Summer in “The Mitten” means people are flocking to the Great Lakes with a lot of them hitting up various Lake Michigan beaches and towns. On the west side of the state, Muskegon, Holland, and Grand Haven have many visitors going to the beaches and state parks close to town where their lighthouses are located. This part of the state’s shoreline is full of other beaches and hidden gems known by locals. These are places that will give the visitor a beautiful beach experience, hiking opportunities, dune climbing, family fun, picnic and dog recreation, and so much more. I recently made a day of it where I visited five Lake Michigan beaches and parks. You could easily spend the day at each or bounce around like I did for lots of lakeside fun.
Norman F. Kruse Park
Just outside downtown Muskegon sits this park and its one mile of beach. The north end of the beach caters specifically to dogs. It was my stop in the early morning, so I only saw a couple of dogs but they were having a lot of fun off their leashes. When down at the shoreline, you can look to your right and you see the Muskegon South Pierhead Lighthouse and pier off in the distance.
If you look behind you inland, you’ll see sand dunes with vast, aged wooden staircases leading upwards. I got a little winded as I climbed briskly, but the view staring out and down from the park benches up top was well worth it.
Lake Harbor Park
Right off Lake Harbor Road, the park of the same name in Norton Shores was my next stop. Upon parking, I immediately noticed the vast elevation changes of Lake Harbor Park’s 189 acres. Gravitating due north brings vast dunes, the dense Whitey’s Woods, forests, and plenty of hiking opportunities.
I decided to head west down a short wooden trail to the beach and lake while also taking the time to check out the views from up-top the dunes and observation decks. Besides Lake Michigan, this park also sits along the Mona Lake Channel and Mona Lake. Heading east from the main parking area and going under the main road, I came upon fishermen and a long path that continued on hugging the scenic inland lake. No animals are allowed on the beach but are ok in the park if on a leash. You’ll find plenty of picnic tables at the entrance.
North Beach Park
To North Shore Drive and Ferrysburg I went, now just outside of Grand Haven. I paid the $7 for a day pass and immediately saw the small beach parks were extremely family friendly. Here, you will find covered picnic tables and a playground with a walkway through the clean beach to the water. Dogs are permitted during the off-season. The water here was really turquoise – was I peering at the Caribbean or Great Lakes?!
If you head across the street to the North Ottawa Dunes, and take the lengthy, steep staircases to the top, you can look from either side and stare down at the park or out into Lake Michigan. I turned around after the ten-minute climb to see green and trees as far as the eye could see.
Tip: Continue two miles southward down North Shore Drive to experience the Grand Haven lighthouse and pier from a different perspective than most visitors at the North Shore Fishermen’s Pier.
Opposite Grand Haven along Lake Shore Drive sits this West Olive park. I didn’t have to pay the entrance fee.
Tip: When you visit a Ottawa County Park as an out-of-towner buy a day pass for $7. It’s good for all other county parks for that day. I got into North Beach, Kirk, and my last stop, Tunnel Park, on the pass.
I took the short, paved, and wooded walk to the beach. Great news for dog lovers! The south end of the beach is dog-friendly, with no leash required. See the signage for where else they are allowed. I finally went for the plunge, experiencing the cold lake waters amongst all the families enjoying the warm summer day. Right before you get to the beach, there is a small staircase leading to an observation deck. For a longer adventure, you can continue onto more stairs for more viewing points and hike the nature trails available.
Staying on Lake Shore Drive to just north of Holland, there sits the last and most popular park of my tour, appropriately named, Tunnel Park. It’s a great name because you can take a unique concrete tunnel underneath the sand dunes to get to the beach. Already used to climbing wooden stairs that day, I decided to go the scenic route heading up-top the sand dunes to capture the 360-degree panoramic views of Tunnel Park. I headed down the stairs on the opposite end toward the beach.
You’ll find a dune climb for kids, a playground, as well as picnic and grilling opportunities throughout the park. Dogs, unfortunately, are not permitted during the summer months. You can park for free across the street from the park’s entrance.
View more of the scenery and Michigan beauty you can expect to see at these Lake Michigan beaches and parks on the “West Coast”: