Aerial view of the Upper Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan.

The Best State Parks to Visit in Michigan

With a whopping 103 state parks and two more being constructed, Michigan offers a recreational experience for every resident and tourist. With all this greenery, lakes, dams, and camping spots, there is more than enough space for fishing, hiking, boating, and simply relaxing. These state parks also include two peninsulas and four Great Lakes, offering limitless scenery to enjoy. With so much to see and do, finding the best parks to visit can be challenging. Thankfully, some Michigan state parks stand out with unique activities, sights, and attractions that are sure to be worth your while.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

The scenic Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan.
The scenic Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Tahquamenon Falls State Park lies just south of Lake Superior in northeastern Michigan. Visitors adore the incredible Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls, open between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. throughout the year. Upper Tahquamenon Falls is the most voluminous waterfall in Michigan, with 50,000 gallons of water gushing over the edge each second. The park is also home to the Tahquamenon River (both falls are on the river), providing endless views of cascading water. Aside from visiting the waterfalls, you can go sightseeing or hiking. If you visit during winter, there is lots of skiing and snowmobiling to do. And, while you are out there, you may even spy a bald eagle over the water or a nighthawk when dusk falls. In addition, the surrounding forests host otters, coyotes, foxes, bears, wolves, and even moose.

The park also has an immense history and was once the home of the native Ojibwe people. Thus, the name ‘Tahquamenon’ is said to come from either the Ojibwe word describing the falls’ amber hue. The park was dedicated and named in 1947 and is now one of Michigan's most visited 50,000 acres (almost) of land.

Ludington State Park

Big Sable Point Lighthouse in Ludington State Park along Lake Michigan.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse in Ludington State Park along Lake Michigan.

Ludington State Park features 5,300 acres of green paradise just north of Ludington, Michigan. The park is the go-to for local hikers and fishermen, mainly because of the spectacular dunes, forests, and shoreline. Eight hiking trails snake across 18 miles, providing many unique opportunities. While hiking, you will find markers and kiosks highlighting the park's history and the type of fauna and flora inside it. For those into canoe adventures, the canoe pathway flows along Hamlin Lake, where visitors can launch their canoe and make their way down the lakeshore. There are also plenty of picnic spots and a playground along Hamlin Lake Beach, which makes for a fun family day out.

For an adventure of a different kind, follow the hiking trail that leads to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. This gorgeous structure overlooks Lake Michigan and is a huge tourist attraction. During winter, bundle up in a thick coat and get your skiing on one of the park’s many ski trails. You can even make your own snowshoes for a guided snowshoe walk during one of the park’s annual snowshoe-making classes between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Warren Dunes State Park

View of the dunes in Warren Dunes State Park.
View of the dunes in Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan.

If sandy beaches must form part of your state park outing, look no further than Warren Dunes State Park. The park rests off the Red Arrow Highway in Sawyer, boasting 2,000 acres of outdoor fun and massive dunes. The largest dunes are Pikes Peak and Tower Hill, with the latter being the most popular. It is an incredible sandboarding destination, and when you are at the very top of the dunes, you can even catch a small glimpse of Willis Tower in Chicago, around 50 miles away.

The Warren Dunes beach promises enough sunshine for a lazy day on the sand and enough wind for kite flying. It is calm enough for paddleboarding or swimming if you want to get closer to the water. Hiking the six miles of trails in the park gets you to Lake Michigan, and you might see foxes, chipmunks, whitetail deer, and a wide variety of birds along the way. For those who want to stay a while, there are two comfortable camping areas with electrical outlets, clean water, toilets, and showers.

Wilderness State Park

View of the night sky and Aurora Borealis from Wilderness State Park, one of Michigan's Dark Sky Areas.
View of the night sky and Aurora Borealis from Wilderness State Park, one of Michigan's Dark Sky Areas.

If you want to get away from the crowds and lose yourself in nature, there are few places as serene as Wilderness State Park. Fifteen minutes from Mackinaw City, this state park offers around 26 miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan and the gorgeous Sturgeon Bay. For a well-rounded and fun day out in Wilderness, there is kayaking in Sturgeon Bay, pond fishing, and twenty miles of hiking trails. Also, keep an eye out for rabbits, raccoons, and even bears in the wooded areas.

