  • One of Canada’s greatest resources!
  • Freshwater beach destination opportunities unlike any other!
  • Ontario’s incomparable Great Lakes!

Who doesn’t love sunshine and lakes? Put them together, throw in a great beach opportunity and you have an unbeatable combination! As crazy-huge as the Great Lakes are, there’s an equal abundance of spectacular beachy opportunities.

Lake Erie's Port Burwell beach (click any pic to enlarge)Let’s grab a beach towel and some sunscreen as we take a ride around these Great Lakes and look at the best beach spots to enjoy some fun in the sun. But first let’s look at why we need to appreciate our patch of sun-tabulous beachfront for the earthly treasure this refreshing water represents.

You can’t imagine the size!

In total, the five Great Lakes hold over 20% of the worlds surface fresh water. Over 10,000 miles of shoreline surrounding deep lakes gathering river runoff. Fresh water flows lake into lake into lake, through the St. Lawrence Seaway (or Highway H2O) to the Atlantic Ocean.

Some crazy stats (from www.greatlakes.guide):

  • Great Lakes Basin (pic courtesy of National Wildlife Federation)A lot of people ~ The Great Lakes basin is home to approx. 40 million people, nestled among 2 countries, 2 provinces, 8 states, and 64 First Nations.
  • A very busy area ~ The money generated in business within the Great Lakes Basin would make it the third largest economy in the world with a GDP of USD $6 trillion (CAD $7.6 trillion).
  • A lot of water ~ The Great Lakes watershed holds a volume of 6.5 quadrillion gallons of water. Expanded out, that’s a depth of 1.5m (almost 5ft) covering ALL of North America. 

Let’s introduce our Great Lakes

Forged from the retreat of the glaciers over 10,000 years ago, the glacial melt-water runoff channeled and pooled to form the immensity of this Great Lakes Basin. From Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean, this basin drains 2300 miles (3700 km) great lake to great lake and through the St. Lawrence Seaway.

depth of the Great Lakes System (pic courtesy vividmaps)

The Great Lakes as they flow from west to east:

  • Lake Superior – largest of the Great Lakes and largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. It borders Ontario to it’s north and Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan on the south-facing US side.
  • Lake Michigan – wholly in the United States and bordered by Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Third largest by surface area.
  • Lake Huron – second largest of the Great Lakes by surface area bordered by Ontario to it’s north and east and Michigan to it’s west. Manitoulin Island is the worlds largest lake island and separates the core of Lake Huron with the Georgian Bay section.
  • Lake Erie's Long Point Provincial Park beach accessLake Erie – fourth largest and warmest of the great lakes. Creates the international border with Ontario to it’s north and has Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York on its western, southern, and eastern shores.
  • Lake Ontario – last in the Great Lakes chain before it flows with the St. Lawrence river system to the Atlantic Ocean. Lake Ontario, being the smallest of the five great lakes, has Ontario on it’s north shores and New York State on it’s south and east shores.

What’s the naming root of the Great Lakes?

It’s not surprising the impact our first nation indigenous communities had on the names adopted for these massive inland lakes. Early explorers adopted or adapted these cultural names and in repetition, they stuck. As large as Ontario is, the first nations who inhabited the area root from Ojibwe in the north, Huron in the central regions and Iroquois to the east.

  • Lake Superior – indigenous Ojibwe “gichi gami” – for great sea
  • Lake Michigan – indigenous Ojibwe “mishi gami” – for large lake
  • Lake Huron – indigenous Huron “karegnondi” – meaning freshwater sea
  • Lake Erie – indigenous Iroquoian “erielhonan” – meaning long tail
  • Lake Ontario – indigenous Huron ”ontarí'io” – meaning lake of shining waters

Top 5 benefits of swimming in freshwater

For us, comparing a freshwater beach adventure to an ocean beach outing is like pouring a fresh-made margarita with salt on the rim to one without salt on the rim – your preference which is better! Depending on perspective – add one or two ice cubes you just have to jump in!equates to the Atlantic, or filled with ice, a closer chilly temperature to the northern freshwater temps. Depends on what you grew up with on which combinations you prefer … but seriously a few reasons why fresh water has it’s appeal:

  • Freshwater swimming is easier because there’s less resistance, saltwater particles cause friction reducing your swimming efficiency. Conversely though, floating is easier in salt water due to the density (added buoyancy) added by the natural salt content.
  • Freshwater, generally being colder - stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for repairing the body resulting in better sleep, better circulation, increased happiness, increased metabolism, boosted immune system, better skin. (Health benefits of open water swimming | Swim England Open Water)
  • No stinging of the eyes in fresh water.
  • No salty residue after drying off.
  • No sharks!

Are the Great Lakes colder than my favorite ocean beach?

Not necessarily! The Great Lakes offer a wider swing in temperatures from frozen (or near frozen) in winter to the mid-70’s in the peaks of summer. I bet you’ve never seen the ocean freeze, right?

Atlantic Ocean beaches have far lesser swing due to the north flowing Gulf Stream moderating the US Atlantic coast; the opposite being the case for Pacific Coast US beaches as the North Pacific Stream flows south keeping those beaches colder.

  • yes, the Great Lakes are cold! Lake Erie temps range from 70’F in July to a high of about 75’F into August – warmest of the Great Lakes.
  • Lake Ontario temps range from 65’F in July to a high of about 72’F into August
  • Lake Huron temps range from a shocking 60’F in July to a high of about 68’F into August


  • New Jersey beachlines range from 70’ – 75’F in summer.
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida beachlines range between 83’ in July to 86’F into August – Caribbean influenced!
  • Santa Barbara, California beach temps range between 60’ in July to 64’F into August – crazy, eh!

What determines a “great” Great Lakes beach?

With thousands of miles of waterfront where water meets land, there’s ample opportunity for a great shoreline experience. But with each Great Lake having it’s own unique characteristics, you’re in for a treat no matter how you experience the “beach”.

Lake Ontario's Toronto Island Center Beach (Blue Flag)From Lake Huron’s scraped-limestone rocky shorelines to Lake Erie’s soft-sand-swept peninsulas to Lake Ontario’s sand dunes and rocky cliffs, many great beaches are just a short distance away.

While beach opportunities abound mile after shoreline mile, the “Best of the Best” beaches get a Blue Flag designation from Blue Flag Canada. A Blue Flag beach proudly flying its flag let’s you know that the beach adheres to maintaining strict criteria in its water quality, environmental management, environmental education, safety, and available services. As a Global Blue Flag Program representing 48 countries and thousands of beaches (2022), you know Blue Flag beaches are clean, safe, and sustainable.

Proudly, in 2021, our Great Lakes can boast 19 designated Blue Flag Beaches, with Lake Ontario ~ 9, Lake Erie ~ 3, Lake Huron & Georgian Bay ~ 7. But let me assure you, the uncountable other beaches along our Great Lakes shorelines are pretty spectacular too!

Let’s explore the Great Lakes beaches

Let’s take a deeper dive Great Lake by Great Lake to explore our recommendations for your best summers’ day beach opportunities.

GoGirlfriend loves a beach day – be it a sunny Caribbean beach with divine aquamarine waters, a Gulf coast powdery soft Florida beach afternoon or a miles long beach stroll along Lake Erie’s Long Point Peninsula. Like our margarita’s, we like them both - with and without salt - as they are divine either way!

Do you prefer freshwater swimming or saltwater swimming experiences better? We’d love to hear. Drop a comment below or weigh in on our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram channels – whichever you prefer.

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