As I stated in my last post , Michigan – which is surrounded by Lakes Michigan, Superior, Huron, and Erie and, therefore, aptly nicknamed the Great Lakes State – has one of the longest coastlines in America, second only to Alaska. It also boasts some of the loveliest beaches in the country, including those along the Southwest Coast, from Warren Dunes State Park to Muskegon State Park.
Continuing in geographical order, here are six more of my favorite, family-friendly stretches:
Silver Lake State Park
9679 West State Park Road, Mears, Michigan, 231/873-3083
Perhaps the highlight of Oceana County, 2,936-acre Silver Lake State Park protects hundreds of acres of unspoiled and ever-shifting sand dunes, remnants of the glaciers that once scrubbed this landscape, nestled between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake. With hiking trails that ascend high sand hills and weave through grasses and stunted trees, the park also offers a boat launch, picnic areas, a 200-site campground, and access to the Little Sable Point Lighthouse , a tall brick conical structure established in 1874. Fishing, hunting, swimming, beachcombing, and metal-detecting are also popular activities here. In addition, a 450-acre expanse at the southern end of the park is favored among off-road enthusiasts – the only place in the state where off-road dune driving is allowed. To reach Silver Lake State Park, head west of U.S. 31, between Montague and Pentwater.
Ludington State Park
8800 West M-116, Ludington, Michigan, 231/843-2423
Situated north of Ludington and accessible via U.S. 10 and U.S. 31, Ludington State Park  invites visitors to climb picturesque dunes, hike amid sandy beaches and inland forests, and fish and canoe in nearby Hamlin Lake. From May to October, you can also get an up-close view of the black-and-white, 112-foot-tall Big Sable Point Lighthouse , which has stood proudly on the shores of Lake Michigan since 1867. One of the largest and most popular state parks in the Lower Peninsula, 5,300-acre Ludington State Park features almost six miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, plus picnic areas, boat rentals, a boat launch, a playground, three campgrounds, a curious interpretive center, and trails for biking, hiking, canoeing, and cross-country skiing. Other activities here include swimming, fishing, hunting, metal-detecting, and watching wildlife.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
9922 Front Street, Empire, Michigan, 231/326-5134
During your trip to Michigan, you simply must visit the natural wonder known as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore , accessible via M-22, along the western edge of the Leelanau Peninsula. Here, you'll find a curvy stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline, with the tallest freshwater dunes in the country, and ideal places to canoe, kayak, fish, hike, ride a bike, camp, and, in winter, ski. Encompassing 35 miles of windswept coastline on the mainland, several inland lakes, two offshore islands (North and South Manitou), and the largest freshwater dunes in the world, this park also offers more than 100 miles of hiking trails, some of which can be used by cross-country skiers and snowshoers in the winter months. While here, you can also tour the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum in Glen Haven, ride along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (a seven-mile route that features several observation points and picnic areas), and, naturally, test your stamina on the strenuous Dune Climb, the top of which provides a lovely view of Glen Lake. In addition, scuba divers will appreciate the park’s proximity to the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve , which protects several shipwrecks and dock ruins.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
N8391 Sand Point Road, Munising, Michigan, 906/387-2607
Although the Upper Peninsula's Lake Superior coast isn't ideal for swimmers – given the lake's frigid temperatures year-round – the pristine beaches at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore  are perfect for beachcombers, bird-watchers, hikers, and sea kayakers with wetsuits. With its multicolored cliffs, enormous dunes, wooded trails, lovely waterfalls, and historic sites, Pictured Rocks is truly a wondrous destination. While here, you can hike to Miners Falls, search for Petoskey stones below the cliff-top formation known as Miners Castle, or, if you're really brave, dip your bare feet into the bone-numbing waters of Lake Superior. As with Sleeping Bear Dunes, visitors to Pictured Rocks can enjoy a myriad of activities, from hunting, fishing, and backcountry camping to touring photo-worthy sites like the Grand Sable Dunes and Au Sable Light Station. Kayakers, boating enthusiasts, and cross-country skiers are also welcome in the park, and scuba divers will relish Pictured Rocks’ proximity to the Alger Underwater Preserve , which offers access to intact shipwrecks, sea caves, and underwater interpretive trails. To reach Pictured Rocks, you'll have to cross the Mackinac Bridge, head north across the Upper Peninsula, and rely on M-28 or M-77 near the coast.
Tawas Point State Park
686 Tawas Beach Road, East Tawas, Michigan, 989/362-5041
East of Tawas City on the eastern side of the Lower Peninsula, and accessible via U.S. 23, 183-acre Tawas Point State Park is noted for its pure white sandy beach, the warm waters of adjacent Tawas Bay, its incredible view of the sunrise over Lake Huron, and its well-preserved Tawas Point Lighthouse, a white, Victorian-style structure established in 1876 and often open to the public for self-guided tours. Other facilities here include a nature trail, a playground, a picnic area, and a spacious campground. In addition, outdoor enthusiasts come here to swim, fish, hike, ride bicycles, and observe birdlife, not to mention comb the beach with metal detectors.
Port Crescent State Park
1775 Port Austin Road, Port Austin, Michigan, 989/738-8663
Near the tip of the Lower Peninsula's Thumb, accessible via M-25, Port Crescent State Park encompasses nearly 600 acres of serene landscape at the convergence of Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, including three miles of sandy beaches and dunes. A three-mile trail, which winds amid wooded dunes and above the banks of the Pinnebog River, provides stunning views of the surrounding waters and area wildlife. The park also features a modern RV and tent campground near the former site of Port Crescent, a logging town that disappeared in the 1930s. Besides swimming, hiking, bird-watching, and camping, visitors also come here to fish, hunt, canoe, enjoy picnics, and, in winter, cross-country ski; there's also a playground on-site. Less crowded than spots along Lake Michigan, Port Crescent State Park assures you a much better chance of finding peace and quiet amid the great outdoors.
For more information about Michigan's state parks, contact the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)  or pick up a copy of Moon Michigan . As I mentioned in the first part of this two-post series, the state parks are open daily, and Michigan residents can visit them all for an annual $10 Recreation Passport. Non-residents, meanwhile, can access Michigan's state parks by paying the daily $8 fee or purchasing a yearly Non-Resident Recreation Passport, which costs $29.
As for Michigan's two national lakeshores, the National Park Service  is a helpful resource. For Sleeping Bear Dunes, you can also contact the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau . While both Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks are technically open 24 hours daily, the hours vary for the parks' assorted facilities. Also, though weekly passes are available ($10 vehicles, $5 pedestrians, bikers, and motorcyclists) at Sleeping Bear Dunes, the park also honors the annual America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass . Meanwhile, lovely Pictured Rocks is free to visit, though a nominal fee is usually charged to tour the Au Sable Light Station.
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore  / Text © 2012 Laura Martone
Laura Martone is Moon’s American Nomad  and the author of Moon Michigan , Moon Florida Keys , Moon Baja RV Camping , and the upcoming Moon New Orleans , which will be published in September 2012.