camping at Tawas Bay, Michigan

back in late June, we spent a long weekend camping at the Tawas Point State Park on Tawas Bay, Michigan.  according to the Michigan DNR website:

Tawas Point has been referred to as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest.” The campground is located on Tawas Bay where the water is shallow and warm for swimming.

not having been to Cape Cod, I can’t yet confirm or deny that statement, but I’ll give you our take on the campground, the area, and the suitability for Sunfish sailing.  my family was joined by my wife’s mom and youngest sister, as well as her older sister and her family.  we stayed in the “modern” campground (site map here), with tents on each site – but had made our reservations a few days apart, and couldn’t get adjoining sites – we were able to manage, but made sure that future camping was planned a little better in advance to make sure the sites were adjoining.  each site had electric hook-ups, but no water.  bathroom facilities were close, though, and frankly quite nice for a campground… highly impressed.

we set up camp on Friday night, heated up the (mostly pre-made) dinner of walking tacos(!), and hung out at camp for the evening.  we were greeted in the early morning with a gentle rain, but it cleared up by mid-morning, and we rounded up all the kids to head down to the beach area and check things out.  based on the water depth charts I had found, as well as just viewing the Google Map (satellite view), I had a feeling that the water on the east side of the bay would be quite shallow – and my suspicions were confirmed.  we didn’t walk all the way to the end of the shallow area, but I would guess it probably extends out for almost a mile in some areas, and doesn’t get more than 3 or 4 feet deep.  the water is warm, and almost all sandy – although my wife somehow found the one “mucky” spot.  we did wade out quite a ways with all the kids, though, and it was amazing how far you could walk without getting deeper than my waist.

the shallow beach area made it great for warm water, and the young kids especially had a great time rolling around and playing in the water.  the actually beach area is fairly small, though, and would be quite crowded if busy, but we were lucky in that each time we were there it was pretty empty of other families.  here’s a couple pictures of the kids playing at the beach.

I was able to sail the Sunfish on Saturday afternoon for a couple hours.  since the water was so shallow so far out at the campground beach, I had to drive out of the campground, and noticed a marina right away with a public launch ($5 or so), but it was much more suited to much larger sailboats or powerboats.  I continued just a short way down the road and found a free public launch and used that.  the ramp was not really developed at all, and parking was quite limited.  it was really just a bit of sand where you could back your trailer up to (or in the case of one local I saw – just drive your big ol’ pickup truck and trailer right out in the water to drop off yer jet-ski).  here’s a picture from the boat launch – the bit of sand on the left is the “ramp”.  the water was quite shallow still – I had to walk the boat out maybe a few hundred feet before I could drop the daggerboard and hop on to start sailing. I will go into more detail on the sailing on a future post.

during the night on Saturday, rain started again, and hung around for most of Sunday as well.  there were glimpses of dryness, but they were just teasing us.  we were getting pounded with rain about mid-day, and even though we had planned to stay until Monday, we decided everything was just getting more and more soaked – so we tore down the campsite in the pouring rain, and drove back home to our house – nice warm showers and our own comfortable beds were waiting patiently for us.  during a break in the rain on Sunday, I had driven over to see if there was a better spot to launch the Sunfish on the east side of the peninsula, and sail on Lake Huron – the beach there was nice, but it would have been difficult to get a Sunfish down to the water (and back) by myself.

overall: the campground itself was quite nice.  it was a nice short walk down to the (small) beach on the bay, with the really shallow water – which was great for kids to play in, but was actually not that good if you want to do any serious swimming.  getting to the beach on Lake Huron wasn’t really viable without driving.  sailing the Sunfish from the campground was pretty much not even remotely feasible, and the launch I found didn’t have any real beach area for other people to spend time at while I was sailing.  for the future: I think Tawas Bay is probably a great place to sail, but the campground doesn’t really make sense as a place to stay if that is your agenda.  it might be better to use the public launch on the west side of the bay ($5 or so, next to the police station), or maybe stay in one of the several motels along the north side of the bay just to avoid the really immense shallow sand bar area.


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