After settling into campus for the school year, students may want to run for the hills as professors assign the first round of papers and projects. And for the last couple weekends of summer, they should. Here are the three best spots for outdoor adventure and camping in Michigan’s lower peninsula.
Pinckney State Recreation Area
Pinckney State Recreation Area is 11,000 acres of forests and lakes northwest of Ann Arbor, only an hour drive from Hillsdale. The park has 40 miles of forested multi-use trail, including some of the greatest mountain biking in the lower peninsula. Though Pinkney has modern campgrounds with RV hookups and modern bathrooms, visitors should consider the rustic camping at the Crooked Lake Campground. Though homely, there is a charm to pumping water by hand and cooking dinner right on the coals of the fire. This small campground is set more than a mile off of the road and offers silence and birdsong along with tranquil lake views and great fishing. Silver Lake is only a mile hike from Crooked Lake and boasts an excellent beach area complete with a concessions stand and beach volleyball courts. If campers need a break from all the solace and relaxation, the charming town of Chelsea is close by.
Muskegon State Park
Located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, Muskegon State Park lies on more than 1,000 acres of forested dunes that connect the Great Lake shoreline to Muskegon Lake. The vast beaches with pure Great Lakes sand make the park one of the top parks in Michigan. A road runs along the lake between the park’s campgrounds and near dusk cars line the shoulder to watch the sun drop into Lake Michigan in a beautiful unobstructed sunset. The twelve miles of hiking trails that cross over sand dunes and through hardwood forest make for strenuous exercise but at the end of the hike, the cool waters of Lake Michigan can always refresh the weary. The park may be more remarkable in the winter because it is the home of the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, which has one of the four luge runs in America. The public is welcome to come and have a lesson with a professional luger before sliding down the turns at over 30 miles per hour. This park has something for outdoor enthusiasts in all seasons.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is the jewel of the lower peninsula. Located in the northwest corner of the lower peninsula, the park encompasses a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline. During the last Ice Age, sand collected atop the glacial moraines to form the stunning 400-foot bluffs for which the park is famous. Because of these bluffs and the pristine waters of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear was named the most beautiful place in America by Good Morning America in 2011. Visitors to the park can enjoy 100 miles of trails over dunes, around lakes, and through wildflower fields. The most famous of these trails is the Dune Trail which begins at the Dune Climb, a 450-foot wall of sand that is as strenuous to clamber up as it is exhilarating to run down. From there, a two mile hike over sand dunes leads to the shore of Lake Michigan where breaking waves make for a great body-surfing session halfway through the journey. Hardier campers may want to drive up to the park in autumn to see the stunning array of hues as the leaves change color.
In only a month or two, midterms will drive students into the library and snow will begin to blanket the ground, but for now, take a minute to drive around Michigan and see some of the natural beauty it offers.