Spend a Day at these Beautiful West Michigan Beaches
From Mackinaw City in the north to the Indiana state line, Michigan’s western shore forms a nearly unbroken span of golden shoreline. Beaches large and small, protected as state and national park lands and set within the boundaries of a busy downtown, dot the Lake Michigan shore. Whether you prefer lots of action or a quiet wilderness experience, Michigan offers a beach for you.
Encompassing more than 10,000 acres of unspoiled natural beauty, Wilderness State Park offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in the best of Pure Michigan. 26 miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline border the park, which features 250 beachside campsites and rustic cabins.
Numerous wilderness trails lead through the park’s interior, beneath thick white pine forests, along the ridges of ancient dunes and down to the water’s edge, where you’re likely to have the beach all to yourself. Stay awake past the glorious sunset for an unsurpassed view of a million stars.
Want to spend some time exploring one of the nation’s oldest colonial forts, Michilimackinac? Interested in snapping pics of the Mackinac Bridge or hopping a ferry to Mackinac Island? Wilderness State Park sits just 10 miles away from all of those pastimes in Mackinaw City.
A jewel of America’s National Park system, the Sleeping Bear Dunes contain more than 70,000 acres of wilderness including two Lake Michigan islands, the Sleeping Bear Point Maritime Museum, the ghost town of Glen Haven and numerous scenic hiking trails. But this national park is best known for its towering sand dunes and beautiful golden beaches. The best include Platte River Point, where the slow-moving Platte River empties into Lake Michigan and you can see the park’s massive perched dunes to the north; the beach at the foot of the park’s famous 110-foot Dune Climb; and the wild shoreline of South Manitou Island, complete with the shipwrecked remains of the Francisco Morazan jutting above the water’s surface.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes are located half an hour west of Traverse City, with a host of attractions: fine and casual dining, beachside hotels, boutique shopping and Michigan’s most highly-acclaimed wine country.
Even Michiganders, who are used to great beaches, are wowed by the waterfront in Ludington. Shortly after leaving the city limits, Lakeshore Drive (M-116) passes through a stunning 8-mile stretch of wild sand dunes and, at their base, a miles-long, unbroken stretch of golden strand. A half-dozen small roadside parking areas allow visitors to relax beachside away from the crowds. But it’s worth continuing north to Ludington State Park for expanded parking, beautiful campgrounds, access to Hamlin Lake if Lake Michigan’s waters prove too cold and a visit to Big Sable Point Lighthouse. Accessible only via a 2-mile beach walk, the 112-foot black and white striped lighthouse is one of Michigan’s most photographed.
Ludington State Park lies approximately 15 minutes from downtown Ludington with a variety of quaint B&Bs, casual dining, shopping and the Harborview Marina.
Muskegon’s Hoffmaster State Park promises a quiet beach getaway. Climb the short staircase from the parking area to the top of the forest-covered dunes and sink your toes in the smooth Lake Michigan sand. An expansive dog-friendly shoreline, towering dunes and panoramic views stand front and center at Hoffmaster, but you’ll want to reserve time to explore some of the park’s many miles of trails, famous for their brilliant wildflowers each spring.
The beach sits 20 minutes from downtown Muskegon, known for the fantastic Muskegon Museum of Art, the spectacular Victorian lumber baron mansions at the Hackley & Hume Historic Site and Michigan’s Adventure Amusement & Water Park.
Step out of the cool woodlands of Saugatuck Dunes State Park and you’ll instantly realize: The mile-long walk to this secluded Lake Michigan beach was worth it. Two-and-a-half miles of undeveloped beach await those who make the hike, as do a backdrop of tall coastal dunes, rolling hills…and little else, including people.
After swimming in Lake Michigan and relaxing on the sugar-sand beach, check out one of the park’s numerous trails which will lead you back to the day-use park. There you’ll find picnic tables and the park’s only restrooms. Saugatuck Dunes State Park sits between Holland and Saugatuck, both with charming downtowns, fine and casual dining, craft breweries and an array of art galleries.
Spectacular golden beach sand, views of South Haven’s brilliant red lighthouse, concessions and a playground make South Beach Park a great place to spend a summer day. And if you tire of the sand, the park also features a skateboard park and historical markers recounting South Haven’s role as a turn-of-the-century Great Lakes tourist town and commercial port. It’s a pleasant, flower-lined walk along the channel boardwalk to downtown South Haven, with a variety of fun shops, casual dining and the fascinating Michigan Maritime Museum.
Life in Grand Haven revolves around the beach. An easy walk from downtown, Grand Haven State Park is pure golden sand, with great people-watching, beach volleyball, more than 100 beach campsites and easy access to the pier and the brilliant red Grand Haven Lighthouse, its rare catwalk still intact. Climb the dunes at the end of the beach for panoramic views overlooking it all. At day’s end, walk Grand Haven’s popular boardwalk to downtown dining, shopping and the iconic Musical Fountain.
Tiscornia Park ranks as St. Joseph’s hidden lakeside jewel. Less well-known than nearby Silver Beach—and less crowded—Tiscornia’s warm, shallow water makes this a perfect playground for children. Splash around in the water and spend a morning building sandcastles on the beach, then picnic overlooking the North Pier, the St. Joseph lighthouse and a flotilla of charming Lake Michigan boats.
Take time for the Silver Beach Carousel and its attached museum to recall beach life from a century ago. Downtown, St. Joseph offers plenty of fine and casual dining, boutique shopping and a vibrant arts scene.