Top Lake Michigan Getaways: Ottawa Beach

The simple life
Windmill Island


olland State Park’s centerpiece attraction is the place you were dreaming about in February, when you had serious beach time on the brain and all you craved was sand, sun, water, and sky. Ottawa Beach stands so broad and brilliant, on midsummer afternoons the sight of it hurts the eyes. It could pass for the Sahara if the mountainous dunes weren’t blanketed by a winsome green mane and sprouting the occasional whisker of hardwood. And if it weren’t for that glorious, exhilarating Great Lakes breeze.

Beachaholics want to stay outside, reveling in it. And they can, thanks to the park’s tidy little Camper Cabins, plopped down on a pile of sand behind a dune, just paces away from the surf. These are upgrades from Michigan’s typical beach campgrounds, crowded with tents and RVs. Here, as the day-users pack up and drive away by 10 p.m., you get to stay, under the stars, roasting marshmallows, with a roof and a bunk waiting. It’s camping for people who don’t love to camp.

As close as you are to nature, Ottawa Beach does have one manmade landmark: “Big Red,” a commanding lighthouse standing sentinel over the channel that connects lakes Macatawa and Michigan. When you see the crimson set against a blue sky, next to the billowing white sail of a passing boat, you will have to admit that camping has its privileges.

Distance: 242 milesOttawa Beach Map

Travel Time: 4.25 hours

Getting There: A day pass to Holland State Park (2215 Ottawa Beach Rd., 616-399-9390) costs $9, even for cabin-renters.

Stay: Both of the park’s clean, two-bedroom Camper Cabins (800-447-2757, $86 per night) sleep seven on built-in bunks with thin pads (BYO bedding) and include a microwave, a refrigerator, a covered porch, a firepit, a charcoal grill, ceiling fans, and a picnic table. What they do not include: air-conditioning, running water, and a bathroom (a fully equipped showerhouse is close at hand). Location, people. 

Play: The Macatawa Boat House (Ottawa Beach Road just outside park entrance, 616-834-3033) offers a change of scenery with kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals (from $10 hourly), allowing for exploration of the Lake Michigan shore and the banks of the Macatawa River. Landlubbers can stick to the state park’s hiking trails, a mix of sand, boardwalks, stairs, and an inspiring overlook at Mt. Pisgah dune.

Eat & Drink: Less known than acclaimed New Holland Brewing is next-door neighbor Our Brewing Company (76 E. 8th St., 616-994-8417), a small-batch outfit in a hip storefront that fills flights and pints with inventive, playful beers like the Good Life Granola Cream Ale and Peanut Butter Molasses Porter.

Sightsee: If you start to get antsy, take in some of Holland’s noted Dutch heritage at Windmill Island Gardens ($8; 1 Lincoln Ave., 616-355-1030). You will find an 18th-century working windmill, imported piece-by-piece from the motherland and reconstructed onsite; a tour of the windmill’s guts by a friendly guide who wears wooden shoes; an Old World main street and a shop filled with imported foodstuffs and locally crafted treats; and lush fields of vibrant flowers. A little kitschy, yes, but it will win you over.