Michigan State Parks Centennial: Bay City

Located on the shore of Saginaw Bay in, appropriately, the town of Bay City, Bay City State Park offers an array of activities for all ages. Whether you like to camp, swim, enjoy nature, or let your kids run amok, this park has it all. If you’d like to see more, watch our review on YouTube here.

Day-use area

A significant portion of the park’s 2,400 acres is home to the day-use section where you can find five shelters to rent for family gatherings, as well as plenty of picnic tables and grills if you just stop by for an afternoon picnic.

Large open grass areas provide room to toss a football, hang out on a blanket, or let your kids burn off some energy.

Two of the most prominent features in Bay City State Park are for the younger (or young at heart) visitors.

“Come Play by the Bay” is an expansive accessible playscape includes lots of climbing features, swings, bridges, ropes, tunnels, and slides to keep kids entertained.

Right next door is a decent-sized splash pad, with a number of water features that dump, spray and squirt water. I didn’t see any age restrictions on the splash pad, so I think adults can enjoy this one, too!

The park is right on Saginaw Bay, so there is considerable beach frontage, but most of it is not suitable for sunbathing or swimming.

This is because a good chunk of the park is very marshy, as the entire city at one time was swampland. In fact, a small lagoon and wetland area sit between the parking lot and the Saginaw Bay.

As a result, a designated bathing/swimming beach section has been established with clean and raked sand for those wanting to get a tan or play in the water. A trail and a couple of boardwalks help you reach the beach from the picnic area.

I do want to note that the day we visited (in June 2019) was extra wet due to all the rain Michigan had received the previous month. We were walking through a lot of standing water and soggy grass in the picnic area. Considering its origins as a marsh, this park appears to have a tendency for water retention.

Campground

Speaking of soggy, we noticed the campground area also seemed wetter than normal. Again, we had received a lot (and I mean a lot) of rain in May and June and the whole state was waterlogged. But the Bay City State Park campground was not in good shape.

Many of the campsites were literally little ponds or muddy pits and you could see huge ruts where vehicles and trailers had gotten stuck. Hoses were run throughout the campground to try and pump the excess water away from the sites and into the woods.

Now I don’t want you to not come to this campground, because it was a lovely campground and would be a nice place when it’s drier. It’s surrounded by woods, with many big sites and some smaller sites to accommodate different camping styles and rigs. We enjoyed seeing different groups, either large families or friends, who had reserved a few of the adjoining sites to create a larger camping compound. That’s a fun way to do it! 

The majority of the sites are all grass and gravel, but there are five that are paved for ADA accessibility.  There are modern upgraded bathrooms that are conveniently located for all campers.  

If you don’t own your own camping equipment, the park has two mini cabins, and even a pop-up tent you can rent. It’s always great to see options available that allow anyone to get outdoors and enjoy our state parks.

It’s important to note that the campground is across the road from the day-use area and beach. You’ll either need to drive over or, if possible, bring a collapsible wagon to haul your towels, chairs and any other items you might want.

Visitors Center

The Saginaw Bay visitors center is a nice feature of the park. Recently upgraded, it features displays and hands-on exhibits about the local watershed and natural features of the coastal wetland and the Saginaw Bay. There is even an observation room for indoor bird watching.

In the summer, the park often hosts outdoor concerts on a stage next to the center.

Tobico Marsh

Bay City State Park is home to one of the largest remaining freshwater, coastal wetlands on the Great Lakes, the Tobico Marsh.

Consisting of wetland woods, wet meadows, cattail marshlands, and oak savannah prairies, it also provides excellent bird watching opportunities during spring and fall migratory periods.

You can access the marsh either via the paved Anderson Nature Trail which begins at the state park visitor center, or you can drive and park at a separate parking lot.

Once there, a trail system winds through the marsh with boardwalks, viewing platforms, and two observation towers. The trails are hardpacked dirt and crushed gravel, are bike-friendly, and, despite the rain, were dry!

The total park trail system is around 5-7 miles with a few spurs, but if you just want to visit the tallest observation tower, it’s around ¾ mile from the small parking lot (1.5 out and back total).

While the trails were dry, I would recommend no flip-flops because of the gravel and having to climb three or four flights of stairs at the observation towers.

Overall Impression

Bay City State Park is the perfect place for families. With the beach, playscape, trails, splash pad, and visitors center, it’s a great way to spend a day and burn off some energy.

Since the campground is across the street from the day-use section, it offers a bit of privacy and quiet, yet is close enough to walk to all the park amenities.

Check this place out if you happen to be near the Tri-Cities.


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