Grand Mere State Park is not your typical state park. Located directly on the shores of Lake Michigan, it is a day-use-only park for guests to enjoy the sand dunes and the water.
The state park is located in the southwest corner of Michigan way down almost to Indiana. It is right next to busy I-94, making it convenient for visitors to access. Luckily, once you enter the park you cannot hear the road noise so it is very peaceful.
This park isn’t as popular as many of the other state parks along Lake Michigan, so while there is a decent-sized dirt parking lot, you’re likely going to be one of only a handful of people there (which is what makes it special for those who visit.) Be prepared. The only facilities you’ll find at Grand Mere State Park are a vault toilet, a hand pump for water, and a small covered shelter with a few picnic tables.
We discovered that Grand Mere State Park offers spectacular views of Lake Michigan, lots of dunes to hike, and the lake itself to play in. Unfortunately, the park has seen better days. The signs are faded and cracked, the vegetation overgrown, and a few of the features mentioned on the park’s website no longer exist.
The area surrounding Grand Mere State Park is known for being a textbook example of watching land change due to aquatic succession. At one time there were five ancient inland lakes tucked behind the dunes, remnants after the glaciers receded. Over time the lakes naturally dried up and disappeared, replaced by local vegetation. There are currently two and a half inland lakes left.
At one time, South Lake was accessible from a boat launch off the parking lot. During our visit in 2019, we discovered the boat launch is essentially overgrown and abandoned. South Lake has started to become more of a bog. Also, the park benches, which I’m sure once had a lovely view of the lake, are now facing an unsightly tangle of trees and bushes.
According to the DNR, there is a boat launch for access to Middle Lake with possibly three parking spaces. We did not visit that section of the park as it is located down a separate dirt road a few miles away near private residences. So, be sure to call ahead to find out if it’s accessible and what types of boats are allowed.
NOTE: A small park called North Lake Park sits between North Lake and Middle Lake. From my online research, it appears to be well kept with a nice playground, benches, a pavilion and more. I discovered that many people mistakenly think it is the state park, but it is owned and operated by the local township.
Sand dunes and the beach
If your goal is Lake Michigan, be prepared. The hike over the dunes to the water is not for the faint of heart.
Even though the park is a little over 1,100 acres, it is mostly undeveloped land. The trails leading to the beach crisscross over and through steep dunes, with very little shade. This means on hot sunny days the sand heats up immensely and can burn your feet.
We highly recommend closed shoes, a hat, and water for traversing from the parking lot to the lake. This is not a place for wagons or carrying lots of beach paraphernalia. Once you reach the top of the dunes, however, you are rewarded with a great view of the lake, and probably some spectacular sunsets.
The trails are open all year for hiking or cross-country skiing, but none are maintained and few have wayfinding markers.
The extremely high water level of Lake Michigan has taken its toll on the once wide, sandy beach. It is now a pretty significant drop off from the dunes to the water, with no real place for sunbathing or playing. Unlike elsewhere, dogs are allowed on the beach and in the water here.
Neglected Nature Trail
According to the Grand Mere State Park website, there is supposedly a paved half-mile nature trail beginning at the parking lot. However, the trail has been severely neglected. The pavement is in very poor condition – cracked and broken from tree roots growing under and through it. Layers of mud and sand cover the trail in many places.
Additionally, the interpretive signs no longer exist. There are several wooden posts that probably had information on them at one time.
But it is less crowded
Despite its initial impression of being abandoned, Grand Mere State Park gets high reviews from visitors. Many prefer its rustic, secluded atmosphere to its more heavily trafficked neighbors, Warren Dunes State Park and Van Buren State Park. The steep climb to the dunes and lack of modern amenities is a bonus for those seeking smaller crowds and a quiet day by Lake Michigan.
We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. We have a video about Grand Mere 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.