The 7 Best State Parks in Michigan

Photo of Elaine Elliott
9 February 2017

Michigan’s indisputable beauty has been apparent ever since the last of the Ice Age glaciers receded 9,000 years ago. The state was left with the Great Lakes — arguably the most beautiful shorelines in the country — as well as untouched forests, cliff faces, and sand dunes. Many of Michigan’s state parks encompass these natural wonders, as well as historic lighthouses and museums. We’ve listed the state’s must-see parks and lakeshores.

Mackinac Island Marina | picselperfect/flickr

Mackinac Island State Historic Park

Michigan’s first state park was established in 1895, and this island has remained timeless ever since. With no cars allowed on the island’s premises, visitors travel via horse carriages and bicycles. Over half of the island is state park property, which remains beautiful as ever. Fort Mackinac in historic downtown Mackinac is one of the most popular destinations, but the park also has pristine nature sites such as Skull Cave, Sugar Loaf Rock, Arch Rock, and numerous trails. Visitors can choose from being immersed in the town’s activities or getting away to secluded beaches and trails. If you’re new to the Mitten state, be sure to pronounce the island, park, and bridge as “Mack-in-aw.”

Pictured Rocks Cliffs | davidmarvin/flickr

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks is made up of colorful sites of sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, sand dunes, forested trails, and beaches. The contrasts of turquoise waters, vibrant red and yellow sandstone cliffs, and lush green forests make this park a popular location for paddlers, backpackers, geologists, and single day sightseers. There are over 100 miles of hiking trails, many of which include monumental views of the extensive cliffs, rocky shores, and other popular sites like Chapel Rock. Alturnativily, take a ferry ride or kayak and experience the towering cliffs from the water below along this 40-mile stretch of undeveloped shoreline.

Sleeping Bear Dunes | paladin27/flickr

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of Michigan’s most sought out destinations. The park includes a large shoreline along Lake Michigan and two islands called South and North Manitou Island. Visitors can climb 200-foot dunes to sweeping views of Lake Michigan. Kids, and adults, also love hurtling down the dunes as a just reward for the strenuous climbing effort. The park includes camping sites, picnic spots and designated backcountry areas. The Sleeping Bear Dunes encompass a captivating spirit where visitors will feel like they’re at the pseudo crossroads of the Saharan Dunes and Great Lakes.

Lake of the Clouds | mandj98/flickr

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

There are few places left in the eastern United States where hikers can reach a summit and see absolutely no sign of human development. The Porcupine Mountains provide just that — sweeping views of rolling hills and untouched forests for miles and miles. With such a vast wilderness, there’s also an extensive travel route to the park. The “Porkies” are located at the western end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula near Wisconsin and Lake Superior. At over 60,000 acres, it’s the largest park in the state. Backpackers can enjoy solitude among the hills, lakes, and rivers in this remote corner of the country.

Warren Dunes State Park | churl/flickr

Warren Dunes State Park

With three miles of shoreline, six miles of hiking trails, and over 1,952 acres of beaches, dunes, and forests, vacationers will rarely get bored in this beautiful park. The beach is located less than two hours from Chicago, Kalamazoo, and Indiana; making it a perfect destination for many vacationers. Without having to drive northward toward the Sleeping Bear Dunes, visitors can also climb up large sandy dunes at Warren and gain incredible views of Lake Michigan from below.

Tawas Point State Park | hz536n/flickr

Tawas Point State Park

On the shores of Lake Huron, Tawas Point’s shallow waters, geography, and Victorian-era lighthouse have dubbed it the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” Tawas offers lighthouse tours, beach access, campsites, small cabins, and nature trails. Sailboats are a common sight in the waters since Tawas Point provides both turbulent exposed waters on the east side and calm Tawas Bay waters on the west side. Visitors can walk along a beach covering over two miles of undeveloped shoreline.

Belle Isle Conservatory | mikedbell/flickr

Belle Isle State Park

Belle Isle is a natural gem within the hustle and bustle of Detroit. Only in 2014 did Belle Isle become a new addition to the extensive state park list for Michigan. The 985-acre island is found at the cusp of the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair. Detroit sightseers and locals flock to this getaway island to enjoy numerous attractions like the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, aquarium, zoo, golf course, lighthouse, and beach. The half-mile stretch of Belle Isle Beach is the only public beach and swimming area in Detroit, and provides skyline views of the city. The Belle Isle Conservatory is another popular spot to enjoy tropical greenhouse botanical gardens year round.

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