Matthew Cook, 2, adjusts his seat while meandering through the shallow waters of Grand Traverse Bay at East Bay Park in Traverse City.
Beaches in northwest lower Michigan
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If you have ever stopped on the beach, picked up a colorful rock and wanted to know more about it than just its color, help is on the way. The Lake Michigan Rock Picker's Guide is a rock hound's Bible, covering everything from common minerals to semi-precious stones to gold-panning and the elusive diamonds that occasionally show up in the lake. MORE >
The eastern shore of Lake Michigan is blessed with consistently beautiful tan sandy beaches. The beaches that front directly on the big lake generally get deep gradually, and typically have one, two or three sandbars of increasing depth. The lake bottom along most of our shoreline is perfect sand, though some beaches have varying amounts of smooth stones or gravel atop the sand.
Lake Michigan's water remains cold from winter's chill during the springtime months, and gradually warms as the summer progresses. Most people enjoy a brief swim in June. By August, nearly everyone remains comfortable in the water for hours.
Here is a list of public beaches in the northwestern Lower Peninsula. The list is arranged by county and is far from complete. If we missed one of your favorite beaches, tell us about it and we'll add it to our list.
Barnes Park . Just west of Eastport. Beautiful sandy Lake Michigan beach with gradually sloping lake bottom. Beach access is free, but you must pay to camp at the adjacent 66-site campground. Picnic pavilion, restrooms.
Elk Rapids Municipal Beach . Off River Street near downtown Elk Rapids. Picnic tables, tennis courts, basketball courts, playground with miniature replica of Mackinaw Bridge, toilets. In addition to the beach, the Elk River flows through the park, giving kids another place to play.
Richardi Park Beach . Pronounced "Richard-eye." Off Bridge Street in Bellaire, this beach is unusual in that it is on the Intermediate River rather than a lake. Sandy, shallow beach with playground, tennis courts, basketball courts, grills, pavilion. Lifeguard during posted hours.
Whitewater Township Park . South of Elk Rapids on Elk Lake Road, then east on Park Road. Beach on Elk Lake. Picnic area, boat launch.
Beulah Village Park . In Beulah on the eastern end of Crystal Lake. Beach house, public boat launch, picnic tables, pavilion, playground.
Elberta Bluffs . At the end of the road west of Elberta, which is across Betsie Bay from Frankfort. The pavement ends near the bottom of the hill, but the road continues far south, with parking available all along. Please respect the dunes and vegetation by keeping your car on the roadway. This beach is backed by towering dunes topped with a forest. Back in the 1970s, the national hang gliding championships were held here. The beach extends south for miles along the dunes, offering the perfect place for long hikes. And the Lake Michigan water is broad and beautiful. Rest rooms at the end of the pavement.
Frankfort Beach . Any given summer day or night you can see people relaxing on the shore or strolling along the shore and pier to view the Frankfort Lighthouse. It's a fun beach for swimming and fishing and has one of the largest tan, soft, sandy beach areas in the region. Located at the west end of Main Street in downtown Frankfort. CLICK HERE FOR MAP
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore . The mother of all beaches. Part of the National Park system, the Lakeshore includes miles of beach. For a parking permit and specific directions, stop by the visitor center in Empire. Popular spots include Otter Creek (at the end of Esch Road) and Platte River Point (at the end of Lake Michigan Road). There are more national lakeshore beaches listed in the Leelanau County section of this page.
Depot Beach . Adjacent to the old train depot museum on Lake Charlvoix, at the south end of Mercer Boulevard of U.S. 31. Restrooms, playground, volleball net, grills, picnic pavillion, lifeguards during posted hours. Operated by the City of Charlevoix.
Elm Pointe . In East Jordan along M-66. Swimming beach on South Arm of Lake Charlevoix, picnic area. Two museums, Historical Museum and Portside Art, both open 1-4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday during July and August.
Ferry Avenue Beach . On Lake Charlevoix. Playground, basketball court, volleyball court, rest rooms, concession, lifeguards during posted hours. Operated by the City of Charlevoix.
Fisherman's Island (Bells Bay). South of Charlevoix in Fisherman's Island State Park. About seven miles of sandy and rocky undeveloped beach. Campground, hiking trails. Operated by the State of Michigan.
Lake Michigan Beach . Immediately south of the pier near downtown Charlevoix. Playground, concession building, restrooms, basketball court, volleyball court, shuffleboard courts, lifeguards during posted hours. Operated by the City of Charlevoix.
Mount McSauba . Rolling sand dunes meet the Lake Michigan shore at this natural beach approximately half a mile north of the Pine River channel. Short trail through dunes to reach beach. No facilities. Operated by the City of Charlevoix.
