Serenity Found: Private Beach Retreats

They require more effort to reach, but the extra mile is worth it.
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Nordhouse Dunes
Photography by Lars Jensen

Remote beaches in Michigan all require extra effort to reach. But at day’s end, the sand and solitude of these destination stretches make the hike in or the drive out well worth it.

Nordhouse Dunes. This is the only federally-designated wilderness in the Lower Peninsula — a 3,540-acre tract with four miles of Lake Michigan shoreline along which you won’t find a single cottage, condo or Motel 6. Begin at the Lake Michigan Recreation Area (fs.usda.gov/attmain/hmnf/specialplaces), a Manistee National Forest campground 10 miles south of Manistee, where a short boardwalk leads to a wide beach. Then head south until you find sand.

Iron Ore Bay. Beaver Island is the ultimate destination in Michigan for exotic beaches with more than 50 miles of shoreline. The best is Iron Ore Bay, a stunning stretch of sand at the south end of the island. But to reach it you have to board a ferry in Charlevoix for a two-hour trip to the Island. Then either arrive with a car or bike or rent one in St. James. It’s a 15-mile journey to the beach over mostly dirt roads (231-448-2505, beaverisland.org).

Negwegon State Park. This 2,400-acre park (989-724-5126; michigan.gov/dnr) probably has the most beautiful beach along Lake Huron and certainly the most remote. It’s a short walk from its gravel parking area to a crescent moon beach whose golden sand is lined by cedar and red pine and enclosed at each end by rocky outcroppings.

Getting to the parking lot, however, is a challenge. The drive from Harrisville ends with Sand Hill Road, where you’re in the middle of the woods on a road that’s more drifting sand than gravel. Say a short prayer and head north. Within a mile you’ll either be at the park entrance or hopelessly spinning your tires in sand.

Big Knob Recreation Area. Beautiful beaches abound in the U.P., but to find a true treasure depart U.S. 2 and head south on Big Knob Road. It’s a teeth-chattering ride in which the first of many potholes is encountered within minutes and you could lose your muffler in any of them. Hang in there. Within six miles you arrive at a Big Knob State Forest Campground (michigan.gov/dnr) bordering a stretch of sand and surf that extends as far as the eye can see. Pitch the tent and hit the beach.

Chapel Beach. Kid Rock’s latest video was filmed on Miners Beach in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (nps.gov/piro) but there is a much more secluded stretch. Begin at the end of Chapel Road and follow the trail north past beautiful Chapel Falls to Lake Superior.

Within 3.4 miles from the trailhead you’ll emerge on a wooded bluff above Chapel Beach, a half mile of beautiful sand with colorful sandstone cliffs at one end and a waterfall leaping into Lake Superior at the other. Carry in a tent and sleeping bag and you can spend the weekend here in a backcountry campground. Eat your heart out, Kid Rock!


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

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