Michigan State Parks Centennial: Charles Mears

At the end of a side road in the quaint, picturesque, beach town of Pentwater lies the Charles Mears State Park. At the dead-end of a very narrow residential street, the park sits directly on the shore of Lake Michigan, offering sand, sun, and a place to sleep.

Charles Mears State Park is named for Charles Mears, a lumber baron and one of the original settlers of the village of Pentwater. The land he once owned was donated to the state by his daughter Carrie in 1923.

Roughly 50 acres in size, you come to Charles Mears State Park for one reason – to hang out at the beach. Whether you come for an hour, all day, or all week, this is a great place to soak up the sun, build a sandcastle, or catch some waves in the lake (water temperature permitting!) See our video review on the park for more details.

Campground

The state park does offer a campground with 175 sites, just steps away from the beach. Unlike most state park campgrounds, this one is essentially a parking lot built into a sand dune. Each site has a paved pad, but there is no grass whatsoever, it is all sand otherwise. And very little to no shade on most of the sites, with only a handful of trees scattered throughout.

This is one campground where it’s extra important to be a good neighbor, as the sites are stacked on top of each other. This park wasn’t designed to handle the larger rig sizes or tow vehicles, so it will be a tight squeeze, not only in length, but also with slides and awnings, to not encroach on your neighbor’s site.

On busy summer weeks and weekends when the campground is full, it can be hard to maneuver with rigs, trucks, cars, bikes, kids, and dogs filling the place. Remember to take it slow and keep a careful eye out!

The campground’s proximity to the beach means it is a prime spot to watch the sunset or stars at night.

Don’t have a tent or trailer? No problem. Rent the park’s pop-up camper and enjoy the same park benefits.

I should note – you will not want to forget a broom, as sand will be tracked from one end of your RV to the other!

The Beach

But did I mention the point of this park is the beach? Charles Mears State Park is known for its wide white sand beach that abuts the Pentwater Channel. The park fills up quick during the summer, so arrive early to lay your blanket and stake your spot. The water is quite shallow in the swimming area, but pay attention to the flags – it is a known spot for dangerous rip currents, so only go in if the green flag is flying.

Since you’ll likely be there all day, a bathhouse is available with toilets and changing stalls. Plus, there is a little convenience store with drinks, ice cream, and souvenirs. No real food is available, so be sure to pack a lunch.

A playscape with rubberized mat is available near the beach for the younger kids. There are even a couple of tables with umbrellas for the adults to sit at while the kids play.

If you get tired of getting a tan, you can walk on or fish from the channel pier, or watch the boats come in and out between Lake Michigan and the Pentwater Harbor.

There also is a one-mile trail up a sand dune that starts at the back of the campground. This leads to the top of Old Baldy with an overlook and a pretty view of Lake Michigan. Since the dunes are fragile and protected, stay on the marked path and don’t venture off into the rest of the sand dunes.

Final thoughts

Charles Mears State Park is only a short three-block walk to the main street of Pentwater, where you’ll find a typical beach-resort community with gift shops, clothing stores, local restaurants, and my favorite, a couple of ice cream shops.

While a recreation passport is required to enter by car, the park’s proximity and accessibility to the local residential area means a lot of visitors just walk in from the road. The street leading to the park is always lined with cars, bikes, golf carts, and people hauling wagons.

All of this contributes to Charles Mears State Park being extremely busy during the summer with locals, Pentwater visitors, and campground guests. If you’re planning to camp, be sure to get your reservations when they open 6 months in advance. If you’re planning to stop by for the day, come early to get a parking spot.

And don’t forget to walk into town for ice cream!


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