Sixty-Nine, Dudes! Michigan State Parks, That Is…

As of this past weekend, I’ve visited 69 of Michigan’s state parks and recreation areas (including designated historic sites)! Last weekend’s “check-off” adventures included visits to Clear Lake State Park, Interlochen State Park and Ionia State Recreation Area. What would Bill and Ted have to say to me about this?

When I start outgrowing Bill and Ted, then Will Ferrell needs to start acting his age in every movie in which he appears! 🙂

The weekend’s trip began with a drive to Clear Lake State Park for a two-night stay in a “mini cabin.” Mini cabins are usually located in modern campgrounds in state parks and include electricity and heat – and sometimes even more amenities including a refrigerator, microwave, coffee maker and in the case of this cabin, a box fan! I was most excited of all to see the box fan sitting on the floor when we started loading things into the cabin. Why? I’ll let Anne Ramsey from Throw Momma From The Train explain:

Easily one of the most detestable ’80s movie characters ever!

Weather conditions were a bit, shall I say “sultry” when we arrived at our cabin in the virtual middle of nowhere. Even people exceptionally skilled in Michigan geography might pause a bit if you ask them where the town of Atlanta is! If you know where Gaylord is, well, it’s about 35 minutes west of that. If you prefer Alpena as a point of reference, it’s about 38 minutes east of that town. If you were heading out from our house, Google estimated our route to be about three hours and 17 minutes if we took their most “expedient” route. We opted instead for the more freeway heavy route that would take us to Gaylord via I-75, then east to Atlanta, then about 10 miles south to the state park. The route we took added more time and miles, but less stop and go driving through multiple small towns with low speed limits.

What we didn’t really account for was Michigan construction season! We ran into delays along several stretches of the highway heading north, which I’d estimate added an extra hour of driving time.

We pulled up to the contact station after driving into the park, and my husband masked up and headed inside the building to check us in. One of the parks workers made quite an impression on him! I was wondering why it took him longer to check in than usual, and he had an answer when he got back to the car:

“The lady in there wanted to go over all of the park rules with me,” he said. Clear Lake State Park is very popular with ORV users, which means those ORV users have to obey the rules – all of which she explained to him before she let us loose.

“Now you’re going to see the cabin when you’re driving up there, but you can’t just drive to it. You have to follow the directional signs and use the one-way road. People have had accidents out here when they don’t do this.”

All righty then! So we followed the traffic rules (LOL) and headed to our cabin to unload our stuff. The cabin looked like this from the outside:

I like when benches are included with cabins! It’s the little things, you know…but that fan was most important!

This is what the cabin looked like on the inside:

I set the fan up on the counter and cranked it up to full blast and opened both windows – and things started cooling off quickly. I put sheets on the bunks, set up our sleeping gear, stashed some of our groceries/supplies and headed outside. It was time for a toast! Inside one of our coolers with a bunch of ice was a bottle of mead. A friend of ours named Sam gave us a few bottles a while back, and we’ve been saving each of them for “special” occasions. Since this trip “Up North” was to celebrate our belated 24th wedding anniversary, that was as good of an excuse as any!


We took a short walk to the beach to check out Clear Lake, for which the park is named (duh).

The following day, we took a trip north to Cheboygan Brewing Company and did a little bit of day drinking on their second floor outdoor patio. A new business really got us talking!

A presumably rat-infested abandoned KFC used to be here…

We speculated a bit about what it could be – and my first guess – based on the green squiggly thing in the logo – turned out to be correct (weed dispensary). We were able to watch multiple customers going in and out of there, and they always left with itty-bitty paper sacks (which couldn’t possibly hold food).

Then I saw a tough looking guy circling the perimeter. Upon closer inspection, he looked like he was armed and we learned from a staffer at the bar that he was a security guard. And it didn’t appear that he had a whole lot to do! We watched him circling the perimeter several times, walking to and from his truck, occasionally going inside…we were almost as entertained by him as we were by our beers!

We picked up a four-pack of cans for us to enjoy at our site and two four-packs for a friend to bring home.

