Michigan State Parks: Duck Lake

Duck Lake State Park is a 728-acre day-use park located north of Muskegon.

The park borders both Lake Michigan and Duck Lake and was once home to a Boy Scout camp and later owned by the Nature Conservancy. Duck Lake officially became a state park in 1988 and today is popular for beachgoers, fishermen, canoers, and kayakers.  

Park activities

There are no camping facilities at Duck Lake State Park, as it is a day-use only park. The park is split into sections, with three decent-sized parking lots throughout to accommodate beachgoers, pavilion renters, and boaters.

One parking lot is right as you enter the park, and is designed for those visitors headed to the Lake Michigan portion of the park. The middle parking lot is for parking your boat trailer. The third is further back in the park for those renting the pavilion or planning to walk the trails or go hunting in season.

Two Beaches

The Lake Michigan beach area is a popular destination. Where Duck Lake enters Lake Michigan it has created a small pool behind a sand bar with warm water, so even on chilly lake days, you’ll find plenty of people in the water or laying in the sun.

People on the beach
Visitors enjoy the warm water where Duck Lake feeds into Lake Michigan

Due to the high water levels in 2019, the boardwalk under Scenic Drive that provides access from the parking lot to the beach is underwater. As a result, to access the beach you now have to walk up and over and alongside the main road for a few yards. This is a heavily trafficked road so watch for vehicles.

There also is a small sandy beach on Duck Lake and a swim area. However, given that it’s an inland lake, we found both the lake and the sand to be on the dirtier side.

Boating opportunities

Boat on a lake
Fishing on Duck Lake

Duck Lake is very popular for boating of all types – motorized and non-motorized. The state has established a boat launch in the park. We saw many fishermen out in everything from large motorboats to canoes.  It is a nice place for kayaking as well. Keep in mind this is a public lake and accessible from all the way around, so you will encounter other people, as well. A portion of the lake is designated as wake-free.

Duck Lake empties into Lake Michigan via a small channel. However, due to a small dam under the Whitehall Scenic Bridge boats cannot go between the two.

Trails and exploring

There is only one official trail in the park – a paved half-mile pathway that runs along Duck Lake and connects to the two main parking lots. But if you’re into exploring, we discovered other trails back in the wooded portion of the park beyond the picnic area that you are free to wander. Along the way, you’ll find the old foundation remnants of the old Boy Scout camps, and even a plaque dedicated to former President Gerald Ford.

“Mr. State Park”

While almost all state parks have pavilions you can rent for picnics, we discovered something special about the one at Duck Lake State Park. Many pavilions only go by generic names such as Shelter #3 or Hickory. In this case, it is called the Jack Butterfield Pavilion.

Historic Plaque
Tribute to Jack Butterfield

Jack Butterfield was known as “Mr. State Park” for his 40-year career with the state park system, serving as a park manager for many different parks in the state, as well as the Parks Division Chief for the DNR. A native of Muskegon, he was instrumental in purchasing the land and developing Duck Lake State Park (along with many other parks). Upon his death, his family petitioned the state to have something in the parks named in his honor. A plaque describing all this and more hangs in the pavilion.

What’s extra special is that the day Ari and I visited Duck Lake State Park, there was a group setting up for a family reunion in the pavilion. Being the Chatty Cathy that I am, I struck up a conversation with one of the attendees. Lo and behold – it was Jack Butterfield’s relatives!

It was exciting to share with them the state park project we were doing, and talk to them about their dad. We interviewed a couple of his children who had fond memories of growing up in the state parks, as that was when the park managers actually lived in the parks. They told us how they’d do nightly campfire sing-alongs with park guests, play in the creeks, go hiking in the woods and generally just be outside in the parks all the time. This impromptu conversation was one of the highlights of our entire year-long project.

I’m a big proponent of asking questions and striking up conversations when you’re visiting someplace new – whether that be with park rangers, camp hosts, locals or just other guests – you never know what you’re going to learn.

We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. We have a video about Duck Lake State Park 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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