There is no shortage of gems among Michigan’s state parks and recreation areas. Virtually everyone in the state knows about the outstanding vistas at Warren Dunes State Park, the pre-lumber-era old-growth forest at Hartwick Pines State, and the splendor and isolation of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. And folks are discovering the urban oasis of Belle Isle Park, which has been restored to the outstanding resource it’s always been.
But among the state’s shining jewels are parks and recreation areas that are often overlooked by the masses, places where you can recreate or relax without fighting the crowds that are omnipresent at many of the state’s better-known parks. Here are five:
P.H. Hoeft State Park: Located on U.S. 23 near Rogers City, this 300-acre site is heavily wooded but also offers a mile of sandy Lake Huron beach. One of the 14 original state parks, Hoeft not only offers history — the picnic shelter was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s — but also modernity: Beach volleyball anyone? Besides campsites and a mini-cabin, Hoeft is one of the few places in Michigan where visitors can see both sunrises and sunsets over the Great Lakes.
The 980-acre island has historic lime kilns and once provided material for the construction of Fort St. Joseph in Canada.
Lime Island Recreation Area: Located three miles off the Upper Peninsula shore in the St. Marys River, this unspoiled retreat offers some of the nicest rustic cabins in the system, though you can also pitch a tent on one of the wooden platforms built to minimize habitat damage on the bluffs overlooking the river. The hiking trails, fishing opportunity and beach are a chance to get away from it all.
Palms Book State Park: This 338-acre site, a 15-minute drive up M-149 from U.S. 2 at Thompson, is worth a day trip anytime you’re in the U.P. It’s home to Kitch-iti-kipi, a 200-foot across, 40-foot deep natural spring. A self-operated, ADA-accessible observation raft offers visitors a unique view of the ancient trees that have toppled into the spring. “That so many people don’t know about it is surprising,” said DNR park programming planner Maia Turek.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park: The main attractions at this 1,000-acre day-use area are the more than 200-foot tall coastal dunes and the gorgeous beach along the 2.5 miles of shoreline. The hiking is more rigorous than a casual stroll, although the beach is only about a half mile from the parking picnic area. Saugatuck Dunes is popular with naturalists because of its endangered plants and with birdwatchers.
Holly State Recreation Area: There is probably no place that can give you that “Up North” feeling in southeast Michigan better than Holly. This nearly 8,000-acre site in northern Oakland County features rolling woodlands and open fields as well as a sandy inland-lake beach. Holly has it all: deluxe camper cabins, mini-cabins and a rustic cabin; modern and semi-modern campgrounds; a disc golf course; a 24-mile mountain bike trail; hiking trails; and year-round programming for the whole family.
Bob Gwizdz is an award-winning outdoor writer who works for the Department of Natural Resources and resides in East Lansing with his wife, son and a crazy English setter.