Michigan’s fun water facts are simply staggering: No other state touches four Great Lakes, and only Alaska boasts more than Michigan’s nearly 3,300 miles of shoreline, meaning you are never more than 85 miles away from at least one shore. Add in roughly 11,000 lakes of at least 5 acres and more than 51,000 miles of river, and anyone in the Mitten State is always within 6 miles of a body of water. On those bodies of water are 1,224 public beaches.
The state’s Up North beaches, with their sweeping sand dunes, scenic vistas, rocky shores, and crashing waves, tend to share most of the glory, along with beautiful west-side beaches in spots like South Haven, Saugatuck, Grand Haven, and Ludington. But most of those beaches require a long drive or even an overnight stay. When it comes to a one-day getaway or just a few hours of swimming and sunbathing, metro Detroit and its vicinity offer plenty of can’t-miss options. Here are some of the best Southeast Michigan beaches:
Belle Isle State Park
Location: Belle Isle has two beaches for Detroit River swimming: the main beach at 7845 Riverbank Drive and a smaller beach at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum (100 Strand Drive).
Beach basics: Belle Isle’s main beach provides a half-mile of sandy shoreline and is Michigan’s only beach with a full view of Detroit’s skyline. The zero-depth entry, gradual depth increase, and usually tame waves make it ideal for families. Watercraft and kayak rentals are available at Flynn Pavilion. Food trucks are often near the beach. The popular Kids Row Playground and Giant Slide are close by as well. On the island’s opposite side, the smaller beach at Dossin Museum offers a view of the Canadian shore and another place to launch a kayak, splash around, or soak up the sun.
“What’s not to love about a beach in the city — the Detroit skyline at the forefront and Ontario at your back?” says Jill Halpin, chief beach officer at mymichiganbeach.com. “Belle Isle Beach is a must-visit.”
Know before you go: A Michigan State Parks Recreation Passport is required for entry by car, but those who walk, ride a bike, or take public transportation are admitted free. Dogs are not allowed on the beach. Visit belleisleconservancy.org or call 313-821-9844 for
Lake St. Clair Metropark
Location: 31300 Metro Parkway, Harrison Township
Beach basics: Arguably metro Detroit’s best spot for swimming in Lake St. Clair, the park has endless family entertainment options. The mile of shoreline features a 600-foot beach and 1,600-foot lakeside boardwalk. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available to rent. But that’s not the only swimming option. An Olympic-size pool features two waterslides with 120-foot flumes and 17-foot vertical drops. (Pool sessions run from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission is $4.)
Also nearby are climbing walls and an inflatable obstacle course, a beach house with heated showers and lockers, and a concession stand. There’s also an 18-hole miniature golf course (admission is $5) and a sprawling, 40,000-square-foot playscape with a separate toddler play area.
“This fun spot definitely has a resort-like feel,” Halpin says. “There is generous space for changing and restrooms which are clean and comfortable, making a beach day so much easier.”
Know before you go: Admission is $10. Swimmers must be at least 7 years old and pass a swim test to use the pool’s obstacle course and climbing walls. Dogs are not permitted in the beach area. Visit metroparks.com or call 586-463-4581 for more information.
Two Parks, Four Beaches
Kensington Metropark & Island Lake Recreation Area
Locations: Kensington Metropark is at 4570 Huron River Parkway in Milford. Island Lake is at 6301 Kensington Road in Brighton, but the parks border each other on each side of I-96.
Beach basics: The two parks feature a total of three beaches on Kent Lake, while Island Lake also has 100 feet of beach at spring-fed Spring Mill Pond.
Kensington has Martindale and Maple beaches. Martindale is the larger of the two and boasts a pair of 240-foot water slides and the Splash-N-Blast spray park. There’s a concession stand, picnic shelters, a playscape, and a large grassy area for spreading out. Maple Beach also has a concession stand, picnic area, and playscape. Paddleboats, canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and rowboats are available for rent.
The beach on Kent Lake is the larger of the two at Island Lake and features a large lawn area with picnic tables and grills and a large playscape. Canoes, paddleboats, and rowboats are available to rent near Maple Beach. Meanwhile, “you’ll be hard-pressed to find a beach with better water than Spring Mill Pond because the water stays crystal clear and cool,” Halpin says.
Know before you go: A Michigan Recreation Passport is required for entry to Island Lake. Admission at Kensington is $10. Splash-N-Blast is open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $4. Leashed dogs are permitted only in grassy areas of both parks.
