Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada
THE BEACH: On the southern end of Lake Huron's South Georgian Bay, Wasaga Beach is Baywatch North. The nine-mile-long beach two hours north of Toronto is the world's longest string of freshwater sand and the only beach in Canada as far as everyone east of Calgary is concerned. On 420 acres of beach and picnic areas managed by Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, hardbodies bat around volleyballs and bands perform at the "Dard," the band shell, while the waterfront patrol keeps the adolescent throngs under control.
SWIMMABILITY: Remember, this is Baywatch North. Canadians can handle the water from Victoria Day to Labor Day, but the rest of us should hold off until July, when water temperatures soar into the seventies.
AFTER TOWELING OFF: Take your towel and head to Wasaga Waterworld (705-429-4400). The waterfront park boasts not one but four high-speed waterslides. The Nancy Island Museum (705-429-2516), at the mouth of the Nottawasaga River, houses a replica of aN1880s lighthouse and hull of the sunken schooner Nancy. South of the town of Wasaga Beach are the Blueberry Plains Trails, which wind through 3,700 acres of forested dunes. Don't meander too far from the beachsunsets are showstoppers.
LODGING AND CONTACTS: Saga Resort (800-263-7053; www.sagaresort.com), located midway up Wasaga Beach, has a comfy, provincial-Ontario feel. Most of the mini-condos and cottages were renovated after a fire that gutted the resort a couple of years back. For more lodging options contact the Wasaga Beach Chamber of Commerce (705-429-2247; www.wasagainfo.com) or www.wasagabeach.com. Fish for chinook salmon and rainbow, brown, and lake trout with Off Duty Fishing Charters (705-429-1615). Wasaga Beach Provincial Park: 705-429-2516.
Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Michigan
THE BEACH: Acadia National Park meets Redwood National Park in this towering sugar-maple, pine, and hemlock forest33,000 acres of which is old-growth, making it the largest virgin tract in the Midwestfringing 22 miles of Lake Superior coastline. For a sand-between-the-toes vacation, head to the half-mile-long spot adjoining Union Bay Campground. Rock skippers and agate seekers can migrate west along the rugged 19-mile shoreline, a dead ringer for the Maine coast.
SWIMMABILITY: Imagine cutting a hole in a frozen lake and taking the plunge. That's Superior swimming in June. By August it warms up to just plain cold at 55 degrees.
AFTER TOWELING OFF: The park has more than 100 miles of hiking trails. Start with the mile-long Summit Peak Tower Trail, which tops out at 1,958 feet, the highest point in the park. For an overnighter, try the six-mile loop on the Little Carp and Beaver Creek Trails. Start at Summit Peak Road, climb 2.5 miles to Mirror Lake, and pitch a tent at one of the designated sites about a mile and a half past the lake. Or skip the hiking and surf-cast for brown or rainbow trout and steelhead at the mouth of the Union River.
LODGING AND CONTACTS: The park has eight rustic lakeshore cabins (most were built in the 1940s and have no water or electricity) that each sleep four. Union Bay Campground on the sandy beach has 100 sites, hot showers, and electricity. Presque Isle Campground, on a bluff on the far-west side of the park, has 50 primitive sites and trails to four waterfalls, including the 30-foot-high Manabezho on the Presque Isle River. For camping reservations, call 800-447-2757. For cabin reservations and park info, 906-885-5275; www.midnr.com or www.porcupinemountains.com.
Whitefish Dunes State Park, Wisconsin
THE BEACH: This mile-long strip located in the 900-acre state park harbors the softest sand north of Sarasota. The secret is in the dolomite limestone, pulverized to a fine powder. The other Whitefish superlative is 93-foot Old Baldy, the tallest sand dune in Wisconsin, which can be climbed on a wooden boardwalk.
SWIMMABILITY: Since the beach is in a bay, there's little threat of big waves unless the wind is whipping in from the east. Do watch for warnings posted about a rip current that can materialize at the far end of the beach. Lake Michigan temperatures hover in the midsixties to low seventies in July and August, making swimming nippy but possible.
AFTER TOWELING OFF: Budding (and accomplished) photographers flock here. The swaying sea grass and undulating dunes make for dreamy compositions. Come on the weekend and the park naturalist likely will be in her beach tent orchestrating sand-sculpture competitions, monarch butterfly observation, junior angler classes, and dune-ecology workshops. Families also can hike the park's 13-mile trail system.
LODGING AND CONTACTS: Most of the park's annual quarter-million visitors stay at one of Door County's famously Uber-quaint inns or rental cottages. The Square Rigger (920-823-2404), a few miles up the lakeshore in Jacksonport, has its own sandy beach and hosts fish boilsa peninsula tradition. Camping is not allowed at Whitefish Dunes but is fine at other state parks nearby. D.C. Bicycles (920-743-4434) in Sturgeon Bay rents bikes and offers kayak tours. Wisconsin State Parks: 920-823-2400; www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/land/parks. Door County Chamber of Commerce: 920-743-4456; www.doorcountyvacations.com.
Wasaga Beach Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada