Michigan State Parks Centennial: Island Lake State Recreation Area

Island Lake State Recreation Area is located in southeast Michigan. At 4,600 acres, it lends itself to feeling more like an “up north” park than a park along the metropolitan I-96 corridor in Livingston County.

One of the reasons for this is the vegetation, water, and vastness of the park, as well as the activities it has to offer. From families to fishermen, you won’t be bored here. Which probably explains why this is the third busiest state park in Michigan, with more than 1.09 million annual visitors. 

The beach

Island Lake Recreation Area is mostly a day-use park. While a few overnight accommodations are available (see more below) there are no modern or rustic campgrounds. 

In what I’d consider the “main day-use area” you will find a large grassy area and a sandy beach along Kent Lake. A small playground and volleyball nets are nearby. 

Picnic tables and grills are available, and a decent number of trees provide shade for hot summer days. When we visited, nearly every picnic table had been spoken for. Many had been pushed together to be used for graduation parties, family reunions, or general group outings. A few picnic shelters are available to rent as well. 

Beach and day-use area at Island Lake State Recreation Area

We noticed a few families had brought small pop-up canopies or sun tents. This is a really good idea if you aren’t lucky enough to grab a spot in the shade and plan on spending the day. Others had brought hammocks or comfortable beach chairs to relax in.

Water activities

If hanging out by the beach isn’t your thing, but you still enjoy water activities, there are kayaks and canoes available to rent. Or feel free to bring your own. There are three lakes — Kent, Island, and Trout lake. All three are vailable for paddling and fishing. The Huron River also runs through the park for 5 miles.

The Huron River Water Trail is 104 miles long, from Milford to Lake Erie. It provides inland paddling opportunities for people to experience the river’s natural environment on a day, weekend or week-long trip. The section that runs through Island Lake Recreation Area is pretty slow-moving. We witnessed people in canoes, kayaks, inner tubes, and even a standup paddleboard. At one of the canoe access sites, the river is shallow enough to allow for wading and playing in the water.

An extremely unique feature of Island Lake is the canoe-in campground. The only way to access this campground is via the river. It is one of four canoe campgrounds located along the Huron River Water Trail. 

Other than the canoe campground, the only other camping available at Island Lake is one cabin and an organizational campground. 

Hiking, biking, shooting

For those who enjoy hiking or mountain biking, Island Lake Recreation Area offers a nice assortment of trails. More than 20 miles total goes through both dense forest and open meadows. The biking trails are well-known and on the day we visited a mountain biking race was being held in the park. You can even ride your bike on a connector trail to the nearby Kensington Metropark, a huge county park that also offers many activities. 

We didn’t visit but want to point out that a shooting range is available via a separate park entrance. You can’t see it from the beach, but you may hear gunshots every now and then. Luckily, it mostly becomes white noise after a few minutes. 

Final thoughts

Island Lake State Recreation Area is a very popular park, so plan to arrive early on summer weekends as the parking lot fills up fast. Due to popular demand, the park recently changed its hours to open at 6 a.m., instead of the usual 8 a.m. This is a testament to how many visitors love and use this park. For up-to-date information on park happenings and events, check out their Facebook page

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