The 20 Best Michigan State Parks

Two peninsulas, four Great Lakes and innumerable natural highlights elevate Michigan's state parks.

By Zach Watson, Staff WriterApril 18, 2019
By Zach Watson, Staff WriterApril 18, 2019, at 10:00 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

The 20 Best Michigan State Parks

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Michigan State Parks
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Michigan offers a dizzying number of excellent state parks outdoor enthusiasts can explore.

Established in 1919, Michigan's state parks have expanded across both the state's peninsulas over the past century. Given that Michigan touches four of the five Great Lakes, the state's parks include a variety of landscapes and features, from beaches to forests to historic sites. Plus, Michigan's Midwest location means the parks welcome all four seasons, appealing to powder hounds, leaf peepers and everyone in between. Keep in mind that travelers who don't live in Michigan must purchase an annual or daily pass (for $32 or $9, respectively) to access each park listed in this slideshow (unless otherwise stated), while Michigan residents have access to discounted annual options.
Michigan State Parks
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(Getty Images)

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

The Tahquamenon River flows into Lake Superior, and its namesake park encompasses the river's mouth and an incredible waterfall. The waterfall drops nearly 50 feet and spans more than 200 feet, making it an excellent spot for photos. While most of the park remains undeveloped, visitors can still explore the area around the Upper Falls, plus five smaller falls that are upriver. For a bit more exercise, rent a rowboat and visit an island off the coast, which is also part of the park. The park sits on the eastern edge of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, 250 miles northeast of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
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Michigan offers a dizzying number of excellent state parks outdoor enthusiasts can explore.

Established in 1919, Michigan's state parks have expanded across both the state's peninsulas over the past century. Given that Michigan touches four of the five Great Lakes, the state's parks include a variety of landscapes and features, from beaches to forests to historic sites. Plus, Michigan's Midwest location means the parks welcome all four seasons, appealing to powder hounds, leaf peepers and everyone in between. Keep in mind that travelers who don't live in Michigan must purchase an annual or daily pass (for $32 or $9, respectively) to access each park listed in this slideshow (unless otherwise stated), while Michigan residents have access to discounted annual options.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

The Tahquamenon River flows into Lake Superior, and its namesake park encompasses the river's mouth and an incredible waterfall. The waterfall drops nearly 50 feet and spans more than 200 feet, making it an excellent spot for photos. While most of the park remains undeveloped, visitors can still explore the area around the Upper Falls, plus five smaller falls that are upriver. For a bit more exercise, rent a rowboat and visit an island off the coast, which is also part of the park. The park sits on the eastern edge of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, 250 miles northeast of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Spanning nearly 94 square miles in the northern Upper Peninsula, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the largest state park in Michigan. An old-growth forest covers half the park, while rivers and hiking trails crisscross the area. With nearly 90 miles of trails to explore, travelers can expect to stumble upon waterfalls, small lakes and Lake Superior. Additional summer activities include canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing and mountain biking. In the winter, visitors can take advantage of skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Keep in mind that the park is a bit difficult to access; it is located about 225 miles northwest of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Hartwick Pines State Park

Covering more than 15 square miles, Hartwick Pines State Park is one of the largest parks in Michigan's Lower Peninsula. The park's old-growth forest of white pines serves as a reminder of Michigan's history of logging and is also the park's primary attraction. Trails twist through the ancient pines and along two lakes, providing miles of excitement for hikers, cross-country skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The Hartwick Pines Logging Museum, open May through October, sits at the mouth of the woods in the park's visitor center and provides visitors with relevant information about the park and its logging history. Hartwick Pines State Park sits about 210 miles northwest of Detroit, and visitors should expect to pay $30 per night if they plan on camping.

Palms Book State Park

Palms Book State Park is home to Kitch-iti-kipi, or the Big Spring, which claims the title of Michigan's largest freshwater spring. The spring spans 200 feet, while 45-degree water continuously flows from a fissure 40 feet below the surface. Travelers can venture out over the clear water on a glass-bottomed observation raft, peering down at the trout below (the park prohibits fishing). Campgrounds start at $25 (peak season) for travelers hoping to spend the night. The park sits in the central and southern portion of the Upper Peninsula, around 160 miles north of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Located on the eastern edge of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Saugatuck Dunes State Park puts travelers about 145 miles northeast of Chicago. The park boasts nearly 3-miles of shoreline, but beachgoers should note that they'll need to walk almost a mile to get there from the parking area. The park's rolling dunes rise more than 200 feet over Lake Michigan and they primarily attract bird watchers and hikers. The park's four trails total 12 miles of hiking, so visitors can go for a short stroll or longer trek. In the winter, cross-country skiers take over the trails, which vary in difficulty. Before planning a trip here, keep in mind that the park prohibits camping and bicycles.

