Lake Michigan’s soft-sand, sun-soaking, star-gazing and butterfly beaches

Posted on July 21st, 2021

US 2 Lake Michigan dunes | Manistique boardwalk & beaches | The U.P. county with the most coastline | Wisconsin’s gateway to the U.P. — Menominee beaches

One of the best parts of vacationing on a peninsula is there are miles of beaches to bury your toes into the warm sand. Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (U.P.) is exceptional for beachgoers because it reaches out into three of Earth’s largest freshwater basins — Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior. There are approximately 1,700 miles of continuous Great Lakes shoreline in the U.P., so it’s easy to find a spot to drop a beach blanket or chair, flip-flop your way across the sandy or rocky shore and relax or play from sunrise to starry night. 

If you arrive in the U.P. by crossing the mighty Mackinac Bridge from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula or by crossing the northeastern Wisconsin border, Lake Michigan beaches are a stone-skip away. Most Lake Michigan beaches are made of soft, golden sand. During the summer months, the water tends to be warmer for swimming and wading than the much larger, more northern Lake Superior. Picnicking, paddling, jogging, walking, sitting or sandcastle building are also options. Offshore, you can drop your boat’s anchor, pound the waves on your personal watercraft or go tubing, parasailing, kitesurfing, windsurfing and scuba diving. 

Below are some popular Lake Michigan beaches as well as a few secluded secrets. There’s even a beach perfect for watching thousands of monarch butterflies flutter about — you won’t want to miss it. And while our focus in writing this is on summer, these beaches are beautiful destinations all year round, so come back often. 

US 2 Lake Michigan dunes

There is no more beautiful introduction to the U.P.’s Lake Michigan beaches than to cross the Mackinac Bridge and drive west of St. Ignace along US 2. Between St. Ignace and Manistique, you will find multiple places to pull off and park along the highway. 

Sand Dunes Beach east of Brevort is a good place to stop. The descent to the stretch of sand is fairly steep, although there are wooden steps to make it easier. This dune area is narrow, but it does stretch for about 5 miles so it’s easy to find personal space. There’s carry-in boat access, so unstrap your kayak, paddleboard or canoe from your vehicle and enjoy some scenic paddling. Dogs are also welcome but keep them in sight and away from other beachgoers. Pack in a water bowl for your tail-wagging friend plus extra water, a towel and disposable bags for waste clean up.

These pull-off accesses to Lake Michigan beaches do not have restrooms or shower facilities but you can take a break at the rest area east of Manistique.

Manistique boardwalk and beaches

Manistique East Breakwater Lighthouse

Lakeview Park hugs Lake Michigan and the mouth of the Manistique River. Its spacious parking lot gives access to sandy beaches as well as to a nearly 2-mile-long boardwalk that takes you to the Manistique Lighthouse breakwater. Parts of the scenic boardwalk were damaged by recent erosion so it’s not fully accessible by wheelchair. 

A reason to walk east on the boardwalk is to see the memorial plaque honoring the crew of the S.S. Carl D. Bradley that sank offshore in November 1958. Wildflowers and shorebirds can be seen along the way.

Manistique Township Park is 1.5 miles off US 2 on Lake Michigan. Recently renovated, this park now features a wooden boardwalk that makes it easier to access the beach from the parking lot. There is a play area with swings, small dunes and plenty of beach space. 

Rogers Park is 4 miles west of Manistique. Open year-round, its soft sand is a favorite with families. Clean restrooms, picnic tables and charcoal grills make it an early morning to sunset destination.

Visit the county that boasts the most coastline in the U.P.

Delta County, home to the Big and Little Bays de Noc, the Garden and Stonington Peninsulas, Gladstone and Escanaba, has more shoreline than any other county in the U.P. It’s a northern beachgoers’ paradise! 

Fayette State Park
Photo credit Wanderingz

Garden Peninsula’s scuba diving and secluded beaches 

Take M-183 S from US 2 to visit this 22-mile-long peninsula. There are several beach stops along the shores of Lake Michigan and its Big Bay de Noc that you will want to enjoy.

