Strolling down a deserted beach, I often wish it could always be this serene. There aren’t any beach towels, or sand buckets, or a volleyball net. Instead, there is only the sound of chilled wind and the roar of thunderous waves.
It’s the beginning of winter, right when the lake has yet to freeze, but the bitter temperatures require a search through the closet for last year’s thermals. One might consider this is the time to close the cottage and start the movie marathons, but the shorelines’ picturesque quality is the reward for embracing the cold.
Michiganders are spoiled with beach beauty, but we can also take advantage of that privilege during every month of the year. My ideal beach trip is in the fall, where temperatures settle in the 50s and the only souls brave enough for a swim are two golden retrievers playing near the shore. Dark clouds often roll over the beach hinting at winter, but the unpolluted atmosphere is the equivalent to bliss.
There are some sandy shorelines that are packed during summer months but deserted during the winter. The vast contrast shows just how many stay away from the lake when the first cold front creeps east over Lake Michigan.
We are now entering the peak season of deserted beaches, which means it’s the perfect time to take those thermals and snow boots to the lakeshore. These six beaches are the perfect place to start on your Michigan winter adventure:
Known by almost every Michigander, this beach is almost always packed in June, July, and August. From late September until the end of April, it is virtually empty. No campers, no sailboats, and sadly no ice cream on the beach. I have only been here a handful of times in peak season, but I like to save the rest of my visits for when a sunset at Big Sable Lighthouse is a private show.
These southern Michigan dunes never get overly crowded, but going during the off season offers a whole new spectacle. Bare trees allow hikers and beach-goers to see far beyond the normal horizon. The cooler temperatures mixed with warm air may even allow you to witness an extremely rare natural phenomenon. While watching a sunset here in mid-spring, I witnessed a superior mirage that reflected the distant Chicago skyline (more than 60 miles away) upside down over the water!
Hot summer days bring crowds of daring souls to the edge of the black rocks. Famously known for its cliff jumping, it is hard to find solitude (and parking) in the summer. Winter brings high waves, freezing water, and beautiful landscapes. A hike in the park is often accompanied by bitter winds and cold noses, but the chance to have one of the most beautiful places all to yourself is worth facing the Upper Peninsula’s wintry conditions.
The thumb is a haven for metro-Detroiters, which means summer can attract massive crowds. Anywhere around Caseville is often congested, and the best time to visit is after Labor Day. Unlike some western towns, the thumb tourist season shuts down completely after the last holiday weekend. A September road-trip will be quiet, yet the weather will still be warm enough for a possible beach-day and swim. If you wait until October, the water may be colder but the colors will be breathtaking.
Good luck finding a campsite during the holiday weekends. Petoskey has to be one of the busiest beaches in Michigan, and the chances of finding a Petoskey stone decrease greatly when you’re searching amongst dozens of other beach-goers. October and April are the prime months to visit the state park, and when visiting this last fall the beach was completely empty. Although camping was still permitted, the chilly weekend kept campers away from the beach and allowed us to skip, dance, and wander down the beach with no distractions.
I’ll never forget fighting 20mph winds on a 40-degree day at the Silver Lake Sand Dunes. In the middle of the dunes, without another person in sight, I felt transported to an arctic Sahara. I have never been to the dunes in the summer, and I am not sure I would want to. The serenity found in such a place is one of the most magnificent feelings. Beyond the summer, it continues to be filled with mystical beauty and the silence of a barren land.
What beaches offer you serenity and adventure during the colder month’s in Michigan?