Summertime fun: Parks, recreation, beaches, splash pads, & more

June 21 marks the official first day of summer, but for many, this weekend is an unofficial kickoff to an entire season of outdoor fun.

Katie Stepp, marketing manager at Blue Water Area Convention & Visitors Bureau says that St. Clair County, the southern end of Michigan’s Thumb Coast has a lot to offer in the summer months.

“Anything along the waterfront in the county is an attraction,” Stepp says. “Seeing freighters passing by that are so close is one of the most popular things that visitors ask about.”

Locally, the Port Huron area has an abundance of parks, recreation, outdoor movie nights, splash pads, beaches, trails, and picturesque picnic spots. Here’s a roundup of some of the area’s popular spots and go-to summertime destinations perfect for staycations or day trips.

Algonac State Park in Algonac, Michigan.


Visitors can make an entire day or weekend of freight-watching, and stay overnight at Algonac State Park, Stepp says. The 1,550-acre park features St. Clair River views, along the 50-mile Bridge to Bay Trail, campgrounds, trails, archery, and a shooting range. This park has over 1,200 acres of natural area, prairies, and rare habitats home to plants, birds, and butterflies.

Another option Stepp recommends for camping is the Port Huron KOA Resort, which has many different activities in Sawmill City. With two pools, bike rentals, mini-golf, gem mining, go-karts, batting cages, and an arcade, there’s no shortage of family fun. This campground near Lake Huron has 70 acres of RV campsites, cabins, deluxe cabins, and tent sites. There’s even a dog park so you’re welcome to bring your furry friend along for the family vacation too.

Stepp provides a third, unique option for camping, the St. Clair Boat Harbor. Although it only has nine sites, the space is walkable to local restaurants and shops via the boardwalk and features a canoe/kayak livery of The Pine River, a laid-back slow paddle. A local shuttle service can also transport campers to the grocery store, golfing, and more.

Summer day trips/Staycations

For an experience that’s both educational and cultural, Port Huron provides a backdrop for a great summer day trip or staycation. The grand opening of the new McMorran Plaza includes free outdoor movies starting at dusk on Thursdays, and other entertainment throughout the week.

Stepp says downtown Port Huron is the place to check out this summer. “They’ve created a festive vibe with string lights across the main street, a social district for cocktail strolling, cozy pocket parks, and the charming nautical feel of drawbridges opening for cruising boats. If you haven't tried out the floating barge bar by CityFloats, it's a must-see summer fun experience. Spend the day at one of the beach sandbars, take a public art stroll down the Blue Water River Walk, and grab a cocktail and a free concert at night — it's what summer is all about! You can also rent a boat now from downtown at Jay's and explore the beautiful blue waterways,” she says.

Marine City Beach in Marine City, Michigan.

Another walkable area is downtown Marine City, with its close proximity from the beach to shopping, lodging, dining, and entertainment. They also offer walleye fishing excursions via Hook One.

If a more leisurely getaway is your style, consider St. Clair’s relaxing atmosphere.

“There's something about having a picnic in Palmer Park under a shade tree that is super relaxing,” Stepp says. “It's probably the breeze from the river and sounds of the waves hitting the seawall when a boat passes by.”

The Riverview Plaza Park in downtown St. Clair offers comfortable Adirondack chairs and fire pits to sit at and has plans to host around 160 free outdoor concerts this season. Within this courtyard park are shopping and dining options with additional opportunities for outdoor seating including War Water Brewery, Mannina's Wine House, and Drifters Restaurant and Lounge.

Parks & Recreation

Brittany Bezrutczyk, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Port Huron Parks and Recreation Department, says there is an abundance of opportunities to get out and soak up the sun this summer. A new program, the Parks Passport, launches this season.

“We’ve had a lot of recent upgrades to several of our parks this past year,” Bezrutczyk says. “We just wanted to get people involved, and the Parks Passport is an outreach program for our children. They can come to all seven of our parks that have new and recent upgrades. They take a picture, come into the Recreation Department, and we will punch out the parks they went to, on their passports, after we verify with their photos. If they visit all seven parks, they will get a free t-shirt.”

Children ages 3-12 can sign up in person at the recreation department, located at 2829 Armour St. in Port Huron, to get their physical passport and provide their t-shirt size. The program runs the entire summer.

“With COVID, obviously, a lot of outdoor recreation activities became very popular, and we kind of just want to continue the outdoor play and active movement,” Bezrutczyk says.

The program also aims to make the community aware of the area’s many parks. Another popular warm-weather activity for young ones is the splash pad. Bezrutczyk says the city of Port Huron maintains three separate splash pads, including the largest one at Lakeside Beach.

Other free splash pads include Stebbins Family Splash Pad at Knox Park, open from May 30 to Sept. 5, and McMorran Place Plaza Splash Pad, open on June 2.

Children enjoying the pool during the summertime.

Pools & Beaches

Swimming is always in style when it comes to summertime, and here are some hot spots for cooling off, according to Bezrutczyk. The City of Port Huron maintains two free public pools, Sanborn Pool (open Saturday and Sunday from 2-7 p.m.) and Court Street Pool (open Monday through Sunday from 2-7 p.m.). Open swim season runs from June 23 to Aug. 19.

Lakeside Beach and Lighthouse Beach are two options for those who prefer a sandy swim setting. Beaches are open to the public, but individuals need a beach pass to park. Passes are available at beach parking booths from May 30 through Sept. 5. City of Port Huron, Port Huron Twp., and Fort Gratiot Twp. residents can get a free beach season parking pass. St. Clair County residents can get one for $35. Single-use beach parking passes for Lakeside Beach are $5 for St. Clair County residents and $20 for out-of-county residents. Single-use passes for Lighthouse Beach are $5 for St. Clair County residents and $10 for out-of-county residents. 
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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.

Sarah Spohn is a Lansing resident, but every day finds a new interesting person, place, or thing in towns all over Michigan leaving her truly smitten with the mitten. She received her degrees in journalism and professional communications and provides coverage for various publications locally, regionally, and nationally — writing stories on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, community, and anything Michigan-made. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at