With nearly 3,300 miles of Great Lakes shoreline—more coastline than any state outside of Alaska—it’s not surprising that Michigan offers visitors a wide array of beaches to choose from. Go beachcombing on west Michigan’s golden strand, venture to the north shore of the Upper Peninsula, or explore the beauty of a wave-splashed island. Whatever your pastime of choice, Michigan has a beach for you.
STROLL TO THE BEACH—AT SOUTH HAVEN
Spectacular sugar sand. The mesmerizing rhythm of the surf. Rainbow sherbet sunsets. They’re the stuff of perfect beach walks in the Lake Michigan village of South Haven. But in a town blessed with lots of beach access, it’s South Beach that appeals to pedestrians who stroll Riverfront Park between the waterfront and downtown’s shops and restaurants.
The park’s beautifully landscaped walkway parallels the Black River, with brilliant red geraniums and orange marigolds crowding flowerbeds along the paved path. Pleasure boats make their way along the water or lie moored at a small marina. A grassy slope and picnic benches invite visitors to sit, soak up the river views and, in the background, Lake Michigan’s surf, sand, and South Haven’s fire engine red lighthouse. Riverfront Park makes the journey as pleasant as the destination.
SLEEP ON THE BEACH—AT GRAND HAVEN
On warm, sunny days there’s nowhere more appealing than a Lake Michigan beach. And in Grand Haven, you never need to leave.
Grand Haven State Park has the ultimate lakeside campground: its entire 48 acres lie squarely on the beach, making it possible for you to step out of your camper and right into the sand. Wake up to the morning sun glistening on the water. Play in the sand and the surf all day and walk the pier to Grand Haven’s vivid red lighthouse. Then linger over dinner to watch the sun sink into the waves. After dark, the pier’s catwalk glows with hundreds of tiny white lights.
A short walk along Grand Haven’s boardwalk or ride aboard the Harbor Trolley lead downtown, with its ice cream shops and restaurants, boutiques and the Musical Fountain. A summer evening tradition since 1962, the fountain sways and illuminates to a varied soundtrack. When you’re finally ready for bed at the beach, the sounds of the surf lull you to sleep.
OFF-ROAD BY THE BEACH—AT SILVER LAKE
Adventure lovers flock to Silver Lake each summer, and the only state park in Michigan to allow off-road vehicles on its sand. Of the park’s nearly 3,000 acres, 450 are set aside for dune riding ORVs/ATVs, either privately owned or rented from companies in town.
Supercharged trucks, dune buggies and Jeeps, all of them decked out with orange safety flags, power their way to the crest of Silver Lake’s highest dunes. Then, with a roar of engines, they careen down the other side over moguls created by blowing, drifting sand. It’s a rare opportunity for hardcore play on the Lake Michigan shore.
For visitors who’d rather leave the driving to someone else, Mac Wood’s Dune Rides offers a slightly tamer experience. Bright red, open air, 25-person dune buggies take visitors on a 40-minute tour over sandy ridges, through blow-outs and out to Lake Michigan for jaw-dropping photo ops. Along the way come lessons in Silver Lake geology, the forces that formed the dunes and the means by which beeches and dune grass survive the barren landscape.
SURF AT THE BEACH—AT TRAVERSE CITY
Hawaii may have bigger waves and warmer water, but there are decided advantages to learning to surf in Michigan. The Big Lake’s freshwater environment is easier on the body, and Lake Michigan’s soft, sandy bottom proves more forgiving than coral in the inevitable wipe out.
Michigan’s surfing scene traces its roots to the Beach Boys era of the 1960s, but the number of those hanging ten in the Great Lakes State has really grown in the last decade. The Lake Michigan shore ranks as the state’s surfing hub, with near constant westerly Great Lakes winds to assure powerful breakers year-round. Among west Michigan surfing destinations, the board-loving Traverse City area claims Michigan’s most vibrant surfing community.
Bring your own gear or turn to Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak in lakeside Empire for lessons and to rent boards and wetsuits for surfing in the shadow of the monumental Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
BIKE ALONG THE BEACH—AT MACKINAC ISLAND
Set in the Straits of Mackinac between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, Mackinac Island is one of the state’s loveliest destinations. At every turn the island offers breathtaking views of azure Great Lakes waters, pastel Victorian cottages and the graceful Mackinac Bridge.
There’s scarcely a better way to take in all that natural beauty than from the seat of a bicycle. A 100-year ban on motorized traffic makes cycling practical, too.
Although cycling paths crisscross all of Mackinac Island, most visitors bike Lake Shore Road, a flat, paved eight-mile route that follows the island’s shoreline and is easily traveled by even the youngest family members. Rent bicycles downtown and head east, passing Fort Mackinac, a British outpost captured by Americans 20 years after the American Revolution.
Be sure to pack water shoes for stops along the stony shoreline to wade, swim, skip pebbles and stack stones into cairns. Highlights along the way include towering sandstone Arch Rock, glimpses of pleasure boats and the occasional freighter sighting.
When your trek ends back downtown, refuel with a box of Mackinac Island fudge. You’ve earned it.
ALONE ON THE BEACH—AT MINER’S BEACH
The water is always cool, the sand always golden at Miner’s Beach on Lake Superior in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
The sandy, mile-long strand is a welcome respite on the Upper Peninsula’s north shore, which is better known for rocky beaches like that in nearby Grand Marias, or the steep sandstone cliffs in the heart of the Pictured Rocks.
It isn’t far from Miner’s Beach to Miner’s Castle, the centerpiece of the Pictured Rocks. Standing nearly 200 feet above Lake Superior, the turret-like formation is the most famous of the park’s nature-carved landmarks. You’ll get a close-up taste of the spectacular rock art at Miner’s Beach, where orange, russet and rose-colored cliffs embrace the quiet inlet.
There’s little to do here outside of beachcombing, sunbathing and, if the water’s not too cold, swimming. It’s the seclusion, its near anonymity to so many park visitors, that makes Miner’s Beach worth visiting.
IF YOU GO:
For more information on Michigan beach destinations visit Michigan.org as well as:
Southhaven.org, (800) 764-2836
VisitGrandhaven.com, (616) 842-4499
ThinkDunes.com, (800) 870-9786
TraverseCity.com, (800) 872-8377
MackinacIsland.org, (906) 847-3783
npS.gov/piro, (906) 387-2607
Michigan requires a recreation passport for entrance to most of its state parks, recreation areas and campgrounds. out-of-state residents pay $9/ day or $31 for an annual pass. visit MichiganDNR. com/parksandTrails for information.
This article originally appeared in the 2016 spring/summer issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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