6 great Michigan beaches to take the family to this summer

Sven Gustafson

| 4 min read

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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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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