One adventurous couple and 98 state parks make for an amazing outdoor Michigan experience

John Browder relaxes at the couple’s campsite in Onaway State Park.

May 3, 2012

John Browder said that once his wife, Sharon, gets an idea in her head, she's determined to see it through. When Sharon purchased one of the Department of Natural Resources' state park stamp books and decided they were going to fill it with stamps from each and every one of Michigan's (then) 98 state parks, John knew there was plenty of driving in their future.

Vacationing in Michigan's gorgeous state parks was nothing new for the Fenton, Mich., couple. Sharon has spent plenty of time in these parks throughout her life and fondly recalls childhood summers at Wilson State Park on Budd Lake in Clare County, and visits to popular Harrisville State Park on the shores of Lake Huron.

John's first memories of staying at Michigan state parks go back some 45 years to Otsego Lake in Gaylord and, heading a bit south to Grayling, Hartwick Pines. He also remembers visiting the Upper Peninsula when he was 18 and staying at the "Porkies" (Porcupine Mountains Wilderness), Fort Wilkins, Tahquamenon Falls and Van Riper state parks.

"That was some of the fun with the stamp book," Sharon explained. "We were able to revisit the state parks we enjoyed as children."

The Browders purchased their stamp book while staying at Bewabic State Park in Crystal Falls in April 2010.

Dustin Gaberdiel congratulates Sharon Browder with a sticker from Muskallonge State Park.

"I was remarking to the ranger that it would be fun to have a program similar to the national parks that showcases Michigan state parks," Sharon said. "He showed me the booklet and we purchased it right away." The $9 booklet, which was first published in 2009 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of Michigan's state parks, offers a short description of each park and a spot to place a sticker that can be acquired for free at each park office.

Initially, the Browders planned trips to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Agate and Bond Falls. They stayed at Indian Lake on the way to Bewabic, visited Palms Book and Fayette and stopped at Father Marquette National Memorial and Straits State Park on that trip. "We were excited that during our first trip we visited nine parks for nine stamps," Sharon said.

As is the norm when exploring Michigan state parks, the Browders found new and different experiences at each one. As travel-trailer campers, the Browders planned their trips so that one park would serve as the "home base" and then they would enjoy excursions to surrounding parks. They requested a map of every park, scouted out favorite camping sites, and then organized a notebook of park literature so that they could easily make reservations for return visits.

"Our adventures in the parks were diverse," Sharon recalled. "We would stop and bike around some parks, take a picnic and use the day areas at others, while at still others we took advantage of the miles of beautiful hiking trails."

With all of the great outdoor memories, the couple finds it difficult to single out a favorite destination. "It's really hard to pick because they are all unique in their own way," John said. "Each park has a different feel to it in each season of the year."

Sharon remembered their disbelief at seeing the stunning waterfalls at Bond Falls – a natural wonder that neither she nor her husband had seen before. "They were spectacular," Sharon said.

Sharon Browder enjoys the hiking paths of Michigan's Wilderness State Park

Then there was the Laughing Whitefish Falls area - a place that they'd traveled past several times before but never really stopped to look around and take it all in - not until they got their park stamp book. "It was lovely," she said, "and we enjoyed the short walk back to it."

John appreciated the large, virgin white pines in Onaway State Park, noting, "We used our four-wheeler at Black Mountain, and it is close to Cheboygan and Mackinaw City."

They were awed by the magnitude of the Porcupine Mountains, its waterfalls and the hiking opportunities; enjoyed the hiking and biking opportunities at Hartwick Pines; and completed their book in August 2011 with a final stamp from Muskallonge State Park, which they loved for its proximity to Pictured Rocks National Park, Lake Superior and Grand Marais and for being what they described as at the "end of the road."

While it's true that the scenery was spectacular and the road trip was everything they had hoped it would be, the Browders said they were equally impressed with the cooperation and interest shown by state park personnel.

"In April of 2011, we were visiting Silver Lake State Park," Sharon recalled. "Park Supervisor Charlotte Kiefer listened to our story of collecting the stamps, gave us her card and told us if we had any problems to contact her and she would try to help. She also offered to show us around. Her effort really made our stop rewarding."

Later that spring, John said they visited Sleeper State Park - the last stamp they needed to round out the Lower Peninsula collection. Because the stamps weren't readily available, one of the staff offered to mail it to the Browders. "Soon after not only did the stamp arrive at our home, but there was also a note congratulating us on our recreation achievement," he said.

The Browders have spent time in Michigan state parks their whole lives, but the unique experience of visiting every park convinced them that these recreation destinations ought to be on everyone's vacation list.

John Browder gets his bearings as he bikes the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail.

They recently learned of Michigan's newest additions to the state park system (Lime Island Recreation Area in the Upper Peninsula, Rockport State Park in Harrisville, and Menominee River State Recreation Area - to be jointly managed with Wisconsin) and are looking forward to getting those stamps, too, once all the parks are open to the public.

The Browders' enthusiasm and tales of adventure have inspired at least eight other couples to embark on the same parks journey.

"Even though we spend most of our vacation time in Michigan, this program opened our eyes to areas that we hadn't experienced," Sharon said. "From the great sand dunes to the many lakes and streams, the Michigan state park system presents a lot for the outdoor enthusiast. One can bike, hike, swim, explore, hunt, fish, camp and enjoy the beauty of our wonderful state."

To find your perfect Michigan state park getaway, start at There you can search for parks with the right amenities for you, your family and friends; explore details about the many "Recreation 101" events and classes available statewide; and learn more about Michigan's Recreation Passport program - an easy way to both enjoy and support outdoor recreation in the Great Lakes State.

Reservations at Michigan state park campgrounds and harbors can be made by calling 800-447-2757 or visiting