My grandparents have lived in Pentwater since before I was born, so I have been going there as long as I can remember. Long days at the beach, early mornings fishing out on Lake Michigan, and greasy meals over at the Brown Bear. I remember my time in Pentwater as a child fondly, and when I finally picked up a camera it was a no-brainer to bring up to the lake with me when I would visit my family. This walking photography tour is perfect for a breezy summer day, but honestly, I prefer it in the winter time. Pentwater becomes less of a destination for tourists in the winter, slowing things down in the village and making the town feel more quaint.
Parking at the State Park can get really hectic, so I often park in the parking lot at the corner of Chanel Lake and Bridge Street. Click here for a GPS location of the parking lot. There are typically cars parked to fish the channel, but you can normally find a spot.
After parking and grabbing your gear, it’s time to head towards the lighthouse. If you walk towards the channel you will find a narrow path leading towards Lake Michigan, offering a scenic view of the Yacht Club, Lake Pentwater, and the channel leading out to the lake. This channel was first dredged by lumber baron Charles Mears in 1855, hoping to create an easier shipping root to the major ports of the great lakes. As you get closer to the big lake you will notice that both sides of the channel have their own lighthouses, which wasn’t always the case. The south side has had a light since 1873, with the current light being constructed in the 1930s. About half a century later, the north side was given a light, making it one of the newer lights on Lake Michigan. I like Pentwater’s pier because you can walk directly out to the lights, which I think is very cool.
After checking out the lights, it’s time to meander down the beach. Charles Mears State Park was established after Mears' daughter donated 600 feet of beach to the state of Michigan in the 1920s. Since then the beach has become one of the most popular in the state, drawing thousands every year. As you approach the end of the state park, you will notice that the beach narrows dramatically and dunes begin, lush with natural grasses and trees. This area is great for taking scenic photos and for portraits, and you will often find people lounging in the sand or watching one of Lake Michigan’s famous sunsets. Regardless your intent, walking through the grassy dunes is beautiful year round.
After wandering down the beach for a while, cut across the dunes and you will find yourself in the state park’s campground. If you walk over towards the bathrooms and shower you will see a trailhead emerging from the woods. This is the trailhead for Old Baldy, a short climb with a lookout and long sand dune. After your climb, you will be rewarded with a lookout that offers scenic views of Lake Michigan, the north and south piers, and the entire state park itself. At sunset it is truly a sight to behold. After leaving the lookout, you will find yourself atop Old Baldy, a long sand dune that you often find people racing down. Have fun running down the hill, but beware because on a number of occasions I have seen people take some pretty rough tumbles and be greeted with a face full of sand.
After getting all sandy, it’s time to head towards the historic town of Pentwater. At the bottom of Old Baldy, make a left and cut through the campground until you hit Lowell Street. Take Lowell Street left, and keep going until you reach Hancock Street. This is the main thoroughfare of Pentwater and is home to dozens of cute little shops, restaurants, and the Pentwater Village Green. Not only does Pentwater have a store for anything you might not need, but probably really want, many of the buildings downtown are original after the fire of 1889. The fire started when a large cigar shop on the west side of town went up in flames, effectively burning the whole town. Because all the buildings are so old, it’s quite the photogenic little town. Wander through the shops of Hancock Street, meander down by scenic Lake Pentwater, or stop by the Pentwater Village Green for a myriad of events including art fairs, craft shows, live music, the farmers market, and much more.
After you’ve had your fill of ice cream, candy, and boutique shops, it’s time to head back to the car. There are a number of beautiful homes to see on your way home, though. If you cut through the Pentwater Village Green, you will come out onto Dover Street. Head north until you see Green Street jutting off to the west, and take a left. Green Street is the location of some of my favorite homes in Pentwater, so be sure to keep your eye out on both sides of the road. You will eventually dead-end into Bridge Street, and your car is parked one block to the south. If this walk tired you out, you can hop in your vehicle and head home, but if it hasn’t you might as well head over to take in Lake Michigan just one last time before leaving. You never know how long it will take you to get back to it!