With summer approaching, we asked Jill Halpin, founder and “Chief Beach Officer” of the website My Michigan Beach, to share some of her favorite beaches in the Great Lakes State, with an eye on revealing some hidden gems.
Beach: Natural beauty
“One of the most beautiful natural beaches is tucked away on Lake Huron in Negwegon State Park in Ossineke,” Halpin says.
Negwegon isn’t easy to get to, and that has helped keep the beach pristine. The state park is home to about 4,000 acres of undeveloped terrain, crisscrossed by hiking trails, and about six miles of shoreline. Visitors must follow a sandy, two-track road to the park entrance (a vehicle with four-wheel drive is recommended). A paved parking lot lies near the beach
“From there, it is about 50 feet to some of the prettiest natural beachfront in Michigan,” Halpin says.
Isolated stretch of beach at Negwegon State Park.
The beach is set on a shallow bay; the water is crystal clear and shallow, which helps it warm faster under the sun. This is a very rustic park, so don’t expect a “Silver-Beach-in St.-Joe” kind of experience. The stunning scenery and peacefulness more than make up for the pit toilets.
“If you go and love it, don’t tell anyone else,” Halpin quips. “Let’s keep it a secret.”
For a stunning sunset, Halpin’s pick is Elberta Beach on Lake Michigan, just south of Frankfort. The beach starts at the pier and extends south for about a half mile.
“You’ll find a beautiful Lake Michigan beach with views of the Frankfort lighthouse in the distance," Halpin says. "You can watch the sunset from the bluffs or go down to the beach below.”
When the sun sets there, “it lights up the sky with the most gorgeous colors of pinks and orange. It’s peaceful, too, because it’s so breathtakingly pretty and the bluffs above buffer any sound but the water,” she says.
From her experience as a travel writer, Halpin knows that sunsets “are big in Michigan. “One of our most popular posts recently is a list of unique places to watch the sunset in Michigan.”
Many beaches allow dogs on leashes, but only a few hard-to-find beaches allow dogs to run free. Halpin’s pick is Zoll Street Beach in Harbor Springs.
“This is one of my favorite beach categories, because we take our Beagle-Basenji mix, Sugar, with us everywhere,” she says. “I mean, what good is a perfect beach day if your pup isn’t there to share it with you?”
At Zoll Street, dogs are allowed to run free and socialize with other dogs.
“Zoll Street Beach in Harbor Springs is my hands-down favorite,” Halpin says. “It’s such a happy place. It’s clean, friendly, and has a gorgeous location on Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay.”
Beach: Sand dunes
All of the beaches in Michigan’s dune areas are spectacular: Saugatuck, Silver Lake, Sleeping Bear, Ludington, Port Crescent in the Thumb, and others.
But one of Halpin’s favorites is Grand Sable Dunes on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula. Grand Sable Dunes rise about 300 feet up and offer spectacular Lake Superior vistas.
“This is a spot that, to me, truly captures the magnificence of Lake Superior,” Halpin says. “It seems like it just goes on forever.”
Pictured Rocks are so much more than the gorgeous sandstone cliffs that you see in photos,” she adds. “It is filled with surprises like this, too.”
Beach: Families with children
Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor is Halpin’s pick for families with kids — it offers a gorgeous beach with more than a half mile of Lake Michigan beachfront.
“Everyone knows that St. Joseph is a great beach town for families, with that awesome splash pad and the Curious Kids Museum,” Halpin says. “Silver Beach is amazing, but sometimes I like to go where it’s a little more laid back, so we head to Jean Klock Park.”
The beach at Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor.
Halpin says the park is well-manicured and clean with a fabulous view of the North Pier Lighthouse at Tiscornia Park. There are concessions, a playground, picnic shelter, volleyball courts, and a boardwalk, too. It’s a wide beach with a conveniently located parking lot for folks lugging all of the gear.
“It’s one of the most underrated Lake Michigan beaches, in my opinion,” Halpin says.
Another underrated beach is Oscoda Beach Park, right in downtown Oscoda, on the shores of Lake Huron in northeastern Michigan.
A view of the pier at Oscoda's beach.
“It’s an amazing spot, with wide, grassy spots for picnics, wide sandy Lake Huron beach, and amazing ADA access via wide boardwalks,” Halpin says.
