Need to Get Outside? These 15 Michigan State Parks Are a Half-Hour Away or Less

Leelanau State Park, Summer 2019. Photo Credit: Tyler Leipprandt in cooperation with the MI DNR. Credit goes to Tyler Leipprandt and Michigan Sky Media LLC.

By Lisa Green

March 10, 2023

MICHIGAN—Fun fact: Throughout most of Michigan, you’re almost never more than a half-hour away from a state park. With 101 state parks and recreation areas, as well as five national parks, a day trip is within reach of just about every Michigander.

Good to Know

With a yearly recreation passport, almost all activities in Michigan state parks are free. The parks are increasingly more accessible, too—track chairs (off-road electronic wheelchairs) can easily handle trails, snow, sand, and up to eight inches of water, and are available at state parks at no cost.

Want to show your Michigan love while supporting our state parks? Shop at the “Good for Michigan” online store, which has art prints, coffee, clothing, and even a cool Motor City axe for sale. Gift cards for campers, boaters, and explorers can be used for park reservations, concessions, and firewood.

Need volunteer hours for school, or just want to participate in a cool volunteer program? Michigan state parks photo ambassadors take, share, and curate pics in an online library. Perks include social media exposure, free state parks swag, and time spent in some of Michigan’s most beautiful places.

Southeast Day Trips

Belle Isle in 2021. Photo Credit: Tyler Leipprandt and Michigan Sky Media LLC.

Belle Isle (Detroit)
Distance from Detroit: 6 Miles
Distance from Ann Arbor: 47 Miles
Distance from Grand Blanc: 64 Miles
Park Size: 985 Acres

For a great outdoor day trip in the Detroit area, you don’t have to go far.

Before becoming a state park in 2013, Belle Isle was a Detroit city park—and it’s still the largest city-owned island park in the US. Connected to Detroit by the MacArthur Bridge, Belle Isle has a cool secret hidden in plain sight: The US-Canada border stretches through the channel of water on the island’s south side.

The Belle Isle Aquarium is open (and free) on weekends. It’s home to more than 1,500 fish from 146 different species.

The Belle Isle Nature Center is where you can find plants and animals native to Michigan.

The Dossin Great Lakes Museum will teach you about Great Lakes shipping and maritime history.

The Oudolf Garden is a three-acre public garden open every day.

The Belle Isle Conservatory is a greenhouse and botanical garden. Technically named the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, it’s the oldest continually running conservatory in the US. It was named for a woman who left her collection of 600 orchids to Detroit when she died in 1955. It’s currently closed until 2024 while it undergoes major renovations.

There’s also a half-mile long swimming beach on Belle Isle, that’s open from Memorial Day through Labor Day—just like the giant slide, where anyone taller than 48 inches can ride it for a dollar. The James Scott Memorial Fountain, named for a local prankster, is worth seeing, too.

Belle Isle is also home to the Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse, the oldest marble lighthouse in the country. It runs along the north end of the island, but there are no public tours.

Visit Belle Isle Park’s DNR page for more information.

READ MORE: You Can Visit These 1,000-Year-Old Native American Carvings in Michigan’s Thumb

Dodge #4 State Park (Waterford Township)
Distance from Detroit: 31 Miles
Distance from Flint: 37 Miles
Distance from Brighton: 33 Miles
Park Size: 139 Acres

With its mile-long shoreline along Cass Lake, Dodge #4 State Park might seem small, but it’s worth exploring. Not only has this park been rated one of the best places to fish in the Midwest, it’s also a great place for swimming, kayaking, boating, and cross-country skiing in the winter. For your smaller companions, the water along the shore stays shallow for several feet, making it a great place for family swim time.

If you’re in need of a watercraft, you can easily rent one from Cass Lake Boat Rentals.

To finish off a great day trip, the internet-famous experience Glenlore Trails is only about ten miles away. You can also start or finish the day at nearby Kickstand Brewing Company.

Visit Dodge #4 State Park’s DNR page for more information.

Maybury State Park (Northville)
Distance from Detroit: 32 Miles
Distance from Ann Arbor: 21 Miles
Distance from Fenton: 39 Miles
Park Size: 944 Acres

If you enjoy naturalistic learning, you’ll love Maybury State Park. The park was the former site of the Detroit Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium. Although most of the Sanitarium’s buildings have been torn down, a self-guided history trail teaches visitors about what happened at designated locations.

