Ludington State Park is a public recreation area on the shores of Lake Michigan, six miles (9.7km) southwest of Ludington in Presque Isle County, Michigan. The state park has camping facilities and offers watercraft rentals as well as hiking, biking, picnicking, fishing, cross-country skiing, sledding, and other winter sports. It also has two golf courses. Visitors can access I-94 via the park road, exit 76 via Tom Jenkins Parkway, or enter the park through the Ludington ferry terminal. The park contains two campgrounds, both accessible via Highway 31; Section C north of highway 31, with 60 driveup sites, and Section D, with 30 walk-in sites, among others.
The campground features modern restrooms, showers, and a sanitary dumping station. Modern campers may utilize the dump station, flush toilets, and showerhouses.Non-modern campers are required to carry out all trash as there is currently no garbage pick up at the park. Both campgrounds feature a playground, horseshoe courts, volleyball court, softball field, basketball court, disc golf course, boat launch, and cabins. Boat launches allow direct access to the waters of Lake Michigan. Cabins are located adjacent to the main campground. Each cabin sleeps five people and has electric heat, lights, and outlets. Outside of the cabins are a barbecue grill, picnic table, and a swing set. The park provides several locations for group tenting of 20 – 40 people each. These groups must provide their own electricity and water.
There are 10 – 15 driveup parking spots per group location. Group tenting is not permitted in either the regular or primitive campgrounds. Tent camping is permitted anywhere else in the park except in the group tenting areas. Backpacking is permitted throughout the park, and there are several recommended routes to take depending on experience and ability. For example, the White Pine Trail, Forest Trunk Trail, and Bear Creek Trail start in the northern part of the park and end in isolated areas away from major roads. The Big Woods Flatwoods Nature Trail starts in the southernmost section of the park and leads outside the park boundary to Silver Sands Beach.
The park has a nature center offering naturalist programs, trail ecology information, and indoor exhibits featuring native species. Programs focus on conservation issues, outdoor recreation, and seasonal natural history. The park store sells firewood, ice, t-shirts, hats, bird keys, and other items. The park receives almost 200,000 visitors annually. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), Ludington State Park ranked fifth overall in terms of average annual attendance and fourth overall in terms of revenue among Michigan state parks for fiscal year 2017. Amongst the various fees charged to park users, AAA reported that admission was the most expensive at $8 per vehicle, while daily passes were the least costly at $4 per day. Park maintenance costs are covered by user fees. As of March 2019, annual pass holders paid $5 per car to enter the park, while those limited to seven visits per year paid $3 per visit.
In 1871, railroad magnate William H. Thompson and his family embarked upon an ambitious project to transform their summer home into a grand hotel. At first, they rented rooms to lodge guests and constructed a large dining room, library, conservatory, and gardens. After the Thompson’s daughter Helen became engaged to Theodore D. Strong, a wealthy Chicago lumberman, the Thompsons decided to build their new home at the foot of Pikes Peak, the highest point in the region. However, when Mr. Thompson died in 1893, he left the property to his son Fred J. “Fritz” Thompson, who sold it to Herman Kiefer, another of his father’s associates, for $150,000.
Kiefer continued to improve the grounds and in 1903 built a small steamboat which he named the Wildcat. He would use this vessel to haul logs from his sawmill to the mouth of the River Raisin where they were floated downriver to Wabash, Indiana, and then shipped east. Aboard the Wildcat, Kiefer hosted many business meetings, social events, and even had a bar installed. His hospitality was so popular that when he died in 1923, his wife Edith donated the estate to the city of Ludington. The land was put aside for future generations to enjoy, with the stipulation that it be used for public recreation.
When the City of Ludington fell on hard times during the Great Depression, citizens voted to disband the Parks Commission and instead run the parks themselves. So in 1938, under the name of Recreation Area No. 1, the city took over operation of the entire park system, including Ludington State Park. Two years later, after much debate, the state legislature passed enabling legislation allowing local units to create quasi-governmental agencies called Recreation Areas. With the help of a one million dollar bond issue, the city created the Parks Commission once again, this time making it responsible for not only running the existing parks but developing additional sites as well.
The commission hired John F. O’Rourke to design the initial campground and day-use areas, and B.J. Hagerman to oversee construction. Construction began in June 1940 with crews working around the clock through Labor Day. During World War II, the campsite served as a temporary housing facility for GIs stationed at nearby Fort Holmes. On May 7, 1945, three soldiers from Company 854 arrived by train at the station across from the campground. They set up housekeeping, had dinner, got some sleep, and awoke to find all traces of the camp gone. Apparently, a fire burned overnight and consumed everything but the concrete foundations. The soldiers salvaged what little they could before leaving. Although the exact date of its origin is unknown, it is believed to have started sometime between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day.
An investigation ensued, but no charges were filed against any of the men involved. The site remained closed until July 1946 when Mayor Maxeiner announced plans to reopen the campground. Plans changed though, and in 1949, the Parks Commission decided to combine Camp Hero (a former post-war expansion of Camp Holmes), Fort Holmes, and the surrounding area into Recreation Area No. 2. This decision allowed them to consolidate services, such as trash collection and sewage disposal, and opened up more land for recreational development. One of the first projects completed was a bathhouse, followed shortly thereafter by a picnic shelter and trails. Additional improvements came in 1951 with the installation of electrical service to the campground and the planting of trees along the shoreline.
By the mid 1950s, visitation increased significantly and the campground was divided into two sections, each containing approximately 120 campsites. In 1960, a second campground section was added to the south side of Highway 31, just west of Exit 75. Again, there were numerous campsites, ranging from full hookups to walk-in tent sites. In 1969, the campground officially closed for good, although individual sites remained open year round. In 1970, the city acquired 3,300 acres of lake frontage from North Bay Village, including most of the campground, for a total cost of about four million dollars. While still struggling financially, they entered into a lease agreement with the state for a portion of the land, formally transferring ownership in 1978. The park now covers 5,400 acres, includes Sand Point Peninsula near the entrance to the harbor, and stretches inland nearly to Interstate 94. There are 50 miles (80km) of trails available.
- mountain biking
- horseback riding
- cross-country skiing
Other activities include:
- jet skiing
- wildlife viewing