It’s not a secret that my family and I love to explore our beautiful state of Michigan during the summer – nothing is better than a Michigan summer, am I right? Our July camping trip took us UP (get it?) to Fayette Historic State Park where we spent 5 nights immersed in nature and experiencing all that the park has to offer.
Fayette Historic State Park has tons of fun things to do and is packed with history. We were stoked to be traveling to the area and couldn’t wait to get there. The park is about a little over a 5-hour drive from our hometown of Fenton, but as avid campers, we don’t mind the distance.
We always take time to stop in Mackinaw City for lunch at Rusted Spoke Brewing Co. Typically we take an hour or two to tour around town and hang out at the water by the bridge, but this year we settled for lunch and a quick stop at the Merrell outlet store. From Mackinaw City, we had a 2-hour drive left to Fayette.
The Fayette Historic State Park Campground
If you are headed to Fayette Historic State Park for camping, you’re in for a treat. We booked our spot back in the winter and were pleasantly surprised that it’s on the smaller side for a state park with around 60 modern sites (electrical hook-up).
The bathrooms were always exceptionally clean and there is a road from the campground to the visitor center for handicap parking that doubles as a short quarter-mile hiking trail to get to the historic townsite.
On the Hunt for Caves to Explore in Fayette
As a former college archaeologist and history enthusiast, I was thrilled to be able to explore the historic townsite at Fayette Historic State Park. But my main wish? Find and explore Spider Cave, or the pictograph cave at Burnt Bluff. Most of my studies were on pre-colonization periods and I have a thirst for adventure (which my family shares…sometimes).
After lengthy internet searches for an exact location of the cave, I came up nearly empty-handed but did find a Google maps pinpoint for Burnt Bluff and driving directions. We packed up the kids and headed out to what I was so sure was going to be a thrilling hike and subsequent mind-blowing caving experience.
We followed the road south out of the state park and ended up down a two-track that went through a field. There were two houses in the area, but no private property signs so we kept on our way. We ended at a gorgeous bluff overlooking the lake and were promptly stopped by a nice lady who let us know that we were, indeed, on private property. After profuse apologies, she let us hang out and enjoy the view for a bit.
Turns out, after even further investigation, the cave is closed to the public and has been for a while. Though located on state-owned land, the cave is now being protected from erosion and fading of the pictographs caused by passersby adding modern graffiti to the walls and leaving trash in the cave. While I’m happy that it’s being protected from further damage, I was still pretty bummed to not be able to see it for myself.
Our cave search wasn’t a total bust though! Since the state park is built into the limestone bluffs in the area, you can find a lot of tiny caves formed out of the limestone while hiking from the campground to the historic townsite.
Cliffs Offer Stunning Views of Sand Bay and Lake Michigan
The hiking trail from the campground to the historic townsite is only a quarter-mile (though there are about 5 miles of hiking trails throughout the park!), and it packs a punch with its limestone overlooks with expansive views of Sand Bay and Lake Michigan along the way. If you are adventurous like me, be mindful when getting close to the edges. I slipped a bit and frightened my family (not unusual for me). But the view? Worth it. Just be extra cautious.
The park offers an overlook hiking trail that takes you to the top of the limestone bluff so that you can view the historic townsite all at once.
Two Kinds of Beaches, All Kinds of Fun
The swimming beach at the state park seems to not be as popular as other beaches that we’ve been to, but I couldn’t see why! This beach was longer than it was wide as much of it seemed to have been taken over by the lake, but this wasn’t an issue for us. With the beach basically to ourselves, we were able to enjoy the calm waters of Sand Bay.
We walked from the campground to the beach, a short hike through the woods, and past the rocky part of the beach. If you are driving into the park for just a beach visit, there is a parking lot at the top of a staircase leading down to the beach. Near the parking lot, you can find bathrooms as well as a swing set and picnic tables.
At the historic townsite, there is a slag beach – covered in leftover bits from the town’s smelting days. We could have spent all day at this beach as our family loves to rock hunt, but if you visit, please be sure to leave your findings at the beach as they are part of the natural and historic scenery.
Combing through the rocks near the water, we found a lot of colored glass bits and some chunks of pottery as well as pieces of slag. The kids thought the different versions of slag were so cool – some were rainbow, some were black glass, while others were pitted, and even more, were the pretty blue color in what most call Leland Blue.
Looking for more things to do in the Fayette area?
- In the state park, take the trails in the opposite direction of the historic townsite and check out the Church Ruins and the Fisherman Cemetery. The cemetery is near the public beach parking area and overlooks the bay.
- Take a trip down US-2 and enjoy the lakeside views.
- While driving US-2, stop by Manistique for lunch and ice cream. We tried out Tap21 – yummy sandwiches and craft beers – and for ice cream and mini-golf, Yoo-Par Scoops.
- Check out the murals and shops in downtown Manistique.
- A 40-minute drive from Fayette State Park will take you to Palms Book State Park where you can view Kitch-iti-kipi, the crystal clear, spring-fed lake.