Michigan's Top 5:
State of the Parks: Gather Together

From dunes to views that won’t disappoint, Michigan’s parks offer perfect spots to catch up with the clan.

By Jim DuFresne

For the annual family reunion this summer, head to a park that has great beaches and good swimming, picnic shelters and interesting things to do because your kids have heard those family stories a thousand times over. In Michigan, there’s no shortage of places to gather up the clan. Following are a few family-tested favorites.

Tunnel County Park, Holland. On one side of Tunnel Park is a beautiful Lake Michigan beach. On the other is a shady picnic area with shelters and an immense children’s playscape. In between is a steep, sandy, 140-foot-high dune.

The solution for how to get from the picnic area to the beach inspired the name of this Ottawa County park: a tunnel through the dune. The unique passageway allows you to access Lake Michigan with far fewer steps than the stairway climbing over it. But the east side’s designated “dune climb” is still a favorite children and adults alike love to run wildly down. (616-738-4810; www.miottawa.org/parks).

Platte River Point, Benzie County. This park, a cooperated effort by Lake Township and the National Park Service, is one of the most popular beaches in Northwest Michigan. Along with picnic facilities and spectacular views of Sleeping Bear Dunes, the park features a long sandy spit with Lake Michigan on one side and knee-deep Platte River on the other.

The favorite activity here is to float in an inner tube by hiking a few hundred yards up the spit and then letting Platte River give you a free ride downstream to Lake Michigan. Nearby on M-22 are Platte River Campground (231-325-5881; www.nps.gov/slbe) and Riverside Canoes (231-325-5622; www.canoemichigan.com), where www.visitbenzie.com)

Bird Creek County Park, Port Austin. Here at the very tip of Michigan’s Thumb, this seven-acre Huron County Park features a wide, sandy beach, picnic grounds with a pavilion, playground and even a concessionaire that rents paddle boats and water cycles. But the most remarkable aspect of Bird Creek is its watery location between Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay. From the quarter-mile-long boardwalk along the beach you can enjoy the sunrise and a spectacular sunset. (989-269-6404; www.huroncountyparks.com)

P.H. Hoeft State Park, five miles north of Rogers City. Only the 14th state park when it was created in 1922, Hoeft features a mile-long, ideal stretch of sand for beachcombing and Lake Huron freighter-watching. The day-use facility has a shelter overlooking this Great Lake and pine forest picnic area with well-separated tables and grills. Passing through is the Huron Sunrise Trail, a 12-mile-long, paved rail-trail that hugs Lake Huron. Bring the bikes and you can work off Aunt Ruth’s famous double-fudge brownies by riding to historic Forty Mile Point Lighthouse. (989-734-2543; www.michigan.gov/dnr)

Lake Michigan Campground, 18 miles west of St. Ignace. This recreation area in the U.P.’s Hiawatha Nat ional Forest lies in the middle of a beautiful but rarely crowded eight-mile stretch of Lake Michigan beach. The picnic area features bluff-side tables and stairways leading down to the beach. Sunsets from this spot can be spectacular, and campsites can be reserved in advance. And, just in case the nephews – or uncles – get bored with the waves, the Mystery Spot is just 10 miles east towards St. Ignace. www.recreation.gov). ≈

Jim DuFresne is a Clarkston-based travel writer and the main contributor to www.MichiganTrailMaps.com.