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The Nautical Heart of the Great Lakes

Charming towns, islands, inlets, rivers and parks become together to make Lake St. Clair a glorious getaway spot. Tagged the "nautical heart of the Great Lakes," there's not only a bounty of water activities — it's one of the top bass fishing destinations in the U.S. — but also shopping, dining and cultural fun at places like the Great Lakes Maritime Center, Selfridge Military Air Museum, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Belle Isle Aquarium and Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, a greenhouse and conservatory on Belle Isle. Here's a glimpse at how to navigate this marvelous, 430-square-mile body of water and all that it offers.

Where to Dock
The what-to-do list is long at the 770-acre Lake St. Clair Metropark, which features three marinas, eight boat ramps, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and Squirt Zone spray ground with water cannons, shooting water geysers and water tunnels. Stroll the 1,600-foot boardwalk running along a mile of sandy beach on Lake St. Clair or bike the three-mile paved trail. Swing a club at the par-3 golf course or on the miniature golf course. Rent a kayak or canoe. This is also a great place to do some serious birding, as the area is designated as an official Michigan Wildlife Viewing Area and offers more than 230 species of birds.

MacRay Harbor Marina has lots of amenities: 30- or 50-amp power, dockside water, free premium cable TV and WiFi, two drive-up parking spaces, two swimming pools, kid activity center and playground, poolside café, dockside deli and elegant but casual dining, including a killer brunch at their Harbor Grille Bistro.

Where to Stay
For some island living, stay at the Maple Leaf Inn Bed & Breakfast, a century-old former boathouse on Harsens Island. It sits on the St. Clair River, considered one of the busiest waterways in the world with more boat traffic than the Panama and Suez Canals combined. The inn offers views of Canada and is within walking distance of the don't-blink-you'll-miss-it town of San Souci and the Sans Souci Bar, known for its all-you-can-eat perch on Saturday and Sunday nights.

Arrive at the River Crab on the St. Clair River via marina shuttle, or moor at its docks for elegant dining: Coconut Macadamia Encrusted Shrimp, Cedar Planked Salmon and Pepper Crusted Tournedos. Then, stay at the adjoining, recently renovated Blue Water Inn for wonderful water views.

Where to Eat
How about a two-fer: dinner and ball game? Moor your boat at the docks in front of Sindbads Restaurant and Marina (sindbads.com), a Detroit River tradition since 1949, and choose from such menu items as Alaskan King Crab Legs, fresh whitefish and lake perch, and steak. After, catch a shuttle to Comerica Park where the Detroit Tigers play (be sure to call ahead to arrange the transfer). If the game goes late, spend the night aboard your boat.

Board the Blue Water Ferry in Marine City for the short trip across the St. Clair River to Sombra, a small Canadian town that was once a bustling hub for bootlegging. (Hey, hooch wasn't illegal until it got to the states.) Dine at the Aft Cabin Restaurant & Garden Patio and then, after a beer-battered halibut burger for lunch, take a peek at the tiny Sombra Museum for more about the area's history on both land and sea.

What to Do
Designed to look like a group of Cotswold cottages with fairytale-like stone rooftops and vine-covered walls, lead-paned windows and landscaped gardens, the 87-acre estate of Edsel and Eleanor Ford (fordhouse.org) on the shores of Lake St. Clair is now a museum open to visitors.

Come by boat or land to "Celebrate the Lake" at MacRay Harbor on Saturday, June 14. Activities include a nautical yard sale, kids' fun, free boat rides and a free concert at night.            

AquaPalooza 2014, the largest on-the-water concert held on Lake St. Clair, will be Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27. It is held in Anchor Bay off the shores of Belle Maer Harbor and is accessible by water only.

Feather bowling? What can we say but that it's part of the experience of tying up at the public docks of Mount Clemens, a historic city filled with art galleries, shops and eateries on the Clinton River. Bath City Bistro features three lanes of Belgian Trough Bowling, a lesser known sport involving rolling a disc towards a pigeon feather. If that's not your thing, the food's good as well.

Guide to Fishing
Despite its small size when compared to its neighbors, Lake Huron and Lake Erie, Lake St. Clair accounts for nearly 30 percent of the sport fishing catch of the Great Lakes. It boasts millions of smallmouth and largemouth bass that grow to an average of two pounds apiece.

Kevin Backus of Mr. Muskie's Charters also reports monster sturgeon being snagged on Lake St. Clair, including a 96-incher, the largest caught last year. Backus has sturgeon, bass, perch and muskie charters.

Popular for birders and fishing enthusiasts, Mitchell's Bay offers camping, a marina and hot spots for hooking smallmouth bass and pickerel. The St. Clair River is considered one of the best rivers in the Great Lakes for walleye.

Guide to Hiking
Algonac State Park, which meanders through lake plain prairies and oak savannas and along the St. Clair River, is perfect for spotting prairie plants, butterflies and wildlife along such trails as St. Clair County Bridge to Bay Trail and the Algonac Oak-Savannah Trail.

Lake St. Clair Resources
Aft Cabin Restaurant & Garden Patio – www.theaftcabinrestaurant.com
Algonac State Park – www.michigan.org/property/algonac-state-park/trails
Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory – www.belleisleconservancy.org
Bath City Bistro – www.bathcitybistro.com
Belle Isle Aquarium – www.belleisleconservancy.org
Blue Water Ferry – www.bluewaterferry.com
Blue Water Inn – www.rivercrabbluewaterinn.com
Dossin Great Lakes Museum – www.detroithistorical.org
Edsel & Eleanor Ford House – www.fordhouse.org
Great Lakes Maritime Center – www.achesonventures.com/MaritimeCenter.aspx
Lake St. Clair Metropark – www.metroparks.com/Lake-St.-Clair-Metropark
MacRay Harbor Marina – www.macray.com
Maple Leaf Inn Bed & Breakfast – www.mapleleafgetaway.com
Mount Clemens – www.downtownmountclemens.com
Mr. Muskie's Charters – www.mrmuskiecharters.com
River Crab – www.rivercrabbluewaterinn.com
Sindbads Restaurant and Marina – www.sindbads.com
Selfridge Military Air Museum – www.selfridgeairmuseum.org
Sombra Museum – www.sombramuseum.webs.com

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