Nestled along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, the charming town of Saugatuck is the type of place Norman Rockwell would have favorited. Tourism is the main industry in this community of approximately 1000 permanent residents. Lined with shops, art galleries, eclectic boutiques, cafes, and supper clubs, Saugatuck is the perfect spot to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Family Friendly Spots in Saugatuck, Michigan
The Kalamazoo River passes by Saugatuck as it makes its way to the Great Lakes basin. Maritime activities like boat tours and charter fishing are popular here. We recommend the Star of Saugatuck an authentic sternwheeler paddleboat for families; tours carry guests up and down the river and through Kalamazoo Lake (tours run between late May and early October).
The Kalamazoo River is natural barrier between downtown and Lake Michigan; in the summer months the most direct way to reach the beach is by hopping a ride on the Chain Ferry. The only remaining hand cranked chain ferry of its kind remaining in the United States, people, dogs, bicycles, and strollers are welcome to cross. Ferry rides run every 10-15 minutes; passengers 11 and older pay $3, passengers 10 and under pay $1, and children 2 and under are free.
If you ride the Chain Ferry, we suggest a pre- or post picnic lunch at Wicks Park (east side of the river) or Mount Baldhead Park (west side of the river). Mount Baldhead Park has a shaded playground area and shares a parking lot with both the Saugatuck-Douglas History Museum and the Pump House Museum–an ideal spot for families on a multigenerational road trip.
The main attraction at Mount Baldhead Park is a massive 303 step wooden staircase that leads visitors to a 250-foot observation deck on the Mount Baldhead sand dune.
From the top, enjoy views of the Kalamazoo River and/or follow the sandy trail another mile to Oval Beach and Lake Michigan. If you make this trek, bring water (you’ll find wooden benches at intervals on the staircase as well as at the top of the dune).
Oval Beach can also be accessed by vehicle. If you opt for this route (carrying all of year gear up and over a sand dune and on a mile hike is not for everyone), know the beach parking lot can be packed in nice weather. This detour will bring you through the equally cute and quaint sister city of Douglas. We opted for this adventure and found Outside Coffee (a clever cafe perfect for families) and the popular Root Beer Barrel concession stand both open during our visit in the early fall.
However you spend your day in Saugatuck, Michigan, we hope you make some fun family memories. Happy Trails!
P.S. Why not round out the day with a sunset cruise on Lake Michigan (the BEST way to experience the lake) in nearby Grand Haven.