The swimming beach and campground are the most popular attractions here in the daytime, but when night falls, things get magical. Designated a Dark Sky Area, Wilderness State Park is a fantastic spot for watching blazing sunsets and dreamy stargazing. Some lucky visitors might also spot the beautiful Aurora Borealis in the night sky.

Belle Isle State Park

Aerial view of the Belle Isle State Park in the Detroit River.
Aerial view of the Belle Isle State Park in the Detroit River.

Belle Isle State Park is a scenic retreat along the Detroit River that stands out as it is wholly located on an island. Initially a city park owned by the city of Detroit, this 1,000-acre expanse is accessible by a bridge and features a museum, conservatory, zoo, and aquarium. Belle Isle also boasts Detroit’s single remaining freshwater beach. Visitors can go swimming or fishing, take some time to picnic on the shores, or even get their morning jog in.

The Belle Isle Nature Center is a must-visit, especially on a family trip. The zoo offers a memorable Deer Encounter where kids can feed these wonderful creatures. Another must-see structure is the James Scott Memorial Fountain, with 109 animal—and human-shaped water outlets. There is also the historic Belle Isle Boat House to explore. Unfortunately, even though the Boat House is still home to one of the oldest rowing clubs (Detroit Boat Club), it may be demolished due to a lack of funding. So, if you want to see it, you should visit Belle Isle sooner rather than later.

Straits State Park

View of the Mackinac Bridge from a picnic area in Straits State Park.
View of the Mackinac Bridge from a picnic area in Straits State Park.

While it may not be the largest, with an area of 161 acres, Straits State Park is jam-packed with picnic spots, lodging, a waterfront, and a campground. Whether you take the North Country hiking trail that runs through the park or pitch a tent on the campground, you get expansive views of the impressive Mackinac Bridge and Straits of Mackinac. If you love birdwatching, you will thoroughly enjoy the Northern Huron Birding Trail. It is the place to be for watching birds migrate across Lake Huron during spring and fall. The park is also home to the Father Marquette National Memorial, a tribute to the French priest and explorer. No matter how you decide to spend your time in the park, leaving via the Mackinac Island ferry is sure to be a blast.

Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park

Vibrant foliage surrounding the Laughing Whitefish Falls in Michigan.
Vibrant foliage surrounding the Laughing Whitefish Falls in Michigan.

Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park is all about the Upper Peninsula’s waterfalls. Specifically, the scenic Laughing Whitefish Falls, where one can witness water flowing down a 100-foot fan-shaped cascade. There are three different viewing platforms accessible by hiking through the gorgeous surrounding forest. The hike is just over 0.5 miles long, and there is also a 137-step staircase leading to the lower observation deck. Apart from this, the park has various other hiking trails, covering a total distance of 2.5 miles. While these trails are great for summer travelers, things are different during the winter, and one can only access the falls via cross-country ski trails or with snowshoes. This is because the road through the park is seasonal and sees lots of snow.

Charles Mears State Park

The Pentwater Harbor in Charles Mears State Park.
View of the Pentwater Harbor in Charles Mears State Park, Michigan. By Cpmwjune - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons.

Last but certainly not least when it comes to Michigan state parks is the hugely popular Charles Mears State Park. The park sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and offers a beautiful Lake Michigan swim beach. Visitors can swim or relax on the sand before getting ready to view one of the sunsets this state park is so well known for. There is even a dog beach next to the pier for your four-legged friends. The boardwalk is another popular attraction, leading to the abovementioned pier. At the end of the pier stands Pentwater Pierhead Lights, a lighthouse overlooking the lake.

Charles Mears State Park also offers an interpretive quarter-mile trail within the campground. It includes a staircase that leads to the top of a sand dune from where one can see the Pentwater Lake below. If you visit Mears during August, you should catch Pentwater’s annual Homecoming Celebration. This fun event includes unique sand sculpture contests and fireworks shows.


Visiting a state park can be a thrilling or relaxing adventure. But there are rules to remember. Do not litter or disturb any of the wildlife within the park. Be considerate of other visitors and follow park regulations and safety measures. Following these rules makes for a fun time for everyone, whether hiking the dunes of Warren Dunes State Park or watching the Laughing Whitefish Falls. Moreover, be sure to check for fun events and activities depending on the season so you can have the most fun possible in these Michigan State Parks.


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