The perfect weekend camping on Michigan’s west coast
Lake Michigan touches four US states- Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Around 12 million people reside on this magnificent great lake. Its crystal clear turquoise waters are lined with 275,000 acres of sand dunes, making it the largest freshwater dune system in the world! Lake Michigan has so many beaches it’s often referred to as “The Third Coast” of the United States. In my completely unbiased opinion, it’s the best of the coasts. The freshwater lake comes shark and salt-free!
A weekend camping trip has so much potential depending on where you go, you can use it to spend time with family or your significant other. You can have cozy nights around a campfire, learn to surf at Aqua Surf School, and learn tips on how to look after yourself in the wilderness.
Here are some of the highlights and must-see spots for the Perfect Weekend Camping Along Michigan’s West Coast
Logan and I had the perfect weekend camping along Michigan’s west coast as we explored a new part of the state with family, complete with fur babies and adorable nephews. We headed to the west coast over to Warren Dunes State Park where we camped for the weekend. The west side of the state is so beautiful, and just a short drive from Detroit or Chicago.
Best Time to Visit Michigan’s West
Michigan experiences all 4 seasons, with a long brutal winter. My favorite time to visit Lake Michigan is in the summer months when you’ll have lots of sunshine. However, the summer months have high humidity which will contribute to temperatures that feel higher than they are. For example, an 83 F day might feel like 90 F because of the high humidity. The temperatures along Lake Michigan are relatively cooler than the inland, with a nice breeze coming off the lake.
How to get to Lake Michigan’s west Coast
There are several different routes you can take to reach Lake Michigan’s west coast.
Fly into the Chicago O’Hare (ORD) International Airport & drive a rental car 2 hours south to Gary Indiana then north to Warren Dunes State Park. *BONUS* if you have time, you can stop at the Indiana Dunes National Park on your way there.
We always, always, ALWAYS arrive at our campggrounds at night. As if setting up in the dark isn’t bad enough, it started to monsoon-like rain as soon as we pulled into our campsite at Warren Dunes State Park (and every weekend we camp, ever).
Once again Logan and I questioned if tent camping was still our best option.
We’ve been debating all summer if we should bite the bullet and buy a used camper to keep us dry on the rainy weekends (all in favor, say “I”). There are state campgrounds all up the coastline, here are some of my favorites I’ve camped at along Lake Michigan.
Warren Dunes State Park: Three miles of rare PET-FRIENDLY shoreline along gorgeous Lake Michigan. The park also includes around six miles of hiking trails through forest and sand dunes. Modern & rustic sites are available.
Ludington State Park: My favorite Michigan state park has everything- a lighthouse, hiking trails, lakes, sand dunes, dense forest, adventure activities and so much more. This is a must-visit park! Check out my post on 5 Reasons to Love Ludington. Modern & rustic sites.
Leelanau State Park: Another park home to a magnificent lighthouse. The drive up the peninsula to Leelanau State Park takes you through Michigan’s wine country with water views on both sides. Rustic campground.
Take a road trip along the west coast and explore the waterfront towns while hunting for lighthouses. The western coast of Michigan has around 35 lighthouses. Two of those reside side by side in the town of St. Joseph. It was about a 30-minute drive from our campground, 80 f degrees and the sun was shining. Perfect lighthouse-hunting weather!
St. Joseph North Pier
Each lighthouse is unique and has its own fascinating history. By road tripping around the shorelines of Michigan you’re bound to run into a lighthouse or two.
South Haven South Pier
Go For a Swim
As I mentioned earlier, Lake Michigan is a freshwater lake that comes salt and shark free. Immerse yourself in the crystal clear blue waters to cool down from the summer sun and Michigan humidity.
Search for Petosky Stones
Searching for stones as you walk along the beach shore was a tradition growing up. If you were lucky, you would find a Petoskey stone- the Michigan state stone. The stones are unique to the Great Lakes, and can only be found along the shores of Michigan’s lower peninsula.
Relax on the Beach
The lake temperatures range from the 60s in early summer to the high 70s in late summer. The beach entrance at Warren Dunes State Park has a sign showing the water temp each day so you can plan accordingly.
Pack a beach bag, your furry friend or adorable nephew, and a picnic lunch- then head to the beach. If you’re feeling really adventurous you can hike to the beach on one of the many trails that run through the park.
Windmill Island Gardens
Windmill Island Gardens is home to de Zwaan windmill, the last mill allowed to be transported from the Netherlands. De Zwaan still functions by grinding locally-grown grain into flour that is sold to visitors and local businesses. A highlight of visiting is a tour of this historic working windmill.
Visitors can enjoy music from an antique Dutch street organ given to the City of Holland by the City of Amsterdam after World War II. Children can also ride on the antique carousel from the Netherlands. There are several other replica Dutch buildings and shops. The Island is home to beautiful gardens which feature tulips in the spring followed by beautiful annuals and perennials throughout the summer.
