Fort Custer Recreation Area in Michigan was once farmland that became a military training center during WWII before it was finally deeded to the state of Michigan in 1971. Since then, it has become an incredible place to spend the weekend–or longer–camping, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and more.
Jack and I spent a three day weekend in August exploring Fort Custer Recreation Area and a few things in the surrounding area. As often is the case with our travels, we left the area without doing everything available, but I guess that gives us a reason to return again.
All You Need To Know About Fort Custer Recreation Area, Michigan
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Take A Hike On The Blue Trail
Although the Michigan Department of Natural resources states that the Fort Custer Recreation Area has over 40 miles of trails, you need to know that not all of those miles of trails are for hikers. In fact, I would go as far as to say that only one of them is good for hiking, and that would be the blue trail.
The blue trail is 4 miles in length and loops around two of the three lakes in Fort Custer Recreation Area. We started it from the parking lot near Whitford Lawler Lake, but while on the trail we discovered an entrance from the campground where we stayed.
The trail from the lake entrance starts in a field that was full of wildflowers. It then heads into the woods where you stay until the last quarter mile or so, where you get beautiful views of the small lakes.
The rest of the trails in the park are for mountain bikes or horses.
We own two of these polypropylene RV rugs. We bought the one pictured here at least six years ago and it is still going strong. We bought a smaller one for our truck camper shortly after buying it. We find that they significantly reduce the amount of debris and sand that gets tracked into our trailers.
If you like private sites where you can barely see your neighbors, you will love camping at the Fort Custer Recreation Area in Michigan. We could not remember the last time we had a campsite that was so large, so private, and so spacious. The spot we had was also very level and easy to get in and out of, which was handy since we camped in our 28 foot Jayco and not our pop-up truck camper this trip.
The fire pit was amazing too! What the fire picture doesn’t show is the downpour that happened fifteen minutes after we got our fire started. Hopefully when you go, you get better campfire weather.
The signs for the mountain biking trails tell you what direction to go according to the day so make sure to pay attention.
Go Mountain Biking
After leaving the bikes at home during our time in Brown County State Park, Indiana and missing out on awesome mountain bike trails, I made sure we threw ours in the back of the truck before we left for Fort Custer Recreation Area.
Jack decided to skip out on the bike trails, preferring to read a book in the trailer with our dog, Auggie, and our cat, Valkarie, to keep him company. This was my first time on mountain bike trails in over 20 years. I was out of practice so I took it really easy and walked the difficult areas. That didn’t stop me from taking a spill, though.
Let my spill be a lesson for you, always wear a helmet no matter how easy you intend to take it; you never know when you will need it. Here is a link to a plain-Jane basic bike helmet that will protect your head. I am so thankful I had mine on as I did a summersault in the air before landing on my shins and chin.
There are three mountain biking trails in Fort Custer Recreation Area. They are recognized by the International Mountain Biking Association, which means these are pretty sweet trails for mountain biking enthusiasts.
Enjoy The Beach
Fort Custer Recreation Area has a pretty nice beach for swimming on the shores of Eagle Lake with plenty of parking and restrooms not far from the shore. There is also a concession stand that sells snacks and refreshments in the peak summer season.
Want a beach towel that the sand won’t stick to? We have had two of these Youphoria camping towels for several years now and not only does sand not stick to them, but they are also great for removing wet sand from skin. Another plus of these towels is they dry fast, meaning they don’t get that damp towel stink.
Get Out On The Water
All three lakes in the park are no-wake zones, meaning trips out on the water are quiet and slow. You can bring your own boat or rent a canoe, kayak, or paddle board at the beach house near the shores of Eagle Lake from May 15th through September 15th. You can also get out on the local Kalamazoo River that borders the park.
If you are looking for a cheap way to get out on the water more often, check out this highly-rated Intex Inflatable Kayak for two. Not only does it have a reasonable price tag that can be recouped after a few times of using it instead of renting, but it also takes up much less space and weighs less than a conventional kayak.
Stroll Through The Gardens In The Nearby Leila Arboretum
There are more activities available in the Fort Custer State Recreation area listed at the bottom of this article, but I want to take a moment to list a few activities available in the area surrounding the park.
One such place is the nearby Leila Arboretum. This beautiful garden area is less than a 15 minute drive from the park.
The arboretum has a disc golf course that is free to use. We keep discs in our camper, but it was threatening to rain that day so we decided against playing. If you are looking for an inexpensive and fun sport for almost all ages, disc golf is it. A set of 3 discs is relatively inexpensive, but not necessary. We play with just one mid-range disc per person. Plus I have yet to come across a course that charges you to play.
The gardens are definitely worth a wander through. You can learn more about native plants in the area from the plaques located throughout. For instance, did you know prickly paw was native to Michigan? I would never have guessed it would be. I associated it with hotter and more arid states.
The Kingman Museum of Natural History and Planetarium can also be found on the grounds, but it was closed during our time in the area.
Take In The Wood Carvings Of Nearby Fantasy Forest
In the front section of Leila Arboretum you will find the Fantasy Forest and this is a must do if you have a love for wood carvings or unique sculptures. We spent a good 15-20 minutes gazing at the different wood carvings.
Go Into Battle Creek And Explore Horrocks Farm Market
If you are a foodie, take the 15 minute drive into Battle Creek to Horrocks Farm Market and spend your time exploring the aisles and aisles of food choices.
We came out with a cart full of food. Our favorite purchase was the take-n-bake pizzas. They were the best take-n-bake pizzas we have ever had. Loaded with toppings and cheese and a chewy crust. We went back for three more to share with our kids before we left town.
More Things To See & Do In Fort Custer Recreation Area
During the winter, you can enjoy cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding. Plus the modern campground stays open.
There are several equestrian trails as well as an equestrian camping area.
You are allowed to fish on all three lakes in the park. There is also a fishing pier on Whitford-Lawler Lake.
Hunting is allowed in the park, but you must first call for details.
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, once a week naturalists visit the park offering nature-based programs for the public as part of the Michigan State Park Explorer Program.
There are several mini cabins available to rent for overnight stays. These are rustic without electricity or running water and you must bring your own bedding.
I hope this guide helps you plan a visit to Fort Custer Recreation Area, Michigan.