Some of my most treasured childhood vacation memories involve games of gin rummy in a cheap screen tent, bicycling with just-met best friends and spreading out on a beach blanket, counting stars that seemed to be falling so fast we could barely keep up with wishes. What they had in common is they all took place at one of Michigan’s state parks.
I’d still count card games, bike rides and falling stars among my favorites, but today, I’d add hunting for Petoskey stones and agates, watching (and photographing) sunsets and sunrises, and most anything you find at Michigan parks, which celebrate their 100th anniversary this year. Here are favorites for pursuits that never go out of style.
PADDLE PAST EAGLES: LUDINGTON
While you’d think it’d be hard to get lost paddling along a shoreline, you haven’t met me. A numbered trail (on water or land) is a comfort for the directionally challenged, but Ludington State Park’s Hamlin Lake Canoe Trail offers much more. The trail winds onto generally calm, flat waters, past areas great for wildlife, into marshes and past a tree in which eagles tend to perch. You also can rent kayaks on-site, saving the need to load — or buy — your own.
VIEW NIGHT LIGHTS: ST. IGNACE
I’ve never forgotten the time we camped right on the shore, gazing late into the night at the sparkling, many-colored lights of the Mackinac Bridge. Straits State Park is situated with such a high straight view down the bridge’s center that it was used as a survey point during construction. Today, the view’s about … the view. For consistent viewing, book beachfront campsites 3, 4, 5 or 6.
HUNT FOR AGATES: NEWBERRY
A search for multicolored agates — if you actually find one — is just the best way to enjoy nature’s art gallery on a beach at Muskallonge State Park. This relatively remote park is home to the annual Rock On Lake Superior Agate Festival; the finds are so assured. But any time you have access to 3 miles of Lake Superior beach, that rocks all on its own.
CATCH SUNRISE AND SUNSET: ROGERS CITY
The state’s eastern shoreline is undeniably the best place for catching the sunrise over a Great Lake. But the way P.H. Hoeft State Park is located partly on a peninsula that juts out in a curve allows for sunset watching, too. When you’re not lounging on the sand, there’s the throwback option to bike like a child again since the 12-mile paved Huron Sunrise Trail passes through.
WATCH A STAR SHOW: HUDSON
Michigan boasts an International Dark Sky Park in Headlands near Petoskey; lesser known is that Lake Hudson Recreation Area near the Ohio border was the nation’s first dark sky preserve — and that it’s one of six Michigan dark sky state parks. Gaze at the Milky Way by night, swim or fish in the no-wake lake by day or take the family to the on-site bowling alley or movie theater.
Kim Schneider is an award-winning travel writer who shares her travel savvy in every issue of Michigan BLUE.