Northern Michigan Beaches: 5 Must-Visit Destinations

May 16, 2024

While many visit Northern Michigan for its vibrant fall foliage and winter ski escapes, we can’t forget about the gorgeous summers in the region. That means, when the summer sun casts its warm glow over Michigan's northern shores, it's time to pack the sunscreen, grab your beach towel, and head north to experience the splendor of its pristine beaches. 

From sandy stretches along the Great Lakes to hidden coves nestled among lush forests, Northern Michigan offers a diverse array of freshwater coastal gems waiting to be explored. 

Whether you're seeking solitude or a vibrant beach scene, these five must-visit beaches promise unforgettable summer adventures. So let’s get shore hopping ready and get into our ultimate guide to exploring Northern Michigan beaches. 

Northern Michigan Beaches: The Top 5 Must-Visit 

With a short window of summer and only a season to enjoy Northern Michigan beaches, we won’t waste any time getting into our list of picks. Without further ado, here are the 5 must-visit Northern Michigan beaches to add to your next up-north trip's itinerary. 

Petoskey State Park

Visitors traveling to Petoskey State Park are in for a treat as they discover the stunning beauty of its beaches nestled along the shores of Little Traverse Bay. Expect to find sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and breathtaking views of the bay and surrounding bluffs. Whether you're seeking a tranquil spot for sunbathing or eager to explore the park's scenic trails and shoreline, Petoskey State Park offers a perfect blend of relaxation and outdoor adventure. It’s also a hot spot for finding its namesake rocks, known as Petoskey rocks. 

At Petoskey State Park, it’s not just the sandy beaches you can lounge on all day, building sandcastles, or taking refreshing swims in the bay's calm waters. The park's expansive shoreline not only provides ample space for picnicking, beachcombing, and soaking up the natural beauty of Northern Michigan's coastline but also for other adventures. 

For those looking to explore beyond the beach, Petoskey State Park offers miles of scenic hiking and biking trails winding through lush forests and along the shoreline. 

Be sure to bring along sturdy shoes and plenty of water for your outdoor adventures, and keep an eye out for native wildlife such as deer, songbirds, and even the occasional bald eagle soaring overhead.

Sturgeon Bay Beach 

Why trek to the Sleeping Bear Dunes when you can enjoy the less traveled Sturgeon Bay Dunes and its breathtaking beach? Sturgeon Bay Beach, nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan in Michigan's picturesque Upper Peninsula, offers a serene escape for nature enthusiasts and beachgoers alike. 

As you arrive, the sweeping vistas of crystal-clear waters against sandy shores greet you, inviting you to indulge in a myriad of recreational activities. For adventurous souls, kayaking and paddleboarding are popular choices, allowing exploration of the bay's tranquil waters and hidden coves. 

Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines in hopes of catching bass, trout, or perch, while birdwatchers can delight in spotting various avian species that call the area home. Those seeking relaxation can bask in the sun's warmth, sprawled out on the soft sands, or take strolls along the shoreline, collecting colorful seashells and pebbles. 

Sunset transforms the beach into a canvas of vibrant hues, casting a magical ambiance perfect for romantic walks or quiet contemplation. Families can enjoy picnics at designated areas equipped with tables and grills, creating cherished memories amidst the idyllic surroundings. 

Whether seeking adventure or serenity, Sturgeon Bay Beach promises an unforgettable experience immersed in the natural beauty of Michigan's Great Lakes region.

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve

Thorne Swift Nature Preserve offers an enchanting sanctuary for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. As visitors step onto its trails, they're greeted by a tapestry of diverse ecosystems, including lush forests, winding streams, and pristine wetlands. 

Hiking enthusiasts can traverse the preserve's well-marked trails, immersing themselves in the tranquility of nature while encountering a rich array of flora and fauna. Birdwatchers are treated to a symphony of avian melodies as they spot a variety of species, from majestic bald eagles to vibrant songbirds. 

The preserve's beach and shoreline, adorned with rocky outcroppings and sandy beaches, beckons explorers to wander along its shores, offering breathtaking views of Lake Michigan's azure waters and the distant horizon. It also offers a small and cozy public beach, to enjoy. 

