Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Sunday, June 3, 2012

P.J. Hoffmaster State Park

It is always a little scary for me to camp in a new place.  As much as I love exploring, I also like my camping to be "just so", with my site very specific to privacy, shade (no A/C in the tin can), and ease of access to trails for walking the dogs.  Often I return to the same few State campgrounds, simply because I know in advance which site to reserve to suit my needs.  By doing so, I limit myself and fail to be the bold adventurer that is lurking within my soul, so every once in a while I force myself to go someplace new.

I had read several Pure Michigan! articles that described P.J. Hoffmaster State Park as the most beautiful campground in Michigan.  It sounded like a good place for me to branch out, with soft sand dunes and beaches, a pristine Lake Michigan shoreline, and a peaceful campground.  I will give Hoffmaster high points for the beach, dunes, and shoreline, and the intriguing Black Creek which runs through the park and empties into the big lake.  For me, though, Hoffmaster didn't meet my expectations of the most beautiful park in Michigan.

There are some very good things at Hoffmaster.  The campground itself is designed nicely as long as you don't seek solitude.  Also, you cannot see or hear Lake Michigan from the campground, which is common of the western shore campgrounds in Michigan.  The walk to the top of the dunes overlooking the big lake is a nice walk, but a bit far on deep sand for families carrying towels, beach chairs, kids, and picnic baskets.  Other than that, it is a truly beautiful area with much to offer.

Michigan has many species of indigenous trees, most of which end up toppled over on their side whenever they grow within a certain distance of the shore.  It is one of my favorite things to see when I roam around outdoors, I have hundreds of pictures of sideways trees.  I find them sad and ominous and hopeful and beautiful all at the same time.

P.J. Hoffmaster is also a sprawling park, with an outstanding visitor center located a couple of miles from the campground.  Paved roads and foot trails lead the way to an informative program which not only tells the story of the park, but offers guided hikes on the largest sand dune in southern Michigan.  The staff there is extremely helpful and knowledgable with many stories of the dunes and lakeshore.  The railed boardwalk makes for an easier hike to the shoreline than going over the massive dune, for those like me who have dogs or children, or just want a more pleasant stroll.  Be aware, though, that as with most state parks, dogs are not allowed on the beach.

Within the campground itself runs Black Creek, with marshy sides and clear water.  As it empties into Lake Michigan on the beach, it provides a cool and shallow swim area for younger campers and a very clean, sandy beach for mom and dad to sit and watch.  The sand is so soft and free of debris there, it was easy to walk the beach or sit on a blanket with a good book.  I watched retired couples stroll hand in hand at the water's edge, smiling at the young newlyweds passing by.  Families enjoyed picnics while the kids splashed and swam in the clearly designated swim area of the lake, and beyond the buoys large sailboats and yachts cut through the swells and offered a spectacular view.

The minor dissatisfaction I felt with my campsite is more a statement of my personal preference, not a negative reflection of the campground in general.  It is very clean and easy to access, and judging by the hard work of the entire DNR staff while I was there, it is continually being updated and improved.  I further found the staff to be friendly and helpful in giving me suggestions for places to explore within the park, and of course they all fell in love with Rooney and gave him lots of attention.

If you want to see one of the most beautiful beaches in Michigan, and camp in a clean and quiet place with lots of shade and cool breezes, visit P.J. Hoffmaster State Park.  You will meet friendly people, take long walks, and watch stunning sunsets.  You will find clean facilities, well marked trails, and one really big sand dune.  If you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of Rooney!
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