This is the latest installment of Michigan Camping + Running posts appearing throughout summer. Earlier this month I wrote about camping in Empire the weekend of the Glen Arbor Solstice Half Marathon & 5K.
The sound of waves crashing greeted us as we began setting up camp at Harrisville State Park late Friday. We were those campers—the ones who arrive late and pitch a tent in the dark with help from flashlights and vehicle headlights. Thankfully Joe and Emma have tent-pitching down to a science, so as they quickly set up, I hung with the boys (i.e. went for a flashlight walk to check out the nearby restrooms) and got out the sleeping bags.
After a nearly three hour drive from Traverse City to the campground on Lake Huron, including a dozen or so miles of white-knuckle driving after crossing paths with two deer and a large raccoon, it was a relief to arrive at our site. The soothing sounds of the lake just steps away were just what I needed to hear.
We’d picked this Michigan state park for two reasons: 1.) it’s located right on Lake Huron and 2.) it’s in a quaint, sleepy beach town that’s close to my heart, and I wanted to share some childhood memories with Joe and our kids.
Harrisville is where my mom grew up on a sprawling farm along U.S. 23. I spent countless summers as a kid at this farm, searching for just-born kittens in the big, red barn behind my late grandparent’s two-story house (complete with a Michigan basement and cellar); helping my Grandpa Herbie gather vegetables and fruits to sell at his roadside stand out front; enjoying savory meals my Grandma Jeri would make from the freshly-picked produce; and spending lazy afternoons at the nearby beach and Sturgeon Point Lighthouse—spots where we also had our traditional summer “weiner roasts” on blankets spread out on the soft white sand. I am so grateful for these memories. I knew going back would be bittersweet—I hadn’t been there in more than a dozen years, since my grandparents had passed away—but I’d been yearning to visit for awhile. I wanted my family to experience this great small town on the sunrise side of our state.
While there was no race taking place this past weekend—there’s a 5K run/walk held each August during Harrisville Heritage Days—I knew the campground had a paved trail system that also hooks up to a path/road into town. I learned the second day, after we biked around the grounds and stopped by the campground’s main office, about the Harrisville Heritage Route Trail, a 2.5-mile route that winds along the quiet streets of Harrisville and connects to the state park.
We spent much of Saturday hanging at the beach—it was overcast but very warm, and the water was surprisingly nice and not too cold. We also biked, sat around the campfire, had fun playing Frisbee.
We decided to go to the lighthouse on Sunday. I also planned to run about 4 miles on the Harrisville Heritage Route Trail before we headed back home.
I was happy when Joe and the kids were up for tagging along with me on my run—they would ride their bikes, I would run. First we enjoyed a morning cup of coffee to the sounds of Lake Huron. I could get used to this.
We started our bike/run the park, winding our way through the woods on the paved path, checking out the other campsites, smiling at just how much some people really get into camping and deck out their campers with Christmas lights, and at the edge of the park made out way onto a gravel road leading north into Harrisville.
This route takes you past historic buildings, like Widow’s Watch Bed & Breakfast (where the former roof-top gazebo can be seen sitting on the grounds of the property) and the Old Place Inn (where Depression-era bank robber John Dillenger reportedly had coffee). My favorite parts of the route were the end-of-Main-Street view of Lake Huron and the Harrisville Harbor a block away at the end of Church Street.
We turned around at the Harrisville Township Recreation Area—made up of several ball fields—and did a small half-loop across from Dock Street to check out the Harrisville Depot before re-tracing our steps back to the campground.
For a Sunday afternoon in early summer, the town seemed especially quiet. But it was nice—it felt like we kind of had the place to ourselves. A few people milled about the lone coffee shop, and we took notice of the family-style restaurant we figured we’d stop at later for lunch.
Campground check-out is at 1 p.m., which allowed us some more time playing at the beach—a refreshing dip in Lake Huron post-run was awesome—before packing up and heading north to check out sights from my childhood. (I’ll let the photos do the talking, but I will say quick that it really was equal parts joy and sadness I felt going back to both the lighthouse and my grandparent’s farm, which is currently unoccupied and for sale…it was one of those moments when I realized and felt the passage of time. I suppose it’s just me being the sentimental soul that I am. It is good to go back to things in our past that are so important to us. And I feel good about sharing it with my kids and with Joe.)
A bit more about Harrisville and its surrounding beauty: it’s on the edge of Huron National Forest, which offers outdoor recreational including hunting, swimming, cross-country skiing and trout fishing. The forest contains 330 miles of hiking trails. The Huron and Manistee National Forests were separately designated, but were combined in 1945. If we’d had more time, I would have loved to explore some of this national forest’s hiking spots for sure.
Have you camped anywhere cool in Michigan lately? If so, did you run there, too?