Ludington State Park: Stunning Beaches, Lighthouse, Sand Dunes, Hiking & Camping Make this a Must-Do Destination

Ludington State Park Lighthouse

Ludington State Park in Michigan

One of Michigan’s most popular state parks, Ludington State Park is the perfect destination if you love sand dunes, epic beaches, scenic hikes, camping, fishing, or outdoor recreation in general. This park even has a canoe trail!

Ludington State Park Beach
Lake Michigan Shoreline at Ludington State Park

This 5,300-acre paradise draws thousands of visitors on a year-round basis.

Ludington State Park Beechwood Campground
Ludington State Park – Beechwood Campground

Many come to camp in the summertime, float the Big Sable River, or sample the miles of sandy Lake Michigan shoreline.

It’s a prime example of the state’s wonderful Lake Michigan beaches.

The park is sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake.

Hamlin Lake at Ludington State Park
Hamlin Lake

Ludington State Park

8800 M-116, Ludington, MI 49431

Ludington State Park FAQs

How much does it cost to get into Ludington State Park?

A non-resident day pass at a state park in Michigan, including Ludington State Park, is $10 and is good for entry and re-entry to any state park for the day.

Michigan residents can opt to pay $17 per vehicle (at the park gate) for a Michigan Recreation Passport. It will valid until their next license plate renewal.

Residents can also get the yearly recreation passport/park pass for $12 at the Secretary of State when renewing a license plate.

Michigan Recreation Passport

A Michigan Recreation Passport or Non-resident Day Pass is required to enter Ludington State Park.

Can you swim at Ludington State Park?

Yes, you can swim at Ludington State Park. There are two lakes – and two beaches – here: Lake Michigan Beach and Hamlin Lake Beach.

Choose Hamlin Lake for windier days or when Lake Michigan hasn’t warmed up yet. Head to the big lake when the flag is green or yellow. More on these beaches below.

Is alcohol allowed at Ludington State Park?

Yes, if you are 21 years old or older, you may consume alcohol within the park as long as long you are following general state laws concerning possession and/or consumption of these beverages.

Is Ludington State Park really old?

If you consider “really old'” to mean built in the 1930s, then yes, Ludington State Park is pretty old.

The trail shelters were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps around 1935, at the same time the park’s trails were being created.

Ludington State Park Beach House
Ludington State Park Beach House – built in the 1930s

Is Ludington State Park dog-friendly?

Attended, quiet, leashed dogs are welcome to visit the outdoor areas of Ludington State Park.

Dogs may only swim in designated spaces, such as:
• Along Lake Michigan, north of the Big Sable River, as signed – may be subject to closure if piping plovers nest in the area
• Piney Ridge Lake, one-half mile north of Piney Ridge Road’s intersection with M-116
• Lost Lake, north of the Beechwood Campground
• The sandy shoreline of Hamlin Lake on the south side and east of the dam

Where is Ludington State Park?

Ludington State Park is located on the west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, north of Muskegon and south of Manistee.
It’s located about two miles north of downtown Ludington MI.

The park is about 1 3/4 hours away from Grand Rapids, MI.

It’s about a 10-minute drive north from Ludington to Ludington State Park. The park is located at the end of M-116.

Ludington State Park Entrance at the end of M-116
Ludington State Park Entrance at the end of M-116
ludington state park michigan map

Does Ludington State Park have sand dunes?

Yes, there are lots of Michigan sand dunes at Ludington State Park and you can climb on them.

Ludington State Park Sand Dunes
Ludington State Park Sand Dune on the Skyline Trail

10 Best Things to Do at Ludington State Park

Choose from a fantastic menu of outdoor activities at Ludington State Park:

1 – Trek to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse

Open Daily 10 am to 5 pm in warmer months
2022 Season: May 10th through October 24th
Standard Admission to tour Big Sable Lighthouse: $8.00 for adults and $5.00 for students 17 and under.

Clocking in at 112 feet tall, this remote historic 1867 lighthouse and grounds are kept going by the Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association.

