Michigan is the Midwest state that cranks it up. Bet you never knew that it sports more beaches than the Atlantic seaboard. Michigan occupies prime real estate, surrounded by four of the five Great Lakes – Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie. Islands – Mackinac, Manitou and Isle Royale – freckle its coast and make top touring destinations. Surf beaches, colored sandstone cliffs and trekkable sand dunes also woo visitors.

The majority of the state's beaches are scattered throughout Michigan's Gold Coast. This 300-mile western shoreline features seemingly endless stretches of beaches, dunes and inn-filled towns that boom in the summer – and shiver during the snow-packed winter.

Editor's note: during COVID-19 there are restrictions on travel and opening hours may vary. Check the latest guidance in Michigan before planning a trip, and always follow local health advice.

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There are many hikes and walks to take in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore © Craig Sterken / Shutterstock

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Eye-popping lake views from atop colossal sand dunes? Water blue enough to be in the Caribbean? Miles of unspoiled beaches? Secluded islands with mystical trees? All here at Sleeping Bear Dunes, along with lush forests, terrific day hikes and glass-clear waterways for paddling. The national park stretches from north of Frankfort to just before Leland, on the Leelanau Peninsula. Several cute little towns fringe the area.

Hikers will love the Dune Climb, Empire Bluff Trail and Sleeping Bear Heritage trail; the park visitor center has maps for other jaunts. The Crystal River draws paddlers; head to Glen Arbor for outfitters with canoes, kayaks and gear. 

Ludington State Park

Ludington State Park is one of Michigan's largest and most popular playlots. Once inside, people simply pull over on the roadside and make a break for the beautiful stretches of beach. It also has a top-notch trial system and the renovated Big Sable Point Lighthouse to hike to. 

There are tent and RV sites and some cabins to rent.

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Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area is a great place to watch the sunset © Paul Emch / Shutterstock

Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area

Also near Ludington, Nordhouse Dunes is a 3,450-acre plot within the Huron-Manistee National forest that features perhaps the wildest stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline. Dunes rise up to 140ft high and are interspersed with stands of forest. Bird watching and hiking in the undeveloped expanse are excellent. The best access is via the Lake Michigan Recreation Area, 8 miles east of US 31.

Frankfort Beach

In the charming town of Frankfort, the wide, sandy Frankfort Beach is the family-friendly beach vacation of your dreams. The clear blue water is in a protected cove, making swimming and paddle boarding the name of the game. Crystal Lake Adventure Sports has an outpost on the beach to rent chairs, umbrellas and paddle boards. 

Main street Frankfort has all the ice cream stores and souvenir shops you could want and Storm Cloud Brewery is serving up local beer and delicious bites. 

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 Its fun to hike through the woods onto the beach in Saugatuck © Michael Deemer / Shutterstock 

Saugatuck 

Saugatuck is one of the most popular resort areas, known for its strong arts community, numerous B&Bs and gay-friendly vibe. It's a touristy, but funky place with ice-cream-licking families, yuppie boaters and martini-drinking couples sharing the waterfront. Galleries and shops fill the compact downtown core. Weekends attract the masses.

The main beach is called Oval beach. Lifeguards patrol the long expanse of fine sand. There are bathrooms and concession stands, though not enough to spoil the peaceful, dune-laden scene. It costs $10 to park. Or arrive the adventurous way, via chain ferry and trek over Mt. Baldhead.

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Kite surfing is just one of the fun activities on the beach in Michigan ©Sam Negen9 / Shutterstock

Grand Haven

Grand Haven rocks the classic, old-fashioned beach-town attributes. You know the kind: a waterfront boardwalk, ice-cream shops, sand so clean it squeaks and ooh-and-aah sunsets. The bars and restaurants buzz each evening, and everyone congregates for the eye-popping show by the musical fountain once night falls. Add in the surfing, cycling and inventive breweries, and it's easy to see why Grand Haven blows up each summer.

Grand Haven State Park is a 48-acre urban park is all beach – a wide, gorgeous one with squeaky clean sand. It’s mega popular in summer, especially for families, who appreciate the warm shallows for swimming. Stroll the pier punctuated by a tall red lighthouse, or mosey on the boardwalk that skirts the Grand River and deposits you downtown.

Harbor County

Harbor Country refers to a group of eight small, lake-hugging towns that roll out beaches, wineries, cool shops and all-round rustic charm.

New Buffalo is the largest community, home to a surf school, a busy public beach, ice-cream shops and a beer church.  Surprised you can surf Lake Michigan? It's true. The folks at Third Coast Surf Shop will how you how. It provides wetsuits and boards for surfing and paddleboarding and private lessons at the local beach for novices.

Warren Dunes state park has 3 miles of beachfront, 6 miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails (Michigan beaches are stunning in the winter) and climable dunes that rise 260ft in the air, visitors are all over this park. A concession stand offers food, soft drinks, ice cream and souvenirs from May through September. There are also RV and tent sites.

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Michigan beach cities are perfect for families © De Shutterstock / Suzanne Tucker

Charlevoix & Petoskey

These two towns, among the most affluent along Michigan's western shore, brim with yacht-filled marinas and fancy summer homes. They're not snooty though, and they provide a fair bit of offbeat adventure. Beachcombing, island trekking and following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway await those who make the trip.

Petoskey State Park is north along Hwy 119 and has a beautiful beach. Look for indigenous Petoskey stones, which are honeycomb-patterned fragments of ancient coral. Some 180 tent and RV sites are spread through two modern campgrounds.

Beaver Island is a quiet, Irish-influenced enclave of some 600 people offshore from Charlevoix. Forest covers most of its 9-mile length and 4.5-mile width. Visitors come to hike, bike, fish and kayak and to snorkel to shipwrecked schooners. It takes about two hours by ferry from Charlevoix.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Stretching along prime Lake Superior real estate, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a series of wild cliffs and caves, where blue and green minerals have streaked the red and yellow sandstone into a kaleidoscope of color. County Rd H-58 spans the park for 52 slow miles from Grand Marais in the east to Munising in the west.

Either town makes a good base for exploring the area. In between you'll find lakeside hikes, kayak trips and boat tours that offer brilliant ways to take in the area's shipwrecks, waterfalls and artist's-palette geology.

Few visitors make it to Twelvemile beach. Its long and isolated and perfect for finding agates and other colorful rocks. Access is via the day-use area of Twelvemile Beach Campground, from which you take stairs down to the sand.

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