“Trust me, it feels kind of like you’re at the ocean, just with gentler waves, no salt and no sharks,” my husband teased on the way to my first trip to a beach along the Great Lakes. I can’t recall exactly what I expected, but I do remember being stunned at seeing the water along Lake Erie stretch out as far as I could see with sandy beaches, gentle waves and all the trappings of a great beach — sun-drenched groups playing volleyball in the sand, big umbrellas marking sunbathers' spots along the surf and a lighthouse in the distance to frame the whole scene.
7 Gorgeous Beaches in the Midwest
You don’t have to be near an ocean to find an awesome beach this summer. Here's proof.
Thanks to the Great Lakes and other bodies of water farther inland, the Midwest region happens to have some of the most stunning beaches in the country. When you need a beach fix, you don’t have to travel to an ocean; instead, you can take a trip to America’s heartland to enjoy a day in the sun, and sand.
Here are a few beaches that might not be anywhere near an ocean, but are definitely worth breaking out the suntan lotion for a summer visit.
1. Arnolds Park Beach – Okoboji, Iowa
In the far northern part of Iowa near the border with Minnesota, the Okoboji, area is known as Iowa’s Great Lakes. The chain of five connected lakes offer a number of fantastic beach options. Arnolds Beach includes a variety of activities once you’re done swimming or sunbathing – rent jet skis, play volleyball or try parasailing.
2. Clinch Park Beach – Traverse City, Michigan
Bordering four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan boasts impressive stretches of coastline, making it the state with the longest freshwater coastline in the U.S., and depending on the source, the second longest coastline just after Alaska. While there are plenty of beaches peppered along the coastline, for a concentration of some of the most picturesque, head to Traverse City, and take your pick from a few great ones – including the popular Clinch Park Beach. Located right in Traverse City, you can spend some time in the sun, then walk into the cozy downtown for something to eat. Explore nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore while you’re in the neighborhood.
3. Headlands Beach State Park – Mentor, Ohio
With a mile-long stretch of sand (the largest in the state) Headlands Beach State Park in Mentor, OH, is a sunbathers paradise where you can lay out your towel for a day soaking in the rays to the soundtrack of waves. From the beach you can spy the nearby Fairport Harbor Lighthouse.
4. Lake View Beach – Beverly Shores, Indiana
With over 15 miles of shoreline to choose from, finding just the right beach is purely a matter of choice when it comes to visiting the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Many people choose to spend part of the day hiking through the dunes – some can reach as high as 125 feet. To dip your toes in the surf, try Lake View Beach, a favorite of visitors with its covered picnic spots and parking lot close to the sand.
5. Ludington State Park Beach – Ludington, Michigan
Perhaps one of the most popular beach locales in the state, Ludington, MI, features feathery-soft sand that just begs for you to walk along the shoreline. Frequent visitors will tell you to save time to go see the marshlands, forests and wildlife in and around Ludington State Park's beach. They’ll also tell you to be sure to arrive back at the beach near sunset for a spectacular view.
6. Park Point Beach – Duluth, Minnesota
As part of a sand dune that fingers between Lake Superior’s far western edge and Duluth Harbor in Duluth, MN, Park Point Beach offers a long stretch of velvety sand. The often chilly temps in Lake Superior might deter any but the heartiest of swimmers from spending too much time in the water (plus, locals will tell you to watch out for riptides). But that will leave you more time to watch for wildlife, like songbirds, along with seeing barges go by.
7. Schoolhouse Beach – Washington Island, WI
Getting to Schoolhouse Beach on the northern part of Washington Island in Door County, can be a trek. But it’s an adventure worth taking to this remote harbor hideaway that’s pebbled not with sand, but white, limestone rocks. The rocks along the shoreline can be rough, but take off your shoes and venture into the surf where the rocks have been worn smooth. The beach is also known for its clear, crisp and clean waters.