Ludington State Park hands down is one of my favorite Michigan State Parks to visit and camp at. It’s nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan and surrounded by many forests and dune land. Growing up, my family camped here numerous times over a span of 15+ years. Needless to say, this park holds a special place in my heart filled with great memories. Now I can’t wait to create my own memories here with my own family.
Our Ludington vacation was scheduled to start on Friday and run through Tuesday night. Me, my wife Grace, and our 3-month old daughter Alaina stayed at Ludington State Park while my parents, aunt, Grandma, and cousins stayed in a condo right in Ludington (more on that to come later). Unfortunately, this vacation didn’t start on Friday nor end on Tuesday night. A few days before we left, one of my uncle’s passed away from a long illness. Since his funeral was on Saturday morning, we decided to push back the start of our vacation and leave right after the funeral. Fortunately, all Michigan state parks give you a two-nights grace period for checking in so I didn’t need to make any change to our reservation.
Upon arrival at the state park we made our way to the middle, Cedar Loop. LSP has 3 camping sections: Pines, Cedar, and Beechwood. Cedar is located right in the middle of the park and contains the camp store. It’s location makes it one of our favorites to camp at. Our campsite for this trip was site 120. Online it said that the site was very shady and a dirt lot. I don’t think saying it was a “dirt” lot did it justice. It had rained a few days before our trip so parts of our lot was more of a mud site. But it wasn’t too bad and sufficed for our short trip. But if I was going for more than a week, I might stay clear of lot 120 (especially if rain was in the forecast). We were under a little bit of a time crunch to get our campsite set up since we needed to be at the condo around 5:30, but we managed. A big shoutout though goes to my parents for taking Alaina off our hands while we set things up.
The main street, Ludington Ave/M-116, runs all the way to the City Park on the lakeshore. At the west end of town, you will find House of Flavors, a Wesco gas station and behind it One Ludington Place, a condominium plaza with condo’s that can be found and rented online. Like I mentioned earlier, members of our family were staying here for the week so we came back here for dinner on Saturday night. Shortly after dinner everyone in our group headed back to our campsite for a campfire. But before that, we headed to the amphitheater that exists at the state park right over the footbridge that crosses the river across from Cedar Campground. The Friends of Ludington State Park organize a set of local performers to play throughout the summer. We were treated to the sounds of a local band that played covers of songs from a wide variety of genres. My favorite was their cover of Shut Up and Dance. These concerts can be hit or miss, but this one was definitely a hit. A pro tip from me would be to at least go over to the amphitheater and check out the performer. It is not uncommon for people to come and go during the show so you wouldn’t feel weird leaving. Rain and storms had been threatening all day long but held off that evening. After everyone left, Grace and I started to pick things up and noticed my parents vehicle coming back. Unfortunately, LSP has very poor cell phone coverage so instead of calling to tell us about the storms coming, they drove back to suggest we come and stay the night with Alaina at their condo. Since this was to be the first night in a tent with an infant, we decided not to chance it and took them up on their offer. It was nice to spend the night out of the rain and wind.
I was really excited on Sunday to get up and spend a typical day at Ludington of hiking, tubing down the river, and sitting on the beach. Unfortunately, the weather was quite chilly the entire day (highs in the upper 60s) so we had to adjust our plans slightly. Since we woke up Sunday morning in my parents condo, we hung out there that morning which was highlighted by my wife Grace teaching my cousins, Grandma, aunt, and mom to make bath bombs. It was a great vacation activity because it doesn’t take too much room to pack up. You just need to be ready to have your room smell like what essential oil flavor you put in them. After lunch, we decided to head back to the state park where we hiked on one of my favorite trails of all time…the Island and Lost Lake Trail.
The Island trail and Lost Lake trail are two separate trails you can connect together to make a loop that goes around Lost Lake, which is a separate, more isolated area of Hamlin Lake and is near Beechwood Campground. If you keep it moving, you can finish the trail around an hour, but more relaxed walkers might take closer to an hour and a half. The reason I like this trail so much is the views of Hamlin Lake you get from the trail.
After hiking, we headed back to our campsite for dinner and a campfire. We also capped the night off by going down to the Lake Michigan beach to watch the sunset. Even though the day was quite cold, it turned out to be a pretty fantastic sunset. I would love to say Grace and I kept Alaina in our tent that night for our first night ever tenting as a family…but we had mom and dad take her back to the condo once again 🙂 It was colder than normal for July in Michigan and we were concerned about the lack of warm clothes which we had forgotten to pack. We also forgot a heater we were going to use. So Grace and I stayed warm under our sleeping bags Sunday night while Alaina stayed warm in the condo.
