Welcome to moose country

Van Riper, Craig Lake state parks offer many recreational opportunities

The North Country National Scenic Trail takes visitors to some beautiful sights in the backwoods of Craig Lake State Park. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

From the popular swimming beach and waterpark thrills at Van Riper State Park, to the secluded backcountry lakes of Craig Lake State Park, visitors have fantastic opportunities to enjoy the heart of moose country in the western Upper Peninsula.

Developing from the local Champion Beach swimming area, Van Riper State Park was established in western Marquette County in 1956 — just over a decade before Craig Lake State Park was created in eastern Baraga County in 1967.

The area is prime country for seeing moose, a population re-established in the region during the mid-1980s when moose were airlifted from Canada. Backwoods marshes are home to these immense creatures, which may also be spotted sometimes in wetlands along highways.

In February 1956, the state Conservation Commission approved the purchase for $1 of the 400-acre Van Riper Park from Marquette County. The park was named for a local doctor who espoused the virtues of exercise and swimming and loved the sandy beach at Lake Michigamme.

“The county agreed to the sale because it is not able to keep up the park,” the Ironwood Daily Globe reported.

Camping at Craig Lake State Park is a quiet affair, with peaceful places to enjoy. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

As for Craig Lake, there are six lakes there, three of them named for the children of Frederick Miller of the famed Miller Brewing Co. In keeping with the Miller beer theme, there is also a nearby lake, just northwest of the park, named High Life Lake.

Craig Lake, the largest of these lakes, and Teddy Lake were named for two of Miller’s boys, while Claire Lake — known for its smallmouth bass waters — was named for his daughter.

The family once owned thousands of acres around Craig Lake. They had also built a lodge, a caretaker’s residence and several outbuildings there. Unfortunately, tragedy would mar the idyllic setting the Millers had discovered in these tranquil north woods.

Miller was 48 and his son, Frederick Jr., was 22, when they died in a plane crash in Wisconsin in December 1954. In the years that followed, the land was sold off to a Marquette logging company and some to the state.

In addition to the two state parks, the area also has state forest campgrounds nearby at Beaufort Lake, Deer Lake, Big Lake, King Lake and Squaw Lake. These locations provide a total of 50 additional rustic campsites.

A pond along the road in to Craig Lake State Park highlights the beautiful scenery of the area, which is located in Baraga County. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

These state forest campgrounds also have boat launches and fishing available. Big Lake is also located — like Craig Lake State Park — along a portion of the National North Country Scenic Trail.

At Van Riper, there are nearly 150 modern campsites, with mini-cabins, a group site and overnight lodging. The park also has rustic campsites not far off Lake Michigamme, a summer boating, swimming and fishing paradise.

Craig Lake State Park, encompassing just under 8,500 acres, has walk-in campsites and other camping options, including yurts and rustic cabins. It is the most remote state park in Michigan.

The park contains six full lakes and a variety of wildlife such as deer, black bear, beaver, loons and moose. Craig Lake has a main trail covering 8 miles, while the National North Country Scenic Trail runs for more than 7 miles here too.

Beyond hiking and camping, the park offers visitors opportunities to fish, hunt, paddle, metal detect and birdwatch.

Campers enjoy an afternoon at Van Riper State Park in western Marquette County. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Craig Lake is 374 acres and features six islands and high granite bluffs along its northern shoreline. The forests here are quiet and green.

Van Riper State Park is located 35 miles west of Marquette on US-41. This 1,044-acre park is home to 1.5 miles of waterfront on the east end of Lake Michigamme. The lake offers a fine sandy beach and the water temperature is generally moderate, which is sometimes a pleasant change from Lake Superior temperatures.

There is also 1.5 miles of frontage along the Peshekee River.

For the first time at the park this year, Water Warrior Island is located on Lake Michigamme, and features a 20-foot water slide, rock climbing walls, trampolines, floating walkways and a ninja-warrior-like obstacle course.

A concessionaire is running the water park as an additional option for park visitors. The park’s sandy beach on Lake Michigamme remains open.

Visitors check out Water Warrior Island at Van Riper State Park. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)

Ticket and reservation information, rules, height requirements and hours of operation for the water park can be found at www.michigan.gov/DNRwaterparks.

Van Riper State Park is located within an area rich in scenic, historic and recreational sites. It is only a few miles east of the park where iron ore was first discovered in the Lake Superior region in 1845.

Evidence of early mining ventures of almost a century ago can be seen along several miles of good foot trails that wander through the hills on the north side of the highway.

A fine scenic overlook of Lake Michigamme is found along these trails. Open pit mines are still operating in the general area and the Michigan Iron Industry Museum located in Negaunee Township, about a half-hour from the park, is well worth a visit.

The park has five walking trails ranging in length from .25 mile to 1.5 miles.

Whether you’re looking to beat the crowds or a day at the beach, these two Michigan state parks offer wonderful places to enjoy this summer.