Maybury State Park also has eight miles of hiking and running trails, as well as paved bicycle paths and mountain-biking trails. You’ll also find baseball fields, soccer fields, and playgrounds.

Tip: See if you can find the “Rusty Vintage Classic Car” on the mountain biking trail.

Make sure to check out the adjacent Maybury Farm while you’re there. It’s an educational working farm with over 100 animals, a farm-themed playground, corn maze, gardens, and more. The farm hosts seasonal tours that teach participants about how maple syrup is harvested.

If you’re still itching for historical fun facts, you can visit the Mill Race Village in nearby Northville. Kids will dig the children’s museum in Stemville. Parmenter’s Cider Mill is also a family-friendly attraction when it’s in season. Make sure to check out Northville Winery and Brewing Company

Visit Maybury State Park’s DNR page for more information.

River Raisin National Battlefield Park and Sterling State Park (Monroe)
Distance from Detroit: 38 Miles
Distance from Adrian: 38 miles
Distance from Jackson: 64 Miles
Park Size (River Raisin): 40 Acres
Park Size (Sterling): 1,300 Acres

The River Raisin National Battlefield Park is one of Michigan’s most underrated National Parks, not to mention its smallest. The park commemorates and remembers the battles fought in Michigan during the War of 1812. The Battle of the River Raisin was the greatest defeat for the United States, but the greatest victory for Tecumseh’s Indigenous forces. This was the battle that rallied Americans to “Remember the Raisin,” which boosted American support for the war effort.

The River Raisin Visitor Center includes a 17-minute presentation on the Battles of River Raisin, as well as educational dioramas and displays.

Within walking distance is also Sterling State Park. This park is Michigan’s only state park along the Lake Erie shoreline. This beach is not only good for swimming, fishing, and boating, it’s also a hotspot for metal detecting and for collecting Michigan rocks like the Petoskey stone. The park features a fishing lagoon and opportunities to view wildlife.

While you’re in town, check out the Michigan Museum of Horror, which features a collection of real human skulls.

Visit River Raisin’s NPS page or Sterling State Park’s DNR page for more information.

West Side Day Trips

Siver Lake State Park. Photo Credit: Michigan DNR David Kenyon

Grand Haven State Park (Grand Haven)
Distance from Grand Rapids: 35 Miles
Distance from Allegan: 44 Miles
Distance from Grant: 41 Miles
Park Size: 48 Acres

Grand Haven State Park is small but mighty. The park is entirely beach, and one of the most popular in Michigan for swimming, fishing, metal detecting, and more. It’s conveniently close to downtown Grand Haven, with plenty of attractions within walking distance.

Though they can’t be toured, two popular attractions are Grand Haven’s two lighthouses. Grand Haven’s Musical Fountain is also a fun experience, entertaining spectators after dusk between Memorial Day and Labor Day with 25-30 minute shows. It even has its own hashtag on Instagram: #GHmusicalfountain.

Grand Haven has lots to do while you’re in town, like the Pere Marquette train at Chinook Pier Park and the Midwest Miniatures Museum. Make sure to visit popular Michigan brewery Odd Side Ales too.

Visit Grand Haven State Park’s DNR page for more information.

Muskegon State Park (Muskegon)
Distance from Grand Rapids: 48 Miles
Distance from Newaygo: 36 Miles
Distance from Whitehall: 17 Miles
Park Size: 1,233 Acres

Muskegon State Park is a great recreation spot any time of year, but it’s extra special in the winter because of the Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park.

The Olympian-designed luge track is one of only four in the country, and it’s the only kunstbahn track made from natural ice—not refrigerated. (Bonus: There’s also a summer luge track.)

The park features a serene quarter-mile ice skating trail weaving through white pine forest. There’s also an ice rink for both ice skating and hockey. Equipment rentals are available for under $10 a day. 

Other recreation options in Muskegon Skate Park include sledding, zip-lining, and archery.

Nearby Muskegon has plenty of things to do to round out your day, like visiting Michigan’s Adventure or taking a tour of seven craft breweries. Aquastar Lake Cruises will take you on a watercraft tour of the Muskegon Channel. There are also tourist attractions like the Lakeshore Museum and Muskegon’s lighthouses.

