As a Michigander by birth and 22 year resident of the Great Lakes State, Pure Michigan remains one of my favorite summertime playgrounds. With more freshwater shoreline than any other state (over 3,200 miles), Michigan is the perfect summer haven with long stretches of sandy beach and clear, pristine waters. A short drive around the southern edge of Lake Michigan are beaches that seem to be a world away from the crowded, exploited Chicagoland beaches. Whether for a quick day jaunt or a weekend away, below are my favorite beaches in Southwest Michigan:
- Warren Dunes State Park, Sawyer, MI
Warren Dunes is a popular destination for Chicagoans as it is only 80 (ish) miles away from the Windy City. Awe-inspiring dunes rise above a three mile stretch of Lake Michigan coastline, and a tiring hike to the top boasts spectacular views. The beach area includes ample parking, restroom facilities, and a concession stand. Note: A Michigan DNR pass is required for entry into Warren Dunes, as with all Michigan state parks and recreation areas, but it’s only $9.00 for a day. (Or purchase an annual pass for $11 for Michigan-licensed vehicles/ $31 for out-of-state vehicles.) Also, fellow dog-lovers rejoice: Warren Dunes has a dog-friendly stretch of shoreline on the far north end of the beach, so don’t leave your pup at home! For those of you who are not content to beach bum it all day (I personally cannot fathom this), explore the nearby hiking trails or trek to the clay pit. Warren Dunes is open year-round and also serves as a campground with rustic campsites and mini-cabins for rent.
- Oval Beach, Saugatuck, MI
Oval Beach is a gorgeous, sandy expanse along Lake Michigan that has been lauded by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the 25 best shorelines in the world and by MTV as one of the top five beaches in America. Parking will set you back only $6.00 a day, and the beach includes restrooms, a concession area, and a lifeguard. Surrounded by imposing sand dunes and tall beach grass, Oval Beach is situated in a serene setting which is still conveniently close to the idyllic, artsy beach town of Saugatuck. A perfect spot to relax in the immaculate white sand or take in a sunset, which is best viewed from atop Mount Baldhead (a 282-step hike to the top), Oval Beach is a Pure Michigan must-do.
- Van Buren State Park, South Haven, MI
Van Buren State Park is positioned just south of the beach town of South Haven, MI. The pristine beach borders a one mile stretch of Lake Michigan and is an ideal pit-stop if you are cruising the Blue Star Highway. A Michigan DNR pass is required for entry. Van Buren offers campgrounds, picnic tables and wooded trails for exploring the woods.
- Grand Mere State Park Beach, Stevensville, MI
Grand Mere State Park is a hidden gem on the shores of Lake Michigan, secluded from crowds and civilization and located by sleepy Stevensville, south of St. Joseph, MI. A Michigan DNR pass is required, followed by a peaceful hike down a wooded path. After the forested path, be prepared for a somewhat arduous hike up two rather steep sand dunes. Pro-tips: (1) travel lightly as scaling sand dunes is not pleasant laden down with stuff; (2) wear tennis shoes if you are hiking the dunes in the sun or your feet with be scorched by hot sand; (3) don’t forget bug spray; (4) bring your dog as Grand Mere is a dog-friendly canine paradise. You will be rewarded at the peak of the last dune with a breathtaking vista of bright blue water and a one mile, white sand beach. Grand Mere Beach does not have restrooms, concessions, or lifeguards and is typically sparsely inhabited. While Grand Mere is not for the faint of heart, it is a secluded slice of paradise that is worth the journey.