Michigan State Parks Centennial: Watkins Lake

Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve is Michigan’s 103rd state park – making it the state’s newest!

Operated jointly between the state of Michigan and Washtenaw County, this unique partnership provides additional resources for the preservation and maintenance of the land.

The park gets its name from the Watkins family who settled the land in 1834. The Watkins family was involved in the Underground Railroad. They also owned a flag-stop depot on the real railroad that traversed their property. This land is now part of the state park and has the potential for historic preservation or signage. 

Undeveloped — for now

Most of the 1,122 acres of the Watkins State Park and County Preserve are currently undeveloped.

Watkins Lake is the most prominent feature. It is considered a designated waterfowl refuge due to the large number of birds that migrate through twice a year. The area immediately around the lake closes during migration periods. The park’s other attribute is the serene 5-mile walking trail through a mix of wetland, forest, and meadow areas.  

Due to the park’s remote location, it provides plenty of opportunities for wildlife sightings such as deer, rabbits, frogs, and a significant variety of birds and waterfowl.

I strongly suggest a good pair of binoculars or spotting scope, waterproof hiking boots, a hat, and bug spray. Portions of the trail may be wet and buggy after a hard rain.

Future plans

The management plan for the park calls for future development of more recreational opportunities and visitor amenities. With the trail being a former rail corridor, it has the potential to expand the trail system not only through the state park but also connect to nearby communities. Other plans include a non-motorized carry-in boat launch, interpretive programming, and restoring natural habitats.

Unless you are a bird enthusiast, I would not go out of my way to visit Watkins Lake State Park and County Preserve yet. However, it is only five to 10 minutes down the road from both Hayes and Cambridge Junction state parks. So if you’re looking to get some exercise or peace and quiet, this would be a nice afternoon visit.


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