Peninsula Beach . In Boyne City, a small sandy beach on Lake Charlevoix. Playground, picnic tables, outdoor showers, grills.
Whiting Park . Just west of Advance, which is west of Boyne City, on Lake Charlevoix. Sandy beach, dock, playground, toilets. Adjacent campground with 60 sites ans showers.
Young State Park . Beach on Lake Charlevoix. Playground, grills, picnic area, volleyball court. Adjacent 300-site modern campground.
Petoskey State Park. On Little Traverse Bay. Camping.
Sturgeon Bay. Take Lakeview Road east of Carp Lake, or head north from Cross Village on Lakeshore Drive, which runs along the beach for miles. The north end of this remote and beautiful stretch of Lake Michigan beach is in Wilderness State Park. The lake bottom is perfectly flat, sandy and shallow.
Zorn Park . Lake Michigan beach in Little Traverse Bay, off West Bay Street in Harbor Springs. Beach, two swimming rafts, beach house, picnic area. Lifeguards during posted hours.
GRAND TRAVERSE COUNTY
Arbutus Lake . Off Arbutus Lake Road north of Mayfield. A tiny beach (more of a grassy park with a spot of sand) at the north end of Arbutus Lake, handy for a quick swim. Picnic area with grills, toilets. A tiny brook that empties into the lake fascinates youngsters.
Bayside Park . In Acme on East Grand Traverse Bay. Just south of the intersection of U.S. 31 North and M-72. Playground, rest rooms, picnic tables, basketball court, shuffleboard courts (not maintained), sandy beach with rocky lake bottom that is shallow a lo-o-ong way out.
Boardman River . Technically, not a beach, but many locals enjoy swimming in the river at various access spots. Though rocky or muddy for much of it's length, there are many places where the river bottom is pleasantly sandy, and the water itself is always clear and fresh. Try any public access spot for a quick dip.
Bryant Park . On West Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City, off Peninsula Drive just west of M-37 (Garfield Road). Rest rooms, playground, picnic tables, lifeguard during posted hours. A popular spot to cool off, has huge trees that shade a grassy picnic area. Operated by the City of Traverse City.
Clinch Park Beach . On West Grand Traverse Bay in Traverse City, off Grandview Parkway. Between Clinch Park Marina and the mouth of the Boardman River, this beach attracts hordes of boaters on summer weekends, who anchor and swim to shore to shop or dine in downtown Traverse City. While there, take the kids to the adjacent Clinch Park Zoo. Lifeguard during posted hours. Operated by the City of Traverse City.
East Bay Park Beach . On East Grand Traverse Bay off East Bay Boulvard South in Traverse City at the base of Old Mission Peninsula. Playground, rest rooms, picnic tables, boat launch, lifeguard during posted hours. The bathing area is quite shallow because of low lake levels. Operated by the City of Traverse City.
Gilbert Park . Sandy beach on Long Lake about eight miles west of Traverse City. Head west on Front Street, which turn into North Long Lake Road. Close by the road on the north end of Long Lake. Playground, rest rooms.
Haserot Beach . In the community of Old Mission on M-37 on East Grand Traverse Bay. Playground, picnic tables and restrooms.
Interlochen State Park . Off M-137 South south of Interlochen. Swimming in both Duck Lake and Green Lake, beach house, picnic area, boat launch, fishing, campsites. Set among one of the last virgin pine stands in Michigan.
Old Mission Lighthouse Park beach . Off M-37 at the tip of Old Mission Peninsula. Park along the road near the lighthouse. Rest rooms. Famous for it's many boulders poking out of the water. Beach is sandy, but the lake bottom tends to be rocky. Recent low water levels have made the shallow water even shallower than usual.
Power Island . In West Grand Traverse Bay off Bowers Harbor, this park island is ringed with sandy beaches. The island has 11 miles of hiking trails, picnic areas and five rustic campsites. You need a boat to get there.
Sunset Park . On West Grand Traverse Bay behind the senior center in Traverse City, off Hope Street adjacent to the Great Lakes Maritime Academy.
Traverse City State Park . Across U.S. 31 North from the huge Traverse City State Park campground, which is accessible via an elevated walkway. Picnic tables, grills, rest rooms, lifeguard during posted hours. Long and very popular beach. Water gets deep gradually - perfect for kids. At the west end of the beach, the Mitchell Creek drains into West Bay. State park permit required to park, but foot access is free.
