Bay City State Recreation Area, Michigan

The Bay City State Recreational Area on the shore of Saginaw Bay, Michigan, has a mile-long beach, a boardwalk, a modern campground and more, and sits in the thumb pocket of Michigan's mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula on the western shore of Lake Huron.

The Bay City State Recreation Area is located six miles to the east of Interstate 75 off M-13/East Beaver Road. This park is part of Michigan's Department of Natural Resources and is located at 3582 State Park Drive, Bay City, Michigan, 48706. A Recreation Passport is required; a year-long pass costs $31 for an out-of-state vehicle.

There are enough activities available at the Bay City Rec Area to fill a long weekend, especially if camping. This is the horse-shoe pit and picnic table area on the northwest side of State Park Drive, which divides the beach area from the campground, which sits to the southwest.

This pathway from the horse shoe pit veers off into the brush toward the beach at the Bay City Rec Area. The mosquitos here are fierce, especially during twilight. This image was taken at 8:45 on the evening of June 25th, 2016. The sun was going down and a lot of people came out on that Saturday night to enjoy the mild temperatures and gentle breezes.

This boardwalk is part of the seven miles of trails at Bay City; three of those miles are paved and accessible. This boardwalk leads to the beach; there’s also a small wetlands viewing spot to the left, which is visible in this image. The trails at Bay City include the Bay City-Andersen Nature Trail at two-and-a-half miles; the one-mile Bay City-Tobico Lagoon Trail, which includes this boardwalk; and the Bay City-Tobico Marsh Trail at three-and-a-third miles. These trails are part of the greater 17-1/2 mile Bay County Riverwalk/RailTrail.

There is a long list of activities at Bay City, including the beach volleyball shown here. These other activities include hiking, fishing, hunting (in-season), metal detecting, picnicking, wildlife watching, interpretive programming, camping, swimming and sunbathing, biking and rollerblading, plus winter camping and cross-country skiing.

This log is a huge favorite at Bay City. The on-going clean-up of vast quantities of mucky organic matter have vexed beach-goers and property owners in recent years, and there have been significant agricultural runoff and wastewater treatment failures resulting in algae blooms. The park has started to groom the beach, however, and that seems to have helped greatly alleviate the muck problem.

This is beautiful Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron. The mile-long sandy beach was easy on the feet and included views of several sailboats. The air was pleasant as was the water. Although there was no sunset visible from this beach, the pink-and-blue in the sky lingered long into the evening before the sunlight disappeared for good.

This viewing platform, with viewing scope, is located along the boardwalk. Bay City, with its coastal freshwater wetlands and marshes, is a great place to view migratory birds like the Least Sandpiper, the Black-bellied Plover, and the Killdeer. The plant environments at Bay City include cattail marshes and oak savannah prairies, plus wildflowers like tiger lilies along the RailTrail.

The hours at this spray park (“Spray by the Bay”) are from 10 am to 8 pm from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There is a large, modern restroom facility just out of view to the left. Out of view on the right is an accessible dry playground with a variety of large climbing installations that is completely enclosed. Several picnic tables are nearby this playground. The splash park offers free lunch for youths ages 18 and under Tuesday through Friday during the summer. There are many fun programs here in and around the visitors center during weekend evenings.

With the sun starting to set and the splash park closed, perhaps its time to head back to the campground to get ready for bed. The campground accommodates vehicles and tents and is just a few steps from the beach across State Park Road. There are many modern amenities for campers here.

As with the beach area across the road, a Michigan Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry. The campground appeared to be quite full, but Bay City accepts online reservations through the MDNR website. Visitors input the type of amenities required plus the size of their vehicle to find a suitable spot. Up to six people may occupy a single spot.

There are two modern, drive-up, accessible shower/restroom facilities at the Bay City campground. The facilities are refreshed daily, and news of events and programming are posted here. At the entrance to the campground is a sanitation station of sorts, where drivers can pull their vehicles through and use the high-volume hoses. Both clean water and grey water spigots are here.

The campground at Bay City is not as spacious as other Michigan campgrounds, such as Sterling State Park, for instance. Also, the campsites did not appear to be as clean upon arrival as they could have been. Each site has a fire ring, a picnic table, electrical outlets, and a little room to stretch out. There are group sites here (call the campground for more info) as well as mini-cabins.

Nightfall came late to the campground; it got dark around 10 pm. Quiet hours were in effect. The campground still smelled of sweet wood and roasting meat, though quite a few campers were roasting marshmallows for s’mores. Sunrise would come early the next day, and some of the campers here started the next day with a quick breakfast at the beach across the street.

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