Sit on Hamlin Lake’s beach in serenity or get a good workout in a canoe or kayak. From the Hamlin Lake Dam, the hiking possibilities are endless, including a romp to Big Point Sable Lighthouse and the windswept dunes and beach that surround it.

Some call it the queen of state parks, and for good reason: The 5,300-acre Ludington State Park (from Ludington, take Lakeshore Drive north until it becomes M-116; follow to the park entrance at the end, 231-843-2423) boasts miles of pristine dunes, surrounded by water – Lake Michigan, Hamlin Lake and the Sable River – two beaches, a lighthouse, year-round camping, an interpretive center, 11 trails through the dunes and woods that go from flat to strenuous and comprise 18 miles. And that’s not all.

The park is 8 miles north of Ludington, so start in town at Chef John’s European Bakery (110 Filer St., 231-843-3327), where you can order an Italian Carnivore sandwich with four meats and provolone on a housemade baguette (order the Italian dressing on the side) and fresh-baked cookies for your picnic cooler.

Now head to Ludington State Park where giant hemlocks, pines, cedars, hardwoods and a symphony of songbirds await, and don’t forget binoculars. Stop at the Great Lakes Visitor Center (open daily during summer, 231-843-9261) on the south side of the Sable River to learn about the area’s human and natural history through entrancing audiovisual displays, giant Great Lakes maps and a hands-on taxidermy exhibit of animals who roam the park at night.

You can also tour the stately Big Sable Point Lighthouse, a quick 1.5-mile hike or bike ride from the park. After you’ve climbed the steep spiral staircase, find souvenirs in the gift shop, the original 1867 quarters for the lighthouse keeper.

All that history means it’s beach time. Choose your place in the sand – on Hamlin Lake or Lake Michigan – then pull out that picnic cooler, spread your towel and let your day in the sun begin.

Patty Lanoue Stearns is a freelancer based in Traverse City, Michigan.

Note: This article was first published in June 2006, and was updated for the web February 2008.