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The 7 Very Best Public Beaches in and Around New Buffalo Michigan
New Buffalo is a charming town located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Michigan’s southwest corner. The city is known for its beautiful beaches, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports. The town of New Buffalo also has a variety of restaurants, shops, and bars, making it an excellent destination for a summer vacation.
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With easy access from major cities all around, New Buffalo is worth a short trip. This charming town is only 110 miles from downtown Chicago, making it the perfect escape from the big city. If you’re coming from within Michigan to enjoy the gorgeous shores of Lake Michigan, then plan a 2-hour ride from Grand Rapids or about two and a half hours from Detroit. Finally, a 40-mile trip will take you from South Bend, Indiana. With so many cities within this short distance, I can’t believe New Buffalo falls under the radar for many Midwest travelers.
Let’s talk about some of New Buffalo’s best beaches!
Van Buren State Park
23960 Ruggles Rd, South Haven Charter Twp, MI 49090
The first lesson I learned when heading for Van Buren State Park is to be cautious when using your GPS. That GPS gets it a little wrong now and then, and this was one of those moments. My GPS took me through the campus of the local power plant, complete with a whole bunch of industrial areas with powerlines and buildings and a big parking lot with low-hanging powerlines overhead. This drive was not picturesque and certainly not what I would want to see on my way to a state park.
Once I arrived (according to the GPS), I found myself looking through a fence that separated me from what looked like the state park parking lot. My suggestion is to get to the area near the state park on the main road and then follow the signs on the main road that tell you how to get to the state park entrance.
Once you finally arrive, you’ll need a state park sticker or day pass for parking. Find a spot in one of the two large parking areas, and plan to walk to the beach. Van Buren state park has a paved walkway that takes you past fully modern restroom facilities, picnic areas, foot sprayers, a complementary lifejacket station, and even a small children’s playground among plenty of grassy areas to stretch out before heading to the beach. When I visited, some guys were throwing a football and frisbee around on the grass.
Once you finally arrive and park in one of the two large parking areas, plan to take a walk to the wide swimming beach. Van Buren state park has a paved walkway that takes you past fully modern restroom facilities, picnic tables, foot sprayers, a complementary lifejacket station, and even a very small playground. You’ll find plenty of grassy areas to stretch out before heading to the beach. When I visited, some guys were throwing a football and a frisbee around on the grass.
The modern restroom facility has a snack machine and a beverage vending machine, both of which were only partially stocked, so I wouldn’t depend on having a meal from those machines, but in a pinch, you’ll be able to have a snack or a drink.
Once you get to the beach, note that an ada-accessible beach mat allows accessibility closer to the water for those who depend on wheels while traveling. I also saw a family pulling a wagonload of beach supplies, and I thought that was a great way to use the beach mat to help transport their stuff from the parking lot.
If you need something you forgot while on your way to the beach, then you’ll be glad to know that there’s a cute little store near the park entrance. Fields Store has everything from camping goods to clothing, craft items, and snacks. They have plenty of cold beverages and even some ice cream in a freezer. The two ladies behind the counter were very friendly, and I was able to grab a quick water and a snack for the road.
Finally, Van Buren State Park is only a few minutes from Interstate 196 or Blue Star Highway, so the park makes an easy stop if you’re on your way down the coast of West Michigan and want to get out for a quick beach walk or a rest stop.
Grand Mere State Park
7337 Thornton Dr, Stevensville, MI 49127
Grand Mere (pronounced Meer) State Park is about a half mile off Interstate 196, making it another easy, quick stop on your route down the Lake Michigan coast. The entrance is nondescript, and although the signs say you need a state park pass to enter, nobody was manning the little station as I drove in.
Travel down a dirt road about half a mile, and you’ll find a little parking area on your left. Keep traveling; the road will loop you back to the parking lot. Pit toilets are available at the trailhead.
Here’s the scoop. If you want an easy beach day, this isn’t the park for you. You will see the trail that leads to the beach, and if you’re like me, you’ll set off with great excitement and vigor for the walk to the sandy beach. Be warned. It didn’t end at a beach for me.
I began trekking along. After several minutes of walking down the sometimes paved and sometimes packed dirt path, I wondered if I would ever reach the beach. The trail is very nature-filled and is the perfect place for capturing photos of birds, bugs, and other wildlife, but it is long. On your trek, you’ll find compelling wetland habitats and even wind through some inland lakes. After walking about a half mile, the path makes a sharp turn and ends at a dune.
After a pep talk from the guy who reached the dune before me, I decided to try it, expecting the beach to be on the other side of the dune. No luck! I reached the top of the giant pile of sand, only to be greeted with a view of other sandy dunes peppered with beach grass. Far in the distance, I could see a glimmer of water, but there was no way I was trekking over several more dunes to reach it.
ONE DUNE WAS PLENTY because I am not as young as I used to be or as fit as I would like! At this point, I cut my losses and headed back to the parking lot. As I returned, I surveyed others along the path to see if anyone else had reached the beach. A fair number of people I spoke to were familiar with and spoke very highly of the privacy of the quiet beach. No wonder! Only the most die-hard beachgoers could make this trek.
Disclaimer: If you’re young, hip, and fit, go for it! I’m sure the beach is gorgeous, but it isn’t worth the trek for this hip grandma.
