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Underwater Enthusiast Calls Big Sable River ‘Best in the World’ For Freshwater Discovery

You may have been to Ludington to explore its beautiful lakes and rivers, but have you ever peeked under the water? The Big Sable River, in particular, is teeming with hundreds of fish and has no boat traffic from the Hamlin Dam to Lake Michigan – making it one of the best places in the world for snorkeling, according to underwater enthusiast, Nancy Washburne.

In fact, Ludington could be designated as an international freshwater snorkeling destination if a newly formed group has its way. Its members are pursuing this recognition in hopes of sharing this information with the world.

Nancy Washburn was one of Michigan’s great inland water champion before she passed away in January 2022. She had dedicated 30 years of her life to educating people about the enchanting beauty that exists below the surface of 1,000 Michigan’s inland lakes and rivers, filming 700 hours of underwater video. And when she discovered the Big Sable River in her 60s, Washburn described it as the best in the entire world.

“She had been all over the world, the Red Sea, Great Barrier Reef, Grand Cayman Islands,” said her husband, Martin Ruiz. “But she loved it so much here that we came back 15 years in a row. Right here in Ludington - that means something. We think it should be the headquarters for freshwater discovery.”

“For someone who has experienced the best diving and snorkeling sites that the world has to offer, Nancy was thrilled by the beauty and excitement found in Michigan inland lakes,” her website states. “She was not expecting so much color or the great variety of fish, large and small, along with the beautiful vegetation. When you add all of these to the enjoyment of snorkeling, you end up with one of the most therapeutic and energizing activities that the whole family can engage in, virtually around the corner for those fortunate enough to reside in or near Michigan.”

With the Big Sable running through it, the Ludington State Park is home to three campgrounds, sandy beaches, scenic sand dunes, the Big Sable Lighthouse, wetlands, marshlands and forests. It is situated between Hamlin Lake and Lake Michigan, with several miles of beautiful shoreline along both lakes.

Here, it is easy to come into contact with many species in their native habitats. Park Interpreter Alan Wernette notes that, during the summer, a snorkeler might see perch, blue gills, bass, as well as invasive species like sheephead carp, round gobies, and zebra mussels, in the Big Sable River. Other things that may be visible are sunken old trees and, near the footbridge, the pylon footings from the original footbridge. 

“Most are doing it while tubing the river, which is a cool way to see what is under you,” Wernette said. “For years, we had a certain family snorkel the river and give us artifacts they found or tell us what they are seeing. I believe all the artifacts they have found were given to us, as they are officially owned by the State of Michigan and cannot be removed.” 

The video images of the carp, drum fish, bowfin, pike, longnose gar, and snapping turtle all were taken at the Big Sable River, according to Ruiz. 

Following his wife’s death, Ruiz has made it his mission to continue Washburne’s work to tell people about the beauty of snorkeling in Michigan.


To find out more about Washburn’s explorations, her book, The Snorkeling Guide to Michigan Inland Lakes, is available at or wherever books are sold.

“A must read for anyone looking for new and exciting activities in Michigan (for the Midwest) this summer.” –John G. Shedd Aquarium

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