On a sunny Saturday in early April, we took advantage of the nice weather and headed out to Southeast Michigan to visit five state parks. Not being from that part of the state, most of them I’d never even heard of, so I was looking forward to experiencing new places.
Visiting five parks in one day might seem like a big endeavor, but they are within a relatively short distance from each other. In fact, there are about 10 state parks in or on the border of Oakland County, which makes sense because it is one of the largest population areas in Michigan. This is super convenient for local residents because there are a variety of activity choices, and if one park is busy, you can reach another in about 15 to 20 minutes.
Since we knew we’d never reach all 103 parks if we only did one a week, we decided it was time for an adventure. So we made a plan, packed a lunch and headed out. On the docket was Bald Mountain Recreation Area, Ortonville Recreation Area, Metamora-Hadley State Recreation Area, Holly Recreation Area and Seven Lakes State Park.
Bald Mountain State Recreation Area
Bald Mountain State Recreation Area is in Oakland County in southeast Michigan. It’s in an area most people would consider quite urban. The Detroit Pistons used to play just a few miles away at the Palace of Auburn Hills and the venue still hosts many big concerts.
Yet, right off M-59, you can still find a few dirt roads, and that’s where we found ourselves heading to get to the parking lot the day we visited. Let me clarify, we parked at one of the small side parking lots near the trailhead. We ended up there because the main gate was still locked for the season, as the park doesn’t officially open until April 15. But the trails remain open year round.
Bald Mountain is pretty expansive at 4,600 acres, broken into three separate areas. The main section has two lakes (Upper and Lower Trout Lake). There is a beach, multiple picnic areas, a boat launch, and a fishing pier. It appears this could be very popular and busy during the summer months.
The second section across the road features 15 miles of trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling if there’s more than 4” of snow and a shooting range. The park boasts that it features some of the “most rugged terrain in southeast Michigan.” Now, I don’t know what they’re comparing it to, but it seemed more “hilly” than rugged to me.
The third section appears to be simply a tract of land without any official recreational activities available. Hunting also is permissible in many areas of the park.
I did notice the beach and picnic areas are quite a distance away from the trails, so you might want to drive or ride your bike in between if you wanted to do both. I really want to go back and hike or run the trails sometime. It seemed like a really nice trail system but unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to do more than a mile or so. Trying out the shooting range might also be on my list – we spent a few moments watching a group practice skeet shooting and it looked like fun.
Ortonville State Recreation Area
Ortonville State Recreation Area is similar to the other parks in southeast Michigan – very large but broken up into sections. At 5,400 acres it has a lot of variety. It is located across the boundaries of northern Oakland County and southern Lapeer County.
The day-use area is located along the shore of Big Fish Lake and has lots of space for picnic areas, two pavilions, a dedicated swimming area, a boat launch, and a small playground. We did notice this is a public lake, with private houses located along the opposite bank, so I imagine the lake could be noisy during warmer months.
Located down the road is an equestrian area with 8 miles of trails. There are approximately 25 sites, but it is definitely a rustic campground. Your campsite consists of a grassy area with an individual picnic table and fire ring and place to tie up your horse. There are a shared vault toilet and a hand pump for water.
While these sites are typically designed for equestrian campers, it’s not limited to people who are camping with their horses. If you need a spot you could stay here, you just have to understand that it is completely rustic. We have stayed at equestrian campgrounds before but we try to leave them available for the equestrians just because there are very few and far between places they can take their horses.
Ortonville also has trails for biking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and hiking. There is a shooting range and one rustic cabin to rent.
I’ll be honest that I likely wouldn’t come back to this park, but if you are a local or you ride horses, this would be a place to get out on the trails or have a picnic.
Metamora-Hadley State Recreation Area
At just a little over 700 acres, I wasn’t expecting much from this park, but it was a good case of don’t judge a book by its cover. The Metamora-Hadley State Recreation Area surprisingly offers quite a bit. The main feature is the 80-acre lake. There is a nice sandy beach area, along with rowboat, canoe, and paddle boats rentals. Ice-fishing is allowed in the winter.
