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Overview & Introduction

Great Lakes Circle Tour route markerThe Great Lakes Circle Tours (GLCT) are a total of four routes circling each of the Great Lakes with the exception of Lake Ontario. These routes were conceived as an aid for travellers who wished to stick close to the shorelines of the lakes in their journeys as well as a vehicle for state, regional, and local tourism organizations to promote travel and activities along the shores of each lake. After the routes were established, many local and regional tourism organizations began tying their promotional activities into the Circle Tours.

The Lake Superior Circle Tour was the first route established in 1986, with Michigan following in 1987, then Huron and Erie following in the early 1990s.

In 1985, Michigan First Lady Paula Blanchard, an advisor to the Michigan Department of Commerce at the time, pitched the idea to establish a tour route around Lake Superior at a tourism conference that fall. Soon after, MDOT drafted a design for the signs and, working with the transportation departments in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ontario, helped devise a route around the largest of the Great Lakes.

Once the Lake Superior Circle Tour signs had been erected in 1986, work began in earnest for a Lake Michigan Circle Tour, becoming a reality just one year later. Then in 1988, the Great Lakes Commission approved an overarching “Great Lakes Circle Tour” to help coordinate the various routes among the eight Great Lakes states and the province of Ontario.

The GLCT routes have generally been designated by each state or provincial transportation department or ministry along the state or provincial highway closest to the Great Lake shoreline. In a few areas, though, the Circle Tour is signed along locally maintained roadways and a few select GLCT Loops and Spurs, signed with special brown signs, have also been designated.

Since their creation, however, the Circle Tours have seen varying levels of success and waning support from the Great Lakes Commission has left their continued existence in the hands of the individual jurisdictions. Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio still sign and maintain their portions of the Circle Tour routes, while signage Minnesota, Ontario and Pennsylvania is now less than complete or even missing in some areas.

Back to: The Circle Tours.