5239 Lake St, Bridgman, MI 49106
Weko Beach is just 10 minutes south of Grand Mere State Park. But unlike Grand Mere, this beautiful little beach will have you on the sand and near the water in just a short walk.
The parking lot is spacious and easy to maneuver. A beautiful, modern beach house on location is available for weddings and events. The beach house also has concessions and souvenirs for sale and kayak and paddleboard rentals.
Parking is not free at this beach. You must stop and pay for your day pass at one of the parking kiosks. In 2023, parking is $15 per day. On the day I visited, the parking was strictly enforced, with DNR officers on ATVs on duty Memorial Day weekend monitoring the vehicles in the lot.
Finally, Weko Beach has two accessibility mats on site for those who can benefit from a wheelchair-accessible walkway to get closer to the water.
Warren Dunes State Park
12032 Red Arrow Hwy, Sawyer, MI 49125
Warren Dunes State Park is one of the most impressive and largest beaches along the Lake Michigan coast near New Buffalo. Before you go, be prepared that you’ll need a recreation pass or day pass to enter. You will travel down a winding, paved road into the park for parking. Along the road, you’ll pass many picnic spots with limited parking spaces, all nestled within grassy wooded areas. On your left, treat yourself to sweet little glimpses through the trees and over the dunes of Lake Michigan to your left.
Alcoholic beverages and pets are prohibited in the state park; signs everywhere indicate this. A special path welcomes pets if you want to take your furry friend for a walk.
Once you arrive at the parking area, you’ll find three large parking lots with easy access to the beach on your left or the impressive dunes on your right. If you come hungry, enjoy eating from the food trucks in the parking lot. The dunes are open for climbing, sliding, and frolicking, and there is plenty of space for many people to stretch out. If you’ve never been on a sand dune, this is one of the best places in Western Michigan for dune climbing and play, with unparalleled access to the dunes.
If you are here to play in the water, there’s plenty of space to enjoy that. Warren Dunes State Park has modern restroom facilities easily located. Plenty of trash receptacles are in the parking area, so guests can responsibly clean up after themselves.
Finally, kayak rentals, SUP rentals, and sandboard rentals are available in the last parking lot on the north end of the beach from Third Coast Paddling Company.
13897 S Cherry Beach, Harbert, Michigan
Cherry Beach is small but worth a stop. You will drive down a gravel road to arrive at the medium-sized, well-shaded parking area. Once you’ve parked, take a minute to enjoy the scenic overview of the beach below from the short walkway near the parking lot.
A wooden staircase will take you from the parking lot down to the beach, so this is not the best choice for beaches if you need beach wheelchair access. You will find pit or vault toilets at the top near the parking area. When I was there, a local visitor told me she is a regular visitor and always finds the port-a-potties clean and well-maintained.
Private residences are right next to the parking area; therefore, the beach becomes private property on either end of the small Cherry Beach public space. You can walk along the water in front of the private property, but you can’t park your blanket and picnic on somebody else’s beach.
Cherry Beach is only six minutes away from The Local Pour wine tasting room and Jovani’s delicious Ameri-khana cuisine, so plan a stop for a drink and a bite to eat after a day at the beach. If you visit on a Saturday in the summer, you can enjoy live music on the patio of The Local Pour.
Town Line Ave, Union Pier, MI
Townline Beach is at the end of a cul-de-sac surrounded by private homes. You will find a very small parking area (with no parking fees) along the side of the road leading to the beach. If you are lucky enough to find a parking space, you can take the stairwell down to the beach to stretch out a little. There are no pit toilets or facilities available. The beach area at the bottom of the steps is lovely and consists of a small public beach surrounded by private properties, but it shouldn’t be too busy due to the lack of parking.
New Buffalo Beach
200 Marquette Dr, New Buffalo, MI 49117
Finally, I can’t leave a post about the best beaches in New Buffalo, Michigan, without mentioning New Buffalo Beach. This beach is in the heart of New Buffalo. You will pass right through the downtown area to get to the beach. When I visited, the Amtrak train that passes right near the entrance to the beach held up my trip for a few minutes.
Downtown New Buffalo is darling and has many places to grab a bite to eat, pick up a souvenir or t-shirt and even get an ice cream cone. You can even choose rooftop dining at the Stray Dog Restaurant in town. Spend an afternoon wandering before or after heading to the beach, and catch a train out of town if you want to!
Take note of the modern condos that surround your route to the beach. These units are new and clean, making the area feel quite upscale. Once you arrive at the parking lot, you’ll find modern restroom facilities, foot sprayers, a playground, and even a shaved ice food truck if you’re craving a cool treat. Plan to pay $7.50 at one of the kiosks to park for the day.
There are lots of sandy beaches to enjoy. You will also find a wooden walkway with a beautiful view of the beach and surrounding dune areas. If you like watching the boats travel in and out of Lake Michigan, find a spot along the channel that looks across the water to many condos and boat slips.
Finally, New Buffalo Beach has a covered picnic shelter just across the parking lot, not far from the beach but not directly on the sandy beach area.
Need a Place to Stay in New Buffalo?
Wrapping it All Up
If you are looking for state parks, sand dunes, and lakefront parks, the New Buffalo area will not disappoint you! All of these Southwest Michigan beaches are just a short drive from one another, so you can explore several of the best New Buffalo beaches all in one day or weekend if you like. Mother Nature will surely put on a show no matter which beach or beaches you choose along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
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