The campground looked nice, with 214 campsites overlooking the lake. It was early April when we visited and I’d say maybe 30 sites were taken that day. I was glad to see so many people out camping already. The spots are packed in tight, but we’re finding that pretty typical at most parks. They have a nice camp store for supplies and modern bath facilities. A mini-cabin is also available to rent if you don’t have a tent or trailer.
Metamora-Hadley also has 6 miles of marked hiking/cross-country ski trails. There’s also a metal-detecting area, and two-thirds of the park is available for hunting. Again, snowmobiles may be ridden in the park. If you’re interested in visiting, the park is located in Lapeer County, eight miles south of the city of Lapeer.
Holly Recreation Area
Located in northwestern Oakland County, the Holly Recreation Area is huge. Total acreage is around 8,000. But it’s very spread out and is even bisected by a freeway. You definitely will need a car to reach the different activity areas!
Holly has a very nice campground with 144 modern sites, 15 semi-modern sites, deluxe camper cabins, mini-cabins, and a group campsite. Most of the sites seemed to be semi-private with trees and bushes as separators, which is always our preferred type. A few are more open, which is great when you’re camping with friends and family. The state paved most of the sites and they’re mostly level. Each site has 30- and 20-amp electrical boxes. Note, they seem to be on the older side, so be sure to bring your tester and surge suppressor.
There are lots of trails, including a 25-mile mountain biking area (located on the other side of the freeway). Other park activities include three lakes for swimming, boating, and fishing; hunting in designated areas; a radio-controlled airfield; a splash pad in the summer; and a disc golf course (that was super busy when we visited – it’s obviously very popular).
You could easily camp here for the weekend or a week with plenty to do or just spend the day hiking. I’d definitely put Holly State Recreation Area on my list of places to return to.
Seven Lakes State Park
Seven Lakes State Park is located on the border of northern Oakland and southern Genesee counties. This park is decent sized at 1,400 acres, but unlike the other parks we visited that day, it’s all in one contiguous area. You’ll still need a car or bike to get through the park, but it’s all contained. There are multiple lakes totaling 230 acres of water. After our visit, we learned the park did not get its name because there are currently seven lakes. A dam was constructed in the 1960s, turning seven small lakes into one large lake.
Seven Lakes appears to be a very well-used park. Even on the day we visited in early April, when the concessions, bathroom facilities, and the campground were still closed for the season, there were a ton of people visiting. There were at least three or four groups having picnics, teens playing sand volleyball, kayakers and paddle boarders on the lake, and quite a few cyclists.
Other day-use amenities include horseshoe pits, playground, beach, boat launches and a couple of different covered pavilions to rent.
Unfortunately, because the state had not yet opened the campground for the season, we couldn’t get in to visit. It was too far to walk for the amount of daylight that was left, so we didn’t get to check that out. However, according to the map, there are 79 sites available. It’s a smaller campground. But one bonus feature is its own private beach on one of the smaller lakes. That is a great selling point for families who want to take their kids to the beach without having to pack up and drive to the main day-use beach.
One thing that stuck out to us during our visit was the poor condition of Seven Lakes State Park. The roads in the park were crumbling, the paint is peeling off the buildings, the picnic tables are in rough shape and it just overall seems rundown. It felt more like an old county park than a state park. I’m sure it’s a combination of being so well-used along with the backlog of maintenance that we learned about from former Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh. Hopefully, some of these issues can be addressed before they get too bad so everybody can continue to enjoy these parks for years and years.
Overall impressions of the 5 state parks
It was a long and exhausting day, but we had a blast visiting so many state parks at once. As I said, these were all completely new parks to me. The day opened my eyes to lots of places we can go back and visit. I’m excited to go hike all the trails at Bald Mountain. Or camp at Holly, or maybe even try my hand at disc golf. And all of these places are only within about an hour and a half from our house. That means there’s no excuse not to head down on a weekend to have some fun!
We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about these five state parks published there.) You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.