Mackinac Island and Fort Mackinac Historic State Park

Mackinac Island sits between Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas, and travelers must take a ferry or plane to reach the island. The Mackinac Island State Park covers more than 80% of the island, and a tiny town occupies the southern portion of the island. The island doesn't allow cars, but visitors can get around via horse-drawn carriage, bike or on foot. American history enthusiasts will appreciate the island's past, as Fort Mackinac played a role in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. While the island is accessible year-round, Fort Mackinac Historic State Park is open from early May to late October. Admission costs $13.50 for adults and $7.75 for children ages 5 to 12, with discounts available for tickets purchased online. The state park's hours vary by season.

Ludington State Park

Ludington State Park has it all: a lighthouse, a Great Lake, a river, a dam, forests and dunes. From an ecological perspective, there's not much more a park on the western edge of Michigan's Lower Peninsula could offer. Camping enthusiasts will appreciate the park's numerous camping sites, which start at $33 per night. In the warmer months, visitors can take advantage of 18 miles of hiking and biking trails, plus swimming, fishing and boating. The park also features 16 miles of cross-country skiing trails in the winter. Ludington State Park sits about 260 miles northwest of Detroit and 247 miles northeast of Chicago.

Bay City State Park

Wetland woods, wet meadows, marshlands and prairies totaling more than 3 square miles make up the majority of Bay City State Park. In addition to these damp areas, known as Tobico Marsh, the park boasts more than 1,000 feet of beach along the Lake Huron coast. This diverse ecosystem appeals to migratory birds, which attract birders from around the country. You don't have to know your warblers to make the most of a visit to the Bay City State Park, though, as the park's Saginaw Bay Visitor Center helps travelers understand the area and prevents unplanned precipitation from dampening the park's appeal. Winter brings with it cold weather activities, including snowshoeing and ice fishing. Camping spots at the park start at $20 per night, while the park sits about 120 miles northwest of Detroit.

Petoskey State Park

Located on the edge of Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey State Park sits on Michigan's Lower Peninsula, about 275 miles northwest of Detroit. The park particularly appeals to sun-seekers due to its impressive stretch of beach. Hiking and cycling trails are also available, so visitors to the park don't need to get wet to have a good time here. In the winter, the trails are great for cross-country skiing. Campers will also appreciate the park's two campgrounds, which offer a combined 180 campsites and start at $33 per night.

Warren Dunes State Park

Huge dunes and a beautiful 3-mile-long beach are the calling cards of Warren Dunes State Park. The pet-friendly portion of the beach also attracts visitors with four-legged family members. Six miles of hiking trails wind through the park, providing some easy options for hikers and cross-country skiers. What's more, packing lunch isn't a prerequisite for spending the day here, as the park store sells food and drinks, plus clothing and souvenirs, from May through September. The park sits on Michigan's Lower Peninsula, about 80 miles east of Chicago. A daily pass to the park costs the standard $9, while camping spots start at $25 per night.

Grand Haven State Park

The most appealing aspect of Grand Haven State Park is its stretch of beach along Lake Michigan. Waterfront activities draw travelers to the park, including fishing, sunbathing, volleyball and swimming. Families appreciate the park's playground, and recent visitors loved the snack bar and clean bathrooms. Meanwhile, the Grand Haven pier and lighthouse provide excellent backdrops for family photos and potential Instagram posts. Camping rates start at $33 per night for those hoping to take in the stars. The park sits at the center of the Lower Peninsula's Lake Michigan coastline, about 170 miles northeast of Chicago and 190 miles northwest of Detroit.

P.J. Hoffmaster State Park

The Dune Climb Stairway draws the most visitors to P.J. Hoffmaster State Park, which sits at the peak of a tall dune and offers panoramic views of Lake Michigan. The park's position on the western edge of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, about 180 miles northeast of Chicago and 190 miles northwest of Detroit, means that travels can catch an incredible sunset over the water. In addition to 3 miles of coast, the park offers a whopping 297-site modern campground, where spots start at $33 per night. When you're not enjoying the beach, a handful of hiking trails provide an excellent opportunity to experience the area's natural atmosphere. Plus, these trails double as cross-country skiing routes during the winter.