Visit Muskegon State Park’s DNR page for more information.

READ MORE: 20+ Michigan Museums Friendly for Both Family and Budget

Silver Lake State Park (Mears)
Distance from Grand Rapids: 81 Miles
Distance from Muskegon: 39 Miles
Distance from Ludington: 28 Miles
Park Size: 2,936 Acres

Silver Lake State Park is particularly noteworthy because of its sand dunes—specifically, the ones you can ride an off-road vehicle on. It’s the only sand dune riding opportunity east of the Mississippi River.

There is a specific part of the park designated for ORV driving. For those that don’t have an ORV, another section is leased by Mac Woods’ Dune Rides and available for dune buggy tours when in season. 

One of the most popular attractions is the Little Sable Point Lighthouse, which visitors can tour for a small fee. Other attractions in Mears include Wave Club Water Sport Rentals and the Craigs Cruisers Family Fun Center. Country Dairy Farm is a great place to stop for an ice cream and learn a few things about dairy farming while you’re at it.

Visit the Silver Lake Visitors Bureau or Silver Lake State Park’s DNR page for more information.

Southwest Day Trips

Warren Dunes State Park. Photo Credit: Tyler Leipprandt and Michigan Sky Media LLC.

Fort Custer Recreation Area (Augusta)
Distance from Kalamazoo: 14 Miles
Distance from Lansing: 58 Miles
Distance from Paw Paw: 33 Miles
Park Size: 3,033 Acres

Fort Custer Recreation Area was originally farmland, but during World War II the federal government acquired it for Camp Custer, a training center for the US Army. These days, it’s a park with a trail system popular with hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. There’s plenty of shoreline to be enjoyed for fishing, swimming, and boat rentals as well, since there are three lakes and the Kalamazoo River within the park.

Nearby Battle Creek has plenty of things to do for a day trip, like the Fantasy Garden at the Leila Arboretum Society. For a roundabout day trip, consider visiting the popular Gilmore Car Museum just 11 miles away from the park. Territorial Brewing is also nearby for craft beer and German-inspired food.

Visit the Fort Custer Recreation Area DNR page for more information.

Van Buren State Park (South Haven)
Distance from Kalamazoo: 37 Miles
Distance from Bridgman: 34 Miles
Distance from Wayland: 54 Miles
Park Size: 400 Acres

Located about 10 minutes south of downtown South Haven, the primary attraction of the Van Buren State Park is its sand dunes, which are some of the best freshwater sand dunes in the world. In addition to climbing them, there’s a popular beach for swimming and where aspiring rock hounds like to look for Michigan’s most coveted stones. If you’ve got a furry friend, there’s a dog-safe area of the beach, too. The park also has hiking trails, a playground, and a picnic area for family fun.

The South Haven area has plenty of fun things to do, including the Michigan Maritime Museum and the annual National Blueberry Festival. South Haven is also part of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail with several wineries nearby.

Visit the Van Buren State Park DNR page for more information.

READ MORE: 16 of Michigan’s Weirdest and Coolest Destinations for 2021

Warren Dunes State Park (Bridgman)
Distance from Kalamazoo: 67 Miles
Distance from New Buffalo: 12 Miles
Distance from Grand Rapids: 100 Miles
Park Size: 1,952 Acres

One of Michigan’s most popular parks is Warren Dunes State Park. Some of the dunes are tough to climb, but worth the view at the top. Tower Hill is the highest point in the park, standing 240 feet above water level. Other, smaller hills include Mt. Fuller, Mt. Edwards, and Pikes Peak. Some people on the dunes practice sandboarding.

Since the park is so large, there’s lots of beach to explore. Metal detecting is permitted in certain areas. There are also six miles of trails for hiking and cross-country skiing. There’s also ample opportunity to see wildlife, as the park is home to significant and diverse bird populations.

The nearby town of Bridgman is small, but still has things to do. Captain Mike’s Fun Park is nearby. Bridgman is also the home of two popular craft breweries, Transient Artisan Ales and Tapistry Brewing.

Visit the Warren Dunes State Park DNR page for more information.

Leelanau State Park, Summer 2019. Photo Credit: Tyler Leipprandt and Michigan Sky Media LLC.

