Nestled between Silver Lake and Lake Michigan is a stretch of dunes that looks more like the Middle East than the state of Michigan. The 2,000 acres of sand known as the Silver Lake Sand Dunes State Park is shockingly incongruous with the verdant forests and cherry farms that border this geological oddity.
Here, Michiganders and tourists alike kayak, paddleboat, fish, sandboard, race OTRs, picnic, smoke shisha, and lounge around in an improbable Midwestern beach paradise. A major factor behind these dunes’ popularity with recreation-seekers is the sand itself, which was formed from quartz deposited by glaciers from what is now Canada. Ground quartz is comparatively soft and does not absorb much heat, making it relatively cool and comfortable to walk on. After the glaciers melted, wind swept the sand against the grasses, shrubs, and plants along the lakeshore, resulting in these dramatic dunes.
Coniferous trees and wild grapevines form a thin green border between the dunes and Lake Michigan, extracting what nutrients they can from the sandy soil and providing food for the local fauna. The blanched skeletal husks of less fortunate trees line a small valley between two dunes farther inland, evoking the “Spaghetti Western” trope of bleached cow skulls baking under the sun. Looking at this, it can be hard to remember that two lakes are less than a mile away.
The road to the state park is lined with small restaurants offering everything from freshly caught fish to standard diner food. Several soft-serve ice cream shops and hotdog stands are interspersed among these restaurants to serve those who are just looking for a quick bite. Thanks to the appetite people work up while climbing the tall dunes, these eateries are a welcome presence.
Know Before You Go
This is very much a seasonal location as this area of Michigan gets fairly cold during winter. It's better to go in late spring, summer, or early fall. Some areas and activities are only open during certain months; for example, the Off-Road Vehicle Area is open from April 1 through October 31.