Ionia State Recreation Area is a beautiful, 4,500-acre swath of woodlands, criss-crossed with streams and trails. Just thirty minutes west of bustling Grand Rapids, the recreation area provides a quiet, sylvan escape to visitors. Hikers, bikers and equestrians can explore the gentle hills, broadleaf forests and grassy fields of the park via an extensive network of trails. Paddlers as well as anglers can make their way to 110-acre Sessions Lake, right in the park’s center, or they can head to the Grand River, which forms the park’s northern boundary.
The park is also a popular spot with hunters, who can rove the spacious park and find some solitude among its hills and hollows. Deer, rabbit and turkey are among the most popular game species.
For those looking for something different, the park also has a newly built, 24-hole disc golf course. Novices and experts alike can take in the park’s forests and fields while playing on the lovely course.
Winter freezes Sessions Lake over and usually brings a thick blanket of snow to the area; but the park stays open, allowing visitors to enjoy winter activities such as snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.
Ionia has 100 RV campsites and 46 equestrian campsites - even so, visitors during mid-summer would be wise to take advantage of the park’s reservation system.
Ionia is just a short ways off of I-96, about midway between the cities of Grand Rapids and Lansing. Most travelers, if they’re arriving via the interstate, will take exit 64, which puts them on Jordan Lake Road, which, in turn, brings you directly to the park. All roads into the park are paved, flat and without any serious bends. Travelers should find the driving very easy (look out for nasty winter weather, however - Michigan gets plenty!) Jordan Lake Road leads to the park’s main road, which bends around Sessions Lake and ends at the campgrounds. If you’d like to access the Grand River, or the trails which go along it, you’ll need to head out of the park and re- enter via Riverside Road, which parallels the river.
The nearby town of Saranac offers amenities including food, camping supplies, ATMs, restaurants and more. Lansing and Grand Rapids are large, full-service cities.
Parking is available at trailheads and day use areas along the park’s main road and along Riverside Road. The RV and equestrian campground areas are both spacious, and should not offer any significant challenges to travelers who are below the 45-ft length limit. Once at the campground, the lake and lakeside trail are both within walking distance, while the swim beach and boat launch are a very short drive away.
Ionia’s campground sits just to the east of Sessions Lake and offers easy access to many of the parks equestrian, biking and hiking trails. Sites are set among patches of woodlands and open, grassy fields. The park boasts 100 RV sites and an additional 46 equestrian sites. RV sites have 20/30 amp electric hookups available, though there is no water or sewer. Equestrian sites are fully rustic, with no electric, water or sewer. A dump station is located at the entrance to the campground. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table.
Several water spigots can be found throughout the campground, and there is also a modern restroom with showers. Food and camping supplies can be gotten in the nearby town of Saranac, just a few miles west of the park.
Reservations can be taken up to six months in advance, and visitors would be wise to make reservations well in advance of the busy summer season.
Boasting several dozen equestrian campsites and fifteen miles of equestrian trails, Ionia is unsurprisingly a popular destination for trail riders. Verdant hardwood forests, plantations of tall, orderly pine, gentle hills and quietly rushing creeks can all be explored from horseback. A local organization, the Ionia Horse Trails Association, is specifically dedicated to the upkeep of the park’s equestrian trails, so you can expect to travel along well-groomed routes. There are a few designated foot-travel only trails within the park, so make sure you’re on the correct trail before heading out.
110-acre Sessions Lake sits in the middle of Ionia and provides wonderful opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. Paddlers can explore the richly vegetated shores or head out into the center of the lake and cast a line for bluegill, walleye, small and largemouth bass, crappie and more. A boat launch on the west side of the lake provides easy access, and there are canoe rentals available here too. Those preferring a riverine adventure can head to the walk-out boat launch located on the Grand River; there’s miles of water and tree-lined shores to explore in each direction.
You need not be mounted on a horse to explore the prairies and woodlands of Ionia. Three and a half miles of hiking trails and about ten miles of bike trails offer hikers and bikers a chance to take in the sylvan scenery, flora and fauna. The park is a popular spot for migratory neotropical bird species, and many colorful little warblers can be seen flitting through the branches during late spring and summer. A hiking path around Sessions Lake provides peaceful views and crosses several babbling streams.
Visitors can explore the rolling terrain, thick forests and open fields of Ionia via snowmobile in the winter. Several trails allow for snowmobile use, when there are at least four inches of snow on the ground, and because the park is open through winter, you don’t have to make lodging arrangements somewhere else. If snowmobiling isn’t your thing, try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on some of the non-snowmobiling trails - you’ll discover snow-clad pines, sparkling white fields and a sense of winter quietude.
Just recently built, the disc golf course at Ionia is gorgeously set, with holes and fairways placed in fields and forests throughout the park. There are 24 holes in all, many offering challenges shaped by the natural environment; hills, creeks, lakes and thick forests add to the course’s beauty but also make some shots very tough! The course begins on the west side of Session Lake, across from the campground, and it is open year-round.
Though only half an hour away from bustling Grand Rapids, Ionia provides in idyllic, game-rich setting for hunters and trappers. Fall brings a burst of fiery color to the canopy, and winter sees a hushed forest blanketed with Michigan snow. Deer, rabbit, woodcock and turkey are some of the most commonly hunted species, though waterfowl hunters may also set their sites on ducks and geese as well. Beaver and mink inhabit the park’s waterways, while coyotes and foxes are plentiful in woodlands and fields; trappers can receive permits to catch all of them.