Ludington State Park on Lake Michigan is a popular park with great scenery, multiple camp loops, hiking and ski trails, summer programs, a visitor’s center, and beaches on the big lake and an inland lake.
This is one of the most popular state parks in the entire state of Michigan. If you want to reserve a campsite you must plan far in advance and call the Reserve America number to be certain of a spot. Despite the fact that they have 365 campsites, it is full almost continuously from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Does it deserve its reputation? Yes it does. For starters there are a couple of miles of white sand Lake Michigan beach. There is a public swimming beach and then the rest can be walked at leisure for a slightly more private experience. You aren’t going to really be able to escape everyone in the height of summer. Then there is Hamlin Lake, a large inland lake on the east border of the park. The water here is slightly warmer, and without the waves you will often find families swimming here. It’s a nice location for picnics by the water too, because there is less wind than right at the Lake Michigan shore.
Most of the camping is the regular, tightly-packed sites with full hookups and no privacy. In 2007 the park added a primitive site for walk or bike-in tent campers which is away from the RV loops and offers slightly more quiet and privacy.
The park is host to the restored Big Sable Lighthouse which is now run by the Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association. For $2 you can have a tour of the light, and there is a gift shop on the first floor. Anyone who has paid the admission to the park can walk out to the lighthouse and enjoy seeing it. You only have to pay the $2 if you want to go to the top of the tower.
There are 5300 acres on which to wander. This includes shoreline, dunes, forest, wetlands, and inland ponds. Over 15 miles of maintained hiking trails are threaded through these ecosystem. About 7 of these miles are groomed as ski trails in the winter and there is also a warming shelter. There is a canoe trail that meanders among islands at the edge of Hamlin Lake. About a mile of paved level trail is open to bicycling. Due to the fragile nature of the soil (dunes and forested dunes), there is no mountain biking.
During the summer there is a very busy schedule of programs for outdoor interpretation for both kids and adults, and also kids crafts. During the winter, a build-your-own-snowshoes class is usually filled to capacity.
The dunes support a number of interesting and even endangered plants. If you are into botany this is a great place to see Hoary Puccoon, and Pitcher’s Thistle. Bird migration seasons here are favored by bird watchers.
There is a Nature Center with local displays and an auditorium which can be used for speakers.
Concessions, stores, picnic areas, playgrounds, shelters, canoe, kayak and paddle boat rentals, fishing, wildlife watching, interpreted trails, and information kiosks, etc. Portions of the park are open to hunting in season.
To the north the park connects with the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness, and to the north of that the Lake Michigan Recreation Area in the Manistee National Forest. If you enjoy long hikes and a more primitive experience it is possible (you have to be careful to avoid some private lands) to hike from just north of Ludington nearly to Manistee (almost 20 miles) along trails within the park and the beach, and to camp primitively in Nordhouse, or a semi-primitive campsite in the National Forest.
Speaking as a local, I go to this park often but usually in the Fall, Winter, and Spring. I love everything it has to offer but don’t care for the hordes of people in the summer time.
The only real missing pieces to the outdoor recreational experience that I think are lacking here are mountain biking (but the soil just can’t support it) and the fact that there is no beach area where dogs are allowed.
Daily entrance fee or yearly pass for Michigan State Parks. Camping rates, and rentals are additional.
For more information, see Get Off The Couch, and Michigan DNR, and Big Sable Point Lighthouse.