As a lifelong outdoor enthusiast, I’ve been fortunate to call Michigan my home for the majority of my life. Apart from the few years I spent in Wisconsin—a time that conveniently provided me easier access to the Upper Peninsula—I have wholeheartedly embraced an outdoor lifestyle in the Great Lakes State. I’m excited to take you through a collection of my favorite parks.
Riley Trails: Holland, MI
Spread across 300 acres in Ottawa County, Riley Trails provides a distinctive opportunity to immerse yourself in what can only be described as a collection of multiple parks within one. What truly captivates me about this park is its progression: you begin on level ground, passing by a quaint fishing pond. As you proceed, a pivotal point emerges—a fork in the trail that allows you to shape your own adventure.
Opt for the right path for a challenging hike through sand dunes and dense forests with elevation changes. Alternatively, choose the left path for a journey among towering pine trees, transitioning from an open field to a thick forest, leading back to the parking area.
Newaygo State Park: Newaygo, MI
If you prefer a more rustic camping experience, relish secluded campsites, and find joy in activities like hiking and kayaking while immersing yourself in the serenity of the outdoors, then Newaygo State Park is an ideal destination for you. Nestled alongside the banks of the Hardy Dam, this state park serves as a tranquil haven not too far from the bustling urban core of Grand Rapids, offering a taste of the northern getaway experience.
As an added treat, the park features a trailhead for The Dragon Trail, which encircles the Hardy Dam Pond. This trail promises a moderately challenging hike, treating you to vistas of picturesque bluffs and an expansive forest that beckons exploration.
Detroit Riverwalk: Detroit, MI
Voted the #1 Riverwalk in the US, the Detroit Riverwalk offers a truly unique experience. It is situated on the edge of the city, providing a picturesque view of the river and our Canadian neighbors on the opposite side. Nestled in the backdrop of the city skyline and the Ambassador Bridge, this place boasts pocket parks, natural areas, a carousel, educational installations, and, perhaps most importantly, a strong sense of community. As you explore the Riverwalk, you’ll witness people coming together to enjoy the outdoors.
For an even richer urban adventure, make sure to visit the MI DNR Outdoor Adventure Center. This will enhance your experience with a deeper connection to the wilderness, perfectly complementing the city setting of the Riverwalk.
Whaleback Natural Area: Leelanau Peninsula
Situated in the Leelanau Peninsula, Whaleback Natural Area offers a captivating hike through a glacier-carved landscape. Along the way, you’ll pass cherry trees, experience changing terrain, and reach a stunning bluff viewpoint of the Manitou Passage.
As an added delight, if you venture northward through the pines, you’ll be greeted by the exquisite scent of pine wafting through the air. If you’ve ever enjoyed the aroma of a pine-scented candle during the winter months, this is your opportunity to bask in all that splendor firsthand—and rest assured, you won’t be disappointed.
Wedgewood Park: Grandville, MI
Just a mile from my doorstep, I couldn’t possibly overlook mentioning the treasure that is my neighborhood park. Nestled alongside the tranquil Buck Creek, Wedgewood Park is a haven of amenities waiting to be explored. From a picturesque river walk to well-maintained athletic fields, pickleball courts, inviting playgrounds, community fire pits, and convenient shelters, this park truly has it all.
The tranquil park landscape invites daily nature escapes, whether for brisk lunchtime walks or leisurely evening strolls. Additionally, my dog loves the sandy creek banks, offering a refreshing oasis, especially on hot summer days.
North Higgins Lake State Park/DNR RAM Center: Roscommon, MI
If you’re a history buff with a deep appreciation for nature, consider North Higgins State Park a must-visit destination. Constructed during the mid-century as a Civilian Conservation Corps project, the camp and lodge are steeped in history, providing an ideal setting for contemplation on the enduring legacy of conservation and reverence for Michigan’s natural marvels, carried forward across generations.
While primarily serving as a training site for DNR employees, the park and RAM Center also extend a warm welcome to families and small groups seeking to infuse outdoor experiences into their time. Whether you opt for a brief daily excursion to delve into the history of the CCC or decide to spend a night under the stars enjoying a campfire by the shores of Higgins Lake, rest assured that either choice will leave you thoroughly content.
Millennium Park: Grand Rapids, MI
I’m fortunate to have Millennium Park located so close to home. Covering 1,400 acres, it boasts hiking and biking trails, a beach, boat rentals, a splash pad, fishing spots, pavilion rentals, and more. This park truly shines as a local gem, providing a nature retreat for all.
If you find yourself in the Grand Rapids metro area, a visit to this park is well worth your time. As an added perk, adjacent Johnson Park offers 1.5 miles of access to the Grand River, providing further opportunities for fishing, boating, and kayaking.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Alger County, Upper Peninsula
While Pictured Rocks is renowned for its lakefront beauty, the hiking trails in the vicinity are equally enchanting. The paths along the lakeshore lead you past shipwrecks, by waterfalls, and towards well-preserved lighthouses. As an ardent history enthusiast and scuba diver, I personally cherish delving into the maritime tales of the area while immersing myself in its natural beauty.
The Log Slide Overlooks are a must-see for those intrigued by the logging industry’s history in the UP. The region boasts rustic campsites aplenty, and I’d be remiss not to encourage an overnight stay at Kingston Lake State Forest Campground, if your schedule allows.
Where are you off to next? The parks above offer a glimpse into the beauty of the great outdoors, and any one of them will make a trip worth your while.