MICHIGAN—There are few summer experiences better than a Michigan beach day. But how do you avoid overcrowding in the summer? Fortunately, with the longest freshwater coastline in the world, there are plenty of lesser-known beaches to alleviate the busy season.
When the final frost passes and the weather gets warmer, it’s time for Michigan’s tourism season, aka the Great Lakes Swim Season. And that means beachgoers from Michigan and surrounding states alike get their chance to soak up the sun and dig their toes in the sand. In 2021, a total of 117 million visitors came to Michigan to enjoy amenities such as its gorgeous beaches, and in turn created a total economic impact of $43 billion—almost entirely rebounding to pre-COVID-19 numbers.
There’s one downside to that, however: a lot of crowded beaches this summer.
Fortunately, there are plenty of beaches that have primarily escaped the notice of the tourists and are great places for a Michigander beach day. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites to check out if you’ve got to hit the beach.
Southwest and West Michigan
Douglas Beach Park
3099 Lakeshore Drive, Douglas
Saugatuck is one of Michigan’s most-favored beach towns, offering a quaint vacation experience on the shores of Lake Michigan. But popular beaches like Saugatuck Dunes State Park and Oval Beach can be overwhelmed with beachgoers in the summer. That’s why smaller and lesser-known beaches like Douglas Beach Park can be a godsend.
Douglas Beach Park is a cozy neighborhood beach south of Saugatuck in the neighboring town of Douglas. It is ideal for taking a stroll along the coastline, especially if you want to wander next to private beach property (the shoreline is public property). The park features a picnic area and restroom. Be warned: Though free, parking is very limited, so walking or biking may be preferable.
13700 Suns End, Three Oaks
This secluded beach in southwestern Michigan may be small, but it’s a frequently overlooked beach on Lake Michigan. And at only about 4 miles away from the Warren Dunes State Park, Cherry Beach provides a more private experience than the more popular beaches in the area.
Cherry Beach covers about 657 feet of shoreline, but is still the largest beach in Chikaming Township. Visitors report that the waters are usually pretty warm, making them ideal for swimming. There is a handicap-accessible, shaded observation deck for a scenic escape from the rays There’s also a picnic area with grills for a perfect beach cookout. The parking lot is small, but the township is adamant about not selling parking passes so the beach can be accessible to everyone.
Rosy Mound Natural Area
13925 Lakeshore Ave., Grand Haven
This beach requires a 0.7-mile hike to access, but its private nature makes the journey well worth the climb. Visitors who overcome the 1,000-foot staircase up the dunes will be rewarded with breathtaking views of Lake Michigan from under a unique shade canopy.
The Rosy Mound Natural Area is open year-round and accessible from US-31 with parking near the park entrance. The hike traverses along a dune boardwalk trail with scenic views along decks. The total roundtrip trail is a little over 2 miles, including the Acorn Trail which cuts through a forest of mature pine trees. The swimming beach makes for the perfect refresher following your hike, with picnic tables and grills also available nearby.
West Olive, MI
Located on Lake Michigan close to Grand Haven, Windsnest Beach is a hidden gem providing four acres of public land to discerning folks in the know. And at less than half an hour away from Grand Haven, it’s a great way to take a staycation while avoiding the crowds.
The wooden walkway provides amazing lake views perfect for those Instagrammable photos. There’s plenty of shoreline to take a swim and kids will love the onsite playground. There’s also a picnic shelter and another picnic area for a picture perfect beachside meal. The park was completely renovated in 2019 and is managed by the Ottawa County Parks and Recreation Department as of 2023.
Lake Harbor Park
4635 Lake Harbor Road, Norton Shores
Muskegon, located on Lake Michigan north of Grand Haven, is a popular destination for beaching, boating, fishing, and more. But the neighboring town of Norton Shores has one of the best quiet beaches in the form of Lake Harbor Park, though it takes a bit of a walk to get there.
