The western half of Michigan’s lower peninsula along Lake Michigan features stunning dunes and great beaches without many of the worries associated with the ocean. These state parks all feature a Lake Michigan shoreline, but each also offers something unique that you won’t find at the other 79 Michigan state parks.
Vehicles entering Michigan State Parks require a Michigan State Park Recreation Passport. Check out the link for the costs and details.
In no particular order, here are seven fantastic western Michigan State Parks just waiting for you to explore.
1. Muskegon State Park, North Muskegon
While Muskegon State Park features all the summer fun in the sun activities, what makes it unique among Michigan State Parks is one of their winter activities, an Olympian-designed luge course. At the Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park, located inside the state park, they have one of three luge tracks in the United States and offer a “Learn to Luge Program.” In addition, they provide the luge, helmet, and pads to make the 25-mile per hour trip down the track not only exhilarating but safe. Other winter activities you’ll find in Muskegon State Park are ice-skating on a trail through the woods, snowshoeing, cross country skiing, sledding, ice fishing, and winter ziplining.
You’ll have almost as much fun in the summer at this year-round park. They have a shorter luge course, where you can practice on a wheeled luge. In addition, the Sports Park showcases a 1,300-foot dual zip line and an archery range. In addition to 2 miles of Lake Michigan coastline and 1 mile along Muskegon Lake, they have a 1930s CCC-built blockhouse, the highest point in Muskegon County, where you can see in all directions.
Pro Tip: The Park has track chairs at no cost to those with mobility challenges on a first-reserved basis so that they can explore the park too.
2. Leelanau State Park, Northport
Michiganders use their right hand to indicate where various places are in the Mitten State. At the tip of the pinkie finger, Leelanau State Park is 1,550 acres in two sections, separated by a few miles. The southern area has the Leelanau Cathead Bay Trail System with 8.5 miles of trails and a sandy beach accessible through the Lake Michigan Trail. The northern site showcases the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, a day-use area, and a rustic campground. If you enjoy camping, the park has 51 rustic campsites and three mini cabins.
The Grand Traverse Lighthouse is particularly stunning with its red roof and green-trimmed windows. The lighthouse is home to a museum that tells the story of the lighthouse keepers and their lives in the area. Climb the tower for magnificent panoramic views of Lake Michigan and Grand Traverse Bay. They offer tours too.
The grandkids will have a terrific time playing at the interactive playground and wandering along the shoreline looking for Petoskey stones.
Pro Tip: The Leelanau Peninsula is one of Michigan’s wine regions. The 45th parallel marker, halfway between the equator and the north pole, shares the exact parallel as the great wine regions of France and Italy, so be sure to take some time and explore the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail while you’re in the area.
3. Holland State Park, Holland
Holland State Park, located in Holland, Michigan, is one of the state’s most visited parks. The park showcases one of Michigan’s most photographed lighthouses, warmly referred to as “Big Red.” Throughout the summer months, they occasionally offer tours.
More Great Lakes maritime fun includes boating and fishing on Lake Michigan, easily accessible through the park’s boat launches if fishing on the Great Lakes is on your bucket list.
Plan a long weekend in Holland, where you can camp at one of the park’s two large campgrounds, each offering something unique. The Lake Macatawa Campground features 211 campsites. If you want to rough it with a bit more comfort, try out their camper cabin, The Whitetail, which has Big Red and the Holland Channel views. The other is the modern Beach Campground, offering 98 paved campsites, 31 with full hook-ups.
Beach campgrounds open the first weekend in May and close the last weekend in September. Wooded sites are available from April through October, when a full hook-up site costs $45. You can reserve your spot 6 months in advance. Reserve online at MiDNRReservations.com or call 1-800-44-PARKS.
Pro Tip: The Tulip Festival starts the first weekend in May and runs through the second weekend. That’s a fun time to visit Holland during all the festivities, but early May can be a bit chilly by the lake.
4. Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park, Traverse City
What I like about Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park is the location; it’s situated in urban Traverse City about 2 miles from downtown. The day-use area, just off U.S. 31, features a quarter-mile of sandy beach. The easy access makes it a good spot when you break between other activities to stop by and sit on the beach, soaking up the sun with a good book, a great way to pass an hour of downtime. Then, of course, if you have the grandkids along, they’ll enjoy the well-equipped playground. The park also has a picnic area, so you can grab some takeout and enjoy a quick picnic lunch here too.
In addition to the day-use area, the 75-acre park features a modern campground, mini cabins, and a fully-equipped lodge that sleeps up to 11 people. The lodge is excellent for those who aren’t equipped for camping but want to be in the great outdoors. However, they require a weeklong rental from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Pro Tip: If your goal is to sample some of the area’s bountiful cherries, starting the first weekend in July for 8 days is a fun time to visit. That’s when they have the National Cherry Festival in Traverse City. With live entertainment and all things cherry, the festival is fun, but be aware that over 500,000 people attend, so the area does get busy.
5. Silver Lake State Park, Mears
Silver Lake State Park features almost 2,000 acres of dunes, so if you enjoy playing in the sand, you’ll love Silver Lake State Park. It has a 500-acre Silver Lake Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Area. However, if you want to enjoy some of the excitement with an experienced driver, check out Mac Wood’s Dune Rides. Mac Wood’s offers an interpretive dune tour in an area of the park not open to other vehicles. They offer the tours from mid-May through October. To be sure you have a spot on the tour, call ahead for reservations.
Little Sable Point Lighthouse stands 107-feet tall on the 70-foot dunes. It’s Michigan’s tallest lighthouse with 130 steps and is open to climb to the top from late May until late September. During the summer, musicians play Wednesday evening concerts on the beach. The lighthouse is open on concert nights.
In addition to the 3 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, the park offers a day-use area on the inland lake, Silver Lake. One advantage to Silver Lake is the water tends to be warmer than Lake Michigan.
Pro Tip: Silver Lake State Park is a busy place. To have a safe time in the ORV Area, take the time to understand the entry and voucher system and the rules and regulations before you go.
6. P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, Muskegon
After exploring the dunes in some of these west Michigan State Parks, it’s fun to learn more about the ecosystem. P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, home to the Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center, is where you can learn how the forested dunes in the park developed.
The Dune Overlook Trail is a central attraction in the park, where the half-mile roundtrip hike has about 220 steps. Benches provide rest stops along the way.
In addition to the towering dunes, the park has 3 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, 10 miles of trails with beautiful views, and a modern campground.
Pro Tip: While you’re in Muskegon, stop by the USS Silversides Submarine Museum. They offer a program that allows visitors to sleep aboard the submarine, an exciting switch from camping out.
7. Van Buren State Park And Van Buren Trail State Park, South Haven
Van Buren State Park offers high dunes on the 1-mile sandy beach. Set along the Lake Michigan coast, you’ll find a swimming beach. The day-use area has grills and picnic tables to have a cookout or a simple picnic lunch. To extend your stay, the park features a modern campground.
Van Buren Trail State Park links South Haven with Hartford via a 14-mile trail. This multi-use trail leads you through woods, farmland, and even some blueberry fields. Runners will have an impressive run on this trail and may even encounter some wildlife along the way.
Pro Tip: Be aware there are three different areas: Van Buren Trail State Park, Van Buren Spur Trail, and Van Buren State Park.