Memorial Day Weekend at Charles Mears State Park in Pentwater, Michigan. –May 22 – 25, 2015
About Mears State Park: Charles Mears State Park is a small 50 acre unit in Pentwater, Michigan. The main attraction is the almost 2,000 feet of beautiful sandy Lake Michigan beach. The park also has 175 campsites that are all only steps from the water. The campground is fairly open with paved pull-offs backing into nice sandy sites. The main beach area has a bathhouse and a new playground area for the kids. There is also a beach concession where you will find all the typical items including firewood and ice. The south end of the park borders the channel connecting Pentwater Lake to Lake Michigan. Taking the channel walkway toward town is popular evening activity. The nice little downtown area is only about a 0.5 mile from the park. Here you will find several restaurants, many of which have outdoor seating, boutique shops and at least 3 ice cream places.
The park land was originally owned by lumber baron Charles Mears. According to Visit Pentwater, “he operated 15 mills and built five harbors along the western coast of Michigan. In order to aid his lumber business, Mears dug a wide channel for the Pentwater River going to Lake Michigan.” After he passed the land went to his daughter and 28 years later she donated the land to the State of Michigan in 1923.
This was our second time camping at Mears State Park and both times we found it to be a party park. This most likely because as you travel north up the coast of Lake Michigan this is the first State Park that does not have any alcohol restrictions. All the sand and sun makes this a destination where everyone sets up and stays put for the weekend, or even the week in mid summer. All the party music and disco lights didn’t bother us too much and they usually shut them down at a reasonable hour. However, if you are looking for quiet and solitude this probably isn’t the place for you. Overall we like the area and the location. We will probably be again, just not on a holiday weekend.
Mears State Park Campground
We arrived in Pentwater around dinner time and made quick work of getting everything setup. We stayed in site 127 which is way at the end of the last loop to the north. When we made our reservation all the sites up front right be the beach were all ready taken so an outside site on the end was the next best option. Also, the tight curve in the road naturally gives these site a little more space in between them.
Right behind our site there was a wall of sand that must get pushed back every spring. After climbing up the wall it was about 200 feet on a trail through the dune grass to the beach. This spring the Lake Michigan water levels were at a 17 year high and by the beach it was about an 8 foot drop off down to a narrow strip of sand. We didn’t have beach weather while we were here, but if we did we would have had to go up front to the main beach area where there was still about a 100 foot width of nice sand.
Almost all the the campsites at Mears are surrounded by beach sand. It didn’t take long for Reid to get out the bag of sand toys and start digging.
Fat Bike Beach Ride
When I walked over the dune to checkout the Lake it was almost perfectly flat and with no breeze. I was a little tired from working all week, but the conditions were too good to pass up so I got the fat bike out for a beach ride. I have learned in the past to get out when you have the opportunity because the conditions can change quickly along Lake Michigan.
There was just enough beach left for riding in some spots. I think if there would have been waves several sections would have been impassable where sections of dune were spilling into the water. The main obstacles I encountered were the stream crossing above, that was deeper than I thought, and a short section of seawall. Since my feet and bottom bracket were already soaked from the stream I just rode out into the water to get around the seawall.
As I neared the Ludington Pumped Storage Power Plant the beach started changing to rocks. At about 6.5 miles I had to turn around when the trees came all the way down to the waterline.
Back near the border of Mears State Park. It ended up being a perfect night for a ride and I was really glad I decided to go out.
My GoPro images of the 13 mile beach ride.
To celebrate the first campfire of the season the girls made “awkward” smores. A few years ago someone accidentally said awkward when they meant to say unusual and they have been know as this ever since.
Before long it was time to climb over the dune to see the sunset.
Mac Wood’s Dune Rides – Silver Lake, MI
The next morning was sunny, but cool and breezy. We decided to take a drive down to Silver Lake. It was about a 25 minute drive from Pentwater to our first stop at Mac Wood’s Dunes Rides. This has been on our list for a while and this seemed like the perfect weather to finally do it.
We bought our tickets and then had about a 15 minute wait. This gave us time to checkout the old dune buggies in the museum and the gift shop.
We were soon heading down the road and crossing the Termite Bridge into the sand.
After a short trail through the trees you breakout into the amazing open dunes.
This guy was having a great time.
At about the halfway point you take a short stop on the beach to stretch your legs and take pictures.
The classic family pic by the truck.
Climbing up to the highest point of the dune ride.
Here are a couple short video clips and a few more pictures from the ride.
Overall the Mac Wood’s Dune Ride was better than I expected. It was a fast and fun ride with great scenery. The kids loved it. Their season runs from mid-May through early October. In the summer hours the hours are 9:30 am to 8 pm. Make sure to check their website during the shoulder seasons. Current rates are: $18 ages 12 and over, $12 ages 3 to 11 and ages 2 and under are free.
After the dune ride we drove up the road to the Little Sable Point Lighthouse Park to eat our lunch. We were a little surprised that there were not picnic tables at this park. We ended up just sitting in the back of the van and on the fence while we ate.
This park is mainly used as access to a nice stretch of sandy beach. There are a couple of pit toilets on the north end of the parking lot and a paved path leading to the lighthouse and the beach. The lighthouse was also open and you could climb to the top of the tower for $5 donation to the lighthouse keeper society.