Up North Day Trips

Sleeping Bear Dunes (Glen Arbor)
Distance from Traverse City: 28 Miles
Distance from Grand Rapids: 160 Miles
Distance from Gaylord: 90 Miles
Park Size: 32,557 Acres

The Sleeping Bear Dunes make up one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Over one million visitors visit the dunes annually, with many of them attempting to climb the impressive sandy bluffs.

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a great option for anyone who doesn’t want to get too far from the car. The Pyramid Point Trail is also a great option for anyone wanting to get a scenic look at the water. The historic Glen Haven Village provides a glimpse into Michigan’s past. If you’ve got the means, you can even go looking at local shipwrecks. And there’s still so much more to do and see in this huge expanse of natural wonder.

While visiting the Sleeping Bear Dunes, it’s also worth it to check out Glen Arbor. The Crystal River in Glen Arbor is a great place to go kayaking. Attractions like Art’s Tavern and Cherry Republic will top off your visit.

Visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes NPS page for more information.

READ MORE: 4 Offbeat Destinations for a Michigan Road Trip

Leelanau State Park (Leelanau)
Distance from Traverse City: 37 Miles
Distance from Mackinaw City: 139 Miles
Distance from Ludington: 121 Miles
Park Size: 1,350 Acres

Leelanau State Park is a remote but vast park located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. Rockhounds will love its abundance of stones, with the elusive Petoskey Stone sometimes seen on these shores. 

The centerpiece of the park is the Grand Traverse Lighthouse, open for tours seasonally from May through December. A virtual tour is also available.

The park additionally has plenty of beach area to explore, including a dog-friendly area. There are also 8.5 miles of hiking and skiing trails, as well as a playground and picnic area.

While on the Leelanau Peninsula, you may want to check out the famous Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. Also consider circling around to the historic Fishtown in Leland to pick up some smoked fish.

Visit the Leelanau State Park DNR page for more information.

READ MORE: 9 Must-Visit Destinations in NW Michigan

Clear Lake State Park (Atlanta)
Distance from Alpena: 41 Miles
Distance from Mackinac Bridge: 68 Miles
Distance from West Branch: 74 Miles
Park Size: 290 Acres

In the heart of Michigan’s elk country, Clear Lake State Park is reminiscent of the old school family vacations you might have gone to as a child. Shallow swimming areas, trails for hiking, biking, and off-roading, and cabins and campsites offer rustic activities for those looking to get off the grid for a few days. Set within the Mackinaw State Forest and encompassing two-thirds of Clear Lake shoreline, this park has direct connections to the Atlanta ORV route and the Michigan Cross Country Cycle Trail.

Click here for more info.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Photo Credit: David Kenyon and the Michigan DNR.

Upper Peninsula Day Trips

Tahquamenon Falls State Park (Paradise)
Distance from Newberry: 28 Miles
Distance from Mackinac Bridge: 79 Miles
Distance from Munising: 88 Miles
Park Size: 50,000 Acres

Some of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi cover the Upper and Lower portions of Tahquamenon Falls State Park. Here’s what the Michigan DNR says about the uniquely beautiful water:

“The river’s amber color is caused by tannins leached from the cedar, spruce and hemlock trees in the swamps drained by the river, and the extremely soft water churned by the action of the falls causes the river’s trademark large amounts of foam.”

Multiple campgrounds, overnight lodging facilities, boat launches, and more than 35 miles of trails aren’t bad, either. Look for black bear, wolf, coyote, otter, deer, fox, porcupine, and beaver tracks—and sometimes even moose. One hundred twenty-five species of nesting birds call this place home, in the thick forest that surrounds 13 inland lakes and 24 miles of the Tahquamenon River.

Take along the DNR’s Aquatic Insect Guide or their Insect Hike Guide to add to the nature-edu fun. Visit the Tahquamenon Falls DNR page for more information.

READ MORE: 7 Must-Visit MI Destinations You Can Get Into for Free

Lake Gogebic State Park (White City)
Distance from Iron Mountain: 108 Miles
Distance from Ontonagon: 42 Miles
Distance from Mackinac Bridge: 290 Miles
Park Size: 360 Acres

Set in the middle of the million-acre Ottawa National Forest, Lake Gogebic has excellent fishing, hunting, hiking, and wildlife viewing opportunities everywhere you look. Visit the DNR’s site or the Lake Gogebic Area Visitor’s Bureau for more information.

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