When people think of beaches in the US, they usually picture Miami, the Venice Beach boardwalk, or maybe even the rocky cliffs of the Pacific Northwest or the Jersey Shore. Very rarely do we think about beaches not on either coast — and especially not in landlocked states.
However, some of the country’s most beautiful beaches happen to be on lakes throughout the Midwest and non-coastal western states. Not only is the scenery spectacular, but many of these beaches have vibrant small towns with communities that rival the famed beach towns of the coasts. These 11 best beach towns in landlocked states are definitely worth traveling to.
1. Glen Arbor and Empire (Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore), Michigan
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is probably the most famous dune location in the United States. It stretches 35 miles along the Lake Michigan coastline and encompasses two towns: Glen Arbor and Empire. Both are really small, with only one road that runs through them and just a few restaurants and stores, but they’re good anchor points for reaching the beaches and hikes of Sleeping Bear Dunes.
For more amenities, Traverse City is one of the biggest towns in northern Michigan and a popular base for reaching Sleeping Bear Dunes, as well as the Upper Peninsula. It’s easy to get to by car and has a wide selection of trendy stores, restaurants, and coffee shops.
Best Beaches: Sleeping Bear Point Beach, Van’s Beach, Good Harbor Bay Beach, North Manitou Island
2. Sandusky and Lakeside Marblehead (Kelleys Island), Ohio
Sandusky is famous for Cedar Point, the second-oldest operating amusement park in the country, which has a whopping 17 roller coasters. Cedar Point Beach is located on the same peninsula as the amusement park, with Nickel Plate Beach only a short drive away in Huron. Not too far away from Sandusky, the town of Lakeside Marblehead is also known for its beach at East Harbor State Park. East Harbor State Park is a great recreation area with camping, wildlife viewing, beaches, and scenic wetlands.
Sandusky is also the ferry access point for Kelleys Island, home to Kelleys Island State Park, which has camping, fishing, boat launches into Lake Erie, and beaches. A quick ferry ride away from Lakeside Marblehead are also the islands of Middle Bass, South Bass, North Bass, and Catawba. Each island has its own small community and access to more beaches.
Best Beaches: Cedar Point Beach, Kelleys Island State Park, East Harbor State Park
3. Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth is a port city on the coast of Lake Superior, on the edge of the Minnesota and Wisconsin border. Park Point Beach and 12th Street Beach lie along a thin small strip of land that juts out into Lake Superior. With a nearby state park, historic buildings, and homes, this area has a wonderful community feel. Park Point Beach also has a trail that leads to a scenic overlook and a lighthouse.
Best Beaches: Park Point Beach, 12th Street Beach at Franklin Square, Brighton Beach, Iona’s Beach
4. Bayfield (Apostle Islands National Lakeshore), Wisconsin
Bayfield is a small, sleepy town surrounded by farmland and beautiful Midwestern homes rising up the hill overlooking the marina and Lake Superior. The town connects to the islands that form the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a chain of islands in Lake Superior known for their dunes and beaches. The best known is Madeline Island with its small town of La Pointe and Big Bay State Park. The second largest island, Stockton Island, is home to the best beach in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: Julian Bay. In addition, many smaller islands — such as Raspberry Island, Michigan Island, Basswood Island, Oak Island — are just as beautiful but much more difficult to get to.
Best Beaches: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Julian Bay, Bayfield City Beach, Big Bay Beach at Town Park, Friendly Valley Beach
5. Petoskey, Michigan
Close to Mackinac Island, Petoskey is a larger town than Charlevoix and others nearby, but it still has amazing beaches. Petoskey has many breweries, restaurants, shopping, bookstores, and coffee shops. It also has an awesome marina with tons of water-sport opportunities and several paved walking trails. The beaches in Petoskey are a good place to look for the Petoskey stones that gave the town its name. They’re fossilized coral with a unique hexagonal pattern and can be found on most northern Michigan beaches.
