Midwest Travel: West Michigan Beach Vacation
Jun 24, 2014 09:03AM ● Published by Julie Henning
Hiking down to Lake Michigan at Olive Shores County Park
While I could probably list enough destinations to fill a small travel guide, our family gravitates towards nature and education and this is where we spend most of our time. Let's start with the beach. In my opinion, Duck Lake State Park near the town of Whitehall is about the best place to take young children.
The sandy beach and the shallow tributary that feeds out from Duck Lake make this park an excellent place to try skim boarding. Available for between $10 and $15 at nearby Walmart and Meijer Thrifty Acres stores, these wooden boards make an excellent trip souvenir. If you go to Duck Lake State Park, note that street (free) parking can get a bit competitive and you'll need to purchase a day pass to park in the State Park parking lot. Duck Lake also has a beach, but the drop off is deep and sudden, so keep an eye on weak swimmers if you decide to get wet here.
For lunch, drive up to Whitehall and eat at Pekadills Sandwich Shop.
The kids' menu features toasted cheese with ham and ham finger sandwiches; both a nice break from nuggets and burgers. My youngest son enjoyed two scoops his favorite flavors of of ice cream—Superman and Oreo, which makes for an interesting photo.
If you're into roadside attractions, you might want to visit the World's Largest Weather Vane in nearby Montague.
Traveling down towards Muskegon, consider hiking the trails at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, a popular wintertime destination featuring an Olympic-class luge, ice skating (on a neat trail that winds through the woods), and lighted cross country skiing.
If you can't get enough ice cream, consider these adorable cones available at the Whippi Dip on East Pontaluna Road (just up the street from Muskegon State Park).
Heading South, a walk on the pier in Grand Haven is a summertime rite of passage. Particularly popular at sunset, many people camp at Grand Haven State Park right at the beach (reservations go fast and the park is always full).
Because West Michigan is on the very far edge of the Eastern time zone, prepare for long days and late sunsets. If your kids haven't completely tuckered out, consider watching a nightly (free) performance of the Singing Fountain in downtown Grand Haven. We like to leave a few minutes early and buy bags of popcorn from the specialty shops just up the boardwalk.
Within an easy drive of Grand Haven are several parks with beach access, including a dog friendly beach adjacent to Grand Haven State Park. A personal favorite is Rosy Mound Natural Area simply because of the long walk in to the dunes (if you have bad knees or can't climb what feels about 1,000,00 stairs, Rosy Mound is not the place for you).
We have visited Rosy Mount Natural Area in all four seasons, and fall is a particularly beautiful time to go. If you are bringing your kayak, consider the Pigeon River at the nearby Hemlock Crossing Park (Although, because of the numerous bayous, the Grand Haven area really is a kayakers paradise—many of the local parks have launching sites.)
We love the Hemlock Crossing Nature Center, which features a small "discovery" room for children and nature lovers. The nature center is a nice option for rainy and cold weather and also has a series of trails perfect for young children and people with strollers.
Another (nearby) beautiful park is Olive Shores County Park. A bit like Rosy Mound in that you'll have to climb stairs, Olive Shores requires a shorter hike in to the dunes. My calves were sore for days after making this climb.
North of Olive Shores is Kirk County Park, which might be a better option for families as it has a concession stand, playground, and loads of parking. Another option in the opposite direction is a walk out to the Pigeon Lake North Pier (this is a network of flat trails and boardwalks if you have someone in a wheelchair or stroller). Located on the Consumers Power grounds, getting to the park is a bit confusing and (my opinion) disconcerting. This is the main entry point you are looking for:
If your visit is on a work day, you may see coal barges coming in from Lake Michigan to the power plant on Pigeon Lake.
Other "can't go wrong" beach options include both Tunnel Park and Holland State Park in nearby Holland. If you enjoy shopping, downtown Holland has some clever specialty shops and independent restaurants, as does the town of Saugatuk.
Despite it's natural beauty and ecological significance, Lake Michigan is about the size of the state of West Virginia and is a bit of a deterrent in "getting" to West Michigan. If you are traveling light or looking to try something unique, consider riding the Lake Express high speed ferry between Milwaukee and Muskegon. Kids ride free (with a paid adult) between July 1 and September 1 (search the Lake Express website for terms and details). We have enjoyed this mode of transportation several times in the past, but know the the ride can get miserable in a hurry during bad weather and rough seas.
Filmed "on location" at Olive Shores Park, we have recreated the opening scene from Chariots of Fire, to inspire your own West Michigan Beach Vacation!