William Mitchell State Park in Cadillac is popular for camping, fishing, and boating. There’s no wonder since two lakes surround the state park — Mitchell Lake and Cadillac Lake.
Cadillac Area History
Originally called Cadillac State Park, this was one of the first 25 state parks in the state of Michigan. It was dedicated in either 1919 or 1920, depending on which source you look at. But, either way, it was an early one!
Today, the 334-acre state park bears the name of William W. Mitchell, an 1890s lumber baron who operated sawmills in the area and was a nephew of city founder George Mitchell. That’s why we have Cadillac Lake and Mitchell Lake.
A unique feature of the state park is a canal built back in the lumbering days that connects the two lakes. Dug in 1873 at the direction of George Mitchell, the Clam Lake Canal allowed felled trees to be floated from Lake Mitchell to lumber mills on Lake Cadillac.
That canal still exists, and today it runs through Mitchell State Park. In fact, it runs right along the campground where campers can dock their boats. An accessible fishing pier is located at each end of the canal.
Day-Use Area at Mitchell State Park
Note that this is one of those state parks where the campground and the day-use area are in two different locations. They’re actually across M-115 from each other. M-115 is a state highway that runs through the town of Cadillac and it’s pretty busy. You’re going to hear some road noise from it in the campground so be aware of that.
However, the state park also provides a walkway along the canal, which runs under M-115. This allows you to easily get from the campground on Lake Cadillac to the day-use area on Lake Mitchell.
At the day-use area on Lake Mitchell you can find a sandy beach, boat launch, picnic facilities, a pavilion, and a playground.
Because of the canal and the walkway, you can get between the day-use area and the campground with minimal effort on foot or by boat. However, if you want to drive to the day-use area, you’re going to have to pull out on M-115 and then get across the road, crossing traffic in the process.
Camping at Mitchell State Park
There are about 220 campsites in the campground and there’s not a lot of privacy. But it’s still a really popular place. People like going to Mitchell State Park for boating, fishing, and hanging out together.
So, if you have friends and family that you want to camp with, get a group together. I saw many people who got sites near each other and set them up in a quadrant to hang out together.
Some sites offer 50-amp service but most are 20- and 30-amp. A few are ADA accessible, which means they tend to be very level and often are paved.
The campground also includes a sandy beach on Lake Cadillac, a boat launch and a playground. Another unique amenity in the campground is an accessible kayak/canoe launch for access to Lake Cadillac.
Small Hiking Trail
Because of its location in northern Michigan and with the lakes and swampy areas around them, you are going to find that mosquitoes love Mitchell State Park, too.
You’ll mainly find them in the woods behind the Heritage Nature Trail. It’s about two and a half miles long. I only made it in about 100 yards before being driven out by mosquitoes. It had rained earlier in the day before I tried the hike, so my timing was a contributing factor!
From what I saw, it seems to be a nice flat trail that is wood-chipped. So, it could be a nice spot to go and wander around on the trail and its boardwalks. The map indicated there are a series of bridges, so be sure to inquire with a park employee about accessibility if you have mobility challenges.
The trail is located behind the Carl Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center, which is across a small road from the campground. It’s sort of a mix between a museum and an educational center for hunting and fishing.
Johnson Nature Center
The Carl Johnson Hunting and Fishing Center is nice inside. It documents the history of hunting and fishing and you should check it out if you go to Mitchell State Park.
In the museum section, they have taxidermy animals that show you what wildlife is like in northern Michigan. They also have a space on fishing to show you what’s available in the Great Lakes and the inland lakes.
The Center caters to the campers because they’re right across the road. But they pull in people from all over the state for their various outdoor, hunting, and fishing classes. Activities run all through the summer, including daily programs for people to learn more about the outdoors and wildlife.
The Center also holds hunter safety classes so people can learn what they need to know if they plan to go hunting for everything from bears to much smaller critters.
They also work with local school groups to help them learn more about wildlife and northern Michigan. Lessons focus on how to do the right thing in nature and enjoy everything it offers. So, I would check it out if you’re camping at the state park or just happen to be in the area.
Not Serene But Still Great
Cadillac is in an area of northern Michigan where, as soon as you get outside of the city limits, you’re going to be in a wilderness area. There is a lot of wildlife in the area, and it’s well known for hunting, fishing and ORV opportunities.
But, despite being in northern Michigan, I would not consider Mitchell State Park to be in a serene area that you might think you would find. Being located right outside of Cadillac’s city limits and directly along M-115, it can seem like a hectic place to camp.
However, it is a very popular park for boating and fishing, plus there are beaches on both inland lakes. In the winter, the area is popular for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice-fishing.
If you’re looking for a fun place to hang out with friends and family and make a weekend of lakeside fun, this might be the place for you.
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