What is the Great Loop?


The Eastern United States is an Island??

I was as amazed as you are!!

Great Loop routesIn 2012, I discovered the existence of the Great Loop – a 6,000 mile (9,656 km) trip over rivers, lakes, and man made canals that surround the eastern part of the US. Those who take the trip generally follow the route shown in magenta to right, with some alternate routes are shown in brown (click on the picture to enlarge it). I live just off Lake Erie, so one possible route is to go north through the Detroit River, up through Lake St Clair and the St Clair River, then pass under the Blue Water Bridge and into Lake Huron. The trip around the eastern US could continue then around Michigan's lower peninsula and under the Mackinac Bridge into Lake Michigan. There are many side trips off the Great Loop, some of which are shown below in magenta. For example, you could follow the eastern shore of Lake Huron as you travel north along the Canadian coastline, exploring tens of thousands of islands in Georgian Bay, and marvel at the remains of the LaCloche Mountains surrounding the North Channel. You could elect to pass through the locks in Sault Ste Marie into Lake Superior, or you may elect to save the largest of the Great Lakes for another trip. There are a multitude of similar choices for those following the Great Loop (aka “Loopers”); in fact, you could stay on the inland waters of the United States and Canada for tens of thousands of miles before ever returning to your starting point.

Great Loop side tripsIgnoring the many options for the moment and continuing around the lower peninsula in Lake Michigan, you'll find that there is an exit at the southern end of the lake, allowing boats to pass out through the Chicago River – yep, you can boat through the heart of downtown Chicago! Chicago is just one of several major metropolitan areas that grew and flourished along the waterways. The Chicago River is linked to the Illinois River by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and allows Loopers to enter the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis, Missouri. Most Loopers follow the Mississippi as far south as the Ohio River, which they follow upstream to the Tennessee River, then continue upstream on the Tennessee to the man made Tenn-Tombigbee waterway – which takes them through a series of locks to the Tombigbee River – and ultimately, to the Gulf of Mexico.

Loopers can then follow the Intracoastal Waterway (aka ICW or “the Ditch”) around the Gulf, and may elect to continue as far south and west as Dry Tortugas, or may decide to cut through Florida's Everglades. Either way, Loopers can stay in the protected waters of the ICW nearly the entire way to the Hudson River in New York, at which time they can follow the river north to the Erie Canal. I've nearly crossed my own wake by this time – which is to say I've almost completed the Great Loop. All that remains on my hypothetical journey is to follow the Erie Canal west to Lake Erie and return to port.

I've always loved the water and enjoyed sailing – especially the the magic that happens when you're able to kill the engine and let the wind in the sails take over its job. Speed isn't an issue, keeping a schedule for arrival at the next destination is immaterial, and seeing all the sights the destination has to offer isn't a big deal . The journey is its own motivation, and I find sailing suits that motivation well.

I hope you'll join me as I plan and equip a Rhodes 22 sailboat for the trip, and stick with me when I launch Magic Moments and begin the journey in May of 2017. I'm not sure what form the web site will take over time – I'm still fairly new to putting pages and posts on the web. Regardless, I hope to see you along the way! Follow the links to the right by category or by date, and leave a comment from time to time – share your wisdom!

This article belongs to Great Loop, little boat ! The original article can be found here: What is the Great Loop?

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6 thoughts on “What is the Great Loop?”

  1. liked your the layout of your site and the simplicity of the info include
    Trying to get underway from Boise Id June 28th 2015
    1987 Macgregor 25 Honda 7.5 perhaps launch Missouri river
    not 100% sure any feed back in good
    are you still planning your may 2016 departure, will you carry a dinghy?

  2. Hi Cliff –

    My only feedback is to be sure you’ve taken some trips which vary in length and sail under different weather conditions. That will familiarize you with how best to store things and how best to handle your boat – docking, handling wakes, locking through, etc. You’ll also get a feel for spare parts you may need for the boat. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll get a feel for your own limitations.

    I’ve got a small dinghy that I’ll tow stern-to-stern, elevating the stern of the dinghy a bit with two towing rods, but I’ll have the capability to raise it completely out of the water if need be.

    My May 2016 departure date is cast in Jello 🙂 I’m hoping to make that time frame work – but mine isn’t the only schedule I’m struggling with. Stay tuned!


  3. Are you aware of that 19′ 1″ bridge in Chicago? I bet you are, so I’d want an easy system to lower and raise the mast.

    Wind can be dead calm on rivers especially so aux power needs to be reliable.

    I plan on joining the Looper Club as well, but with a larger boat. Your Rhodes 22 is a good choice for a crew of 2.

    Be safe, then enjoy. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the heads up Bill. My mast lowering system is a design I prototyped with Legos (!!)

      I had the parts fabricated in stainless steel and tried them out, and they work a charm! If it’s of interest, you can check out the parts’ designs. I’ll quit playing with the boat in the near future and post a video of the actual operation of the mechanism – stay tuned.

      I think my air draft is only about 6′ with the mast down – so no problems with bridges!


      1. FYI, to help you plan your voyage, in 2017 lockage fees are waived on Canadian Heritage Canals, the Rideau to Ottawa and Trent-Severn from Trenton, as part of the 150 years celebration.  Both canals are rich with history, and have recently received funding for repairs and upgrades to maintain their functionality.

        1. Thanks for the tip SDI! I’m not sure exactly when my departure date will be now – my parents are getting on and visiting regularly takes precedence. Perhaps 2017 is the year of the sail 🙂


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