MICHIGAN is THE Great Lakes state — and don’t you forget it. With the longest freshwater coastline in the United States and the second-longest coastline in the country after Alaska (NOT California or Florida), Michigan has an abundance of lakefront parks, and they are among the best in the country. And while the national parks rightfully draw in visitors from all over the world, don’t get so caught up in the hype (and the crowds) that you overlook these excellent and equally awe-worthy state parks.
1. Van Buren State Park — South Haven
It’s no secret to any Michigander (or Chicagoan, for that matter) that the best beaches in Michigan are along Lake Michigan, and the best beaches along Lake Michigan are in Michigan. Van Buren State Park, located just three miles south of South Haven proves that true, with one mile of sandy beach and high dune formations (for which Michigan’s beaches are famous). There are also woodland trails through the park’s 400 acres of land, and 220 modern campsites, each with electricity, a picnic table, and a fire ring.
2. Hartwick Pines State Park — Grayling
At nearly 10,000 acres, Hartwick Pines State Park is one of the largest state parks in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. The park features rolling hills overlooking the East Branch of the Au Sable River valley and four small lakes, but the park’s biggest highlight is its 49 acres of old growth pine forest. For those interested in the history of Michigan’s importance in the pine lumber industry, there is also a logging museum.
3. Holland State Park — Holland
Holland State Park is one of the best places in the state of Michigan to go swimming. The key feature of this park is its expansive, sandy beach along Lake Michigan. There are also swimming beaches along Lake Macatawa, a dune walk stairway, a hiking trail through the Lake Macatawa and historic Ottawa Beach areas, beach volleyball courts, and excellent campgrounds with all the amenities necessary for your camping – or glamping – experience. The Ottawa County bike trail also runs through the park and connects to 25 miles of paved roadside trails, but the absolute highlight of the Holland State Park experience is watching the colorful sunsets over Lake Michigan.
4. Warren Dunes State Park — Sawyer
Warren Dunes State Park is another park located along the shores of Lake Michigan, with sugar-soft beaches and signature dunes. Warren Dunes is more rugged and wild than beach blanket bingo Holland; here the nearly 2,000 acres of park include three miles of shoreline with dune formations that rise up to 260 feet above the lake, six miles of hiking trails, and both modern and semi-modern campgrounds for year-round use.
5. Muskegon State Park — North Muskegon
Muskegon State Park features a vast expanse of Great Lakes sandy beaches along Lake Michigan and Lake Muskegon that, according to the DNR’s website, have been named among the most beautiful in the world. There are also forested dunes that meet the beaches along the shore, and for winter enthusiasts there is a Winter Sports Complex with a luge run.
6. Tahquamenon Falls State Park — Paradise
It’s no wonder why this corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is called “Paradise” – Tahquamenon Falls State Park is one of Michigan’s many little pieces of paradise, one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi that is more than 200 feet across with a nearly 50-foot drop and a water flow of more than 50,000 gallons per second. These Upper Falls are stunning year-round, but in the fall when the leaves change color they are straight-up magical. There are also the Lower Falls four miles downstream the Tahquamenon River, a series of five smaller falls cascading around an island. The park itself is 50,000 acres and stretches over 13 miles, most of which is undeveloped. Welcome to the UP.