Sand Dunes Michigan: 8 Epic Dune Systems to Climb, Hike & Explore

Sand Dunes Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sand Dunes in Michigan – A Natural Wonder

Climb to the top of a dune and drink up wide-lens views of the lake.

Grab a handful of sand and notice how the grains effortlessly slip through your fingers, silky smooth.

Walk barefoot across the soft, dry surface, listening for the telltale squeak of clean sand. This is the sand dunes Michigan experience.

Even better? Most of these colossal sand dunes are paired with Lake Michigan beaches.

sleeping bear dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes

Visit almost any of the beaches along the state’s western coast and you’ll be treated to a sugar-sand experience that rivals the Caribbean.

In fact, there are many sand dune viewing areas in Michigan. People flock to them in the summer for a beach retreat, but also enjoy hiking and nature immersion year-round.

This article highlights the biggest and best sand dunes in Michigan as well as a few smaller favorites.

Michigan Sand Dunes FAQs

What are sand dunes?

To be a sand dune, a sand hill must have been formed by the wind.

Does Michigan have sand dunes?

Yes! Though a bit unexpected in a non-desert state surrounded by water, Michigan is home to over 300,000 acres of coastal sand dunes.

Where are the sand dunes in Michigan?

Most of the state’s sand dunes are on the west coast of the Lower Peninsula.

And that’s not the only place in the mitten state with mountains of sand – you’ll also find dune formations in the thumb and Upper Peninsula.

County 10699
Where open dunes are likely to occur – MSU

Where can I drive on sand dunes in Michigan?

Silver Lake State Park is the only place where you can drive on the sand dunes in Michigan.

silver lake state park sand dunes ORV area (
Driving on the Sand Dunes at Silver Lake State Park

Where can I go on a dune ride in Michigan?

Two places offer dune rides in Michigan: Mac Wood’s Dune Rides in Silver Lake and Saugatuck Dune Rides in Saugatuck.

Sleeping Bear Dunes does not offer dune rides any longer; the Dunesmobiles stopped operating in 1978.

Sleeping Bear Dunesmobile at 2022 Cherry Festival, Traverse City MI
Sleeping Bear Dunesmobile, 2022 Cherry Festival, Traverse City MI

Where are the highest sand dunes in Michigan?

The highest sand dunes in Michigan are in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which claims the top 19 highest dunes in the state.

Unofficially, the tallest sand dune in Michigan, at 526 feet high, is the Empire Bluff Main Dune. The dune on Pierce Stocking Drive is just a bit shorter at 450 feet but is much more well-known.

Note on Dune Heights

It is difficult to find official dune heights at this time; the National Park Service has not published this information.
For this reason, the following resource has been consulted: Heights of 80+ Michigan sand dunes.

(Google search results for the tallest dune in Michigan are inaccurate, citing a dune in Wisconsin as the tallest in Michigan.)

Can anything grow on a sand dune?

Yes, certain plants and trees can grow on a sand dune. If the dune is stable enough and the conditions are right, vegetation may cover the dune and obscure the sand. Currently, this is happening to sand dunes Michigan.

Why are there sand dunes in Michigan?

Time, glaciers, and wind left their mark on Michigan.

The glaciers that once covered Michigan melted away, they formed powerful rivers that left behind piles of rock debris.

Strong lake winds blowing over these rock piles picked up sand particles and carried them in the air.
The particles stayed afloat until something in their path (perhaps a tree) made them fall out of the sky.
Grain by grain, the sand piled up, creating the sand dunes we know today.

And, many dunes aren’t done changing. Winds today shift the dune sand. Dunes can grow or erode depending on circumstances.

Best Sand Dunes Michigan

There are hundreds of sand dunes in Michigan. However, most are covered by trees, are small, or are located on private property.

The sand dunes that take your breath away, the mountains of sand that seemingly rise out of nowhere and go on for miles, are the sand dunes in Michigan we want to visit.

Here’s where to find the best of them:

1 – Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes Michigan

Glen Arbor, MI 49636 & Empire, MI 49630

Sand Dune stats:
up to 520 FEET ABOVE Lake Michigan
35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline

If boundless vistas are your thing, look no further than Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Filled with massive dunes meeting the water’s edge, this park holds the crown jewels of Michigan’s Sand Dunes.

With 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and covering over 70,000 acres, this park is more than a mark on a map. It’s a destination.

On your visit, hike, swim, boat, and camp among the dunes.

