Find A Trail
There is a tendency to visit Kirk Park in the summer and head straight to the beach. You park in the picnic area, jump out of the car and hightail it down a paved path to Lake Michigan where you jump into the surf, roll in the sand or get scorched by the sun. Then you go home, usually waterlogged, sunburnt and with half a dune in your bathing suit.
That's why a unique time - some say the best time - to visit this Ottawa County Park is spring or fall. With no people, no bugs and no August temperatures to tempt you into the water, you'll discover the rest of this natural area and it's a gem.
At 68 acres and with 2,000 feet of lake front, Kirk Park is not large. In fact, it's basically one dune. But it's a large dune that raises 160 feet above Lake Michigan and on its west side is covered in marram grasses. The rest of the dune is forested in beech, maple, oak and black cherry that are brilliant when peaking in fall colors. There is also a red pine plantation in the east side of the park and in the spring woodland wildflowers are profuse.
In 1986-87 high lake levels washed away part of Kirk Park's dune, leaving steep, open bluffs along the shoreline. To prevent further erosion of the dune and to stop the sand from continuing to shift inland, Ottawa County Parks built the trails, stairways, fencing and scenic overlooks that resulted in an intriguing 2-mile trail system over and around this towering hill of sand. The western half of the trail system is often referred to as the Dune Ridge Trail and the entire perimeter is a hike of less than 1.5 miles. Definitely kid’s stuff.
The southernmost segment of Kirk Park’s beach – segregated from the rest of the Lake Michigan shoreline with a fence – is an off-leash area for dogs. On the sandy beach or clean waters of this Great Lake dog owners can play and swim with Fido. The dog beach is a quarter-mile walk from the parking lot, ending with a long staircase.
The trailhead for the park's 2 miles of trails is located near a rustic lodge that is used as an overnight facility for youth groups. The Dune Ridge Trail is a mile-long loop around and over the dune and by far is the most interesting segment in the park. From Post No. 1, you begin with the trail to the Dog Beach, skirting the base of the dune for almost a quarter mile to Post No. 2. Stay right at the junction and then right again in 50 yards to reach the spur and stairway that leads to Lake Michigan and one of the most unusual off-lease dog areas in in the state.
Backtrack and head north (left) at the junction. You climb almost 100 feet before reaching a long boardwalk with an observation in the middle, giving way to an extended view of the shoreline below and the Lake Michigan horizon. More climbing and stairways follow before you reach the 740-foot crest of the dune at Mile 0.56. Early spring and late fall there are views everywhere.
A rapids descent to the park’s paved trail follows and along the way you pass a headstone that reads "5 Years, 5 Months, 3 Days" and then another observation deck. At Mile 0.67 you reach the paved trail and head west (left) to quickly reach another viewing area with an access to the swimmer’s beach.
The rest of the trail system loops around the perimeter of the park, quickly passing the playscape and and just beyond Mile 1 arriving at Post No. 5 where you cross the park entrance drive. On the other side it’s quarter mile walk south through a lightly wooded area until the trail swings west and climbs a low ridge to post No. 3. Head north (right) to return to the trail head in less than a quarter mile.
Kirk Park has a wooded picnic area on the east with a shelter, tables and a children's playscape. A paved path and boardwalk departs from the restrooms and concession area to an observation deck and stairways to the beach. The sandy shoreline at is not nearly as wide as Tunnel Park but is still a popular swimming spot in the summer when the parking lot can occasionally be filled on a hot weekend.
A vehicle permit is required to enter Kirk Park from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Kirk Park is halfway between Holland and Grand Haven. From US-31, 9 miles north of Holland, depart at Stanton Street and head west. Follow park signs to the entrance on Lakeshore Drive.
For more information contact Ottawa County Parks and Recreation at (616) 738-4810.
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