Michigan State Parks: Interlochen

Two people by Interlochen State Park sign

Interlochen State Park has the distinction of being Michigan’s first state park. It actually opened in 1917 as “The Pines.” That’s two years before the official Michigan State Parks Commission was created and helped start the wonderful park system we know today.

Historical sign about Interlochen State Park

The state park sits on approximately 200 acres of land originally planned as a subdivision. In 1914, Edward Buckley and William Douglas had a plan to turn the land into summer cottages and plotted out 53 lots for $150 each. However, between World War I and the Great Depression, people weren’t investing or buying so they planned to cut the trees for lumber.

Instead, local hotel owner Willis Pennington offered Buckley and Douglas to buy the land for the price of the timber.

Pennington took that idea to the state Legislature and somehow convinced lawmakers to pay for the land. They agreed and in 1917 the 200 acres of virgin timber fell under state control as a park.

Two years later, after the creation of the Michigan State Parks Commission, Interlochen State Park became the first official state park.

Location, Location, Location

Interlochen State Park is located south of Traverse City and just east of Lake Michigan in northwestern Michigan. This makes it a prime location for those who want to visit area attractions such as the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Traverse City Cherry Festival, or the many wineries in the area.

The park sits between two lakes, with the day-use area and modern campground on Duck Lake and the rustic campground on Green Lake.

Auditorium at Interlochen Center for the Arts
One of the outside auditoriums at Interlochen Center for the Arts

The state park also is located directly across the street from the world-famous Interlochen Center for the Arts. This is a year-round boarding school that offers summer-long camps for talented musicians, singers, artists, and actors.

Student and faculty performances and exhibitions are a daily occurrence during the summer, many of which are free for the public. You also can attend paid shows by famous performers. Past artists have included Capitol Steps, Josh Groban, Reba McEntire, and Lady Antebellum.

Day-use area

Beach and Duck Lake
Interlochen State Park Beach on Duck Lake

The day-use area at Interlochen State Park has a well-maintained sandy beach and a designated swimming area on Duck Lake. A grassy area for blankets and towels also is available near the beach. A playscape, swings, and slide, as well as a metal train, are perfect for the kids to enjoy.

Children on playground

A well-stocked camp store has food, clothing, gifts, and camping supplies.

Interlochen State Park has a very nice selection of handicap-accessible features for visitors. At the beach, both a mobi-wheelchair and wheelchair-friendly boardwalk are available to get you down to the water’s edge.

At the nearby boat launch, there is a handicap-accessible kayak/canoe launch. Users sit on a bench and scoot out over their boat, which lowers down as you get to the end allowing you to slide into your boat.  

Camping options at Interlochen

Interlochen State Park boasts the largest number of camping sites of any state park, with more than 430.

Both modern and rustic campgrounds are available at Interlochen State Park and both are very popular all summer long. On clear nights you can even hear the students at the art center practicing. (Remember, they are very talented, so you’ll want to listen!)

The modern campground has 381 sites in two separate loops. There are some decent hills in the campground where you’ll need to watch your brakes if hauling a heavier rig. The sites themselves aren’t too bad but some leveling will likely be required. Quite a few of the sites have 50-amp service.

Since the park was constructed in the virgin timber forest, the majority of the sites are tucked in between large mature trees that provide plenty of shade. Narrow roads and trees will require some larger rigs to maneuver carefully into some sites.

Tents in rustic campground

The rustic campground is located across the road along Green Lake. There are 50 sites in two loops. While a few of the sites are near the road, and there isn’t a lot of privacy between campsites, it’s a much quieter experience.

Two camper cabins and two rent-a-tents also are available. A boat launch for Green Lake is located at one end of the rustic campground.

Overall impression of Interlochen

Interlochen State Park should be on everyone’s list. While it’s a smaller park acreage-wise, its location can’t be beat. Situated between two lakes, there are multiple options for fishing or swimming, two different styles of camping, and plenty of activities within an hour’s drive of the park.

Make sure you make your reservations early, especially during the prime concert and festival seasons in the surrounding towns.

We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. (We have a video about Interlochen 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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