Brighton Recreation Area
Location: 6140 Bishop Lake Road, Brighton
Beach basics: The Brighton Lake beach’s main attraction is Jump Island, Michigan’s first outdoor inflatable water park, which opened in 2016. Slides, a rock wall, an inflatable iceberg, and a trampoline are some of its features. Admission ranges from $15 to $60 per person, with options for purchasing one, two, or three 45-minute sessions or an all-day pass. Life jackets are required and provided. Users must be at least 48 inches tall. A smaller Splash Island inflatable structure is for children 44-48 inches tall. Admission to Splash Island is $9 for a 45-minute session and $15 for two 45-minute sessions. The beach itself has a beach house with vending machines, picnic shelters, and a sand volleyball court. Kayaks and stand-up paddleboards are available for rent.
“If you really want to feel like you’ve gotten away from it all, Bishop Lake is the spot,” Halpin says. “There’s a nice, clean beach and clear water with lots of shady lawn for spreading out your blanket.”
Know before you go: A Michigan Recreation Passport is required for entry. Visit dnr.state.mi.us or call 248-303-4488 for more information. Reservations are recommended for Jump Island. See jumpislandmi.com for details. A pet-friendly section of shoreline is available for leashed pets.
Dodge #4 State Park
Location: 4250 Parkway Drive, Waterford
Beach basics: Dodge is one of 27 state parks with a pet-friendly shoreline. That means pets are allowed along the shoreline with the exception of designated swimming areas and must be kept on a leash at all times, even when in the water. (The designated shore area for dogs is to the right of the fishing pier and swimming area.) The day-use-only park boasts 1 mile of shoreline on 1,280-acre Cass Lake, including a sizable stretch of beach. A concession stand and boat rentals are available along with a shady picnic area, grills, picnic shelters, sand volleyball, and a swing set. Plus, there are very few ouchy rocks to step on in the beach area.
Know before you go: A Michigan Recreation Passport is required for entry. Visit dnr.state.mi.us or call 248-682-7373 for more information.
Best of the Rest
Pinckney Recreation Area
Location: 8555 Silver Hill Road, Pinckney
Beach basics: Day-use beaches are at Silver Lake (off Dexter Townhall Road, north of Territorial Road) and Halfmoon Lake (off Hankerd Road, north of Territorial). Concessions, a playground, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, a fishing pier, and a shady picnic area with grills are available at the Silver Lake beach. Halfmoon Lake has picnic shelters, a playground, trail access, and a volleyball court. A chain of seven lakes can also be accessed from there.
Know before you go: A Michigan Recreation Passport is required for entry. Leashed dogs are allowed on grassy areas only. Visit dnr.state.mi.us or call 734-426-4913.
Stony Creek Metropark
Location: 4300 Main Park Road, Shelby Township
Beach basics: There are two beaches on opposite sides of 500-acre Stony Creek Lake. Eastwood Beach features a 50-foot-tall, 230-foot-long waterslide. Plenty of facilities are close by, including a volleyball court, a fitness trail, basketball courts, playground equipment, and a disc golf course. There are picnic facilities, including reservable shelters, and a concession stand. Stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, and rowboats are available for rent. Baypoint Beach has a sloping lawn leading to the sand. It features a concession stand, volleyball court, and watercraft rental. A new restroom/changing building recently opened with an outdoor shower.
Know before you go: There is a $10 admission fee and dogs are not permitted on the beach. Visit metroparks.com or call 586-781-4242 for more information.
Worth the Drive
Not in a hurry? Consider these day-trip options.
Looking for a beach-town experience without the long drive? Lexington, about 90 miles northeast of Detroit, is it. This beach on the shore of Lake Huron at Tierney Park is the main attraction. It features a paved pier that extends well into the water, plenty of room in the sand, fishing from a break wall, beach volleyball, playground equipment, and even a butterfly garden. Quaint shops and lively restaurants and bars are nearby. And speaking of bars — Lexington hosts its Margarita Fest Aug. 20-21. 7411 Huron Ave., Lexington. Admission is free. Leashed dogs are permitted on the grass only. Visit mymichiganbeach.com/lexington.
Sterling State Park
Michigan’s largest public beach on Lake Erie is less than 45 minutes from Detroit and features more than a mile of sand. The water is usually warmer compared to beaches on other Great Lakes because Lake Erie is the smallest and shallowest of the bunch. The shady, grassy section has picnic tables, grills, and a shelter. There is even a designated metal-detecting area. “Sterling State Park is the closest true Great Lakes experience to Detroit with water that warms up more quickly than lakes Huron, Michigan, or Superior,” says Jill Halpin, of mymichiganbeach.com. 2800 State Park Road, Monroe, A Michigan Recreation Passport is required for entry. Leashed dogs are allowed on grassy areas only. Visit dnr.state.mi.us.
This story is featured in the August 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.