Michigan State Parks Centennial: Brighton State Recreation Area

Brighton Recreation Area is a year-round, outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Close to 5,000 acres provide plenty of opportunities for wildlife viewing, camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, horseback riding, and hunting. There are six lakes within the park’s boundaries. 

Due to its proximity to a densely populated area of the state, Brighton Recreation Area receives more than 650,000 annual visitors and will be busy no matter what season you visit. And whether you are planning to visit for a couple of hours or stay for a week, you will find plenty of activities to keep you busy. 

Trails

The park is well-known for its vast trail system that provides ample opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian use. More than 41 miles of combined trails will take you through oak forests, hills, wetlands, fens, and undeveloped woodlands. At least 18 miles are designated specifically for equestrian and 16 are for mountain biking. Hikers are free to use any of the trails, but please note any daily directional signs and be aware of horses and bikes. 

Day-use areas

There are two sections of the park designated as day-use. The first is near Bishop Lake. Here you will find a beach, swimming, modern restrooms, grills, picnic tables and a large grassy area for hanging out. Bishop Lake also is home to a boat launch and fishing pier.  This area is the most-used section of the park, which we discovered firsthand when it was tough to find a parking spot. 

The second day-use area is near Chilson Pond. There is no beach or swimming here, but it does have a boat launch. Four rentable shelters are available, as well as picnic tables and grills. A unique amenity we found here that we hadn’t seen elsewhere are designated wooden posts from which to hang hammocks. I’m excited to see these as it protects the trees while allowing people to enjoy a favorite activity. Since this area of the park is much quieter and secluded, away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the park, I think it would be a fabulous location to hang out with a favorite book in a hammock for the afternoon. 

Other activities

During the summer of 2019, an inflatable floating water park is located in Bishop Lake for guests to enjoy. Note, this is an additional cost above your recreational passport entry fee. It was proving to be extremely popular on the hot day that we visited. 

An 18-hole disc golf course is near the Chilson Pond day-use area, as well. 

Hunting is allowed during certain times of the year. Check with the park headquarters if you have questions about times and locations open to hunting. 

Camping at Brighton Recreation Area

If you’d like to stay for a few days, Brighton Recreation Area offers the following camping options:

  • One modern campground (144 sites)
  • Two rustic campgrounds (25 sites each)
  • One equestrian campground (18 sites)
  • One organizational campground
  • Five rustic family cabins
  • One yurt
  • Two canoe-in campsites

The modern campground was one of the most packed campgrounds we’ve ever seen. People had RVs, cars, utility trailers, boats, and bikes parked every which way. It made it very crowded and difficult to safely drive through the campground without fear of hitting something or someone due to line-of-sight issues. Even though the signs may say 10 mph, we recommend 5 mph or less. And always be on the lookout for young kids on bikes or scooters not paying attention. We had a young boy come flying out from behind a utility trailer on his bike. Luckily, we were only doing about 5 mph and Ari was quick on the brakes!

Accessibility

I will be upfront and say we didn’t pay particular attention during our visit to the accessibility features. Partially because the park was super crowded and we didn’t get to explore everything we wanted.

However, according to the DNR website, “Brighton Recreation Area is one of the state park system’s leaders in providing accessible recreation. The park riding stable, campground, day-use areas, kayak launch, and beach provide accommodations and features that allow persons of all abilities to enjoy Brighton Recreation Area.” 

Final impressions of Brighton Recreation Area

Brighton Recreation Area is located west of US-23 and south of I-96, which allows for easy access. However, it is large enough that there is no single main entrance. Depending on which direction you come from, chances are you will arrive via a dirt road with no real sign indicating you have arrived. As such, unless you know where you are going, the first time you visit might leave you a tad overwhelmed and feeling lost. My advice is to look at the online map before you arrive so you know toward which section of the park you want to head. 

Due to all the trails and activities, Brighton Recreation Area is the place to go to enjoy nature and wildlife year-round. In the winter, bring your snowshoes. In the summer, take a dip in the lake or relax in your hammock. No matter when you visit, you won’t be disappointed.


We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about Brighton State Recreation Area here.) 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.

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