With over two million visitors annually, Holland State Park is one of the most visited state parks in Michigan. You may know Holland, located in West Michigan, for its famous Tulip Time Festival that takes place every spring. But the fun continues well into the summer with building sandcastles on Lake Michigan’s sandy beaches, watching the sun set over the lake, and gazing at the legendary lighthouse affectionately known as “Big Red.”
Ottawa Beach Parks, which are county parks, divide Holland State Park into two sections. In this article, I will include activities in all three areas. In addition, a canal connects Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. So Holland State Park offers many maritime activities. Here are seven of my favorite things to do in Michigan’s beautiful Holland State Park.
1. Out on the lakes
Ottawa Beach Marina, located on the west side of Lake Macatawa, just inside the Lake Michigan Channel and adjacent to Holland State Park, is part of the County Parks system. Via the marina, you can use the canal to cruise out on Lake Michigan, enjoy the water, and even do some fishing. After a day of fishing you will be glad to see that they also have a cleaning station. Kayaking is another fun activity to get you out on the lakes.
You can also enjoy the water from afar, stroll along the pier or beach, and wiggle your toes in the sand. Be sure to catch one of the breathtaking sunsets over Lake Michigan. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, swim and relax on one of the sugar sand beaches.
Pro Tip: Marina Directions
From Holland, head toward Holland State Park and head west on Ottawa Beach Road. The marina is on the left.
2. Go fishing at Holland State Park
At Holland State Park you will find several ways to get your catch. You can fish Lake Michigan or Lake Macatawa from your boat. If you want to go out on the Great Lake but don’t have a boat, you can find charter fishing services to make that possible. You can also fish off the break wall if you can’t get on the water. No matter how you approach it, Michigan has some of the best freshwater fishing in the country. Ottawa’s Historic Beach also features several fishing piers.
The area offers a wide variety of fish, so you’re sure to find one to aim for for your next meal. You can find bass both in Lake Macatawa and off the shore of Lake Michigan.
Lake Macatawa is connected to Lake Michigan via the canal. When fishing in the canal you can catch a walleye, bluegill, catfish or a variety of perch. Unfortunately you will not find salmon or trout as Lake Macatawa is not very deep. However, you can catch trout or salmon if you head out on Lake Michigan.
Pro tip: keep track of chairs
Holland State Park offers dual-track chairs for those with limited mobility to explore the park. These train chairs are electronic chairs that allow off-road exploration. They efficiently handle up to 20cm of water, sand, trails and even snow, making it easy to get to places typical wheelchairs can’t. They are available free of charge and can be reserved subject to availability.
3. Explore the dunes
Historic Ottawa Beach Parks include Mt. Pisgah, the Black Lake Boardwalks and Lake Michigan Beach adjacent to Holland State Park.
Mt. Pisgah Dune Climb and Boardwalk
The Holland Dune Trail provides access to Mt. Pisgah via a 1 mile (1.6 km) reciprocating path with a boardwalk and stairs. The hike to the summit involves climbing 260 steps where you are at the summit 157 feet above Lake Michigan with stunning views of the lake and lighthouse. Climb the stairs and you’ll find platforms and the occasional bench. At the top you will find seating where you can rest and enjoy the view. Unfortunately, you cannot access the beach via the Mt. Pisgah Trail. Instead, use Ottawa Beach Road to get to the beach.
Black Lake Boardwalk West
The Black Lake Boardwalk West offers picnic tables, fishing docks, canoe and kayak access, and an entrance to Mt. Pisgah. The area is approximately 58 acres that was once home to the Ottawa Beach Hotel. You will find 750 feet of Lake Michigan shoreline and 2400 feet of Lake Macatawa frontage with forested dunes.
Unlike the State Park, Ottawa Beach Parks do not charge entrance fees. However, you will need a Recreation Passport if you are going to Holland State Park.
Pro tip: Park at Ottawa Beach Parks
The car park has a parking time of two hours.
