Lake Michigan: The Fresh Coast of the Midwest

*This entry has been adapted from a June 2017 journal entry. It’s a trip that brings back fond memories; one that softened my views on trips oriented around being outdoors. What’s more, Griff was the star of the show – it was our first time traveling with him. Huge props to Ethan, Stew, and Emily for helping me overcome a disdain for camping!

Having spent most of my 26 years in the Midwest, I’ve come to accept that our region isn’t exactly known for its stunning geography. Sure, our topography might actually be useful – like using the 127 million acres of fertile soil to feed people across the globe – but where’s the fun in that? You can’t hike through the miles of corn fields or ski down soybean fields. Midwesterners have to find their thrills elsewhere – which is perhaps why nearly everyone in Ohio has some sort of tie to Hilton Head, SC.

While searching for a weekend getaway, my wife and I wanted to bring our pup to the beach, but weren’t willing to drive for more than half day (#BackProblems). (In case you’re wondering: Yes, this trip was essentially planned around entertaining our dog. This is a judgement free zone, right?) Anyway, we’d heard stories that the Lake Michigan coastline in Michigan was every bit as good as beaches on the Atlantic – perhaps even better: No jellyfish, stingrays, sharks, etc. We were duly warned, of course, that the water would likely be cold during our June visit.

After researching dog-friendly beaches along the cost, we decided our Griffindog would be best served by camping along the coast at Muskegon State Park, where [leashed] dogs were free to roam the beaches, campgrounds, and hiking trails. In a vain attempt to shield my dog-obsessed insecurities, we recruited a couple of #ProFriends to join us and take care of us while camping: Having last gone camping over a decade ago and with dog in tow, I knew we’d need support from experts to avoid the debacle I was anticipating.

Who needs saltwater to enjoy a beach?

Turns out the stories were true: Pristine beaches DO exist in the Midwest! Let the pics speak for themselves:

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Yah, I know what you’re thinking about that last one: “That dog could be Purina’s next Dog Chow model!” It’s true. I’m glad we agree. It’s why I don’t want to take him to Florida: No alligators or sharks to nab him for their afternoon snack in Michigan!

We had a grand ol’ time frolicking in the sand, digging holes, and playing fetch along the coast. None of us were really pumped about getting too deep in the water, but that wasn’t really necessary, anyway.

The coast of Michigan was a landscape of juxtaposition that I found quite perplexing. Gigantic sand dunes full of deciduous vegetation lined the coast, with soft and sandy beaches serving as the transition between dune and lake. Who knew warm sandy beaches and mature oaks could make such a nice couple? Apparently, Michigan owes the creation of its sand dunes to glaciers that brought quartz, strong winds, and the constantly churning lake. Whodathunk? Its something you’d expect to see in the Sahara or the Gulf Coast – certainly not Michigan!

So what else is there to do in Muskegon?

We filled our time with R&R around the campsite, which was in an idyllic valley between dunes and completely covered by a canopy of trees, which made for great hammocking. Hiking the dunes was an experience of its own, even if it meant occasionally pausing to dump out gallons of sand that seemed to accumulate in our shoes. Kayaking down the meandering Muskegon River – courtesy of Guy’s Ultimate Kayak Service – was quite enjoyable as well. Griff sure did enjoy the free ride.

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I can’t recommend Muskegon for its lively downtown… or lackthereof. I made my way to Muskegon via a pleasant bike ride along their trail that winds along the perimeter of the Lake Muskegon (complete with occasional education stops which inform the reader about the landscape or history of that particular site). I struggled to find a proper downtown, as the town seemed to consist of an uneventful 5-block drag surrounded by mid/late-20th century generic homes. After later talking with a local, I learned how most retail and activity had relocated to the periphery suburbs. Shame, what a missed opportunity.

Overall, we enjoyed our three nights in Muskegon. Given the hassle of traveling with a pup, I was doubtful we’d find time to enjoy our “dogcation.” Fortunately, I was quite wrong. Lake Michigan is a unique destination worth experiencing, and provided plenty of enjoyable experiences for both human and dog.

#DogsFirstVacation #Success

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