Hike or Bike to Big Sable Point Lighthouse

Reaching Big Sable Point Lighthouse is an experience in itself: the road to the iconic structure is closed to most vehicles. Moreover, the path is quite sandy, a long 1.8 miles, and open to the hot sun. More about the lighthouse hike

Ludington State Park Lighthouse
Ludington State Park – Big Sable Lighthouse
Trail to Lighthouse Ludington State Park
Road to Big Sable Lighthouse

At Big Sable Point Lighthouse

Arrive at the lighthouse and you can explore the grounds, tour the original Keeper’s Quarters (now serving as a gift shop), climb 130-step spiral staircase to the top of the tower (fee), watch passing freighters, or explore the surrounding sand dunes and Lake Michigan shoreline.

Big Sable Lighthouse Tower Ludington State Park
Big Sable Lighthouse Tower
Big Sable Point Lighthouse Ludington State Park
Big Sable Lighthouse
Lake Michigan at Big Sable Point Lighthouse Ludington State Park
Lake Michigan at Big Sable Lighthouse

Events & Bus Days to Big Sable Lighthouse

On select afternoons, round-trip bus transportation to the lighthouse is offered. Fee: $5 for adults, $2 for children 12 and under.

Concerts and other special events are also held at the lighthouse on occasion. Big Sable Event & Bus info

2 – Spend Time at the Ludington State Park Beach & Lake Michigan Beach House

The entrance to this state park is a treat – miles and miles of beachy sand dunes stretch before as you drive along M-116, before you even reach the official entrance to Ludington State Park Beach.

Pull off along the road almost anywhere along the way and jump in the lake or watch a sunset – the choice is yours!

Ludington State Park Beach
M-116 leading to Ludington State Park Beach

Ludington State Park Beach

Is this the best beach in Michigan? Some would say so.

Certainly, this beach is a magnet for summer visitors. Miles of sugar-sand Lake Michigan beach make swimming, sunbathing, and sunsets a natural way of life.

The beach by the beach house has a parking lot that often fills to capacity in the summertime. If that happens, try to find an alternate parking spot along the road or in a day-use section of the park.

The only downside to this beach is what created it in the first place – wind. Ludington is a notoriously windy spot in the mitten. If you visit on a day where the winds are too strong on Lake Michigan, opt for Hamlin Lake Beach.

Ludington State Park Beach Beach House
Ludington State Park Beach & Beach House

Ludington State Park Beach House

This building is a piece of history. Constructed in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Ludington State Park Beach House has stood the test of time.

Today, its two stories house an interactive interpretive area with a lounge as well as concessions, two beach wheelchairs, and restrooms.

Lake Michigan Beach House Ludington State Park
Lake Michigan Beach House

Beach House History

This Arts-and-Crafts-inspired building was built using bricks from the old Morton Salt factory in
Ludington.

Ludington State Park Beach from the Beach House
Looking out from the lower level of the Beach House
Inside Ludington State Park Beach House
Inside Ludington State Park Beach House – Upper Level

SWIM SAFE: Ludington State Park Beach Flag Warning System

There are no lifeguards at this park.

Dangerous currents are often present in Lake Michigan – people drown in it every year.

To help you stay safe, the park flies colored flags indicating the level of swimming hazard. Respect these – don’t go in the water on a red flag day. Take caution on yellow flag days – wear a life preserver. Even on green flag days, don’t let your guard down.

See the latest Ludington Lake MI beach conditions

Red Flag Day at Ludington State Park Beach
Red Flag Day at Ludington State Park Beach
Flag Warning System

3 – Explore the Hiking Trails

There’s extensive trail system (18+ miles of marked trails) at this state park.

With varying difficulties and a wide range of trail types, most people will find an appealing hike to try. See the Ludington State Park Trails Map for a look at them all.

In the meantime, here are a few of our favorite trails:

Skyline Trail

0.5 miles – 30 minutes
Easy, with stairs

The Skyline Trail is just south of the Big Sable River. Campers can easily access it via the bridge near the Cedar Campground entrance.