Take the 1.5-mile Empire Bluff trail for unbelievable panoramic views.

Empire Bluff Hike at Sleeping Bear Dunes Michigan
Empire Bluff TrailTallest Sand Dune in Michigan

Motor through the Pierce Stocking Scening Drive, stopping for lake and dune overlooks along the way.

Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes Overlook
Lake Michigan Overlook – Pierce Stocking Drive

Spend hours at the Dune Climb, seeing how fast you can run up and down. Use this Sleeping Bear Dunes Trip Planner to get started!

Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes Michigan - Sarah Koss
Dune Climb – Sleeping Bear Dunes

2 – Silver Lake Sand Dunes

9679 W. State Park Road, Mears, MI 49436


Sand Dune stats:
2,000 acres of sand dunes
includes a 450-acre ORV area

Silver Lake Sand Dunes is the one place in Michigan where you can drive on the sand dunes.

Located just south of Ludington, Silver Lake is 90 minutes from the Grand Rapids area.

The 2,000 acres of the Silver Lake Sand Dunes are nestled between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake.

If you want to drive on the sand dunes but don’t own your own vehicle you can rent an ORV. Wild Bill’s ATV Rentals or Silver Lake Buggys should be able to help you out.

Driving on Silver Lake Sand Dunes Michigan
Driving on the dunes in Silver Lake
Driving-on-Silver-Lake-Sand-Dunes-Michigan

In addition to driving on the dunes, you can also go for a dune ride or hike on the dunes.

mac woods dune rides silver lake sand dunes
Mac Woods Dune Rides in Silver Lake, Michigan
_Silver Lake Sand Dunes Michigan - Tiffany Kamphuis

Spending time on the sandy beaches is another popular thing to do here.

silver lake sand dunes michigan
On a dune overlooking Silver Lake

3 – Saugatuck Dunes

Saugatuck offers three different dune experiences.


Sand Dune Report:
Find 200-foot-high sand dunes at the State Park
Dunes along the shore are open and sandy. Inland dunes are mostly covered by trees and other vegetation.

Saugatuck Dune Rides

6495 Blue Star Hwy, Saugatuck, MI 49453

This sandy roller coaster of a ride is 40 minutes long, fun, and educational.

Hop into the vintage open-air blue Dodge Dune Schooner.

Zip through a privately-owned section of Saugatuck dunes while your tour guide entertains and wows you with their driving skills.

You get time to stop, get out, and explore the dunes, too.
(This is one of the two places in Michigan where the public can ride on the sand dunes.)

Saugatuck Dune Rides Michigan
Saugatuck Dune Rides

Saugatuck Dunes State Park

6575 138th Ave, Holland, MI 49423

The delightful 300+ acres of parkland here is not only on Lake Michigan, it’s also home to 13 miles of hiking trails through the sand dunes. Some of the dunes are 200 feet tall.

Reach the beach by hiking through the wooded dunes for 10 minutes. Emerge from the woods on a perch overlooking the lake and decide how to make it down the hill to the water where 2.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline are waiting for you.

Saugatuck Dunes State Park Michigan
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Hike from Saugatuck to Mt Baldhead to Oval Beach

Saugatuck Chain Ferry – 528 Water St, Saugatuck, MI 49453
Mount Baldhead Park – Mt Baldhead Park Trail, Saugatuck, MI 49453
Oval Beach – 690 Perryman St, Saugatuck, MI 49453

It is possible to make it from downtown Saugatuck all the way to Oval Beach on foot.

To make it happen, you’ll take the chain ferry, climb Mt. Baldhead, and then hike through the woods and sand to the beach.

Mt. Baldhead saugatuck mi 1
Stairs to Mount Baldhead in Saugatuck
Oval Beach
Oval Beach is surrounded by dunes
Saugatuck to Mt Baldhead to Oval Beach

4 – Warren Dunes State Park

12032 Red Arrow Highway Sawyer, MI 49125


Sand Dune stats:
260 feet Above Lake Michigan
3 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline

This Michigan State Park is a favorite among campers and day use visitors looking for a summer beach escape. It’s especially popular with Chicago residents and can be very crowded in the summertime.

In addition to the campgrounds and beach area, Warren Dunes State Park also offers 6 miles of hiking trails over 1,952 acres.

Most visitors opt to climb to the top of Tower Hill, the tallest dune in the park (260 ft).