4. Camp at Holland State Park
If we drive to Holland State Park, just over an hour away, we could make it a day trip, but with so much to do, we can’t have enough fun in one day. That’s how we always try to spend a whole weekend because we enjoy the evenings around the campfire. Holland State Park offers two major campgrounds, each with different benefits.
campsite on the beach
Located between Lake Michigan and the dunes, this modern beach campground has 98 paved campgrounds, 31 of which are fully serviced. The full connection costs $45. Beach camping starts the first weekend in May and stays open until September.
Lake Macatawa campsite
Lake Macatawa Campground has 211 campgrounds. Eleven have paved lots. Forest areas are open from April to the end of October.
If you need more protection and comfort than a tent and don’t have an RV, then the park’s cabins are a good option. Both the Whitetail and Beacon camper cabins have fantastic views of Big Red and the canal. The cottages with electricity and heating can accommodate up to seven people in two rooms with bunk beds with twin beds and pillow-top mattresses. Seats also include tables, chairs, a coffee maker, microwave, and refrigerator. They also have two allocated parking spaces. If you wish to rent one of the cabins, you will need to bring linens and cookware.
You can reserve your pitch at both campsites for up to six months by booking online at MiDNRReservations.com.
Pro tip: Text notifications at the state park
Sign up here to receive text alerts notifying you of events that may affect your visit. The texts inform you about events such as closures, diversions and weather.
5. Visit the Pump House Museum and Learning Center
With so many outdoor attractions in the area, the Pump House Museum has become a major cultural attraction. Today, the museum is centrally located on the Black Lake Boardwalk, which connects the Mt. Pisgah Dune Stairs, Holland Harbor Fishing Access, and Lake Michigan Beach, accessible through Holland State Park.
This is where the Hotel Ottawa Complex once stood. The pump house is the only surviving building. Public water came to Ottawa Beach in the 1980s, and they no longer needed the pump house. Eventually they turned it into a museum with exhibits explaining local history and culture. One of her most significant exhibitions is Big Red: From Navigational Aid to Cultural Icon. Other exhibits include Water at Ottawa Beach: A Perspective on Changing Technology and Vintage Views: The Golden Age of Postcards and Holland’s Resorts.
Pro tip: entrance fee
Admission to the Pump House Museum and Learning Center is free.
6. Photograph Holland Harbor Lighthouse
The famous Holland Harbor Lighthouse, also known as Big Red, has guided boats from Lake Michigan for over 100 years. They built the original small square wooden lighthouse on this site in 1872 and created the building that stands here today in 1907. Officially named the Holland Harbor South Pierhead Lighthouse, the gabled roof represents the area’s Dutch influence. In 1932 they automated the lighthouse. In 1970, the US Coast Guard proposed abandoning the lighthouse, but a group formed the Holland Harbor Lighthouse Historical Commission to preserve and restore it.
You will find opportunities to photograph this big red beauty from many different vantage points. This makes it probably Michigan’s most photographed lighthouse. First, stroll the wheelchair-accessible boardwalk to the North Pier for detailed close-up photos for your portfolio. Then snap a picture from 50m above sea level on Mount Pisgah, where you can climb the dune stairs to the top.
Pro tip: lighthouse tours
They do not currently offer tours of the Holland Harbor Lighthouse.
7. Use the electric vehicle (EV) charging station.
The state of Michigan introduced 30 electric vehicle charging stations in Michigan’s state parks in 2022. One of these parks was Holland State Park. Two electric vehicle (EV) charging stations are available at the east arm parking lot closest to the beach.
When you reach Holland State Park, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy while your vehicle is being charged. Plan to charge your electric vehicle while you spend time sunning yourself on the beach or eating a picnic. Then start your journey home with a fully charged battery.
If you’re thinking of taking an EV road trip for the first time and need some tips, check out 7 things you should know before your first EV road trip adventure.
Pro tip: charge your electric vehicle
Holland State Park charging stations are free to use.
If you’re in the area and want to explore the city of Holland, Michigan, check out these articles: