A snorkeler observing a shipwreck just beneath the surface

Photo: David J. Ruck/NOAA

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Map of showing the location of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Location: Northwest Lake Huron

Size: 4,300 square miles

Designated: 2000 (expanded 2014)

Known shipwrecks: 99

Shipwrecks yet to be located: 100+

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Photos (left to right): David J. Ruck/NOAA; Bryan Dort

Unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals earned northwestern Lake Huron the name “Shipwreck Alley.” Fire, ice, collisions, and storms have claimed more than 200 vessels in and around the lake’s Thunder Bay. Today, these historic wrecks are protected by Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Lake Huron’s cold, fresh water ensures that Thunder Bay’s shipwrecks are among the best-preserved in the world. From an 1838 sidewheel steamer to a modern 500-foot-long German freighter, the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay represent a microcosm of maritime commerce and travel on the Great Lakes.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary encourages paddlers, divers, and snorkelers to visit the area’s historic shipwrecks. Some, such as the wooden schooner Portland and the paddle-wheel steamer Albany, rest in shallow enough water that they can easily be explored from a paddleboard or a kayak. Other wrecks, like Lucinda Van Valkenburg and W.P. Thew, provide opportunities to new and experienced divers alike. Seasonal mooring buoys provide a safe attachment point for visiting boats, limiting damage to the shipwrecks.

The sanctuary also maintains the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Michigan. With 10,000 square feet of immersive exhibits, the heritage center is the perfect gateway to get to know Thunder Bay.