Best Beaches: Petoskey State Park, Magnus City Park Beach, Thorne Swift Nature Preserve
6. Michigan City (Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore), Indiana
Michigan City is located on the coast of Lake Michigan just 10 minutes away from the Michigan border — but on the Indiana side. The town is the connecting point for the Indiana Dune National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park, and it offers 15 miles of shoreline and beaches perfect for swimming, hiking, and bird watching. Washington Park Beach is located in downtown Michigan City while the other beaches are a quick drive to the west and scattered along the lakeshore. The Indiana Dunes State Park also has amazing hiking trails that offer views of the dunes, the surrounding scenery, and the lake.
Best Beaches: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Washington Park, Porter Beach, Central Beach
7. Incline Village (Lake Tahoe), Nevada
Lake Tahoe is a beautiful alpine freshwater lake that is straddled by the states of Nevada and California. It’s the largest alpine lake in the country and the second deepest after Crater Lake in Oregon. Besides its stunning turquoise water, Lake Tahoe is surrounded by pristine beaches on both the Nevada and California sides. However, the beaches on the Nevada side are more popular tourist destinations.
Sand Harbor is the most famous of the Lake Tahoe beaches because of its white granite boulders, which contrast with the blue of the water. Hidden Beach and Secret Grove are more secluded, and many people tan nude on the sands of Secret Grove. Other recreational opportunities here include kayaking, boating, stand-up paddle boarding, and hiking in the many surrounding state and national parks. A quick drive around the lake also brings you to beautiful beaches like Lester Beach, Vikingsholm Beach, Kiva Beach, Pope Beach, and Bliss Beach on the California side.
Best Beaches: Sand Harbor, Hidden Beach, Secret Grove
8. Ogden, Utah
Ogden is about 30 minutes north of Salt Lake City and acts as the gateway town to such ski resorts as Snowbasin, Powder Mountain, and Nordic Valley. It is also the closest town to Antelope Island State Park in the Great Salt Lake. The state park has many trails for hiking and horseback riding, and it’s known for its free-roaming bison, as well.
Although they don’t have the typical fluffy white sand, Antelope Island State Park beaches are unique because of their location on the Great Salt Lake. A trip to these beaches is more for viewing the salt flats and dramatic snow-capped mountain scenery in the background versus laying out to get tan. Although it’s a different beach experience, it’s worth doing all the same.
Best Beaches: Antelope Island State Park
9. Okoboji, Iowa
For being centered in a landlocked state, Okoboji offers incredible beach access. The town is bordered on three sides by West and East Okoboji Lake. Beaches abound across town, as well as across Smiths Bay in Arnolds Park. The waterside Gull Point State Park, where you can get your camping and barbecue fix just off the water, is a short drive west. Also worth a visit is Arnold Park Amusement Park, which has its own beach in case you’re craving a quick game of volleyball between rides.
Best beaches: Arnolds Park Public Beach, Terrace Park Beach, Spirit Lake Pump House Beach
10. Heber Springs, Arkansas
Greers Ferry Lake is a popular destination in north-central Arkansas with the town of Heber Springs offering great access to relaxing beaches and a chill, lakeside charm for when it comes time to hit the town. Sandy Beach sits on the edge of town across from the Heber Springs Marina, a perfect spot for swimming and pushing out in tubes and kayaks. The water is as blue as the sky, and you’ll find plenty of camping near the beach if you want to keep the fun going for multiple days. The Cardboard Boat Race is a prized annual event; it’s worth a visit in itself as the beach turns into a frenzy of racers and revelers from around the region.
Best beaches: Sandy Beach, Old Highway 25 Park Beach
11. Munising (Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore), Michigan
Another national lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Pictured Rocks, which stretches for 42 miles, has fascinating rock formations. Common activities here are kayaking along the lakeshore to see the rock formations and enjoying time on the beaches. The towns of Munising and Grand Marais are the starting points to Pictured Rocks. Besides kayaking and sunbathing, you can hike along some of its many trails, take a boat tour, and stay at one of several campgrounds in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
Best Beaches: Twelvemile Beach, Sand Point Beach