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Recreation- beach or hiking near Grand Rapids?

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My hubby and I from California are taking my niece on a college tour trip in Michigan from July 21-31. We will be in Grand Rapids near a weekend and because we are unable to visit colleges on a weekend we will be taking a break for some fun! Any suggestions for beach- hiking within two hours driving of Grand Rapids. Our stop after the weekend is Kalamazoo. A small village on the Lake or hiking in a state park would be fine.

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    Are you going to the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (meijergardens.org) when you are in Grand Rapids? I took my mother a couple/few years ago; and, although the weather could have been a tad warmer, we both enjoyed the visit.

    Getting to your inquiry, though: Take a look at a map of Michigan and you'll see that Grand Rapids is more westerly, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend going towards the Detroit area.

    IMHO, the seriously good hiking is in the U.P. but that's much farther than you want to drive.

    You are about a 5.5 hour drive from Mackinac Island, BTW. In all sincerity, if you've ever had the interest and/or the desire in going there, take this chance. www.mackinacisland.org

    Of course, the most famous structure there is the Grand Hotel. www.grandhotel.com

    You go right past one of the Huron-Manistee National Forests along the way on the way there. Now, don't get confused because these are two separate forests. The Huron National Forest is on the eastern side of Michigan (part of which being on Lake Huron). The other, the Manistee National Forest, is on the western part of the state and about 4 miles of it lies on Lake Michigan (between Ludington and Manistee). That portion is called the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area. The North Country Trail also runs through the forests.

    Ludington also has a state park. It has beaches, trails and its canoe pathway. See www.visitludington.com for details.

    If you really don't want to drive in that direction, you could motor southwestwardly on #196, towards Lake Michigan, you could stop off in Saugatuck/Douglas (Blue Star Highway). Perhaps visit Oval Beach. See www.saugatuck.com for details. BTW, the reason why they have termed this the "Art Coast of Lake Michigan" is because the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has its famous Ox-Bow school of art located there (www.ox-bow.org).

    If you continue driving south along #196, you'll see where ends at #I-94 at St. Joseph/Benton Harbor. Go south until you reach the exit for Harbert or Sawyer and then you want to go west until you reach the Red Arrow Highway (old U.S. #12). It runs through an area termed "Harbor Country". In this vicinity are the Warren Woods State Park (primeval forest) and the Warren Dunes State Park. See www.harborcountry.org for details. They even have maps and a virtual tour of the Warren Woods Preserve, if you wish to care to check this out.

    I also wanted to mention that there are lighthouses all along this route, although being from CA, that might not impress you so much. However, wanted to mention this because you might be an enthusiast.

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    Holland, Saugatuck, South Haven, Muskegon, and Grand Haven are all great beach towns on Lake Michigan and a short drive from Grand Rapids. If you wish to stay in Grand Rapids, I recommend the Meijer Gardens as well. Holland is known for it's Dutch community and tulip festival, which has already passed, and there is a small amusement park in Muskegon called Michigan Adventures. There are dune buggy rides in Saugatuck, and a great hike up to the top of Mount Baldhead (all stairs). You could take a walk along the Kal-Haven trail between Kalamazoo and South Haven, or rent a kayak or jet-ski and have fun in the lake. Or, you could visit Kalamazoo early and get a feel for the town. The pedestrian mall is one of the first in the nation. Don't miss the blueberries while you are in Michigan, you'll be there right as they are going into season.

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    The Ottawa County Parks (said county in which you'll find Grand Haven and Holland) has about 15 county parks, which we find very conducive to interesting yet unchallenging hikes (meaning, no cliffs, no snakes). Grand Haven is about 45 minutes from Grand Rapids (30 if not rush hour). Rosy Mound County Park, 1 mile south of Grand Haven, is one of our favorites; about a one mile path leads up about 100 stairs to the top of a large sand dune (maybe 300' high), from which one can gaze at the immensity of Lake Michigan, or go down about 200 steps to the beach. On July 21 the lake temperature should be near max; 70 degrees. There's a state park about 10 miles north with swimming facilities.
    There are two other county parks between Grand Haven and Holland with footpaths thru the forest and between dunes to the Lake. Nice, but less escalation.
    Meijer Gardens have a Chihuly exhibit all summer, if that's of interest.
    What colleges are you exploring?

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