Once at the trailhead, climb a large bank of stairs to reach an elevated boardwalk. The whole trail is a boardwalk system that will guide you along the ridge of a large sand dune.

Skyline Trail Ludington State Park
Skyline Trail

Overlooks are sprinkled along the way, giving you a good look at the near dunes and scrubby jack pines, as well as Lake Michigan and the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in the distance.

Ludington State Park Skyline Trail
Skyline Trail Ludington State Park

There’s even a spot on the Skyline Trail where you can scramble up and down a steep-sloped sand dune.

Skyline Trail Ludington State Park
Sand Dune Climb – Skyline Trail

Lost Lake & Island Trail Loop

2 miles – 45 minutes
Easy with some unlevel ground & several hills.

Water views, boardwalks, pine forests – this hike at Ludington State Park is a favorite for many.

Circling Lost Lake, hikers will find themselves using boardwalks to hop across a series of islands and peninsulas. Benches invite you stop and drink in the peaceful views along this shady trail.

Island Trail Ludington State Park
Island Trail
Island Trail Ludington State Park
Island Trail
Lost Lake Island Trail Loop Ludington State Park Trails Map
Lost Lake – Island Trail Loop Trail Map
Lost Lake Trail Ludington State Park
Lost Lake Trail
Island Trail Ludington State Park
Island Trail

Hike to the Lighthouse

1.8 miles
difficult – sandy terrain
2+ hours

“Let’s hike to the lighthouse” is a big statement at Ludington State Park: the almost two-mile trek is sandy and in full sun.

It’s worth it for the breathtaking views, though.

Big Sable Lighthouse Ludington State Park
Big Sable Lighthouse
Big Sable Lighthouse Ludington State Park
Big Sable Lighthouse
Lighthouse Hike Ludington State Park Trails Map

Hike Details:

  • The road is closed to motor vehicles; you cannot drive to the lighthouse.
  • Mountain bikes or bikes with fat tires can navigate this path. Strollers and wagons with wide tires also will do well here.
  • Plan 2-3 hours for the walk. There are benches along the way and some shaded spots.
  • To find the Logging/Lighthouse road, park at the Beach House, walk past the warming shelter, and into the Pines Campground. In the rear of the Pines Campground, you’ll see the gated Lighthouse Road. This is your trail.
Gated Lighthouse Road Ludington State Park
Access to the Lighthouse Logging Road – Back of Pines Camground
Trail to Lighthouse Ludington State Park
Sandy trail to Big Sable Lighthouse
Trail to Lighthouse Ludington State Park
Road to Big Sable Lighthouse

4 – Float & Paddle

The water invites you to play at Ludington State Park!

From stand-up paddle boards to kayaks to canoes to river tubing, non-motorized options are plentiful. Or, bring a jet ski or pontoon boat to amp up your fun.

Paddling Big Sable River Ludington State Park
Paddling Big Sable River

Ludington State Park Canoe Trail

4 miles – beginner
1-3 hours of paddling
4 portages

Starting at the Hamlin Lake Watercraft rental area, follow posted signs on this four-mile water trail to explore Hamlin Lake’s wetlands, ponds, and marshes. You’ll very likely see wildlife while you paddle.

The Ludington State Park Canoe Trail route includes marshy areas and consequently, requires four short portages – be prepared to carry your canoe. Other than that, the route is protected and suitable for beginners.

Canoe Trail Map

Canoe Trail Ludington State Park
Canoe Trail

Hamlin Concession and Canoe Rental

Dune Grass Concessions operates canoe and kayak rentals at Ludington State Park. Find the rental station at Hamlin Lake. 2022 rates are posted below.

Bikes and rowboats are also available to rent.

Hamlin Lake Boat Rentals
Paddle Rentals & Hamlin Lake
2022 Ludington State Park Canoe Kayak Rentals
2022 Paddle Rental Rates at Hamlin Lake

Float the Big Sable River

You can float the one-mile Big Sable River from Hamlin Lake to Lake Michigan.

