The Michigan State Park double “Gotcha!” Grand Haven: a great location with an overpriced & overcrowded campground

Are you tired of reading how much we loved every campground at which we have stayed? As if we are easily satisfied and not particularly discerning reviewers?  Let me fix that for you.

Early in our full time adventures we got caught by an unexpected fee while visiting Galveston Island State Park in Texas.  Unlike most state park systems, the campground fee did not include the park entrance fee.  In that case we were presented with the option of paying an additional $5 per person per day entry fee, or buying an annual pass covering up to four people in our party for $70, which also granted two %50 off coupons for campground nights.  This basically resulted in us paying on average a bit over $28 a night for the five days we spent between two different Texas state parks that year.  Not terrible, and the robust annual pass combined with the discount coupons provide a significant incentive to visit more parks in their system.

Michigan, however, seems determined to irritate out of state campers, particularly those in motorhomes.  For our three day stay at Grand Haven we paid $33 per night plus an $8 reservation fee, which is a bit pricey but not unusually bad.  Upon arrival, however, we found we would also need to purchase an access “passport” for the park at either $9 per day or $32 for the year.  Oh, and we would need to purchase it for each vehicle.  Each vehicle; as in one for the motorhome and one for the tow vehicle.  Out of state visitors in trailers or fifth wheels only have to pay for one passport.  This pushed our nightly rate to nearly $54!  Of course, we had the option of purchasing the annual pass and spreading out the cost by biasing our remaining Michigan stops towards additional state parks, but our next stop was going to be a national forest campground, and we had no idea which types of campgrounds we would prefer once reaching the Upper Peninsula.  So I did the opposite, choosing the daily passes and vowing not to stay at any other Michigan state parks.

And what did we get for that $54 per night?  An electric only site in a parking lot filled to capacity, barely a tree in existence, and with the physical arrangement so tight that extending slides and canopy would put you within a foot of your neighbors’ slides and canopies.  You do not get a water connection, wifi, cable TV, or shade.

Now granted, the actual town and associated beach are fantastic.  This truly is a situation where you are paying for the location and just have to live with the campground limitations.  Whereas Weko Beach had a small town a few miles outside of the park, Grand Haven is just a nice walk away from this one.  And while Weko Beach is a relatively small and quite beach, Grand Haven is very large and active, with dozens of beach volley ball nets, a lengthy pier, and plenty of activity options.

Situated on the east coast of Lake Michigan, every night was a fantastic sunset almost perpendicular to the beach.  Like dozens of others each night we took advantage of the pier and walked to the end, with a cocktail of course, to enjoy it.  Much of the rest of our stay was spent enjoying the quite tolerable water and excellent weather.

In terms of exploring the town, we used the excellent public library wifi, stopped in for flight of beer at Grand Armory Brewing Company, and a run through a fairly large local thrift store.  Rosemarie scored some crafting supplies and I found a nice pair of outdoorsey pants that do not even require hemming.

We capped off that afternoon with dinner in the much hyped local iconic pizzaria, Fricano’s.  This is one of those beloved establishments that local line up each night before they open precisely at 5 PM.  Your food options consist of pizza, and only pizza, served in one size, one crust option (very thin) with but five topping options.  Don’t ask for a menu, everything they offer is on the place mat in front of you.  For roughly $24 plus tip we each had a 12″ pizza and a glass of house red wine.  We spoke to a couple of other patrons, and they are truly loyal to this place, coming at least once a week even if its a long drive.  I suspect it is either an acquired taste or just something you have to have grown up with; we didn’t think all that highly of the pizza, particularly what was left over for the next day.  We are glad we came to this Michigan icon, but will probably pass should we be in the region again, which is sort of how we feel about Grand Haven in general.

So, our second stop in Michigan was not so fantastic, though we really appreciated the town and the beach.  We have overwhelmingly positive experiences at our campgrounds, largely because we research our potential stays and make our picks based upon careful readings of the reviews along with trusted recommendations.  Alas, not every place is fantastic, so we were happy to move on after our three day stay to continue our northward trek towards the Upper Peninsula, with one more stop in lower Michigan.

7 thoughts on “The Michigan State Park double “Gotcha!” Grand Haven: a great location with an overpriced & overcrowded campground

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