American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Top Dozen Beaches in the Great Lakes State, Part 1
When Americans have an urge to “hit the beach,” they usually head to one of the three main coasts: the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, Dr. Beach's annual list of the best beaches in America typically includes such coastal states as California, Massachusetts, and Florida. You might be surprised to learn, however, that Michigan – nicknamed the Great Lakes State – has one of the longest coastlines in America, second only to Alaska. Consequently, this amazingly diverse state boasts quite a slew of popular beaches and coastal resort towns – only one of many reasons that my husband, Dan, and I are looking forward to our upcoming seasonal move to northern Michigan. The summer is, after all, a wonderfully mild time to explore the windswept beaches, massive sand dunes, multicolored cliffs, historic lighthouses, and freshwater lakes that compose Michigan's incredible coastline.
Here are some of my favorite sandy stretches, all of which are family-friendly and listed in geographical order:
Warren Dunes State Park
12032 Red Arrow Highway, Sawyer, Michigan, 269/426-4013
Not far from the Indiana border, just north of the town of Sawyer, 1,952-acre Warren Dunes State Park features three miles of sandy beaches, with incredibly high dunes, some of which boast views of the Chicago skyline across Lake Michigan. Beachcombers and swimmers crowd the southern end every summer, while farther inland, hikers and bird-watchers will find a bit more solitude, not to mention tree-covered dunes, plant-filled bogs, and roughly six miles of trails. There's also a campground, offering more than 200 modern and rustic campsites, plus three small cabins. Named after E. K. Warren – a well-known inventor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, conservationist, and community leader – Warren Dunes State Park is conveniently located west of I-94.
Every summer, families flock to Saugatuck's popular Oval Beach, a sandy stretch between the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan, where swimmers can enjoy relatively warm waters and adventurers can explore the nearby dunes. To reach Saugatuck, take I-196 north from South Haven or south from Grand Rapids, and to reach Oval Beach, you can simply hop aboard the nostalgic, gingerbread-style Chain Ferry.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
between Saugatuck and Holland, Michigan
For a bit more solitude, head north of Saugatuck and west of I-196, to 1,000-acre Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Despite 2.5 miles of undeveloped beach and dunes and 14 miles of well-marked trails, only about 40,000 people visit annually, making it one of the least popular parks along the Lake Michigan shoreline. The park, which has no office or campground, offers easy-to-reach tranquility in stark contrast to Saugatuck's bustling downtown district. For more information about Saugatuck Dunes State Park, contact Van Buren State Park (269/637-2788) in South Haven.
Holland State Park
2215 Ottawa Beach Road, Holland, Michigan, 616/399-9390
One of Michigan's loveliest and most accessible beaches lies in Holland State Park, sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. On summer weekends, it lures hundreds of swimmers and sunbathers, and facilities include a bathhouse, two spacious campgrounds, and several volleyball courts. In addition, boaters will enjoy the nearby lake, anglers can fish alongside Lake Michigan, and all visitors will appreciate the amazing sunsets. As a bonus, Holland State Park, which lies west of U.S. 31, offers a clear view of the Holland Harbor Light, a photogenic red lighthouse erected in 1907 on the southern pier and known as “Big Red” by the locals.
Grand Haven State Park
1001 Harbor Avenue, Grand Haven, Michigan, 616/847-1309
Easy to reach from downtown Grand Haven, the sandy swimming beach at Grand Haven State Park is usually crowded with sun-seekers and metal-detecting enthusiasts during the summer months. Others come for the fishing pier, the picnic area, and the 174-site campground, not to mention the photo-worthy Grand Haven South Pier Lighthouses, two vivid red lighthouses built in 1875 and 1905, respectively, and now constituting one of only two operational range-light systems in the Great Lakes region. Luckily, the park is easily accessible via U.S. 31.
Muskegon State Park
3560 Memorial Drive, North Muskegon, Michigan, 231/744-3480
Part of the diverse 1,165-acre Muskegon State Park, this two-mile stretch of sand attracts tons of swimmers, beachcombers, surfers, sailboarders, boaters, campers, and picnickers every year. Despite an annual influx of half a million visitors, most visitors head for the beach, leaving the rest of the park rather uncrowded, so with that in mind, head inland for hiking, fishing, and other recreational opportunities. From the coast, you might be able to spot the 53-foot-tall Muskegon South Pierhead Lighthouse, established in 1903, still active today, and often called the Pere Marquette Lighthouse, given its position on the south side of the Muskegon Lake Channel, near Pere Marquette Beach. Muskegon State Park, which offers access to both Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake, lies west of U.S. 31.
If you're as excited about the advent of summer as I am, stay tuned for my next post, in which I'll offer six more of my favorite beaches in Michigan. In the meantime, you can gather more information about Michigan's state parks by contacting the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or picking up a copy of Moon Michigan. Just know that the parks are open daily, and Michigan residents can visit them all for an annual $10 Recreation Passport. Non-residents, meanwhile, can access Michigan's state parks by paying the daily $8 fee or purchasing a yearly Non-Resident Recreation Passport, which costs $29.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Saugatuck Dunes State Park © 2012 Daniel Martone / Text © 2012 Laura Martone