Put your tube or kayak in at the dam and enjoy the scenic ride. The river is deep and wide and a paddle is helpful on windy days.

Exit at the mouth of the river or stay and play on the sandy Lake Michigan beach.

River currents can be strong at the river mouth. Follow posted warnings and restrictions when in effect. And, always wear a PDF.

Big Sable River Access Ludington State Park
Big Sable River Access below Hamlin Dam
Tubing Big Sable River Ludington State Park
Tubing Big Sable River
Big Sable River Mouth at Ludington State Park
Mouth of Big Sable River at Lake Michigan
Swimming at the Mouth of the River Ludington State Park
Swimming after tubing the Big Sable River

5 – Run Down the Sand Dune

There’s a big sand dune that you can run down. It’s located on the Skyline Trail and comes with great Lake Michigan views, too.

Sand Dune Climb Ludington State Park
Sand Dune Climb on the Skyline Trail

Pro Tip: If you want to climb an even bigger sand dune, head 80 miles north to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Dune Climb to test yourself!

6 – Catch a Sunset

Almost any spot along the Lake Michigan shoreline promises lovely sunset views, and that includes the expansive Ludington State Park Beach.

Arrive at least 30 minutes before the sun dips below the horizon – and stay at least 30 minutes after – to watch the sky turn various shades of pink, orange and purple.

Bring a flashlight to help you navigate the darkness on your way out.

Ludington Lake Michigan Sunset
Ludington Beach Lake Michigan Sunset

7 – Hamlin Lake Beach, Playground & Canoe Rental

Hamlin Concession and Canoe Rental

Canoes, kayaks, paddle boats and rowboats can be rented at the Hamlin Lake concession and Cedar Campground Store.

For motorized Hamlin Lake boat rentals, like pontoon boats, check with:

Hamlin Lake Boat Rentals3461 N. Lakeshore Dr, Ludington, MI 49431
Waterside Resort3298 North Lakeshore Dr. Ludington, MI 49431
Sunset Bluff Resort6075 N. Victory Park Rd., Ludington, MI 49431
Clark Castle Point Resort6239 Barnhart Rd. Ludington, MI 49431
Hamlin Lake Kayak Rentals
Hamlin Lake Beach

Hamlin Lake Playground and Beach

Hamlin Lake’s shallow, warm, protected waters offer a nice contrast to the Lake Michigan beach at this park, making it a favorite with families.

Hamlin Lake Beach at Ludington State Park
Hamlin Lake Beach
Hamlin Lake Beach Ludington State Park
Hamlin Lake Beach

As an added bonus, the newer playground is waterside, as are the changing rooms and picnic pavilion. Grills and picnic tables are sprinkled throughout, too.

Hamlin Lake Playground Ludington State Park
Hamlin Lake Playground
Hamlin Lake Beach Picnic Table Ludington State Park

8 – Go Fishing

It seems like everywhere you look, someone is fishing at Ludington State Park.

From a riverbank, from a boat, on a bridge – with three water bodies and a variety of fish species to go after, fishing is a prime activity here.

Fishing licenses are required. Also, the Big Sable River does have special regulations regarding what type of fishing gear can be used.

Fishing at Ludington State Park

Popular fishing spots include Hamlin Lake and the Big Sable River.

In Hamlin Lake, people fish for crappie, bluegill, sunfish, large and smallmouth bass, pike, muskies, perch and walleye.

In Big Sable River, anglers try to land Coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead, and perch.

Hamlin Dam at Ludington State Park
Hamlin Dam at Ludington State Park
Fishing at Hamlin Dam Boardwalk Ludington State Park
Fishing Below Hamlin Dam
Fishing at Ludington State Park
Big Sable River Fishing

9 – Pop into a Park Program

Guided activities are an ongoing feature here. To find out what’s going on, consult the Ludington State Park Facebook Page.

Expect outings like hiking, fishing, trivia, archery sessions, lighthouse visits ,and more. Activities vary from week to week.

The park does a great job of posting weekly event announcements in the summer, as well as general park information.