Hike The Sand Dunes
Enjoy the world’s largest dune system, and go for a hike! At 400 ft the highest dune resides in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The dune formation pictured above was the largest at Warren Dunes State park. The dune rises 260 feet above the water with Lake Michigan views from the top.
We stopped at the local Three Blonde’s Brewing for lunch and a drink to cool down. Michigan’s west coast is crawling with local watering holes.Beer, Wine, Cider. We do them all impeccably well. The craft beer craze has swept through the state like wildfire, with hundreds of local breweries statewide.
Just as Michigan has its own west coast, we have our own wine country, much of which resides on the beautiful Lake Michigan. You haven’t tasted anything like the sweet nectar Michigan’s cideries create. Cider is easily my beverage of choice, and I would highly recommend any produced locally, a few of my favorites include Blakes, JK Scrumpys, and Vandermill.
After our boozy lunch, we decided dessert was a must. Good thing ice cream is yet another thing Michigan is awesome at. There was a local dairy farm mere seconds away from the brewery we ate lunch at.Sherman’s Dairy Bardidn’t disappoint. I had a hard time deciding between the yellow cake batter flavor and the birthday cake. With over 70 different flavors of homemade recipes featuring all the Michigan classics, can you blame me? (I went with yellow cake batter 😊)
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I’ve heard that on the west coast there are a lot of climbing spots. Is that true? Have you seen any climbers there?
I haven’t seen any climbing spots on Michigan’s west coast! It’s mostly sand dunes and Lake Michigan that dominate that area.
I’m going to Michigan this summer. This was perfect timing to find this gem of an article. Thanks for all the helpful info!
I don’t think I’m a tent camping person (although I might be convinced to try it one day). That said, the lake looks like a great place for a holiday.
I haven’t camped in years, but this has me reconsidering! Looks fabulous!
The color of the water is amazing! It looks tropical in so many places. Also, I LOVE that there are so many lighthouses to be found! After visiting a couple in the US, Bermuda, and Australia, it’s one of the things I love to keep an eye out for when traveling. Do you know if any of them allow visitors to go up?
Yep! Most all of them are open to visitors, and we have HUNDREDS surrounding the state along the great lakes. They have started to restore a lot of them using the original furniture/layout of the way lighthouse keepers lived. It’s an underrated state, which is nice because there aren’t hordes of tourists so you get to explore more without crowds.
All the campsites you recommended sound like great places! Along the coast with lighthouses and hiking trails. Of course, all the swims and water activities that you can do. Wonderful!
Michigan has tons and tons of outdoor activities to do in each season.
I’d love to go on a road trip on this side of the coast. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to arrive at a campsite in the pouring rain😭😭 I’m also afraid I’d swimming in the ocean bra she’s of sharks so I prefer the lakes.
No salt, no sharks! The great lakes look like oceans as they seem to never end. Other than the great lakes there are more than 11,000 inland lakes, 5 acres in size or larger.
What a great way to spend a weekend in the warmer months. I’m absolutely blown away at the sheer size of Lake Michigan… 12 million people and 4 states. The mind boggles! We’ve definitely partaken is some Lighthouse hunting ourselves. I love the old stories that go with them.
We are trying to visit all the lighthouses along the Great Lakes shorelines. If you’re into swimming there are more than 11,000 inland lakes, 5 acres in size or larger, in Michigan.
Beautiful spot – I cannot believe it is a lake, it totally looks like an ocean if you just showed me pictures! Would love to make it out that way one year.
They are all so big they look like oceans. In fact there are hundreds of shipwrecks at the bottom of each lake from storms! There are more than 11,000 inland lakes, 5 acres in size or larger, in Michigan.
This sounds like such a fun family road trip! Might have to add it to the list for this summer 🙂
Such a perfect summer day out with the fam! Definitely one for the books when we can start going out again 🙂
Beautiful pictures! Great post.. Would love to visit soon!!
So weird thinking of Michigan having a coast! lol it looks like a reaaaally beautiful area though! And the fact it’s freshwater is a bonus.
This looks like a great trip – some beautiful pictures too! Adding to my possibilities next time I head to the USA
Lighthouse hunting sounds like it could be thirsty work, so a refreshing glass of locally brewed cider sound like the ideal solution. I love cider, especially ones that aren’t too sweet.
Your weekend camping at Michigan’s west looks perfect way to spend a day. Searching for Petoskey Stones on Michigan’s lower peninsula looks interesting activity here.
Michigan West coast seems to be the perfect place for a weekend. I love lighthouses and 35 is simply wow! I have never heard of Petoskey stones. It would be interesting to look for them. I have saved your blog for future visit. 🙂
I love to camp and this sounds like an ideal place especially as there is an ice-cream parlour close by! Hiking the sand dunes sounds exhausting, I tried that in the Middle East and my legs were like jelly!
Love this! I have never heard of Petoskey Stones! Exploring the shores and looking for Petoskey Stones will be an activity I look forward to doing.
Sounds like a fab trip. Saving this to add to my things I want to do when I can start travelling again list 🙂 I love trying to hike sand dunes, I’m absolutely useless at it, lol