6 great Michigan beaches to take the family to this summer

When the temperature climbs during summertime in Michigan, the Great Lakes elicit a powerful psychic pull — as well as welcome relief from the heat.

We’re blessed in this state with thousands of miles of jaw-droppingly beautiful shoreline, clear blue water and broad, sandy beaches — great places to empty the clutter from your mind and forget about reality. So if you’re still contemplating where to go to find pristine or family friendly beaches this summer that offer plenty of opportunities to get away from the crowds, here are a few of my favorite Michigan beaches.

  1. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore — Recently voted the most beautiful place in America by viewers of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Sleeping Bear is arguably the least Michigan-feeling place in Michigan. Hiking through the sprawling sand dune environments brings to mind the American southwest, and the park offers some of the most remote backcountry camping available in the lower peninsula. Then there’s the giant namesake dunes, which are a blast to tumble down but tough to climb, and miles of protected, undeveloped (and much flatter) beach. I’d tell you my favorite place to swim (hint: It’s near Empire) but that would be like giving away a cherished family recipe. There are plenty of places to eat or stay nearby.
  2. Wilderness State Park — You have to tread carefully at this state park, since much of the shoreline is protected habitat for the endangered piping plover, but head south to Sturgeon Bay, a broad bay just south of Waugoshance Point, where you’ll likely find yourself alone with the sandy beach, forest and dunes. This is a fairly short drive to either Harbor Springs to the south or Mackinaw City to the northeast, or check out Legs Inn for some local color and Polish food.
  3. Grand Marais — This tiny town sits on a natural harbor and bookends the eastern boundary of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula. The beach is drop-dead gorgeous, with white sand and a commanding view north out onto Lake Superior. The swimming is fun, if you can handle the cold water, and the Lake Superior Brewing Company, essentially the town tavern, churns out some good pizza and suds.
  4. Naubinway —I picked this small U.P. fishing village simply because the U.S. 2 corridor that skirts Lake Michigan’s northern end is eminently deserving of inclusion on this list. Plus, it’s the only real town after St. Ignace on the long, lonely and lovely highway before it jogs inland en route through the western U.P. (and eventually, to Washington state). Low dunes, lazy vistas, miles of pristine sugar sand beaches and a lack of crowds make this a must-visit destination for any beach lover.
  5. The U.S. 23 shoreline of Lake Huron — Up until a few years ago, I had never visited Michigan’s sunrise side. I had no idea what I was missing — and thus my inability to choose one beach. While Northeastern Michigan may not boast the same high-end dining and shopping experiences of its kin to the west, it more than makes up for it with vast forests and postcard-worthy beaches. Granted, long stretches of the coastline are lined with private cottages, but the long stretch between Alpena and Cheboygan in particular is one of the prettiest, most remote stretches in all of Michigan. Try the state parks at Harrisville, Negwegon, Tawas Point or P.H. Hoeft, or the public beaches in towns like Oscoda or Alpena.
  6. Ludington — The only time I actually visited the beach here was in the dead of winter, when my wife and I stayed in a minicabin at the state park, which we had virtually to ourselves. In the summer, the park caters to the RV and electrical hook-up set. But if you want seclusion, head north along the beach to the picturesque lighthouse or beyond — there is plenty of undeveloped shoreline here. If the kids get hungry, downtown Ludington is just a couple miles south.

What did I miss? What’s your favorite beach in Michigan? Tell us in the comments area below.

Photos by farlane and Jermil Sadler

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Read 13 Comments

  1. I definitely agree that the Lake Huron Coast is absolutely beautiful. We also have the AuSable which is breathtaking and great for water sports, canoeing, kayaking, tubing, pontooning and skidoos. And the shoreline is filled with wildlife!

  2. McCarty’s Cove to Picnic Rocks, Marquette, MI–Great view of Lake Superior and the Marquette Lighthouse with beautiful sandy beach and views of the upper harbor of Marquette and Presque Isle. Take a short walk past the lighthouse and you can be in the lower harbor in no time!

  3. Funny how Sleeping Bear was voted most beautiful place in America, but Pictured Rocks was voted the most beautiful place in Michigan by the same people

  4. Other notable places are Fishermen’s Island, Grand Haven, Holland and South Haven. All beautiful.

  5. My favorite beach is where I grew up since I was 4 years old and am now 54 years old.
    It is on the shores just 8 miles before DeTour Village, MI. It is paradise at it’s best. Quite peaceful and full of wonderful memories. Our Dad was a teacher in Sault ste marie and when his Last day of school we packed up our car and headed out on the 50 mile journey where we would spend the whole summer. We had a simple but spectacular time. With dune buggy’s, swimming, bon fires and even high jumping, it was the track coach in him I guess. Great times with 5 kid’s and 2 great parents.

  6. Don’t park at the Boat Launch in Ludington on Gus Maker Weekend. You will get a $30 ticket. They Block off streets, Parking is limited with Hundreds of People, all the hotels are full in the area, and so is the camp ground, with no where for them to park, unless your willing to walk a long ways. That makes it very difficult with small children, and carrying lots of stuff. Great PR Move by the City of Ludington, NOT. Ludington is ungreatful for all the money people dumped into your City , and you thought it was a good PR Move to Take More.

  7. I know southern lake Huron in the Caseville and Port Huron area aren’t as picturesque as the U.P. or west side of the state, but if you can’t travel too far it is quite beautiful and clean.

  8. Magoon Creek Park on Lake Michigan (south of Manistee), has a spectacular view from a bluff overlooking the lake, with picnic tables and a gentle slopping walk southward to the sandy beach or a more rugged walk through the woods to the beach, whichever hits your fancy. Seldom many folks there, but always a few on those very “hot” summer days.

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