West End Beach . Along Grandview Parkway in downtown Traverse City, just west of the Open Space Park. Stretches for about a mile along the south end of West Grand Traverse Bay. The eastern end features a landscaped greenbelt that separates the beach from the road, and a lifeguard is on duty during posted hours. The western end of the beach is closer to the road, has a couple of drainage pipes running across it, fades into marshy ground to the west, but is usually less crowded than the eastern end. Restrooms near lifeguard tower. The popular Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation Trail runs along the beach, so bicyclists and inline skaters can partake of a refreshing dip. Operated by the City of Traverse City.
Cold Brook Beach . On the south end of Lake Leelanau, near the town of Fouch.
Elmwood Township Park . Off M-22 on West Grand Traverse Bay, a mile north of M-72. Playground, picnic tables and restrooms.
Empire Beach . Lake Michigan Beach and Cannon Park. Just west Empire. Includes a beach on Lake Michigan and a beach on South Bar Lake. From here, you can walk either north or south on the beach for miles. Playground, picnic tables, historical marker, restrooms. There's a dock on Bar Lake that's perfect for diving from.
Leelanau State Park . 15310 North Lighthouse Point Road, north of Northport. This beach is rocky and perhaps more suitable for hiking and wading than for swimming - but wear wading shoes, the rocks are sharp. Playground and picnic area near lighthouse and parking area. Follow trail to the beach. Coastal dunes, hiking trails and rustic campsites.
North Bar Lake . In the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, north of Empire. Access via unpaved Bar Lake Road. Restrooms at paved parking area. Short hike over dunes, past North Bar Lake, to Lake Michigan shore. Swimming possible in both lakes.
Haserot Park . In the village of Northport. Along the breakwater on West Grand Traverse Bay. Adjacent to city park and marina. Playground, picnic tables and restrooms.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore . The mother of all beaches. Part of the National Park system, the lakeshore includes miles of beach. For a parking permit and specific directions, stop by the visitor center in Empire. Popular spots include Good Harbor Bay, Pyramid Point and Glen Haven beach. If you have lots of energy, tackle the dune climb south of Glen Haven, then slog through miles of gorgeous dune trails to the isolated Lake Michigan beach (if you do, allow several hours for the journey, use lots of sunscreen and bring shoes to protect your feet from the hot sand). Also part of the national lakeshore, North and South Manitou Islands (Access by passenger ferry from Leland) are ringed with miles of secluded beaches. Off South Manitou, snorkelers and scuba divers can view the shipwreck of the Three Brothers, a 162-foot wooden lumber hooker that was stranded in 1911, which sits in water from eight to 45 feet deep. There are more national lakeshore beaches listed in the Benzie County section of this page.
Suttons Bay Municipal Park and Beach . Downtown Suttons Bay. Beach, picnic area, adjacent marina. Site of several summer special events.
First Street Beach/Douglas Park . In the City of Manistee. playground, basketball courts, tennis courts, picnic tables, grills, fishing pier, fish-cleaning station. At the end of First Street. Lifeguard on duty during posted hours.
Fifth Avenue Beach . Picnic area, tennis courts, volleyball courts, playground. At the end of Monroe Street in the City of Manistee. The catwalk leading to the Manistee North Pier Lighthouse is one of only four remaining lighthouse catwalks on Michigan's Lake Michigan shore; it is listed in the State Registry of Historic Sites. The Manistee U.S. Coast Guard Station is adjacent to the beach. Lifeguard on duty during posted hours.
Lake Michigan Recreation Area . Manistee National Forest, nine miles south of City of Manistee on U.S. 31, then another nine miles west on Forest Trail. Mile-long beach, camping, picnic facilities, gravel hiking/biking trails.
• Missaukee County Park . Sandy, shallow beach on the north shore of Lake Missaukee in Lake City, 15 miles northeast of Cadillac. 170-site campground, beach house, boat launch, playground, picnic tables, grills, pavilion. Open May through October.
• Crooked Lake Park .
Located on south side of Crooked Lake with more than 600 feet of sandy beach. Covered pavillion, picnic area, 35 campsites with electricity, 17 rustic sites, paved boat launch and more than 60 acres with marked trails for hiking.
Otsego Lake County Park . Off West Otsego Lake Drive in Gaylord. Beach, picnic tables, grills, playground, pavilions.
Cadillac Lakefront Park . One block west of downtown Cadillac on Lake Cadillac. Paved pathway, historic Shay Steam Locomotive, floating dock for anglers.
Kenwood Heritage Park . On North Boulevard off M-115 in Cadillac, just northeast of Mitchell State Park. Sandy, shallow beach on Lake Cadillac. Huge playground, picnic tables, pavilion, disc golf, restrooms. Adjacent to Heritage Cadillac Nature Study Area, which include a boardwalk and observation tower.
William Mitchell State Park . In Cadillac. Swimming in both Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac. Bathhouse on Lake Mitchell. Large campground, crowded in summer.