After lunch we walked down to see the lighthouse and beach. Then we moved on to go to the hiking area at Silver Lake State Park. However, when we pulled into the Dune Pedestrian Parking area it was full and there were several other cars waiting for spaces to open up. We were too impatient to wait so we headed back our campsite. We decided it would be better to come back another time when it wasn’t so busy. We had hiked the dunes a few others times and I still wanted to try and get a mountain bike ride in because the weather forecast was not looking good for the following day.
If you have not walked through the Silver Lake Dunes it is a unique experience and we highly recommend doing it. See the map on theSilver Lake State Park page for more details.
When we got back Reid was excited to checkout the new playground by the beach at Mears State Park.
Pentwater Pathway Mountain Biking
Just before dinner I drove over to do a quick loop around the Pentwater Pathway on my bike. The trailhead is about 4 miles south of town on N 64th Ave. It is close enough that you could bike there from the campground, but I drove over to save time. There is a small brown sign on the right side of the road marking the entrance. Then you follow a narrow dirt road back for about a 0.25 mile until it opens up to a small sandy parking area. The start of the trail is not marked, but look for the bench in the photo above and follow this spur trail back to the main loops.
After I made it back to the main loops the trails I found the trails easy to follow and most intersections were marked with the map above.
The Pentwater Pathway was originally developed for cross country skiing so it is fairly wide to allow for grooming. Overall I thought is was fun ride with enough hills and variation to keep it interesting. With plenty of room on the sides of the single track it would be a good place to take the kids or beginner mountain bikers.
I forgot to recharge my GoPro Camera so I was not able to capture any video of this ride to share.
I first did the outside loop in the clockwise direction which is about 5 miles. Then I played around on some of the inside loops and cut backs to get in a few more miles. This isn’t really a destination trail, but if you are in the area it is worth taking a spin around and checking it out. It looked like there were several other dirt roads and 2 tracks that you could also explore in the area. I wasn’t able to find a detailed trail map online, but here is a map of the Pentwater State Game Area.
After dinner we rode our bikes into downtown Pentwater to checkout the shops and get some ice cream. It is a nice little area that really has everything you need when on vacation. We could listen to live music as we walked down the sidewalk and ate our treats. If we didn’t have our little friends with us we could have easily sat outside on the deck, ordered some beverages and listened to the band all night.
Back at the campground we had another nice sunset and more perfect campfire weather.
The next morning we had an easy breakfast and then it was Mom’s turn to get out on her road bike.
The rest of us spent the morning taking it easy at the campground. When we went down to the beach we could see dark clouds starting to come across the Lake. The beach didn’t last long because we were soon swarmed by gnats. We spent the rest of the morning riding bikes and visiting the pier and playground.
Shortly after we finished eating lunch the rain started and we had to go inside the camper to read and watch movies.
The Ludington Pumped Storage Power Plant
After a couple hours in the camper we were getting stir crazy so we decided to go for a drive up Lakeshore Dr. towards Ludington. We stopped to see the Ludington Pumped Storage Power Plant. Just north of the facility there is a parking lot. There are paved walking paths that take you to the Lake Michigan and reservoir overlooks. We put on our rain coats and went to check things out.
We first took the path to see the lake overlook. There is a pedestrian bridge that takes you back over Lakeshore Drive to an area with displays that explain how the Pumped Storage Plant works. The plant takes the extra energy that is produced during low demand times and uses it to pump water from Lake Michigan up into there reservoir. Then during peak energy usage the water is released back down to the Lake turning 6 turbines that drive electric generators. Basically it is a giant battery that allows the power company to quickly respond to changes in energy demand.
Next we climbed up the steep path to see the reservoir.
The overlook has a building that allowed us to get out of the rain while we checked it out.
The man made reservoir is pretty impressive. It is 842 acres and can hold up to 27 billion gallons of water.
Regan just started a MyMichiganTripsKids YouTube channel. This is her first video about the Pumped Storage Plant…she seems to be a natural at this so we will see where it goes. Make sure to stop her channel and like the video.
After our drive we made our way back to the Brown Bear in Pentwater for their famous burgers. We were happy to grab the last open table in the back corner. The noisy small town bar atmosphere was perfect for our crew. The burgers were good, probably not the “Most amazing burger ever” like some of the reviews said. But, overall it worked for us.
After dinner it was still raining. We walked around town a little more and then headed back to the camper where it was more movies and reading to end the day.
Old Baldy – Mears State Park
The next morning was Memorial Day and everyone was packing up. We had a fairly short drive home so we were not really in a hurry. After breakfast we walked over to climb the Old Baldy Trail. The trail starts right across the road from the bathhouse in the campground.
The trail starts by climbing up stairs and boardwalks to a deck with partially obstructed view of the harbor and Lake Michigan. After the deck you follow the short section of trail shown above to the top of Old Baldy.
Staying true to it’s name, there is an open sandy area at the top with a better view of the Lake.
From here it is just a short walk, or run, down the front of the dune back to the campground. The trail comes out by the park maintenance buildings a few hundred feet up the road from where you started. The entire loop is probably less than a 1/2 mile.
Good thing the sand is soft…
After climbing Old Baldy we took one last walk out the end of the pier while Ried took advantage of last call at the playground. Then we went back and hooked up the camper and our first camping trip of 2015 was in the books.
Even though the weather did not cooperate we had a great time in Pentwater. It is always nice to camp right by the beach and there seemed to be enough to do in the area to keep us busy. It is also an easy drive down to Silver Lake or up to Ludington for the day. Campsites at Mears State Park fill up quick, so plan on making reservations 6 months in advance if you want to visit in the summer season. Next time we are hoping for some beach weather.
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