Lake Harbor Park is a 189-acre park just north of the Mona Lake Channel, along which lies a paved walkway leading to the Lake Michigan coastline. Hot tip: There’s plenty of opportunities for fishing along the walkway if you’d like to make your hike productive. Picnic tables, both sheltered and open, are also near the walkway. You don’t have to take the walkway to get to the beach, however; you can also pick any of the trails, including a natural trail. Beware: Some trails provide more of a hike than others.
Swimming is only permitted in the beach area, meaning you’ll need to take a walk to get there. But thankfully, due to the shape of the park, you’re never too far from the parking lot.
8390 Meinert Park Road, Montague
Meinert Park features sand dunes that are just as beautiful as the more popular sand dune parks, but without the crowds. The stretch of beach may be smaller at just 2,000 feet, but it’s all available for swimming. Amenities include a boardwalk with an overview deck, a play area, and a concession building.
Those looking for camping opportunities can check out the rental cabin or the Meinert Pines Campground, hosting 67 modern campsites.
Southeast Michigan and Detroit Metro
2 Crooked Lake Trail, Pinckney
Trying to get to a beach for a beach day can certainly be hell. But this inland lake, located close to the township of Hell, is relatively enjoyable with a smooth ride in.
The Silver Lake Day Use area is a great spot for a beach day in the Pinckney Recreation Area. One of three swimming beaches in the Pinckney Recreation Area, Silver Lake has a lot of beach space available, so visitors can sprawl out. There’s also changing rooms, showers, and picnic space. Recreation options include a fishing pier, horseshoe pits, volleyball courts, and a playground. A concession stand is onsite and watercraft rentals are available to take out on the lake. The Potawatomi Trailhead is also located nearby, making the beach a perfect beginning or end to a day of hiking or mountain biking.
Halfmoon Lake also has a day-use area and swimmable beach, with more waterways for exploration via watercraft. If you’re interested in adding camping to your beach day, check out the modern campsites at nearby Bruin Lake, which includes 161 campsites, a camper cabin, and a yurt.
Maple Beach and Martindale Beach
Maple Beach Drive, Milford
The Metroparks system is a regional park system encompassing 13 parks in five counties around metro Detroit, primarily located along the Clinton and Huron Rivers. You’ll find plenty of beach fun at Lake St. Clair Metropark or Stony Creek Metropark. But your best bet to avoid crowds is Kensington Metropark, centered around the inland Kent Lake in western Oakland County.
Both of Kensington Metropark’s beaches are great swimming locations and also feature picnic tables and grills. One of the biggest draws to Maple Beach on the northern shore is its playground, which is ADA-accessible and features sensory-friendly equipment and spaces for quiet independent play. Maple Beach also has boat rentals where you can take a spin in a paddle boat or kayak. Stationed at the same site is the Island Queen, a pontoon boat which takes seasonal tours on the lake.
Martindale Beach on the southern shore features the Splash ‘N’ Blast water playground. Here, kids love the two 240-foot twisted water slides and splash pad.
The metropark also has plenty of other things to do, including trails to hike. Visitors of all ages can learn about local ecosystems and wildlife at the Kensington Nature Center and get up close and personal with farm animals at the Kensington Farm Center.
City of Luna Pier Public Beach
4219 Luna Pier Road, Luna Pier
In the downriver region of Michigan, close to the Ohio border, lies a significantly underrated Michigan beach town. The small town of Luna Pier offers gorgeous views of Lake Erie right off I-75, though you’d never realize a highway is anywhere near it.
The Luna Pier beach is a mix of sand and shells, making the small shells an easy beach day souvenir. The long pier is perfect for fishing, birding, or just strolling and enjoying the summer breeze. The Luna Pier Lighthouse is a small historic lighthouse located nearby.
You can also grab lunch or a cocktail at Luna Pier Beach Cafe.