Fayette Historic State Park and Townsite south of Garden is the site of a once-booming, mid-1800s iron smelting community turned ghost town. The state park curves around the east shore of Snail Shell Harbor. Scuba diving and snorkeling are permitted at certain times of the year; stop by the camp office to register and purchase a permit. Divers usually explore off the townsite’s slag beach, a stretch of coastline covered with the glass-like waste from the smelting furnaces. 

Fayette Beach is at the southern end of the park on Sand Bay, just beyond the camping area. It has a picnic shelter and tables, charcoal grills, vault toilets, changing building, play area and horseshoe courts. 

A Michigan Recreation Passport or day pass is required to enter the park. 

Sac Bay County Park is a secluded beach popular with sea kayakers. Drive 8 miles south of Fayette Historic State Park to the tip of the Garden Peninsula to picnic, relax with a book, swim, walk the shoreline or practice sea kayaking undisturbed for hours. 

Portage Bay State Campground is another little-known Lake Michigan beach on the east side of the Garden Peninsula that is a great place to unplug. You will need a Michigan Recreation Passport or day pass to visit this gem. Take time to hike the 2.7-mile Ninga Aki Pathway with its towering white pines, balsams, spruce and cedars filtering the sunshine along the way. There are newly renovated vault toilets and an old-fashioned hand pump to draw potable water at the site. 

Stonington Peninsula’s monarch butterfly and fossil beach

There are three memorable reasons to turn off US 2 3 miles east of Rapid River onto County Road 513. Follow this scenic drive to the tip to:
One, reach the stately Peninsula Point Lighthouse (circa 1865). Climb the circular staircase to the top of this 40-foot light station and be awed by the amazing view of Lake Michigan. 

Two, see an early fall color show from late August to early September that’s difficult to rival in the Midwest. Thousands of migrating monarch butterflies use this as their layover as they make their 1,900-mile migration journey to their wintering grounds in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Their next stop will be across the water in Door County, Wisconsin. 

Three, gather up fossils estimated to be 400-500 million years old strewn across the rocky waterfront! Happy hunting, rockhounds!

In-town, action-packed beaches

Gladstone Beach at Van Cleve Park has special perks such as shady, palm-tree style Hawaiian umbrellas and a water slide. The water is shallow near its soft sandy shore which makes this a preferred destination for families with small children and sand buckets in hand. You will find public restrooms, showers and a changing area in the bathhouse. There’s also a concession stand if you don’t pack your own beverages and food. Connected to Van Cleve Park, you can also walk to the Gladstone Lighthouse, ride bikes, paddleboard or kayak along the shore. Fish off the pier or launch or park your personal boat or watercraft within steps of the beach.

Escanaba Municipal Beach on Aronson Island is a popular place to spend the day with family or friends. Open daily from noon to 7 p.m., it has lifeguards on duty throughout your sand-and-water time. You can access the island by car, bike, boat or on foot. Once there, you can swim and play on the beach or fish from the ADA-accessible pier. Restrooms and a bathhouse are nearby. Adjacent to the island is Ludington Park, a mile-long play and picnic area on the Bay that includes disk golf, sand volleyball courts, outdoor music concerts and films, plus Sand Point Lighthouse and the Delta County Historical Museum. 

Wisconsin’s gateway to the U.P.— Menominee beaches

Menominee Light
Photo credit: Tom Jones Photo

Whether you cross from Wisconsin to Michigan or vice versa, Menominee is your Lake Michigan beach town. Two beaches that are popular for swimming and other recreation are John Henes Park and Tourist Park.

John Henes Park is on the northeastern corner of Menominee. There you will find 2,600 feet of water frontage along the Green Bay. Bring your beach blanket, picnic, rollerblades, bike, fishing gear and walking sandals any time between 9 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., Monday-Friday or 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. on the weekend.

Tourist Park is in the City’s southeastern corner off of Harbor Drive (behind First Street) along the Green Bay.  During the summer months, it’s a public beach, open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tourist Park is also the site of annual events such as the Boy Scouts of America Bay Jammer Festival and Menominee Festival Regatta for Windsurfers, each typically held in August.

Make lots of memories at our Lake Michigan beaches, return often for more fun in the sand and take and post lots of photos using #uptravel. See you by the water soon!