Sandy Destinations

Michigan offers plenty of beaches, inland and on the Great Lakes.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photography courtesy Thinkstock

Beaches are cool and Michigan has plenty. In fact, Michigan has more coastline than any other state this side of Alaska, and it’s all surrounded by fresh water, where you can swim with your eyes open!

But picking the top five beaches is nearly impossible. If you asked 100 people the question, you’d get 100 different answers. So, I asked Anna Sylvester, director of northern field operations with the Department of Natural Resources’ Parks and Recreation Division, for four of them, as No. 1 is indisputable.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: This deserves to be at the top of any list. ABC News’ “Good Morning America” named the 71,187-acre park the Most Beautiful Place in America in 2011. It recently was included among the 21 best beaches in the world by National Geographic. It’s a national destination, drawing more than 1.5 million visitors in 2015, yet not overly crowded as it stretches across 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline in the northwest Lower Peninsula. The 450-foot bluffs are breathtaking.

P.J. Hoffmaster State Park:  With three miles of nice beach and towering bluffs as a backdrop, it’s a nice family park, but it’s not for the mobility-impaired, according to Sylvester. “If you’re looking for a nice place to go to see the sunset this is it,” she said. “It doesn’t have the crowds you see at some of the better-known beaches like Grand Haven or Holland or Warren Dunes. At Hoffmaster, you can go in the middle of the day. You are going to get a parking spot, and you are going to be able to get to the beach.”

Tawas Point State Park: Located on the sunrise side of the state, Tawas Point not only has a beautiful beach, but it’s a Michigan dark sky site at night, with starry skies that rival Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night painting. There is a lighthouse to visit and a shipwreck that can be seen from shore. The accessible metal walkway over the sand provides access for strollers and wheelchairs, according to Sylvester.

Au Train Township: Check out the beach near Christmas, Sylvester suggests. “It’s one of the best sandy areas on Lake Superior,” she said. “There’s plenty of parking, there’s enough shallow water that it’s swimmable, and if it’s a colder day, you go on the river side of that little spit of land, and the water’s warm.  It’s a great beach experience.”

Burt Lake State Park: Despite the preponderance of Great Lakes beaches, Sylvester said it isn’t fair to ignore inland lakes. Burt Lake near Indian River is the cream of the crop, according to Sylvester.  “There’s shallow water a long way out. It’s not as cold as most of the Great Lakes, and the beach is big enough that no matter how many people are on the beach, you feel like you’ve got it all to yourself.” The 406-acre state park in Cheboygan County has 2,250 feet of sandy beach.

Bob Gwizdz is a career outdoor writer who works for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. 

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