William Sterling State Park
Four out of five of the Great Lakes prefer Michigan, and Lake Erie has the shortest shoreline with Michigan. As a result, there aren’t many public beaches on Lake Erie in Michigan. William Sterling State Park is the largest public beach with a mile of frontage and the only Michigan state park on Lake Erie. There is Erie Metro Park (regional park) a few miles north, but it has no beach. William Sterling State Park is south of Detroit in the town of Monroe and is about 30 minutes away from the Ohio border. Not only is William Sterling State Park a large beach, it is also home to wetlands and lagoons, important for wildlife. Most years, Lake Erie is the warmest Great Lake because it is shallow, and 2020 was no exception. I went in late August and the water was 76 degrees Fahrenheit (according to NOAA). I was instantly comfortable in the water. In July it was close to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Downriver, Metro Detroit
Detroit: 38 miles (39 minutes)
Toledo: 24 miles (27 minutes)
Ann Arbor: 45 miles (48 minutes)
Lansing: 107 miles (1 hour 34 minutes)
As I mentioned, Lake Erie is warm, it reminded me of Myrtle Beach on the Atlantic Ocean in terms of temperature. This makes for a very comfortable swim. The water is clear at the surface, but murky down below. William Sterling State Park is also a popular place for boaters to drop anchor. On the day I went this was a bit concerning because boaters were coming very close to shore, basically in the swimming area. It was also a bit windy and many of the boaters seemed inexperienced. I witnessed an incident from the beach, where a boat was literally in the middle of the swimming area and almost ran over a kid and almost started a fight because of it. In addition to being warm, Lake Erie also has an algae problem (the warm water could be a contributing factor). Large algae blooms can take over large sections of the lake. I saw a few signs warning not to swim if the water is green. One sign said the health department stated that swimming in algae water can be hazardous to your health. Make sure you look before you leap.
Sand / Land:
William Sterling State Park beach is a mile long making it one of the largest single public beaches I have seen in Michigan. While it is a long beach, it isn’t a very wide beach. Another victim of the rising water levels of the Great Lakes, the beach is only about 10 yards wide. In pictures from a few years ago I found online, the beach was two to three times wider than it currently is. Because of the high water, there are many large trees at water’s edge with exposed roots. This is cool to look at, but it limits the access to the water and makes it hard on the feet. In pictures from a few years ago, it looks like there were more trees where the water currently is, more nature swallowed up by the lake. The sand here isn’t the greatest, it is hot and coarse as well. Also, at water’s edge there are a lot of crushed shells. Because of all this I recommend water shoes to go swimming here. In addition to the sand there is a lot of open grassy area adjacent to the beach to set up camp and barbeque. There are a decent number of grills and picnic tables, but there is little shade. Finally, there is a fairly large playground about halfway down the beach.
The beach here looks out to the east over Lake Erie’s endless horizon, which is nice, but there are a few blemishes to the views here. From this beach you can see, not one, not two, but three power plants. DTE’s Monroe coal-fired power plant with it’s twin smoke stacks is directly to the south next to the park and the closest. Next to the north, you can see the cooling towers of the Enrico Fermi nuclear power plant five miles away. Finally, if you look off in the distance to the southeast, you can see the Davis-Besse Nuclear power station’s cooling towers in Oak Harbor, Ohio, 25 miles away (as the crow flies). The views out over the lake are nice, but there are many more beaches throughout the Great Lakes that have more impressive and more beautiful views than William Sterling State Park.
Near the northern end of the beach is a bathroom building of about 16 individual unisex bathrooms, but because of Corona, they had half of the bathrooms closed. Fewer toilets for the same if not more amount of people, that doesn’t make sense. The facilities were decent with tile walls and floors. In the bathroom I went in (after waiting a bit), the toilet and floors were very wet. But on the positive side, as I was waiting to go in, an employee was cleaning one of the bathrooms.
If you are a Michigan car owner with the recreation passport, you get in for free. As of 2020, the recreation passport is $12 for the year and gets you into all state parks. The daily cost if you don’t have the passport is $10, I believe. The beach has plenty of parking all along the beach. I went on a Saturday and parking wasn’t an issue.
If you are looking to beat the heat in the downriver area, head to William Sterling State Park. I live northeast of Detroit, so for about the same drive I can go to Port Huron, -given the choice I would head to Port Huron instead.
The boat in the middle of the picture that almost started a fight