The beach also offers volleyball courts, a skateboard park, basketball court, and a big playground for kids. The beach on either of the boardwalk is ideal to watch the sunrise.
"You can also walk out to the pier that stretches into the water and watch the sun come up from there," Halpin says. "It's one of my favorite spots.
Beach: Rock hunters
Halpin’s suggestion for the kind of rocky beach that rock hounds seek, in a unique setting, is Rockport State Recreation Area in Alpena.
Located on the shores of Lake Huron north of Alpena, the property includes an old limestone quarry of approximately 300 acres. Although the rocks here are not the water smoothed stones of some of the Great Lakes beaches, fossils in the rough abound among the piles of rocks.
Rockport is Michigan's 100th state park. The 4,237-acre park also includes a deep-water protected harbor with a boat launch facility and picnic areas.
Beach: Lake Erie
William C. Sterling State Park is best known as Michigan’s only state park on Lake Erie.
The 1,300-acre park, about an hour south of Detroit, is ideal for families, offering paved walking paths, hiking trails and more than a mile-long beach. The park also is popular for shore fishing, boating and wildlife viewing. Amenities include a playground, restrooms and picnic areas
“The beach here is big and clean,” Halpin says.
About the beach expert
In the three years since My Michigan Beach
was created, the website has soared to become one of the most popular travel sites in Michigan.
Founder Jill Halpin is a former journalist and librarian who grew up in Plymouth, Michigan, and spent childhood summers on the beaches of Lake Huron.
“Friends and other family members had summer homes around the state, too, so I spent a lot of time throughout my life exploring other people’s beaches,” she says.
“I love the water, and whether I’m swimming or sailing my little racing dinghy, I want to be in it or on it. All of our beaches in Michigan are so beautiful and different and they change every single day … that’s what makes them so special.”
Jill Halpin, creator of My Michigan Beach.
Her love for Michigan’s waters led her to launch the website when she realized that there are so many people, even those who live in Michigan, who have no idea about the natural beauty of the state.
“I was sharing pictures of Michigan with a relative in California, and she was so stunned to learn that my photos of gorgeous beaches were actually from Michigan,” Halpin says. “I realized I had seen that look of surprise from other friends and relatives who were shocked to discover how beautiful our state is.”
My Michigan Beach was launched in late 2019, shortly before the pandemic hit.
“While you wouldn’t think it was the ideal time to launch a site, it ended up being great because people stayed home and surfed the web, searching for places to go as soon as it was safe to travel again,” Halpin says. “The site really took off thanks to a team of good writers, solid Search Engine Optimization, and a great theme. Our writers know Michigan and love it as much as I do; I think that comes across. We try to treat each piece like we’re sharing something we love with a friend.”
My Michigan Beach has become the largest independent travel information website in Michigan, seeing around 150,000 to 200,000 monthly visitors. A My Michigan Beach online store features T-shirts, sweat shirts, and similar items “so people can rep their favorite beaches in Michigan,” Halpin says.
“We’ve expanded from beaches and are moving inland, too; now our coverage includes anything Michigan travel-related. During Covid, we made sure we included up-to-date information on travel restrictions on every page.”
Halpin said writers keep an eye on rising lake levels, and some beaches that were closed in 2019 are now starting to reopen since waters have begun to recede.
“We make sure to note that information,” she says, “or even, sadly, remove a beach … hopefully just temporarily.”
Halpin says she includes information that she would like to know as a traveler: where do the locals go, what are some of the important things about this place, and can I bring my dog?
“Another thing that is really important to me is ADA accessibility to our beaches: Everyone should have access to our beaches, so we try to include information about accessible travel when we can,” Halpin says. “It’s worth noting that many places in Michigan are adding accessibility mats that lead to the water, and some beaches have track wheelchairs and beach wheelchairs, too. I love to see communities coming together to support accessibility projects.”
Halpin predicts that we’ll continue to see an uptick in Michigan travel for both the summer and fall. “Fall travel is huge in Michigan; it was actually bigger than summer for us,” she says. “We’re seeing an increase in interest from out-of-state, too: Texas, California and Missouri as well as Ohio and Indiana.”