F. J. McLain State Park: Everything You Need to Know

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With 443 acres of pristine waterfront land, McLain State Park is one of the best places in the Keweenaw to enjoy the Lake Superior shore. The park offers a large day-use area, hiking trails, and a large, modern campground — come for a quick swim or stay for several weeks.

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About the Park

Signs at McLain State Park

McLain State Park is split into two distinct sections: the campground side and the beach side. All visitors are welcome to use both areas, but if you’re coming for the day, you’ll find more parking in the beach area. A gorgeous forest hiking trail connects the two sides.

Park facilities:

  • Park store and ice cream shop (beach side)
  • Multiple picnic shelters
  • Picnic tables and grills
  • Modern bathrooms and changing rooms
  • Showers (campground side)
  • Playground (beach side)
  • Large campground
  • Dump station
  • Camping cabins

You’ll need a Michigan Recreation Passport to enter McLain State Park; you can purchase it online or at the entrance station. It’s $13 per year for Michigan residents and $39 for non-residents as of 2023. Don’t need an annual pass? The daily entry fee is $11. If you’re towing a motor vehicle, you’ll need to purchase a separate Recreation Passport for it or pay a daily fee of $8.

Things to Do at McLain State Park

Blackberries in the park

Some of the activities in the park include:

  • Swimming
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Fishing
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Berry picking

McLain State Park also allows hunting and trapping in season, but only in the part of the park that’s southeast of M-203. (Across the street from the main park area.) There’s one key exception: you may not hunt waterfowl between September 1 and Labor Day.

McLain State Park Campground

McLain State Park campground with travel trailers and RVs
Sites in the original park campground

The McLain State Park campground has 115 campsites, 7 cabins, and one tiny house. You can book online up to 6 months in advance. Campsites are open from mid-May to mid-October; the cabins and tiny house are available year-round.

Campground amenities:

  • Electric hookups
  • Modern bathroomns and showers
  • Pit toilets
  • Dump station
  • Potable and non-potable water fill-up stations
  • Dumpsters

Drinking water is available, but not at individual sites.

As you’re booking, keep in mind that the campground is split into two sections:

Newer Campsites

New campsites at McLain State Park
New campground

Sites 100-135 were added to the park just a few years ago. They start at $39 per night. These sites are large; most have space for RVs up to 50 feet long. In this section, we’d recommend sites 100-119, which are spacious and tucked away in the trees on a quiet road. (See photo above.)

Sites 120-135 are the least desirable — they’re located in the park’s former parking lot, and it shows. The main camp road runs right through this section, so it gets more traffic than other parts of the campground. However, these spots are closer to the lake and the hiking trails. Some even have a view of the water across a large field.

Original Campground

Campsite 91 overlooks Lake Superior

The original McLain State Park Campground offers a classic camping experience. Sites are nestled among the trees, and many have stunning views of Lake Superior. These spots can accommodate both tents and smaller RVs and travel trailers up to 35 feet long. (Some are tent-only.) Campsites in this section start at $35 per night.

Our favorite campsites in this section are the ones next to the lake. Sites 88 through 91 are particularly lovely — they have a beautiful view of Lake Superior, and since they’re located on a side road, they get less traffic. If you prefer privacy, check out sites 40-71. These sites have more trees between them, so they feel more secluded. Plus, the beach is still less than a minute’s walk.

Erosion has destroyed sections of the McLain State Park campground road
Erosion on the old campground road

The campground looks considerably different than it did 10 years ago. Shoreline erosion closed the outer camp road and forced park officials to close certain campsites. Currently, you can book sites 1-38, 40-77, and 86-91.

McLain State Park Cabins and Tiny House

Cedars cabin at McLain State Park

McLain State Park has seven cabins that are open year-round. These tiny, simple cabins are tucked into the trees on the east end of the campground, so they offer plenty of privacy. The best part? Each one has Lake Superior views.

Choose from 6 mini cabins that sleep 4 people and one larger cabin (Birches) that sleeps 8 people. The smaller cabins start at $62 per night.

Every cabin has:

  • Heat and lights
  • Refrigerator
  • Microwave
  • Hot plate
  • Fire pit
  • Picnic table
  • Grill

Linens aren’t included, so make sure to bring sleeping bags or sheets and blankets.

There’s a nice beach directly across from the cabins

The Hemlocks cabin has a long ADA ramp. Maples, Oaks, and Pines are blocked from the road by trees; Cedars, Hemlocks, and Aspens are more open to the road. Honestly, though, the road is so quiet that it doesn’t really matter.

