Michigan State Parks: Orchard Beach

State park entrance sign

Orchard Beach State Park is located near Manistee on the northwest coast of Michigan. It sits high on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.

The state park is just a few miles north of the downtown area of Manistee, a cute coastal community known for antique stores, gift shops, and vacation rentals.

How the park got its name

The land that Orchard Beach State Park sits on has seen its share of owners and stories over hundreds of years. Originally an old-growth forest, it was home to Native Americans in the early days.

Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in other parts of Michigan, the lumber barons eventually came through and cleared the land wiping out the entire forest. After the land was no longer suitable for timber, a family purchased the property and built an apple orchard on the bluff above the beach.

In 1921 the state of Michigan acquired the land. When the state park and campground first opened, the campsites were actually in the orchard, which must have been a neat camping experience. Old photographs show tents and trailers nestled among the apple trees.

First known photo of the park in 1922 – note the apple trees. Photo courtesy of the DNR

Today, only a handful of the apple trees are still found in the park, having been replaced by other trees and vegetation as they died out. But the name, Orchard Beach State Park, pays homage to the park’s origins.

No more beach at Orchard Beach

While this park used to have a very wide, expansive sandy beach that drew thousands of visitors, the water has severely eroded the beach and bluff over the past few years.

Man standing by staircase to beach
So sad, no more beach access

A couple of years ago the staircase to the beach was deemed unsafe and closed due to erosion and as of 2019 there is no more beach at all, just a steep drop-off. Erosion-control measures have been taken but there is concern that the erosion will be unstoppable and encroach on the campground.

In fact, one of the highlights of Orchard Beach State Park is a gorgeous 1940’s CCC-era stone pavilion with two big fireplaces. While this wasn’t the case when it was built, the building is now mere feet from the edge of the bluff and is in danger of falling over the cliff into the lake if the erosion isn’t stopped.  

Orchard Beach Campground

Since there is no beach anymore, the primary activity at Orchard Beach State Park is camping. It’s a typical modern state park campground with 166 sites, tall mature trees, and bathhouses. You won’t find any privacy between sites, making it a great park for families and groups of friends wanting to reserve adjoining sites to share tables and tents.

The majority of the sites are grassy with 20/30 amp, but a few have been upgraded to 50 amp, while a small handful are paved for ADA accessibility.

One thing to note about the campground is most of the spots require leveling as the entire place slopes toward the water. There are plenty of tree roots and animal burrows to contend with, and wet spots after a hard rain. Make sure to bring wood or leveling blocks if you have a trailer or motorhome.

If you don’t have a tent or trailer, two cabins are available for rent. One cabin sleeps 6 and the other sleeps 4.

Day-use activities

Since there isn’t a beach to enjoy, this park is no longer really a place for day-use activities unless you are renting the pavilion. There is a small swing set and slide, a sand volleyball court, and a few picnic tables and grills but that is about it.

The Beech Hemlock trail on the other side of the road is a 30-minute self-guided trail in the summer and a separate 2-mile trail is available in the winter for cross-country skiing.

Despite the lack of beach, the overlook provides spectacular views of Lake Michigan sunsets. It also is a great place to sit and watch sailboats or Great Lakes freighters pass by.

View of Lake Michigan
View of Lake Michigan from the bluff overlook

Visiting Manistee

If you do want to hit the beach, there is a nice public beach in downtown Manistee. Even better is the local trolley that will pick you up in the state park and take you to town or on a historic tour.

While you’re in town, be sure to check out my favorite place in the are – the House of Flavors ice cream parlor – 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 Orchard Beach 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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