Lakeport State Park
7605 Lakeshore Road, Lakeport
The coastal town of Port Huron has several city beaches along Lake Huron and the St. Clair River, but the best and lesser-known beach is found at Lakeport State Park. With over 2,250 feet of Lake Huron shoreline to explore, you’ll easily be able to wander somewhere private on the beach.
Lakeport State Park is separated into two sections: the day-use area and the campgrounds. Both sections feature beach access on either side of the town of Lakeport. It’s one of the best beaches near Detroit for rockhounding; beachgoers have found rocks and fossils such as Petoskey stones, puddingstone, and coral fossils. But it’s also a great place to swim, bring your kayak, or just watch the freighters pass by.
For those looking to camp on the beach, Lakeport State Park has 250 campsites with modern amenities.
Caseville County Park
6400 Main St., Caseville
Florida might have Key West, but Michigan has its own “Key North.” The small town of Caseville, located on the tip of Michigan’s thumb and along Lake Huron, has one of the best beaches in eastern Michigan.
The beach at Caseville County Park covers 1,500 feet of Lake Huron shoreline, with about 100 feet of width. This means there’s a wealth of places to roll out your beach towel and go for a dip in the water. Visitors can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and kite boards. There’s also a picnic area, playground, and volleyball nets. Those who enjoy fishing or boating will find great opportunities on the nearby Caseville Pier. A small restaurant on the beachfront, Baywatch on the Beach Grill, serves up great lunches like burgers, sandwiches, and Coney dogs. Also check out the annual Cheeseburger in Caseville festival, a celebratory ode to Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
For folks looking for beach camping, Caseville County Park features 230 camping sites.
Bay County Pinconning Park
3041 E. Pinconning Road, Pinconning
The Bay City area is one of Michigan’s premier boating destinations. But if you’re tired of the crowds in town, you can take a drive less than an hour away to Pinconning. And if you think you’ve heard of that name before, that’s because the small town of Pinconning is the Cheese Capital of Michigan.
This idyllic little cheese town has another hidden gem: Bay County Pinconning Park. Located along the shoreline of Saginaw Bay in Lake Huron, this park is called the “Gateway to the North.” The year-round park features plenty of opportunity for swimming, fishing, boating, and more. Kayaks are seasonally available to rent. There are also two playgrounds, nature trails, picnic areas, and even guided wildlife tours during the summer.
For those that want to camp on the beach, the park also features 62 modern or semi-modern campsites and six one-room log cabins with heat and electricity.
Gilbert Road, Arcadia
Though the Sleeping Bear Dunes are incredibly popular, the crowds can be a lot to handle in the summer. Thankfully, there’s the Arcadia Dunes, similar and lesser-known sand dunes in the same region.
The Arcadia Dunes are the largest preserve owned by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. One of the most popular attractions is the Overlook Trail, part of the Baldy Trails. The trail leads to one of the most scenic views of Lake Michigan in the region. Along the way, there’s a diverse ecosystem to witness, including many species of wildflowers and many of the birds you can expect along the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail.
Make sure to check out the other trails for hiking and mountain-biking opportunities.
Maple Bay Beach
6303 Plum Drive, Williamsburg
Traverse City remains one of Michigan’s most popular summer getaways, thanks in part to the National Cherry Festival. But trying to hit the beach in Traverse City in the summer can be a crowded nightmare. Thankfully, just down the road and up the coast in Williamsburg is a beach that flies under the radar of most tourists.
Another beach owned by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy, Maple Bay Beach is part of the Maple Bay Natural Area located along US-31. Here, you’ll find 2,586 feet of East Grand Traverse Bay shoreline, not to mention a variety of plant species. The sunflowers are the most recognizable, but several dune swale complexes are home to endangered plant species.
To reach the beach, you’ll have to take a walk past the historic Maple Bay Farm, a renovated 11-acre property with community gardening, demonstrations, and special events. The trail is relatively easy and invites a casual hike that’s great for birdwatching. The beach itself is rocky but makes for a great swimming location.
