Michigan Bucket List: Sand Dunes
We’ve really enjoyed putting together Michigan “bucket lists” of waterfalls, state parks and lighthouses over the past year. With more shoreline than any of the other 48 states in the continental U.S., Michigan is sometimes referred to as the “Third Coast.” One of the features that draws visitors to Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior each year are the majestic sand dunes that can be found there. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are both home to towering dunes and have each seen an increase in visitor traffic after national media coverage on Good Morning America. We put together a list of 15 sand dune spots in Michigan that we consider to be the best for overall visitor experience, check them out in our Michigan Bucket List: Sand Dunes.
Grand Sable Dunes – These dunes are found on the eastern end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, spanning five miles along Lake Superior. The Grand Sable Dunes reach heights of 300 feet and they are reached within a five minute drive from Grand Marais. There are several amazing vantage points and trails to see the dunes from, with our favorite being the Log Slide Overlook. More information available at https://www.nps.gov/piro/planyourvisit.
Rosy Mound Natural Area – One of the gems of Ottawa County Parks is the Rosy Mound Natural Area, which features a trail that passes through wooded dunes and foredunes on its way to a beach and a dune blowout. It’s only a .7 mile walk from the parking lot to the beach, but it is a hike that involves a steep climb and quite a few stairs. A dune boardwalk trail and a shaded canopy are a few of the other features here, find out more at https://www.miottawa.org/Parks/rosymound.htm.
Saugatuck Dunes – The 200 foot tall freshwater coastal dunes are the highlight of a visit to the Saugatuck Dunes State Park. There is no campground at this 1,000 acre state park, but there are hiking trails and 2.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Saugatuck Dunes State Park is also home to several endangered plant species and plenty of wildlife viewing and birdwatching opportunities. Find out more at http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails.
Muskegon State Park – Known for its pristine beach on Lake Michigan as well as its winter recreation opportunities (luge track and more), Muskegon State Park is also home to some impressive sand dunes. Hike the Dune Ridge Trail, which is part of 12 miles of trails that wind through the park. There are two different campgrounds in the park, with more than 240 sites. Find out more at http://www.michigandnr.com.
Hoffmaster State Park – This state park features three miles of sandy Lake Michigan beach between Grand Haven and Muskegon. There are 10 miles of hiking trails, and one of those trails leads to the Dune Climb Stairway for views of the tallest dune in the park. The campground is one of the state’s largest with nearly 300 sites, and the Gillette Visitor Center features interactive displays and live animals. More information: http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails.
Sleeper State Park – While our Lake Michigan beaches are well-known throughout the country, there are also a few sandy spots worth checking out on the Lake Huron side of the state as well. Sleeper State Park near Caseville has a large campground, a half mile of beach, four miles of trails and many other outdoor recreation opportunities. Take in the Old Dunes Trail and explore the dunes and ancient dune forests at the park. Find out more at http://www.michigandnr.com.
Port Crescent State Park – This state park in Huron County has 600 acres perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. The park offers swimming, bird watching, camping, hiking, boating and more. The Dunes Nature Trail is a .75 mile hike, and other trails wind past the Saginaw Bay shoreline and through the rest of the park. Find out more at http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails.
Ludington State Park – This fantastic state park has miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, a historic lighthouse, one of the largest campgrounds in the state, and trails that pass a river, a lake, through forests and over sand dunes. Check out our Photo Gallery Friday post and our feature on the Big Sable Point Lighthouse for more information. With 5,300 acres and more than 21 miles of trails this park can keep visitors busy for a week or longer. Find out more at http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/.
Silver Lake State Park – A day use area features a sandy beach and the historic Little Sable Point Lighthouse, while the main part of this park features almost 2,000 acres of sand dunes. A section of this park is also the only place east of Utah where you can drive your own ATV over sand dunes, and another part of the park is leased to Mac Wood’s Dune Rides for scenic dune tours. Find out more about this state park at http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/.
Warren Dunes State Park – The sand dunes at Warren Dunes State Park are so big that several of them have names: Mt. Fuller, Mt. Edwards, Tower Hill and Pikes Peak are just a few of the dunes that rise hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan. This park also has six miles of hiking trails and more than 200 campsites. Check out our Photo Gallery Friday post for more pictures of this park, and find out more about its amenities at http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/.
Grand Mere State Park – This day-use park has no campground and minimal amenities, but that’s part of the draw for hikers, skiers, and bird watchers who head there each year. A two mile trail takes hikers past the park’s tallest dune, Baldtop, and other trails pass by inland lakes and rare plants. Find out more at http://www.michigantrailmaps.com.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – The best-known collection of sand dunes in Michigan can be found near on the Lake Michigan coastline in the 71,000 acre Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. One of the park’s most popular attractions is the Dune Climb, while other trails like Pyramid Point, Sleeping Bear Point and Empire Bluffs provide great views. The Lake Michigan Overlook (featured photo at the top of this post) and the Dune Overlook on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Driver are two more great places for dune views at the national lakeshore. More dunes can be found on South Manitou Island, and Platte River Point is a favorite spot of ours for sunsets, swimming, tubing and dune views. Check out our Photo Gallery Friday post for more pictures and head over to https://www.nps.gov/ to start planning your visit.
Olive Shores – This Ottawa County Park features a steep dune formation and a sandy beach on Lake Michigan. The 2002 Tom Hanks film Road to Perdition did part of its filming here, and a network of stairs and trails helps visitors travel over the dune and to the beach. Find out more at https://www.miottawa.org/Parks/olive_shores.htm and check out our feature on Ottawa County Parks for more pictures.
North Ottawa Dunes – Located close to US-31, North Ottawa Dunes manages to still be a great place for a quiet hike through more than 500 acres of wooded dunes. Dunes here reach heights of over 700 feet, and trails cover 10 miles. The property lies between North Beach Park (Ottawa County Parks), Coast Guard Park (City of Ferrysburg), and P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. More information can be found at: http://www.miottawa.org/Parks/pdf/Park_Maps/Trails_NOD.pdf.
Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area – Part of the Huron-Manistee National Forest, this wilderness area north of Ludington features dunes that reach 140 feet high and 10 miles of hiking trails. This is a popular spot for wildlife enthusiasts, bird watchers (the rare piping plover has nested here), campers and hunters. You’ll also find interdunal ponds and plant life that includes the endangered Pitcher’s Thistle. Find out more at http://www.fs.usda.gov/.