Visiting the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo

Photo of the waves at Lake Erie with a tree and rocks in the foregrouund.

Ahoy, mateys! Up for an adventure on the high seas? The “inland seas,” that is! With the recent passing of legend Gordon Lightfoot, singer of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” now seemed as good a time as any to discuss a day trip gem.

Visiting The National Museum of the Great Lakes is a great day trip and is located right next to the Maumee River in Toledo. The Museum is filled with artifacts and experiences for every interest!

Visiting the National Museum of the Great Lakes

The museum is located in Toledo, in a spot across the river from the downtown area. Right away, you notice a giant anchor in front of the building. And you can’t possibly miss the football-fields-long ship, the Colonel James Schoonmaker, adjacent to the entrance!

On the left is a diving suit and on the right orange wood stamped with SS Edmund Fitzgerald. Both of these were seen while visiting the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo.
On the left is an old fashioned diving suit and on the right actual remnants of Lake Superior’s wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

If you’re coming from Central or Southern Ohio, this is a bit more of a hike. It’s just under 2 1/2 hours from Columbs, but well worth it for the museum and some delicious food around Toledo. Admission for the museum alone is $11. For $6 more from May to October you can go aboard both of their historic ships docked at the museum. They also offer Senior, Youth, AAA, and Military discounts.

Stepping into Maritime History

Once you get into the space, you are met with a giant map of the Great Lakes and their surrounding regions, with lighting that indicates the different lakes. A video displays breathtaking footage of the Lakes—including the crashing waves during some of the storms— and the narrator walks through a brief history of the Lakes. You’ll learn how the lakes have changed the landscape of the Midwestern U.S. and the southern part of Canada.

While the Museum is not large, it boasts a well-organized collection. And if you’ve brought along the kids or grandkids, there are decent engagement opportunities for children, as well.

Exploring the Museum

In the “Shipwrecks and Safety” section, you can learn about all the different shipwrecks that have occurred in the Great Lakes. Some of the wrecks remain mysteries even today. Yes, of course, the Edmund Fitzgerald is one of these—and they even have an exhibit piece about it.

From visiting the National Museum of the Great Lakes: on the left the lens for a Great Lakes lighthouse. Seen again on the right through the lens.
In addition to learning about the ships that brave the Great Lakes, you’ll learn about the lighthouses and the technology behind them.

A favorite of mine was the “simulator” activity, where you take the joystick and controls to navigate a small submarine to try to find the remnants of a Great Lakes shipwreck before your air level reaches zero. It was challenging for me, but a kid hopped on after me and found it immediately, so we will say I “warmed it up” for him.

In the “Safeguard and Support” portion, there was tons of information I’d never heard. I learned about Coast Guard’s “Icebreaker” ship. This special ship kept shipping running in the winter. There were also scandalous stories of people using the Lakes to smuggle alcohol across the border during Prohibition!

Interactive Exhibits

And what child wouldn’t enjoy the activity in “Expansion and Industry” where you get to shovel coal to keep the ship running, without letting it overheat?! This section was comprised of all the incredible amount of resources that are transported across the Lakes, from the earliest years to present.

A bird rests on a buoy floating in Ohio's Lake Erie.
The Great Lakes are part of our heritage in Ohio. Above a bird rests on a buoy in our own Lake Erie.

Finally, in “Exploration and Settlement,” you can put together a real picture of the way the Lakes have been used by society. This exhibit dates back to the Native Americans that first lived off of their abundance and the French fur traders that found it instantly profitable. From there, the exhibit leads you into “tourism” that evolved in the region, including passenger steamers.

You can do what we did and take your picture in the fancy photo booth. It looks like an “old timey” photo from the heyday of tourism on the Lakes!

Don’t forget lunch/dinner!

Ultimately, the NMGL is a great place to spend a few hours for all ages, and leans into a history that greatly impacts the people of Ohio and the Midwest as a whole.

Afterward, be sure to find some of the great food spots around! We kept the “historic” theme and ate at “Ye Olde Durty Bird.” It’s a tavern-type joint in an 1867 building just down the street from the Toledo Mudhens’ baseball field! It was delicious food in a cool bar-like atmosphere filled with Toledo Mudhens memorabilia.

Other options locals suggested that sounded delicious included Tony Packo’s (Hungarian cuisine, popularized by its mention in MAS*H) and San Marcos Mexican restaurant. Either way it’s a great opportunity to get and try more Ohio food!


Thanks for FindingOhio with us today. There’s so much to do in the Buckeye State and summer is just around the corner.

Looking for a great day trip? Consider a trip to the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton. Bonus! Admission and parking are free! Planning on spending some time with your pup this summer? Check out our article on hiking the Hocking Hill with dogs. Looking for an island adventure? Put-in-Bay and Kelley’s Island are both excellent choices.

Check out all of the suggestions on our site and be sure to check back frequently because we’re posting new adventures, from Ohio and beyond, every week. And, as always, we appreciate you sharing our content to your social media. Let’s get the word out that Ohio is a great place to live and play!

Marina Dieringer is an aspiring historian and public school history teacher. She received her bachelor’s degree from Malone University in Canton and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in history through then University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She has particular interests in both Ohio history and specifically the maritime history of the Great Lakes. Marina lives in Central Ohio with her husband, dog and two cats.