Sprawling across two counties and some 20,000 acres, the Waterloo Recreation Area (16345 McClure Rd., 734/475-8307, www.michigan.gov/dnr , daily, state park vehicle permit required) counts as the largest park in the Lower Peninsula. Waterloo’s landscape clearly shows evidence of the glaciers that once blanketed this part of the state.
Waterloo Recreation Area is located at the intersection of the Kalamazoo and the Missaukee moraine systems, where two glaciers collided thousands of years ago. The ice sheets ripped apart massive mountains of rock from the Canadian shield to the north, carrying fragments with them as the ice moved across this part of the state—a journey one park interpreter has described as “the movement of pancake batter on a hot griddle.”
Waterloo Recreation Area is a pleasing patchwork of field, forest, and lake. Pick up a map at park headquarters to help navigate you around this expansive place, which contains 11 fishing lakes, several beaches and picnic areas, and miles of hiking, biking, equestrian, and cross-country skiing trails. Here, you’ll also find the year-round Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center, which offers engaging exhibits about Michigan’s geologic features, and the 1,000-acre Haehnle Audubon Sanctuary, a favorite fall hangout of sandhill cranes.
Waterloo maintains four campgrounds in all ($12–24). Equestrian (for campers with horses) and Green Lake are rustic areas, with nice wooded sites. Portage Lake and Sugarloaf are large, modern campgrounds, with sites near (but not on) their namesake lakes.