8 Fun Activities To Enjoy on Michigan’s Beaches

When you think about a summer vacation enjoying beautiful beaches in the United States, places like Florida, California, and Hawaii are likely what comes to mind first. However, in the mid-western Great Lakes region lies the longest freshwater coastline in the nation — 3,288 miles of Michigan’s beaches and coast running alongside Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Just search for “beaches near me” to find one.

Swimming Beach Area at Port Crescent State Park - Michigan's Beaches
Swimming Beach Area at Port Crescent State Park

Although it borders a freshwater lake, the Michigan coast is incredibly diverse. It’s home to some of the country’s most beautiful sandy beaches on an ocean-like shoreline, coastal wetlands, stunning rocky cliffs and bluffs, and impressive sand dunes. 

With so many miles of coastline, Michigan’s beaches offer something for everyone to enjoy. 

Best Beaches In Michigan For Swimming 

In total, the Michigan coast boasts nearly 1,500 public water areas, not including private lands and state parks. The Michigan coastline has a lot to offer from large, sandy beaches with sweeping views and public facilities to smaller, more remote beaches that are a little more rugged and less crowded.

Below are Michigan’s top five beaches in the Upper Thumb, where you can find some of the most beautiful sugar sand beaches. The area between Port Austin and Caseville, two Michigan beach towns, sit on the golden mile because of the deep, clean sand alone the shoreline.

  1. Port Crescent State Park Beach: three miles of beach, a boardwalk, dunes, and wildlife sightings;
  2. Sleeper State Park Beach: a covered pavilion and oak trees for shade, plenty of beach to spread out and enjoy water sports or a picnic, and handicap-accessible restrooms;
  3. Caseville County Park Beach: a very popular area with a wide open beach, similar to Daytona Beach in Florida. There’s a pier that shoots off fireworks on July 4th, an annual Cheeseburger festival, sand sculpture contests, and a food stand offering classic American fare.
  4. Oak Beach County Park: boasting over 40 acres of beach, a playground, a pavilion, horseshoe pits, and a nearby campground;
  5. Philip County Beach: is one of the smallest beaches in the Upper Thumb, but it’s nice if you want to escape large crowds. This area’s water is also relatively calm, making it great for younger kids. Some picnic tables and grills also cook up a beachside feast. 

Of course, these are just a few of the many beaches along the Michigan coast. Other popular spots worth mentioning include:

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore;
  • Cheboygan State State Park Beach;
  • Mackinac Island Beach;
  • Silver Lake Sand Dunes;
  • Hunter’s Point Park Beach;
  • Grand Haven City Beach;
  • Manistique Beach;
  • Oscoda Beach Park.
  • Warren Dunes State Park
  • Silver Lake Sand Dunes

7 Activities To Enjoy While Exploring Michigan’s Beaches

Image by Mike Goad

Whether you are visiting the Michigan coastline with friends, family, or a partner, there are lots of fun activities to enjoy. Many of these activities are on the property if you stay at one of many Michigan Beach resorts.

1. Climbing Sand Dunes

The beaches in West Michigan have some impressive sand dunes — top of the list being the dunes at Sleeping Bear, where the tallest dunes peak at over 400 feet. The dunes are great for climbing to get sweeping views of the beach and shoreline. You can even go off-roading and ride Silver Lake State Park dunes. If climbing a large pile of sand isn’t your thing, they still make for great photos and the beaches offer plenty of other activities. The Michigan beaches near Indiana share the same coast as the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

2. Kayaking and Paddleboarding

Michigan is home to some of the best waterways and lakes for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and even canoeing. If raging rapid waters are your thing, you’ll need to check out the rivers. If you like exploring calmer waters while taking in breathtaking views of the shoreline, wetlands, dunes, and bluffs, then there are plenty of beaches for that. Plenty of state parks and recreation areas offer rentals if you don’t have your own board or kayak. 

3. Metal Detecting

If you’re someone who likes to keep yourself occupied while walking along the beach, metal detecting is a great beach activity. Whether you are a metal detecting enthusiast or you are just starting out, the beach is a great place to start as there are often lots of little treasures and trinkets that get dropped and left behind by the thousands of people that visit the beach every year. Michigan offers plenty of shorelines for beach hunting. 

4. Boat Tours

9 Great Lakes Beaches You Must Visit

If you want more of a guided activity that lets you explore all the Michigan coast offers, then a boat tour is an excellent way to go. There are shipwreck tours in Munising, Soo Locks tours between Lake Huron and Lake Superior, Catamaran sailing in Traverse City, and cruises in Port Huron. 

5. Birdwatching and Nature Photography

Michigan isn’t just home to beautiful beaches but a wide variety of wildlife. Birdwatching is especially popular along the coast and coastal trails. In the Saginaw Bay area, there is the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail that runs from Port Crescent State Park to Tawas Point State Park, where you can see over 200 species of birds. On the West side of the coast, the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail stretches from Manistee to Traverse City.

Many of the trails near the beaches in Michigan also offer sightings of other kinds of animals for watching or taking photos of, as well. Some of the most popular beachfront hikes where you can spot a variety of wildlife include:

  • Presque Isle Park Loop;
  • Mt. Pisgah Dune Boardwalk;
  • Sleeping Bear Point Trail;
  • The North Ottawa Dunes.

6. Visiting Lighthouses

Empire Lighthouse on the shore of Lake Michigan – Photo by Peggy Sue Zinn

The shoreline is also home to many historic Michigan lighthouses that are fun to explore and make for great photos. Michigan boasts more lighthouses than any other state in the U.S. — over 100! Some of the most beautiful lighthouses to visit and tour include:

  • Point Iroquois Lighthouse in Brimley;
  • Whitefish Point Light Station in Paradise;
  • Crisp Point Lighthouse in Paradise;
  • Au Sable Light Station in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore;
  • Munising Range Lighthouses;
  • Marquette Harbor Lighthouse in Marquette;
  • Big Bay Point Lighthouse in Big Bay.

7. Beachcombing

While Michigan beaches might not have the wide range of seashells you can find on other ocean beaches, there are plenty of other natural treasures you can find when beachcombing. There are lots of unique rocks, zebra mussels, driftwood, and various small shells. Petosky stones are the most unique find along the western shorelines. These stones are unique and pretty and are made from fossilized coral.

8. Coffee Touring

Depending on the time of year you visit Michigan, the lake’s winds can serve up quite a chill. Luckily, Michigan’s coffee scene is one of the best in the nation. Checking out all the local coffee shops is a bit like wine tasting, but you can take several stops at any time of the day to enjoy a healthy coffee fix. Some of the best lakeside coffee shops include: 

  • Alcona Coffee Co. in Harrisville;
  • Aldea Coffee in Muskegon;
  • Drip Drop Drink Coffee Bar in Muskegon;
  • Lexington Coffee Co. in Lexington;
  • Raven Cafe in Port Huron;
  • Sunrise Kava Cafe near Oscoda Beach Park;
  • The Coffee Factory in Muskegon;
  • Watercolor Cafe on Mackinac Island.

Your caffeinated journey along the Michigan coastline will be sure to keep you warm and alert to see the beautiful lakeside views. 

Wrapping Up on Michigan’s Beaches

All in all, the Michigan Great Lakes coastline is truly a stunning place with lots to do and explore. If you haven’t made it to this part of the country yet, we highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed!

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