From the top of Big Sable Point Lighthouse, the 5,300 acres of Ludington State Park (231-843-2423, visitludingtonstatepark.com) unfold like a topographical wonder. Glory in the view and the features the park has to offer: miles of sandy beaches on Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, hundreds of campsites and sweet spots for boating and fishing.
The lighthouse, built in 1868, is a black-and-white striped beacon for boaters during the day, and its light shines nearly 19 miles at night. It's slightly more than one mile north from the park entrance - walk along the beach to spot hordes of Monarch butterflies.
Bring a bike along to explore the trails - each categorized by distance and difficulty - that wind through marshlands, hardwood forests of sugar maple, red maple and white ash and dunes covered with prickly dune grass. This hardy grass's root system can grow 30 feet or more to find water, anchoring it firmly to the sand.
Head back to civilization for lunch at Luciano's Ristorante (103 W. Ludington Ave., 231-843-2244, lucianosristoranti.com), an Old World pizza-and-pasta paradise with pesto pies topped with shrimp, clams and sun-dried tomatoes.
Stop off at the Great Lakes Visitors Center (231-843-9261) on the south side of the Sable River on the way back into the park to check out displays on the flora and fauna that populate the park, then head out into the wilderness to test your newfound knowledge. Keep your eyes peeled for native black-eyed Susan, aster and butterfly weed as well as invasive species like yellow sweet clover and purple loosestrife.
To view the park from a different angle, rent a rowboat or canoe at the Hamlin Lake Concession Stand (231-845-8582, hamlinlake.com). Linger in the bayous along the way to catch walleye and bluegill for a cooked-over-an-open-fire dinner.
Katie Holland was an intern at Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
This article was first published in June 2007, and was updated for the web February 2008.