Michigan Beach Walking Laws – What’s Public and What’s Private?


As Michigan’s infamous summer seemingly inches closer, you might be wondering, “Where are the public beaches near me?” And the answer is more ambiguous than you might think. Tom Sinas, Grand Rapids personal injury attorney, appeared on Fox 17’s Know the Law recently to help beachgoers understand their rights regarding Michigan beach walking laws and outlines where you can and cannot walk along the infamous shoreline of West Michigan.

Michigan Beach Walking Laws in the Spotlight

A recent case in Indiana – Gunderson v. State of Indiana – a landowner challenged Indiana state law regarding where the public is allowed to walk along private sections of the beach. In a similar 2005 case, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that beachgoers can walk along the public trust of the beach. In the Michigan case of Glass v. Goeckel, landowners on private, beachfront property, are not allowed to restrict anyone from walking within that public trust of the beach.

The more recent Indiana case of Gunderson v. State of Indiana is important for Michiganders, as well, because it made it all the way to the US Supreme Court. However, the Court declined to hear the case, which means the current Michigan beach walking laws continue to apply.

Public Trust Sections – Determining a High Water Mark

If you’re doing a Google search for “public beaches near me,” you have to understand what sections of the shoreline are accessible under Michigan beach walking laws. Regardless if a beach is public or private, the fact remains that beachgoers can walk along the private trust, indicated by the high water mark.

The Michigan League of Conservation Voters denotes the high water mark as the place where “the presence and action of the water is so continuous as to leave a distinct mark either by erosion, destruction of terrestrial vegetation, or other easily recognized characteristics.”

This is a somewhat ambiguous definition and favors beach walkers. If in doubt, walk as close to the water as possible to ensure you’re not trespassing on private property.