Michigan's 8 best beaches
It’s turning out to be one hot summer in Michigan.
To help you keep cool, we asked some of our staff and freelance writers to share some of their favorite beaches and lake escapes in Metro Detroit and across the state.
While our list is not long, the good news is you’ll run out of summer weekends before you visit all of our spots. So pack your umbrella, towels and cooler and head for the beach.
For those spending a weekend on glorious Lake Michigan in the Saugatuck area, renowned Oval Beach is generally considered the go-to spot for sand and sun. But if you’re looking for something quieter and cheaper, skip the tourist mecca and check out smaller Douglas Beach, just two miles south in the city of Douglas.
Park on the street — or in the tiny parking lot, if you can find a spot — and make your way down to the beach via a winding set of rustic wooden steps. There you’ll find the gorgeous Lake Michigan blues and luxurious sand that Oval also offers, but with much less interference from fellow beach goers. The crowd here is more local, and there’s good reason for that. On your way back, grab dinner or a drink in charming downtown Douglas at the Everyday People Café, which received a glowing review in 2006 from no less than the New York Times.
Now that’s a day at the beach.
— Patrick Dunn
The inland lakes of Livingston County have a special place in my heart and one of the sparkling hidden gems is Spring Mill Pond. This petite, eight-acre pond offers one of two public beaches within the 4,000-acre Island Lake Recreation Area in Brighton Township.
Due to its diminutive size and relative seclusion, Spring Mill Pond is a charming alternative to large all-sports lakes with their hectic boat traffic. It seems made for relaxing with a stack of magazines, some classic tunes and perhaps a faithful pooch — leashed pets are permitted. And the best part is — the pond is fed by freshwater springs that keep it cool and clear on the sultriest summer day!
Grassy lawns and a sandy beach area offer picnic tables and grills; park rules prohibit alcohol but you can keep cool with a big jug of iced lemonade and a sun umbrella or big floppy hat.
Entry requires a state park pass; cost is $11 per vehicle and passes can be purchased on site. Island Lake Recreation area is at 12950 East Grand River, south of I-96 and east of U.S. 23.
— Melissa Preddy
Huron River chain of lakes
Yearning to celebrate summer on the water, but get antsy at the thought of a day on shore? Treat yourself to one of southeast Michigan’s most memorable freshwater feats: A lazy few hours navigating the Huron River chain of lakes.
The chain spans Livingston and Washtenaw counties about 20 miles north of Ann Arbor and is made up of lakes interspersed along the river, connected by quiet canals where you might spot a heron or a turtle sleeping in the sun. While as many as nine lakes claim to be on the chain, a realistic day trip includes Big Portage, Baseline, Whitewood,Gallagher, Strawberry and Zukey lakes.
Weekdays are best for quiet enjoyment; travel via canoe, kayak or dinghy — or loll in comfort aboard a motorized craft, anchoring along the way for a dip.
The public boat launch on Big Portage lake off McGregor Road in Dexter requires a state recreation pass; at the other end of the chain, limited launching is available at Lakeland Marina (810-231-3600) and Klave’s Marina (800-582-2416) on Big Portage Lake rents pontoon boats. ChainOfLakesTours.com offers captained day trips.
— Melissa Preddy
Renting a paddle boat, paddling around the middle of Kent Lake and then resting my legs and floating aimlessly for a while is a mindful, palliative experience after a busy week. There’s a camaraderie between those on the water, too. Fishermen call out to kayakers who call out to boaters, all enjoying the challenge of the waves, the cool breeze off the 1,200-acre lake and the cries of happy children echoing from Splash ‘n’ Blast water park.
On particularly hot days, when the rentals disappear early, Martindale Beach is the perfect place to play in the water or just sit with my toes buried in the sand and a good book in my hands. There are nearby concessions when I crave an ice cream sandwich and a picnic and play area with a swing set and slide for when I am entertaining little ones. Just off I-96 near Milford, Kensington Metropark is my preferred cool-off hotspot.
— Leslie Green
The last time I took a drive to the far east to melt off a few pounds on Lake Huron, it was hot. The kind of hot that requires an umbrella. The kind of hot where you feel like you’ve been working summertime construction when, really, you’re lazily lounging on a towel and cooling off with a La Croix in the sun. The hotter, the better, though. Anyone who’s visited the Great Lakes knows this, and Lakeport Beach, part of Lakeport State Park in St. Clair County, about an hour and fifteen minutes outside of Detroit, is no exception. This sandy sliver of beach is especially pleasant if you’re sun-soaked — that water is not pool temps. (It is, however, rocky, so bring water shoes.) And you don’t have to swim. The park is a choose-your-own-adventure playground, with a picnic area, nearby camping sites and an actual playground.
— Chris Azzopardi
Sterling State Park
Full disclosure: I worked at Sterling State Park in Monroe for four summers during college. And yet even after countless hours in full uniform beneath the sweltering sun mowing grass, picking up litter, and swatting away swarms of mayflies, I would return — and still do — in the evenings and on my days off to relax on the park’s mile-long Lake Erie beach.
It’s sort of the ugly duckling of Michigan state parks, being flanked by Fermi II and the Monroe Power Plant, but Sterling’s amenities can’t be beat. It’s the only state park located on Lake Erie, and its beachfront is vast enough you don’t have to fight for space, even on holiday weekends.
Located just off I-75, it’s an easy commute from Detroit, and the 1,300-acre park boasts six miles of paved trails, a boat launch, modern restrooms, a lakefront campground, and lagoons perfect for kayaking and fishing. If you seek an immersive wilderness experience, look elsewhere. But for my money, Sterling can’t be beat for an impromptu summer getaway.
— Steven Sonoras
One of the charms of Pickerel Lake, northwest of Ann Arbor in the Pinckney Recreation Area, is its diminutive size, just 23 acres, and the fact that it’s entirely girdled by deep woods. A “kettle lake” created when a retreating glacier forgot an enormous chunk of ice on this spot 14,000 years ago, the tiny body — really more pond than lake — is both colder than you’d expect and, at 56 feet, much deeper. Long the darling of the hippie set, Pickerel Lake boasts a floating dock and a small sandy beach, perfect for toddlers and men in lawn chairs adding to their beer bellies. Even better, only human-powered boats are allowed, so it’s also an oasis of quiet. All in all, this untouched puddle has the cool feel of a discovery only insiders know about.
— Michael Hodges
One of my favorite places to escape in any season is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, but I especially relish summer because after a morning or afternoon of hiking, I can always cool off in Lake Michigan.
Even after countless trips to the national park, about four hours northwest of Detroit, I only recently discovered Empire Beach, outside the national park in the picturesque town of Empire. The expansive beach stretches as far as you can see, with the northern horizon crowned by the main dunes of the national park. Despite the heat of a late July day, I found plenty of elbow room and had only to walk a bit further south for solitude.
That evening, as the hearty remained camped on the beach, I found myself in a prime seat for a spectacular sunset, with hues of red, orange and pink exploding across the western sky. It was a show as colorful and captivating as any fireworks display.
— Greg Tasker