Lake St. Clair is an aquatic playground in Detroit’s backyard. Detroit is obviously known for cars, but it should also be known for boats because I have seen hundreds if not thousands of boats on the lake. This 430-square mile lake is located 6 miles northeast of Detroit, straddling the U.S./ Canadian border. Lake St. Clair is a “mini” Great Lake, connected to Lake Huron via the St. Clair River and to Lake Erie via the Detroit River. Being a “mini” Great Lake, Lake St. Clair can be stormy and rough at times just like the big lakes and you are likely to see large freighters traversing the lake. Unfortunately for beach goers, it is a very private lake. The majority of the lake front property is made up of private homes. The public beach at Metro Beach is a great place to take in the beauty of Lake St. Clair, but I wouldn’t recommend swimming there because the beach tends to get shut down by E. Coli most years. (For more information about Metro Beach check out this link: https://michigan-explorer.com/metro-beach/ ).
If you are fortunate enough to own a boat, head to the northern bays of Lake St. Clair. At the northern end of the lake, the St. Clair River empties into the lake. The St. Clair River delta is the largest freshwater delta in the world forming many bays. The bays are a perfect place to drop anchor, swim and have a picnic on a hot summer’s day. The high-water levels plaguing beach goers in the Great Lakes the last few years have actually been a blessing for boaters because they have allowed more and better access to the bays and coves. The shallow bays are also warmer than the deeper open water. Some of the popular bays are; Fisher, Goose, Muscamoot and Munchies to name a few. On a clear day you can see the Detroit skyline from some of these bays, about 25 miles away.
Much of the open water of Lake St. Clair is on the Canadian side of the border. To my knowledge, if you want to drop anchor on the Canadian side, you have to check in with the Canadian Coast Guard. I have stayed on the U.S. side.
I don’t own a boat, but I am fortunate that my in-laws do, and they take my wife and I out on it most weekends throughout the summer. My in-laws bought their boat 6 years ago, and it is a nice cabin cruiser. Thankfully, it has a bathroom, so we can spend hours out on the lake. Boating is similar to camping, you bring a picnic, put out inflatables and you relax in the sun. Napping in the sun on a tube is nirvana. A few years later, my in-laws added a jet ski to the armada, so I have also been fortunate to drive that around the lake.
Lake St. Clair has a several claims to fame. Most years there are bass fishing contests out on the lake. This year (2020) there was a contest in August that was broadcast on ESPN 2. I often see fishing boats on trailers in the parking lots of nearby hotels. Lake St. Clair is also a popular ice fishing destination in the winter. Lake St. Clair’s biggest claim to fame is Joobie Nooner. Joobie Nooner is well known with the locals, it is the 2nd largest boat party in the Midwest. An estimated 10,000 boaters show up for Joobie Nooner in recent years. Joobie Nooner takes placeon the last Friday in June, thousands of boaters meet up around Gull island, near Muscamoot Bay and tie off together to party. Joobie Nooner has a reputation for being Mardi Gras on the water. I have never been to the tie off, but we have gone out on the water at the same time. We have purposefully steered clear to avoid the crowds and craziness. Once you tie off at Joobie Nooner you are stuck until people leave. Last year (2019) a quick arriving thunderstorm, caught people off guard and many boats were damaged and injuries were sustained. I heard someone even lost a hand in the chaos. Joobie Nooner has been going strong since 1974 and still happened during this Corona Crisis year (2020). Local law enforcement said that they couldn’t stop this unofficial event, but their job is to contain the party and keep people safe. U.S. Border Patrol on the other hand, set up patrols along the border to keep Canadian boaters from crossing the border to go to the party due to border crossing restrictions with the Corona Crisis.
The Clinton River is one of the many rivers that empty into Lake St. Clair. The river is like a road that leads to all the fun out on the lake. There are many marinas on the river (my in-laws’ boat is located at one), and many houses along the river with docks in their backyards. Like any other road, the Clinton River has a few boat gas stations and restaurants, all accessed by water. There are many beautiful houses along the river, the musician, Uncle Kracker owns a house on the river. The houses, restaurants gas stations and canals, give the area a Venice feel. The Clinton River is a no-wake zone, so take a cruise down the river toward the lake or toward the city of Mount Clemens.
Out over Lake St. Clair you will see a lot of aircraft for a number of reasons. Many private plane owners like to fly over the lake to take in the beauty. Occasionally, out in the bays, I have seen seaplanes land in the water and meet up with boats. An owner of a house on one of the islands in the delta also owns a helicopter and has a landing pad next to the house. Many times, I have seen their gold and black helicopter fly over the boats and bays. Another reason you will see a lot of aircraft over Lake St. Clair is Selfridge Air National Guard base, located directly on the lake. The base has A-10 ground attack aircraft and KC-135 tanker planes and the Coast Guard operates helicopters from the base. Last year (2019) the Michigan Air National Guard had live fire target practice in the middle of nearby Lake Huron with their planes from Selfridge. Most years, Selfridge has an air show at the base, making the water a perfect place to take it in with unobstructed views. One year, the show had the Blue Angels. That year we dropped anchor offshore near the base and saw their amazing maneuver from the water. It was definitely a memorable and unique experience.
Near the southern end of the south channel, there are two lighthouses out in the water. Built between 1855 and 1859, the Old South Channel Lights, guided many ships across Lake St. Clair throughout the years. One of the lights began to lean in 1875. These two lights are on tiny man-made islands. Today they are no longer operational but are reminders of the maritime past.
If you are fortunate to own a boat or know a friend or family member who does, head out to Lake St. Clair to enjoy the boat life.
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