Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) was used by the USEPA to establish new recreational water quality criteria in 2012 using the indicator bacteria enterococci. The application of this method has been limited, but resource managers are interested in more timely monitoring results. In this study, we evaluated the efficacy of qPCR as a rapid, alternative method to the time-consuming membrane filtration (MF) method for monitoring water at select beaches and rivers of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, MI. Water samples were collected from four locations (Esch Road Beach, Otter Creek, Platte Point Bay, and Platte River outlet) in 2014 and analyzed for culture-based (MF) and non-culture-based (i.e., qPCR) endpoints using and enterococci bacteria. The MF and qPCR enterococci results were significantly, positively correlated overall ( = 0.686, < 0.0001, = 98) and at individual locations as well, except at the Platte River outlet location: Esch Road Beach ( = 0.441, = 0.031, = 24), Otter Creek ( = 0.592, = 0.002, = 24), and Platte Point Bay ( = 0.571, = 0.004, = 24). Similarly, MF and qPCR results were significantly, positively correlated ( = 0.469, < 0.0001, = 95), overall but not at individual locations. Water quality standard exceedances based on enterococci levels by qPCR were lower than by MF method: 3 and 16, respectively. Based on our findings, we conclude that qPCR may be a viable alternative to the culture-based method for monitoring water quality on public lands. Rapid, same-day results are achievable by the qPCR method, which greatly improves protection of the public from water-related illnesses.