Monday morning Grace and I finally got to wake up in the campground. I don’t know about you, but there are few things I enjoy more in this world than waking up in a campground. The air is usually a little bit colder so a hoodie is needed and there is the smell of bacon and coffee surrounding you. Of course I had to make up my own coffee (can’t live without it), popped a bagel in the toaster and took out a book. I love to read while drinking a cup of hot coffee and eating a bagel on weekend mornings. Doing it camping makes it even better.
After breakfast, my family arrived once again at the campsite, but had an added guest this time: my cousin Josh. Josh and his family camped for many years at Ludington and he still enjoys coming up and joining us for the day. Josh loves to hike so we took him on what is considered the hardest trail at Ludington- the Ridge trail (although that claim is up for debate within my own family). If you combine together the Ridge trail and the entirety of the Island trail, you get a trail that runs about 4.5 miles. It lives up to its name as you spend quite a bit of the trail eye level with the tops of trees at the top of a ridge. And of course there is no way to get to the top of a ridge without a lot of climbing up and down of hills. You can now start to see why this one is such a challenge. Josh, myself, my dad, and my younger cousins Hannah and Samantha all tackled this one. Grace decided to stay back with Alaina.
Since the temperature was starting to warm, we decided to go tubing that after noon on the Big Sable River. Now this river runs through populated portion of the state park from Hamlin Lake to Lake Michigan. There is a man-made dam right where it starts so we always get into the river in our tubes at that point. They do sell tubes at the state park but we always bring our own and a hand pump from home. I have to warn you that the river is always cold the moment you get into it, but you eventually get used to it. This trip was no exception. After having the coldness take our breath away, we were floating quite slowly down the river in our tubes. The river usually is quite slow so we paddle with our hands quite a bit. In the past the river hasn’t been very deep (maybe 3-4 feet on average) with a little bit deeper by the footbridge and much shallower (just a few inches) at the wide spot past the footbridge and closer to Lake Michigan. This trip though I found the river to be very deep, likely the cause of the higher Lake Michigan water level. There were many spots along the river where I could not touch and I’m over 6 feet. I’ll be interested to see what happens to the river levels in the years ahead.
That evening we had another campfire and even kept Alaina with us in the tent for the duration of the night. We weren’t quite sure what to expect.
Alaina slept like a champ and woke up at her normal time of 6:00 am to eat. But then we put her back down and she slept all the way until 10:00. Apparently she really likes camping and sleeping in a tent. We only hope that happens in the future. While she was sleeping, Grace and I enjoyed some coffee, reading, and breakfast (of course). Since Tuesday was our last day at Ludington and my legs were hurting me from yesterday’s hike, we decided to take the morning easy. We also started packing some things up while we waited for the rest of the family to arrive.
Like I said earlier, Tuesday was our last day in Ludington and I really wanted to have a beach day at Lake Michigan before we left. So that afternoon we set off for the Lake Michigan Beach in the state park. I’ve been going to the state park for many years now. This is one spot where the dramatic changes that have taken place continue to amaze me. Years ago when Lake Michigan was at a much lower water level, this beach was huge. Now its size is much reduced due to the rising level of Lake Michigan. This can be good because you don’t have to walk as far to get to the water. But the downfall is that more people are crowded together on the beach. The weather this afternoon was wonderful, even if the water was a little cold. But we didn’t let the water temperature stop us from occasionally running into it to cool off. It was a relaxing afternoon of lying in the sun.
As our time on the beach was drawing to an end, Grace and I knew our vacation was coming to an end and it was time to pack up, or at least this is what we thought. After everything was packed up, we set off to leave and Grace starts her car, except it won’t start. It turns out to be a bad battery and unfortunately, all the stores that would sell batteries in town were closed for the night. Fortunately I had the campsite booked for another night yet (pro tip- I always book the campsite for one extra night so we can have an extra day at the beach and not have to leave until the evening) so we left Grace’s car at the site and headed to the condo. At the condo we had dinner and devised a plan. We would go to House of Flavors (my 2nd favorite ice cream in Michigan) and then Grace would take my car home so she could go to work the next day. In the meantime, I would spend the night in the condo and get the battery fixed the next morning.
The next day, things went according to plan and we were able to get the battery replaced. I’m glad it wasn’t anything more severe than that. Once the car was up and running, I headed home with Alaina. This Ludington trip was a lot of fun and memorable, especially since it was the first one with my daughter Alaina. But it was also memorable for being the trip that didn’t start or end the way we had planned.