Although I reside in Indiana, I live so close to the border that I frequent Michigan often. I love to visit Lake Michigan in the summer especially if it involves watching the sunset. Some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve witnessed have been on the beaches of Lake Michigan. As much as I love the ocean and traveling south, I admit that living so close to a lake that resembles the ocean is pretty great! As an added bonus, Lake Michigan is void of saltwater, sharks, and hurricanes!
My favorite summer weekend hobby is jumping in the car on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night with the kids and heading to the lake. Leaving around 6 pm in the summer ensures enough time to arrive before the sunset, relax in the sand, and let the kids play on the shore. Usually, this is done spontaneously and without a plan! Sometimes we pack a picnic and have dinner on the beach. It’s simple, satisfying, and comforting. I’ve made a collection of my favorite spots and the details you’ll want to know before planning your own impulsive trip to the lake! These are my favorites of the Michigan west coast, I wish I could tell you all about the beaches of northern Michigan but I have yet to explore this region! I hope to blog about northern Michigan one day soon!
New Buffalo is the closest Michigan beach to Indiana (or at least where I live!). In the summer and early Fall, it’s a happening place, full of visitors from Chicago and surrounding cities. New Buffalo is a cute, busy town with a beach and boat launch available to the public. The easiest way to access the public beach is to use the public parking lot, it is $10 to park for the day although sunrise and sunset hours are free (before 8 am and after 8 pm). This works out well for summer sunsets that don’t happen until about 9 pm or so. Free parking is available in town if you are willing to walk about 1/2 mile to the beach. There are restrooms available but no showers. Lifeguards are on site between 8am-8pm. A Redamaks burger bar is also located on the beach with a limited menu (they accept cash only). Restaurants such a The Stray Dog and Redamaks are popular New Buffalo restaurant as well.
Grand Mere is located in Berrin County, Michigan and is a beautiful, secluded, densely wooded state park that offers free parking, dunes, restrooms (rustic), and hiking trails. Corrosion had affected the Grand Mere beaches so there is no lot of sandy beach left and you’ll have to leave before the lake tides come in to avoid getting your belongings wet. Speaking of belongs, unless you are ready to carry everything up to the dunes and on a hike, you’ll want to leave as much behind as you can. You’ll want to be somewhat physically fit or able enough to do a hike through the dunes to get to the beach (and back), but once you are there it is a gorgeous area! The dunes are worth seeing as well! There is no cell phone service available in this area and bathrooms are available at the entrance but not on the beach and there are no lifeguards on site. This beach is recommended for the adventurous! Parking is free. (And don’t forget the bug spray, it’s needed!)
Now we are getting a little farther north in Michigan but not quite to the Traverse City area, it’s still a reasonable driving distance from Indiana and southern Michigan. We once camped overnight at this state park and we were lucky to have scored a perfect camping spot on the bluff overlooking the lake! I suggest going off-season and obtaining a camp spot for $22-26 a night. I want to go back and someday I will but until then I’ll enjoy my pictures and the memories. If you want to camp here, please note that it’s a smaller campground and you’ll want to make reservations months in advance. Like Grand Mere, the corrosion has limited the amount of beach space left on the shoreline here but it’s a fantastic view off the bluff! I don’t suggest this beach for sunbathing or taking the kids, it is rocky and the stairs to get there are steep, but it is great for hiking along the shore and exploring. In some spots you can see the endless miles of beautiful Lake Michigan shores, the view is worth visit! There is a public beach down the road in Manistee if you are looking for a beach to spend the day with kids. There is a daily rate to get in the park or you can purchase an annual Recreation Passport that is good at all Michigan state parks for around $30. No lifeguards on site.
If visiting Orchard Beach State Park, drive about an hour north and you will eventually drive into Arcadia, Michigan to a place called Inspiration Point, an overlook just off of M-22. After making the 370′ climb you will be offered the most breathtaking views. I can’t even explain it in a paragraph, you will just need to go there and look for yourself! The overlook is right over the water a zero elevation and I’m got to admit it took some coaxing to get me over my fear of heights to climb to the top of that thing! I was bound and determined to get a glimpse of this view and I’m so glad I did. For this view, you will be able to see both southern and northern Michigan shores. Parking is free but limited as it is just a small lot off of the highway. Picnic tables and restrooms are available.
