In the northern part of the lower peninsula along Michigan’s west coast, you’ll find the Silver Lake Sand Dunes. The dunes span the Lake Michigan beach towns of Mears, Hart, and Pentwater. To their west is the vast Lake Michigan; nestled on their eastern side is the near-700-acre Silver Lake. Tourists from all over the world arrive to ride the only dunes east of the Mississippi open to privately-owned off-road vehicles (ORVs).
If you’re not driving, the best way to get there is through the airports in Grand Rapids, Muskegon, or Traverse City, depending on what other activities you have on your itinerary. The Silver Lake Sand Dunes lie between Muskegon and Ludington, and no matter which airport you fly into, you’ll want to rent a car. All of these airports are within a two-hour drive of the dunes.
The picturesque area makes for a perfect beach vacation. You’ll find all types of water and outdoor activities.
Take A Dune Tour
Mac Wood’s Dune Rides offers 40-minute, seven-mile dune tours. Drivers knowledgeable about the dunes’ history and environmental issues take you to the summit, where you can see for miles. The tour glides down the valleys and past Silver Lake and Lake Michigan. The excursion welcomes all ages. Reservations aren’t required. Typically, the dune tours leave every 15 minutes; however, you may need to wait up to an hour during busy times. Be aware that they don’t rent ORVs at Mac Wood’s.
Pro Tip: For shopping, Dune Mountain Gift Shop at Mac Wood’s is a cozy gift shop close to Silver Lake.
Drive The Dunes
Silver Lake State Park features a 450-acre off-road vehicle area, the largest area of its kind east of the Mississippi. The site offers several places to rent ORVs, including Silver Lake Buggy Rentals, Parrot’s Landing, and Wild Bill’s ATV Rentals. You can also bring your own ORV if you’d like; however, be aware of the safety rules. This activity takes some planning to comply with the safety requirements.
Pro Tip: The park system manages the long lines for the ORV area through the parking lot voucher system.
Climb Little Sable Point Lighthouse
Located just down the road in nearby Mears, the Little Sable Point Lighthouse stands among Lake Michigan’s 70-foot dunes and evergreen forests. The tower, built in 1874, stands 115 feet tall and is among the tallest in Michigan. The Little Sable Point Lighthouse is open seasonally from late May until late September for those who want to climb the tower and enjoy the top’s stunning lake views. You’ll have 130 steps to climb before reaching the summit.
Pro Tip: They offer midweek live music during the summer, and you can still climb the lighthouse tower on concert nights.
Explore Silver Lake State Park
Located in Oceana County, the 3,000-acre Silver Lake State Park showcases more than four miles of the Lake Michigan shoreline. While driving and riding the dunes is a major draw at the park, it adds so much more to your day at the beach. If you enjoy water watersports, they offer stand-up paddleboarding, jet skis, pontoon boats, and kayaking. Anglers will enjoy the boat launch and a fishing pier. If you’re more of a landlubber, you’ll enjoy the hiking trails and eating s’mores around the campfire.
Pro Tip: The Silver Lake State Park is open 7 days a week, April 1 through October 31.
Hike Old Baldy Interpretive Trail
Located inside Mears State Park in Pentwater, you can hike along the Lake Michigan shoreline on the Old Baldy Interpretive Trail. The trail is a one-mile interpretive journey that goes to the top of the dune fondly referred to as “Old Baldy.” This is a sand-blown dune that features a stunning view of Lake Michigan and the harbor. The Old Baldy Interpretive Trail is fairly easy, so it’s the perfect walk if you’re bringing along your young grandchildren.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a more challenging hike, try the Silver Lake State Park Loop, a seven-mile loop beginning at the Silver Lake State Park Pedestrian Dune Access.
Walk Through A Lavender Labyrinth
Cherry Point Farm and Market, located a mile from the Lake Michigan shore, is one of the oldest farms in Oceana County. This area of Michigan is known for its cherries, but it also offers an abundance of herbs and flowers. While Cherry Point features Michigan produce, they also have a peaceful lavender labyrinth. Centered around a stone circle, lavender plants and earthen mounds define the footpath. Unlike a maze, which has multiple paths, a labyrinth is a singular path. One won’t get lost in a labyrinth. This long, winding path encourages contemplation and meditation. The labyrinth’s design represents elements of time. You’ll find one stone circle, 12 interweaving circles, 52 arbor posts, and seven cross pieces.
The farm grows fruits and vegetables and homemade products made from the farm’s bounty. In their market, you’ll find cherry pie, jams, and preserves. You also have to try their famous cherry strudel.
Pro Tip: Mid-July is the best time to visit when the lavender is in full bloom, and the fragrant bushes perfume the air.
Play A Round Of Golf
If you need a break from the beach bum lifestyle, just two miles from Silver Lake Sand Dunes is Golden Sands, a nine-hole, par-four course. Their set of four tees make it easy for all levels to play together. The holes are short, which makes for a fun, quick nine holes. They offer lessons if you’re learning the game or need a refresher.
Pro Tip: After you’ve worked up an appetite with a round of golf, stop by the Golden Sands Bucket Bar. We highly recommend their pizza and garlic knots.
Best Places To Stay At Silver Lake Sand Dunes
Many of the hotels in the area are locally owned and operated rather than national chains. Michigan’s state parks are my favorite campgrounds. Here are some recommendations for accommodations.
Silver Lake State Park
If you enjoy camping, arguably the best place to stay when exploring Silver Lake Sand Dunes is Silver Lake State Park. It features a 200-site campground that includes electricity and modern bathrooms. If you’ve come to the area to do some off-roading, the off-road vehicle scramble area is conveniently located within the park.
Mears State Park
Located in Pentwater, camping at Mears State Park means you’re only steps from Lake Michigan, where you can enjoy the sugar-sand freshwater beaches and stunning sunsets. It has 175 campsites on approximately 50 sandy acres. Mears State Park offers wooded, more rustic campsites and paved campsites that provide electricity and sewage hookups. The park boasts a variety of amenities, including a central bathhouse, picnic area, and Wi-Fi. But what makes it unique is the neighboring public beach, piers, boardwalk, and lighthouses.
If you prefer a cottage over a campground, Mears State Park offers the Dune Grass Villa. The cottage sleeps eight with a variety of bed configurations.
Pro Tip: Michigan’s state parks require Recreation Passports to enter. You can buy them at the entrance to state parks.
The Cottage On The Course At Golden Sands
The Cottage on the Course at Golden Sands is an 1888 farmhouse turned cottage that sits on the number one fairway pond. It’s steps away from the golf course and restaurant. The five-bedroom farmhouse has a complete kitchen, so if you prefer to cook meals, you have plenty of space. In the evening, you can make s’mores over a bonfire located in a private area. The cottage sleeps 12 and has a two-night minimum. The house also can be rented by the week. The rental includes four rounds of free golf for every night you stay.
Pro Tip: Be aware that Silver Lake Sand Dunes is in the northern part of the lower peninsula in Mears, Michigan. It’s a different location than Silver Beach, located in the southern part of the lower peninsula in St. Joseph.
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