Ludington State Park Park Programs
Example – Ludington State Park Park Programs

Winter activities at Ludington State Park

In the winter, Ludington State Park is a magnet for snowshoe hikes and guided lantern-lit hikes.

Lantern-lit Hikes – Available on select evenings, the lantern-lit hike is about one mile long. 75+ old-fashioned lanterns illuminate the mile-long trail that goes from the warming shelter to the amphitheater. If there is enough snow, snowshoes will be passed out or you can bring your own. Guests are invited to stop for hot cocoa and roast a marshmallow as part of the evening fun.

Additional Winter Activities – Bird watching, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and winter camping. Ludington State Park in one of just a few Michigan State Parks that is open for year-round camping. Plowed campsites in Cedar are available for visitors, as are the park’s three mini-cabins. Water and electricity are available in Cedar, but restroom amenities are
limited to vault toilets.

Snowshoe Hikes – Each weekend, the park interpreter guides visitors through the snowy forests and dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Afternoon and evening hikes are available, so come prepared with a headlamp if you plan on joining
an evening hike. Complimentary snowshoes are provided.

Watch their Facebook page for schedule details and trail conditions. The Friends of Ludington State Park Facebook Page is also a good resource for event information.

Ludington State Park Lantern Lit Hikes in Winter
Ludington State Park Winter Lantern Lit Hikes

Camping at Ludington State Park

10 – Go Camping & Get the Best Merch at the Camp Store

A popular Michigan camping destination, Ludington State Park is home to 4 campgrounds (3 modern, one primitive) for a total of 355 campsites that are almost always booked between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

How to get Camping Reservations at Ludington State Park

Scoring a camping reservation for Ludington State Park is a big win! You can make reservations six months in advance for campsites, and one year in advance for the park’s mini-cabins.

Since all of the sites may be reserved in advance, they often are. The only way to camp here is to make advance reservations – and that takes some strategy.

Start by calling (800) 44 PARKS or going online at the moment reservations open for your desired dates. If that doesn’t work, make an account and set up notifications for your desired camping dates. As time goes by, the reservation system will alert you by email when sites open up. Be prepared to act on these notifications quickly – they are often scooped up within minutes.

Three Main Campground Loops

There are three main campground loops at Ludington State Park: Cedar, Pines, and Beechwood.

Ludington State Park Campgrounds
Campground Map – Not Drawn to Scale

Pines Campground

98 campsites. This is the camping loop closest to Lake Michigan, the State Park Beach, and the lighthouse. Sites 59-97 are located dune side – climb over the dune to Lake Michigan.

Ludington State Park Pines Campground Dune Side Site
Pines Campground – Dune Side Campsite
Ludington State Park Pine Campground Back Loop
Ludington State Park Pines Campground – Back Loop

Cedar Campground

110 campsites. This is the camping loop with the Camp Store, the Camp Host, and the Tent Only Loop. Just outside the Cedar Campground entrance, there’s a bridge over the Big Sable River often used for fishing.

Beechwood Campground

147 campsites. This is the camping loop closest to Hamlin Lake Beach and a favorite among families, especially those with young kids. Easily pick up the Lost Lake/Island Hiking Trail system here.

Ludington State Park Beechwood Campground
Camping in Ludington State Park – Beechwood Campground

Showers and Bathroom Facilities at Ludington State Park Campground

Ludington State Park Campground does have showers and modern bathroom facilities. Campers may use them at no additional cost.

RV Camping at Ludington State Park

RV campers should know that there are no water hook-ups on the campsites. Water is available within walking distance at several locations throughout the campground or at the park sanitation station located at the campground registration building. Electric sites are available with 20/30/50 amp sites

The sanitary dump station is located at the campground registration office, two miles south of the park entrance booth. There are also sanitation stations for portable waste tanks located in the Pines, Cedar, and Beechwood campgrounds.

Tent Camping at Ludington State Park

The tent-only, non-electric Tent Loop is located in the Cedar Campground. It has eight sites and a small playground. Tent campers are also welcome to reserve any electric site in the park as well.