Interested in immersing yourself in the history and education of the area? Visit the park’s Elizabeth Kennedy Nature Center. Here, you can partake in educational programs and guided tours that provide insight into the region's ecological significance, fostering a deeper appreciation for the delicate balance of nature. Regardless of the activity you prefer, visitors can expect a rejuvenating experience immersed in the pristine beauty of Thorne Swift Nature Preserve.

Bear River Valley 

Bear River Valley Recreation Area is one of the best Northern Michigan beaches for those who want to take a walk on the wild side. The area offers visitors a .25-mile whitewater boating area within its namesake, the Bear River. The recently improved course flows through an area that was once home to many damns.

Along the river, you’ll find walking paths and lookouts that’ll let you keep up with your kayaking travel companions or enjoy watching others on their adventures. 

The Bear River Valley recreational area also features steep bluffs, unpaved trails, boardwalks, and forest areas not far from the heart of the City of Petoskey. If you want to get in touch with the great outdoors, this is the choice for you. Most of the park, in general, is all-natural and un-developed allowing you to explore on your own and take part in - 

  • Hiking
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Fishing
  • Rafting
  • Rock finding

The area also has several large open grass areas and shelters that can accommodate picnics or groups. 

Michigan Beach Park

Michigan Beach on Lake Michigan is a favorite spot for all and is one of the most northern beaches on our list. Located in Charlevoix, Michigan, the park offers a white sandy beach, Petoskey stones, an ADA playground, walking trails, a basketball court, an ADA beach access mat, a volleyball net, a pavilion, concessions, restrooms, a swimming area, and the iconic Charlevoix Lighthouse within walking distance of downtown Charlevoix. 

Looking to do more at the beach, then read a good book or get a good tan? Michigan Beach offers fishing right off of the pier, meaning you can reel in a catch even without stepping on a boat. It also offers opportunities for kayaking, paddleboarding, and beach volleyball, and with watercraft rentals in the area, you can get on the actual water, here too. 

Even better? This park is also home to some of the best sunsets in the area! 

All in all, the Michigan Beach Park in Charlevoix offers visitors a picturesque blend of sandy beaches, gentle waves, and panoramic views of the lake stretching out to the horizon. No matter what activity you’re looking to partake in for your trip to the beach, Michigan Beach Park offers a perfect blend of relaxation and outdoor fun.

With its stunning scenery and array of recreational opportunities, Michigan Beach Park invites visitors to experience the beauty and serenity of Lake Michigan's shores in Charlevoix. After the beach, head into Charlevoix’s downtown to enjoy the town’s local restaurants and retailers. 

Tips for Visiting Northern Michigan Beaches 

Before you pack your sunnies and get beach-ready, here are a few tips to keep in mind when traveling to Northern Michigan beaches. 

  • Arrive early to secure parking and avoid crowds.
  • Pack sunscreen, towels, and plenty of water for hydration.
  • Consider bringing a beach umbrella or shade tent for sun protection.
  • Check weather forecasts and be prepared for sudden changes.
  • Respect posted regulations and safety guidelines while swimming and enjoying water activities.
  • Dispose of trash properly and leave no trace of your visit behind.
  • Explore nearby attractions and support local businesses in the area.
  • Stay tuned to local updates for dangerous swimming conditions, such as riptides. 

Planning Your Northern Michigan Getaway: Where to Stay 

As you can see, Northern Michigan is home to a diverse array of beaches that offer something for every beachgoer. From tranquil coves and secluded shores to vibrant waterfront destinations bustling with activity, a freshwater experience awaits. 

Whether you're seeking a peaceful ambiance in the shadow of towering dunes or craving more to do, these five must-visit beaches promise unforgettable summer escapes filled with natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and timeless charm. 

So pack your bags, hit the road, and discover the magic of Northern Michigan's coastal treasures awaiting your exploration. Not sure where to stay? Stay true to the locale and cozy up at one of the area’s premier boutique hotels, OTIS

OTIS is conveniently located in the town of Harbor Springs and was designed to give visitors a break from routine and help them reconnect with the beauty of the world around them. Book your stay at OTIS now and ensure a breathtaking getaway from the beach to bed.

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