Located in Berrin County, Michigan, Silver Beach is a very popular spot for families. Featuring the famous beach Carousel, water playground (Whirlpool Compass Fountain), lighthouses (for viewing from a distance), and Curious Children’s Museum – all popular spots and great for the kids. Additionally, Lion’s Beach and Toscornia Park are within just a few miles of Silver Beach. Because of its popularity, it is often a pretty busy place and parking (and a spot on the beach) can be hard to come by if it’s a nice day. I usually avoid these days and make Silver Beach my spot during the off-season. You can park in the public beach lot for $6 (for residents) or $12 (for non-residents) which is open from dusk to 11 pm on a first-come, first-serve basis. The park is open year-round however I have found that the gates for parking are open and free from October-April. I’ve spotted some of the most gorgeous sunsets here in October! Alcohol is not permitted and pets must be leashed and are not allowed in the sanded areas. Restrooms with showers, volleyball courts, a playground, and concession stands are all available. Lifeguards are on duty when open You won’t be able to access the pier to the lighthouses here but there is access down the road at the Harbor.
Toscornia Park & St. Joseph Harbor
St. Joseph Harbor and Toscornia Park are located just a few miles north of Silver Beach in St. Joseph, Michigan, so close you can visit both locations on the same day. Here you can find dunes to climb (bring sandals!) a pavilion for picnicking and access to the pier and lighthouse. The pier is a great spot for watching the boats entering and leaving the harbor. Unlike Silver Beach, Toscornia Park is less crowded due to a trek across the sand and/or dune to get to the beach (it’s not super long but wouldn’t recommend with little ones). Parking is limited and I have had to drive around for 20 minutes before waiting for someone else to leave but is affordable at only $5.
My favorite of them all! And not because it is some sort of grandiose beach with all the fancy frills, it’s just opposite of that. When I was first told about Rocky Gap it was a secluded beach that was vacant the majority of the time. In fact, parking did not exist and you had to park on the side of the road. But within the last year, this beach has had a facelift and now has a paved parking lot, small picnic pavilion, and even a paved path to get to the beach! These are all great and much needed adjustments however it means that it is no longer as secluded as it used to be, however, I believe that it is still much less crowded than most other public beaches. It’s a small beach and the only available facilities are vault restrooms. The bluff that overlooks the beach offers a fantastic view and often boaters will park along the shoreline. This used to be a popular dog beach but along with the new construction came some new rules, like no pets or alcohol. No lifeguards are on site. No parking fees, yes!
The lovely of all quaint beach towns with clear beach waters and cute shops, South Haven is known for its red lighthouse. There are two beaches in South Haven, the North and South Beaches. The South Beach offers amenities such as bathrooms, several concession stands, paved sidewalks and most popular, access to the lighthouse and pier. Parking is available at both beaches in public lots for $10 a vehicle during the summer (free off-season), but metered parking is also available at the South Beach by the hour at a farther walking distance from the beach (and might be the only parking available on busy days). The North Beach is less crowded (except for holidays!) and for whatever reason is colder and has larger waves than South Beach, just across the river. There are bathrooms, kayak rentals, and a shaved ice stand. No lifeguards are on site so it is swimming at your own risk. North Beach is often known to attract the teen/college crowd and has had some rowdiness in the past, because of this and with no lifeguards, I suggest South Beach for families with children.
If you are looking for a hiking + beach adventure, Warren Dunes is where you’ll want to be! Located in Sawyer, Michigan, this state park offers 3-miles of beachfront, 6 miles of trails, and over 200 campsites. You can get your workout in climbing the rugged dunes as it stands tall at over 240 feet above the lake, and trust me…it’s a workout! From the top, you will have a spectacular view of the park and lake. Pet are allowed here, on a leash. Offseason access to the beach is free even though it is open year round, I’ve been here in November during the week and it looks like an abandoned ghost town. The sand flows over the parking lots, concessions, and bathrooms and there are very few people in sight. It’s the most amazing location to just sit, watch, and listen to the waves without distraction. On season there are concessions, bathrooms, rentals, and outdoor showers available. The chance of seeing wildlife and monarch butterflies are pretty high. There is plenty of parking spaces and the entrance fee is $9 unless you have a Michigan Recreational Pass (which is totally worth getting!)
All photos are the personal property of Corn Fields and High Heels.