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park commemorates an industrial community that operated on Lake Michigan's Big Bay De Noc between 1867 and 1891. The Fayette Historic Townsite acts as a living museum, with a variety of restored buildings for visitors to explore. Access to the historical town is free, and it is open from mid-May to mid-October. Meanwhile, entry to the park costs the standard $9 fee and is open year-round. Camping at the park starts at $25 during peak season, and visitors can boat, hike, cross-country ski and take in the views. The park's location on Michigan's Upper Peninsula puts it about 165 miles northeast of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Port Crescent State Park

Positioned on the Lower Peninsula's coastal border with Lake Huron, Port Crescent State Park puts travelers at the mouth of Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay, roughly 130 miles north of Detroit. On dry land, visitors can go hiking, cross-country skiing, bird-watching and hunting. Meanwhile, the water offers opportunities for fishing and canoeing. Plus, a wooden boardwalk runs along the shoreline, which makes getting the perfect photo a breeze. After the sun sets, the park's status as a dark sky preserve means visitors have the opportunity to marvel at countless stars and the cosmos. Campsites at Port Crescent State Park start at $33.

Straits State Park

Straits State Park looks out on Mackinac Bridge from its position on the southern edge of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. An observation platform overlooking the bridge provides most of the park's appeal. History enthusiasts will also appreciate the Father Marquette Memorial, which commemorates the missionary's impact on Michigan. While the area isn't exactly a retreat into the wilderness, camping sites at the park start at $22 during peak season. The park also offers a mile-long hiking trail for a casual walk, while visitors who want to cool down on a warm day can splash in the water. Like most of the Upper Peninsula, Straits State Park is slightly challenging to reach due to its location about 295 miles north of Detroit.

Muskegon State Park

Located in the center of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, this park splits its 3 miles of coastline between Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake. While the park offers the typical sun-soaked summer activities like swimming and hiking, winter is when Muskegon State Park really stands out. The most notable attraction: An Olympian-designed luge track. Additionally, the park boasts a cross-country skiing, sledding and ice skating trail that winds through the woods. While its offerings vary with the seasons, Muskegon State Park welcomes visitors year-round. Camping sites start at $33 during peak season, and the park sits about 190 miles northeast of Chicago and 205 miles northwest of Detroit.

Mitchell State Park

Sandwiched between Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac, it comes as no surprise that the roughly 0.5-square-mile Mitchell State Park stands out because of its aquatic offerings. A canal runs through the park and connects the two lakes, which makes fishing and sunbathing a popular pastime here. Between the two coasts, the park houses 221 camping sites, which start at $33 per night. On the off rainy day, guests at the park can take advantage of its visitor center, which includes pertinent information alongside hunting and fishing displays. Plus, when winter comes around, the park's trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, making it a cold-weather attraction as well. Part of the Lower Peninsula, Mitchell State Park sits about 210 miles northwest of Detroit.

Negwegon State Park

Positioned on the eastern edge of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, about 230 miles north of Detroit, Negwegon State Park caters to those seeking rustic solitude. The park encompasses an underdeveloped area, so much so that the roads into the park are often too sandy to be traversed without a four-wheel-drive vehicle. This isolation appeals to dedicated hunters and hikers, who aim to take in the mix of coastal and forest terrain. Travelers should try to spend the night: Negwegon State Park is a dark sky preserve, which means light pollution is minimal. Four walk-in campsites are available from April through November for a $15 fee.

Thompson's Harbor State Park

For a quiet outdoor retreat in Michigan, be sure to consider Thompson's Harbor State Park. The park sits on the sparsely populated northern crest of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, about 265 miles north of Detroit. The underdeveloped landscape of the park helps it achieve status as a dark sky preserve and makes for excellent stargazing. During the day, travelers can trek the park's 6 miles of trails via bicycle, on cross-country skis or on foot. While Thompson's Harbor State Park lacks campsites, travelers can rent cabins starting at $70 per night.

Colonial Michilimackinac State Park

Archaeologists began the ongoing process of excavating Colonial Michilimackinac State Park, which was previously an 18th-century fort and fur trading village, in 1959. While archaeologists have only unearthed approximately 65% of the fort so far, the park now welcomes visitors from early May to early October. Tickets cost $12.50 for adults and $7.25 for children, with online discounts available. Once inside, visitors can tour the park's 16 open buildings, as well as a variety of special exhibits and demonstrations, scattered throughout Colonial Michilimackinac. The park's location on the northernmost portion of Michigan's Lower Peninsula puts it about 290 miles north of Detroit.
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Zach Watson, Staff Writer

Zach Watson is an Associate Editor for the Travel section at U.S. News, where he writes and ...  Read more

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