Jack Pine Campground: Hike-In Rustic Camping

The Jack Pine hike-in campsites (there are 10) will give you a taste of backcountry camping or backpacking without the big commitment.

Located on the sandy road to the lighthouse, the Jack Pine Campground requires campers to carry camping equipment almost a mile to their campsite. Each site has a fire ring and a picnic table.

Vault toilets and a water hand pump are the only amenities here.

Jack pine Campground Ludington State Park
Jack Pine Campground

Mini-cabin Camping at Ludington State Park

There are just three mini-cabins available for camping here. If you manage to reserve one, enjoy!

Camp Store at Ludington State Park

If you like cool branded merch, the Ludington State Park Camp Store is the place to go. They also have ice cream and firewood and a few other camping essentials, but the big draw here is the great sweatshirt, mug, blanket, and t-shirt collection they’ve put together. Find the camp store in the Cedar Campground Loop.

Raccoons will Find Your Food

The critters at Ludington State Park will take every opportunity to dig through your goodies if you leave them unattended. They are smart and know how to open coolers and other latched containers. Store food in a camper or vehicle. Don’t put it in your tent or leave it out overnight.

Camping with a Boat

If you’re camping and bringing a boat: The park has very limited overflow parking near the amphitheater for equipment that won’t fit on your site. If these spaces are full, you will have to find a spot outside of the park to park your boat trailer.

Nearby Ludington Things to Do

Drive into downtown Ludington MI and the surrounding areas for additional fun things to do, like:

  • shopping
  • ice cream at the House of Flavors
  • visiting the splash pad
  • watching the big ships go by
  • visit Amber Elk Ranch
downtown ludington mi
Shopping in Downtown Ludington MI

Ludington Hotels

You can enjoy Ludington State Park during the day and sleep in a nearby hotel at night. Here are a few places that visitors love:

Ludington Beach House

120 N Lakeshore Dr, Ludington, MI 49431

About Ludington Beach House: A local developer purchased the former Lakeside Inn of Ludington and remodeled the entire hotel with all-new rooms and queen beds and unique, cottage-chic decor (no two rooms are alike). 

This hotel is across the street from Stearns Park Beach and within walking distance to downtown. The hotel also includes an outdoor, heated pool.

Our room was PERFECT for a family with a separate bedroom and living room (complete with a pullout couch) and two bathrooms. The staff was fantastic; we would definitely stay here again.

Comfort Inn Ludington

5323 US-10, Ludington, MI 49431

For those of you who prefer hotel life, the Comfort Inn gets a big thumbs-up from families (it’s about a 5-minute drive to downtown).

The hotel has a large indoor heated pool, free breakfast, a playground, and a picnic area. Consider booking a family suite, offering extra space. 

Kids will dig their colorful bunk beds. Oh, and it’s pet-friendly.

Ludington Comfort Inn
Bunk Beds at Ludington MI Comfort Inn

Nader’s Motel & Suites

612 N Lakeshore Dr, Ludington, MI 49431

The family-owned Nader’s Motel & Suites, located on Route 116, is another popular option – offering spacious rooms and an outdoor heated pool.

In-town resort atmosphere in-town with the perfect location across from Lake Michigan.

Updated motel with lots of amenities. Walk to downtown, restaurants, marinas, shopping, parks and the car ferry. Free, high-speed Wi-Fi, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers in every room. Full kitchen suites available.

Outdoor heated salt-water pool, picnic area, free bike rental, shuffleboard, etc.

Ludington Pier House Motel

805 W Ludington Ave, Ludington, MI 49431

The Ludington Pier House Motel has one of the best locations in town – a short walk to Stearns Park Beach. It’s also within walking distance to downtown.

You need only walk a bit to capture a Lake Michigan sunset.

Clean, family-friendly motel, with an indoor heated pool. Walking distance to the beach, parks, lighthouse, marina, downtown restaurants and shopping. Family-size rooms. Free wireless internet/ Cable TV Online Specials. 

Holiday Inn Express & Suites

4079 W US-10, Ludington, MI 49431

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