Peterson Road Beach
Peterson Road, Lake Township
The beach at the end of Peterson Road is one of the most secluded beaches on the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Peterson Road Beach is a popular location for beachgoers hunting for Petoskey stones, but it’s also a great place to go for a swim or have a picnic. Though you might have to park along a dirt road and take a small hike, the gorgeous views of Lake Michigan and South Manitou Island are definitely worth it. There are also picnic areas located at the top of the bluff, as well as restrooms.
If you want to explore the rest of the dunes, check out the Platte Plains Trail nearby.
Thorne Swift Nature Preserve
6696 Lower Shore Drive, Harbor Springs
In northern Michigan, one of the most scenic attractions is the gorgeous Tunnel of Trees, a 20-mile drive through tree canopies along M-119. Though there are plenty of opportunities to stop along the way, one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stop is the Thorne Swift Nature Preserve. This hidden gem features a secluded beach of 950 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline.
The Thorne Swift Nature Preserve’s beach is found after an easy, leisurely walk through the woods. The terrain features upland dunes, lowland cedar swamp, and a pond. The trails are well-groomed and marked, with visitors asked to stay on the trail to preserve the ecosystem. The Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center onsite provides educational displays and materials about the local ecosystem.
Northeast Michigan and Upper Peninsula
Sturgeon Point State Park
6036 Point Road, Harrisville
North of Tawas City but south of Alpena is a small park dedicated to one of Lake Huron’s historic lighthouses. Sturgeon Point State Park is a mostly undeveloped park that preserves the Sturgeon Point Light, originally built in 1870.
During the summer, the Alcona Historical Society allows tower climbs of the lighthouse, as well as free tours of the one-room Sturgeon Point Bailey Schoolhouse. Though the Sturgeon Point State Park is small, its 76 acres are remote and secluded enough for a private beach getaway. A shallow reef extends about a mile out into the lake, making it perfect for swimming and wading. This extensive reef is exactly why the lighthouse exists: to protect mariners of eras gone by.
Negwegon State Park
Sandhill Road, Harrisville
For beach campers truly looking to get away from it all, Negwegon State Park is one of the best and lesser-known options. This northern Michigan park has a whopping 7 miles of Lake Huron lakeshore and the park itself covers 4,130 acres. It’s also home to one of Michigan’s designated dark sky preserves, making for an unforgettable stargazing experience.
As one might expect from a big state park Up North, Negwegon State Park is rustic and undeveloped. The roads around the park are sandy and vehicles with four-wheel drive are recommended. There are only four campsites, each one requiring a substantial height. The experience is so unique that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has an entire guide just for camping in this park.
But you don’t have to be camping in the park to take advantage of the beach. In fact, you can access the beach only a short walk from the parking lot. The wide swath of beach property is perfect for swimming, rockhounding, or any of your other favorite beach activities. In certain spots, you can even see the lights of the nearby town Alpena.
Little Presque Isle Beach
Harlow Lake Road, Marquette
Most beaches in the Upper Peninsula can be assumed to be pretty secluded. But in the case of the U.P.’s most populous city, Marquette, there’s one beach that stands out as more secluded than all the rest, and that’s Little Presque Isle Beach.
Little Presque Isle is not to be confused with Presque Isle Park, located closer to Marquette. Both are Lake Superior beaches, but Little Presque Isle is about 7 miles northwest of Marquette, making it a further excursion than other beaches in Marquette. However, the unique land formation of Little Presque Isle features gorgeous sands, lush forests, and towering cliffs. It’s a rare area in Michigan where the public can witness granite bedrock that’s 2 billion years old—the rarest bedrock type in the Mitten State.
Another natural curiosity about Little Presque Isle is the titular isle itself, which was connected to the mainland before the 1930s and served as a landing place for early explorers and indigenous people. Visitors can access the isle by wading through hip-deep water, as long as they’re mindful of riptide waters.
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