With 111 parks, scenic sites, and recreation areas, Michigan boasts the largest state park system in America. Recreation culture runs strong in the Wolverine State, and Michigan’s numerous public lands are certainly reflective of how much we value our natural assets. From the Saharan sand dunes of Silver Lake to the rugged profiles of the Porcupine Mountains, Michigan’s state parks feature a diverse array of natural beauty. It’s an ambitious endeavor to visit them all, but you can get a pretty good scope of the state parks within a one-hour radius of Grand Rapids. Check these out:
White Pine Trail State Park
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Grand Rapids’ closest state park starts right here in the city! White Pine Trail State Park is one of several “linear” state parks across the Mitten. Whether you bike a mile through Riverside Park, or the full 184-mile round-trip to Cadillac, the White Pine Trail is sure to make for a satisfying experience. Experience a slice of small-town Americana and Northern Michigan charm—it all starts in downtown GR!
Bass River State Recreation Area
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At the Bass River-Grand River confluence lies a true hidden gem: 1,665 acres of hidden bayous, pristine lakes, and winding trails. Mountain bike single-tracks lace the woods near the western entrance. Canoers, kayakers, and paddleboarders can choose a slow float, winding creek, or open water on which to paddle. Equestrian trails venture into the seldom-traversed heart of the park. When you’re done adventuring, cool off at one of the many rope swings on Max Lake.
Yankee Springs State Recreation Area
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The hilly terrain of Yankee Springs state parks is a haven for backpackers, boaters, and bikers. Hikers on the 4,600-mile North Country Trail often stop overnight at Deep Lake, while Gun Lake hosts countless kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and sailboats daily. If you’re a mountain biker, test your skills at the annual Lord of the Springs event on 38 miles of glorious singletrack!
Ionia State Recreation Area
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Most GR-Lansing commuters barely regard the Ionia exit on I-96, and that’s too bad. This charming small town on the Grand River is home to one of the most versatile state parks around. Fall is the perfect time in Ionia to pitch a tent or rent a mini-cabin! Hike the trails around Sessions Lake, or bike into town on the Grand River Valley Trail. In the winter, Ionia keeps the trails well maintained for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
Hoffmaster State Park
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A 38-minute drive from downtown is all it takes to reach the golden sand beaches of Hoffmaster State Park. With its myriad of trails and dunes, it’s no wonder many locals call Hoffmaster one of their favorite Lake Michigan state parks. Hoffmaster is adjacent to Ottawa County Parks’ North Ottawa Dunes, so there’s always plenty of trails for hikers, skiers, and snowshoers to explore!
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Believe it or not, Saugatuck Dunes is actually a shorter drive than the beaches of Holland. And if you prefer to avoid the beach crowds, it’s a better option anyway. Miles of trails cut paths through the dunes, all leading out to a vast expanse of completely undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline. If “long walks on the beach” is your thing, Saugatuck Dunes is your place.
Grand Haven State Park
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If one state park could be picked out of the line-up as the most quintessentially ‘Michigan,’ it’d be Grand Haven. You can’t beat those rosy sunsets at the pier, kite surfers bobbing on the waves, the smell of campfire smoke wafting over the beach… this is what being a Michigander is all about.
Holland State Park
Speaking of iconic Michigan moments, taking in a sunset behind Holland’s “Big Red” lighthouse is definitely near the top. But there’s more to Holland State Park than the beach. Climb the steps to the top of Mt. Pisgah, rent a paddleboard on Lake Macatawa, or have a campfire and spend the night. Holland has a campground right on the beach, and another tucked back in the woods to suit all sorts of camping styles.
Newaygo State Park
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“Up North” is a special phrase to Michiganders. It conjures images of towering pine forests, quiet lakes, and sweeping dune vistas. It’s the vacation capital of the Midwest. Just about any given Friday, there’s a long line of vehicles headed up 131, and for a good reason. The traffic usually disperses past Rockford, but you don’t have to go much further than that to experience one of the gateways to the north. Newaygo State Park is just 44 minutes from downtown, and it has all the Northern Michigan comforts you need to unwind from a week of fast-paced city life. A rustic campground on the shores of Hardy Dam Pond, lofty vantage points to take in a good sunrise, and thousands of acres of Manistee National Forest land all around you.
Muskegon State Park
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If chilly weather doesn’t stop you from taking the tent or RV out for a weekend, head to Muskegon State Park. The campground is open year-round and sees few visitors in the offseason. If you’ve ever wanted a beachside campground all to yourself, you can make that happen here!
Across the street is where the party’s at. Just as camping and hiking season starts to wind down in Muskegon, winter sports are ramping up. The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex is one of the park’s best assets, complete with a luge track, hockey rinks, and trails for cross-country skiers, snowshoers, fat-tire mountain bikers, and even ice skaters. Yes, you can ice skate on a trail through the woods at Muskegon State Park! If you still need some coaxing on the merits of going outside in the winter, Muskegon will change your whole outlook on the season.
Duck Lake State Park
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Another park just above that invisible “Up North” demarcation line, Duck Lake is a great place to see fall colors on the lakeshore. With acres of forests, undeveloped lakeshores, and one of the best beach views on Lake Michigan, Duck Lake State Park is sure to take your breath away.
Kal-Haven Trail State Park
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For 33 miles, the Kal-Haven Trail cuts through orchards, blueberry patches, vineyards, and small towns along this former railroad corridor. As the name implies, you can find trailheads at Kalamazoo and South Haven, as well as at numerous villages along its route. Make sure you go through the covered bridge over the South Branch Black River!
Van Buren Trail State Park
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Between the Kal-Haven Trail and the Van Buren Trail, South Haven is becoming somewhat of a biking hub of the state parks. This 14-mile linear state park heads through more vineyard-and-blueberry country on a southeast beeline toward Hartford. With fall colors peaking soon, it makes for a perfect day trip or out-and-back ride.
Van Buren State Parks
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According to Google maps, Van Buren State Park is exactly 59 minutes from the corner of Fulton and Division. So if any of your go-to adventure pals are sticklers on the “one hour or less” rule, Van Buren is still in the cards. It’s worth the drive to see the towering dunes, the lofty overlooks, and the wooded trails. A paved spur trail connects the state park with the Van Buren Trail as it heads toward South Haven, making it easy to head into town for food, drinks, and things to do.
About the Author
Nick Meekhof graduated from Calvin College with a major in writing and a minor in geography. A farmer for the first twenty-three years of his life, Nick currently works for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. When he’s not traversing the state conducting orchard inspections, he can be found exploring the rivers, forests, and small towns all throughout the Great Lakes State. His current goals include kayaking one hundred Michigan rivers, swimming in Lake Michigan during every month of the year, and visiting as many Michigan breweries as possible.Follow Nick’s adventures on Instagram: @puremichiganguy