Most of the McLain State Park cabins require a two-night minimum stay. When you’re booking online, make sure to select the “Lodging” tab instead of the “Camping” tab. As you’re selecting a spot, keep in mind that the Oaks, Pines, Aspens, and Cedars cabins have lake views. The others are a quick walk from the water.

Tiny house at McLain State Park

The most unusual lodging option at McLain State Park is the park’s modern tiny house. This thoughtfully designed structure is located close to the water, and features a ramp, 1 queen bed, 1 full bed, a microwave, hot plate, and a mini-fridge. It also has heat and air conditioning, which is handy in the unpredictable U.P. weather. Use the “camping” tab to book; the tiny house is nestled among campsites.

Beaches at the Park

The main beach area is mostly sand

McLain State Park features 2 miles of beautiful Lake Superior beaches. The beach stretches along the northern boundary of the park, offering something for everyone.

If you like calm water and a soft spot to lay in the sun, head straight for the beach inside the breakwater. You’ll have a lovely view of the lighthouse, and there’s always a spot on the sand.

To get to this beach, turn left after you pass the entrance station. Paved paths run right down to the sand, so you can bring strollers or wheelchairs.

Beach between the campground and beach sides of the park

We’re partial to the beaches outside the breakwall. The lake is a bit more unpredictable here, but you’ll get the true Lake Superior experience: a quiet, rocky beach, crystal-clear water, and lush green trees growing right up to the shore.

Bring sandals that can get wet; you’ll need them for walking along the beach and walking in the water. (The rocks can be painful on bare feet!)

You can access this beach from a variety of places:

  • Main beach area (turn right and walk down the shore)
  • Campground (turn left and walk down the shore)
  • Hiking trails (many entrance points)

Our favorite strategy is to hop on the hiking trail from either side of the park. It branches off toward the lake in multiple locations, so you can pick any part of the beach that seems appealing. This stretch alternates between sand and rock, and is never crowded.

Lighthouse at McLain State Park

Lighthouse at the end of the breakwater

When you walk down to the beach, the first thing you’ll notice is the large, red and white lighthouse. This is the Keweenaw Waterway Upper Entrance Lighthouse. It’s located at the end of the 1600-foot breakwater, and has been guiding ships in from Lake Superior since 1950.

To see the lighthouse up close, walk down the pier and out onto the second section of the breakwall. It’s made from enormous rocks, so you’ll need decent balance to get out to the light. (You can also jump off into Lake Superior for a deeper-water swim.

McLain State Park Hiking Trails

Trail through the forest at McLain State park
Hiking trails at McLain State Park

The McLain State Park hiking trails are stunning — and underutilized. Even on the warmest holiday weekends, they’re always peaceful and quiet.

As you walk through the forest under enormous pine trees, you’ll catch glimpses of Lake Superior sparkling in the sunlight. Small side trails branch off toward the water, bringing you to breathtaking overlooks and down to the beach.

Beach trails at the park

Most of the McLain’s trails are made with packed dirt covered with a thick, soft layer of pine needles. (Perfect for trail running.) The terrain is hilly, but not prohibitively so; it’s accessible for kids and inexperienced hikers. In the winter, the park’s hiking trails are open for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

From the beach side of the park to the RV campground spots, it’s about 0.7 miles. There’s another small loop across the park road from the playground by the beach. The 1-mile Bear Lake Trail, which is located outside the main part of the park, is another beautiful route. You can access it from the cabins or the small parking lot across from the old park entrance.

Are Dogs Allowed at McLain State Park?

Dogs are allowed only on one part of the beach

Dogs are allowed at McLain State Park, as long as they remain on a leash that’s a maximum of 6 feet long. Your dog must remain on the leash and under your control at all times, and you may not leave them unattended at any time. The park requires you to pick up pet waste and dispose of it in a trash can.

One section of the beach at McLain State Park is open to dogs. It’s located between the beach side and the campground. To get there, park near the camp store, go down the stairs, and turn right on the hiking trail. Follow the “dog beach” signs to get to the water.

How to Get to the Park

McLain State Park is located about 10 miles from Hancock, Michigan.

Directions to McLain State Park:

  1. From Hancock, head north on highway M-203
  2. Drive 10 miles; the park entrance is on your left

If it’s been a while since you’ve been to McLain’s, you might notice that the park entrance has moved. The new entrance is about 0.5 miles closer to Hancock.

Things to Do Nearby

In the mood for more hiking near Hancock, MI? The Maasto Hiihto and Churning Rapids Trails are just a few miles from the park. For a kid-friendly stroll, it’s hard to beat the lovely Gardener’s Creek Nature Trail. You can also go for a swim at Hancock Beach or Calumet Waterworks Park.