Next morning? Pack up – and head to Interlochen State Park! Other than taking a left turn at Albuquerque when we should’ve taken a right turn, it was a pretty uneventful trip! Turns out Garfield Road and M-37 are virtual twins of each other (ugh)! Our plan was to stay two nights in a “rent a a tent” and squeeze in an oil change that our car desperately needed. But first, we had to check in:

This park is HUGE! There are two modern campground loops and two rustic campground loops across the road. The modern campground is on Duck Lake, and the rustic campground is on Green Lake. Fitting, since “Interlochen” means “Between the lakes” in German.

Interlochen is also the town where Interlochen Center for the Arts is located, which I described to my husband as “The Juilliard of Michigan.” My great-great aunt went here when she was a teenager – and was at the camp in 1931 when John Philip Sousa visited the camp! He was virtually a music superstar at the time, and was entering the last year of his life. He wrote “Northern Pines” march after being inspired by the Northern MI landscapes. My aunt played the bass violin while she was at the camp, and continued to play it professionally in a few local orchestras.

Sadly, I didn’t hear any students practicing instruments while I was visiting! I’m not quite sure if the camp is open back up after being closed down for COVID.

Here’s what our rental tent looked like:

Had it been rainy, this would have been a cozy spot to stay dry!
I had a little fun with some battery lights! There was an electric bulb in the cabin, but I thought it could use some more color…

A “camper cabin” was on the site right next to us. And within a few hours, a family of five set up there. A younger couple and three children – all of whom appeared to be under the age of three. And it looked like she might have had a fourth “bun” in the oven. Had we been a Dr. Seuss character, this would have been our reaction:

Yeah, I get it. People with little kids want to get away and camp, too. And apparently they had to be right next to us! Sigh, these things happen. There really is no point complaining, but there are ear plugs – and music just loud enough to dull their voices enough to not hear them (and not so loud people would complain). And also alcohol! We might have been a little “annoyed” to have a loud family camped by us in a campground that was virtually empty, but then bugs were pretty much a non-issue on the trip. If I had to choose between excessive bug action or noisy kids? Bring on the noisy kids!

We took a little “road trip” the next day to explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes area and get an oil change. The guy at “J Lube” named Scott was a real pro! He was an older guy with a mustache but a class act the whole way! He even called my husband “sir!” We not only got the oil changed, but got a tranny flush, too (our car had never had one in the seven years it had been on the road).

Here are some pics from our Sleeping Bear Dunes side trip:

As if this sign wasn’t enough of a warning, there was even a rescue worker perched atop one of the dunes, presumably to watch people descending the dunes and calling other workers on the radio if they didn’t come back up.

On our last night, I’d gone to bed around midnight, and my husband stayed up a little later to watch the campfire die down. And then he heard the cabin door next to us open – and close. Then he heard a “click” of what was probably a beer can opening. The daddy of the group had stuck outside to his fire pit (which no longer had a fire) and was having a moment of peace and quiet with a can of beer! It’s almost sad, really. Maybe he really didn’t know what he was getting into with the whole fatherhood thing, maybe he was just overwhelmed…I have no idea (we didn’t really talk to them – language probably would have been a barrier since they mostly spoke Spanish). Maybe it would have been good for he and my husband to have a little “guy time?” One can only speculate…

We didn’t waste too much time packing up and getting out the last morning. Temps were starting to go up, and it was downright sticky inside that tent which had very little ventilation (besides the screened front door). We grabbed a bagels and coffee breakfast from a local cafe, then headed south.

We decided to bypass Grand Rapids highways on the way home and do a side trip to Ionia State Recreation Area:

Like Atlanta, Ionia is one of those Michigan towns you might not be able to pick out easily on a map! It’s located between Grand Rapids and Lansing (roughly).

We wanted to check out the campground to see if we’d want to camp here. We quickly decided the campground was not for us. The sites all seemed to be too “RV friendly” with paved driveways. Just not a tent campground – and the walk-up campground set aside for tent campers wasn’t that appealing to us, either,

The mini cabin in the campground might be an option for spring or fall trips.

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