If you’re looking for a longer dune hike, do the 4-mile Mt. Randal Loop. It has a little bit of everything – dune climbs & views, walking along the beach, and trekking through the forests.

Warren Dunes State Park Michigan
Warren Dunes State Park

5 – Grand Sable Dunes

Part of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula


Sand Dune stats:
300 FEET ABOVE Lake superior

Most of this dune area is closed off and protected as a research area. However, there are several locations where you can get a great look at, and even climb on, the Grand Sable Dunes.

Log Slide Overlook

Highway 58, Grand Marais, MI 49839

This stunning Lake Superior dune overlook might tempt you to climb down to the turquoise waters for a swim.
And you can do it if you’re able to make the extremely difficult, will probably take you an hour, climb back up.
It’s not for the faint-hearted.

Sable Falls Trail to Sable Beach

Sable Falls Road, Seney, MI 49883

To get a great view of the Grand Sable Dunes, head to Sable Beach (on the east end of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, near Grand Marais.)

To get to Sable Beach, hike the trail that begins in the Sable Falls parking area. This is an out-and-back trail that is just over 0.5 miles long. This hike includes a stop at Sable Falls – bonus! The waterfall is 75 feet high. A long staircase (168 steps) leads to the waterfall viewing platform at the bottom.

You can make this hike a little bit longer by starting at the Grand Sable Visitors Center.

A hiking shuttle is available if you’d like to make your trek into a one-way excursion that covers longer distances.

IMG 0866 X3
Grand Sable Dunes – dwhike.com
Grand Sable Dunes - National Park Service Photo
Grand Sable Dunes – National Park Service Photo

6 – Au Sable River Dunes

5401 Monument Rd, Oscoda, MI 48750

Sand Dune stats:
200 feet above the AuSable River

I did a double-take when I first saw the mostly forested bluff-top dunes along the Au Sable River in Northeastern Lower Michigan.

They looked so much like the coastal dunes running up and down the Lake Michigan shoreline on the west side of the state, but they were 15 miles away from Lake Huron. Were they actually sand dunes or something else?

Research confirmed what I was seeing. There really are dunes on the east side of lower Michigan, running along the Au Sable River valley.

To find the Au Sable River dunes, head to Lumberman’s Monument and take the Highbanks Trail.

au sable river sand dunes
Au Sable River in autumn
Au Sable River Sand Dunes Michigan
Au Sable River Dunes

7 – Nordhouse Dunes

W. Nurnberg Rd, Free Soil, MI 49411

Sand Dune stats:
140 feet above lake Michigan
3,500-ACRE OPEN DUNE WILDERNESS AREA
4 MILES LAKE MICHIGAN SHORELINE

Nordhouse Dunes is the only designated U.S. Forest Service Wilderness Area in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.

People visit to hike the dunes, swim, or camp in a setting with no modern amenities.

The dunes here are open dunes – dominated by grass and shrub vegetation.

Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness - US Forest Service
Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness – US Forest Service photo by Nate Peeters

8 – Arcadia Dunes

Glen Arbor, MI 49636 & Empire, MI 49630

Sand Dune stats:
356 feet above Lake Michigan

Arcadia Dunes in the C.S. Mott Nature Preserve, just north of Manistee MI, has over 15 miles of trails.

If you’re using a stroller or wheelchair, you’ll want the Overlook Trail. This one-mile roundtrip trail uses a wooden boardwalk system and a series of switchbacks to get you up to a great Lake Michigan overlook.

Old Baldy Dune Arcadia Michigan

If you’re up for a little off-road adventure and don’t mind a sandy hike with stairs, adventure over to Baldy Dune for even bigger Lake Michigan views.

Old Baldy Dune Arcadia Michigan
Arcadia Baldy Dune Hike

If you’re short on time, opt to visit the Arcadia Scenic Turnout. This is a fantastic stop along M-22. Park your car at the bottom and climb up the 120 steps for the best view.

Arcadia Overlook. Photo: 22 North Photography
Arcadia Overlook. Photo: 22 North Photography

More Sand Dunes in Michigan

Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center
P.J. Hoffmaster State Park
6585 Lake Harbor Road, Muskegon, MI 49441

This interpretive center is perched at the top of a large, wooded sand dune, protected from Lake Michigan.
Exhibits, galleries, events, and hiking trails work together to tell Michigan’s unique sand dune story.

Ludington State Park Sand Dunes
Ludington State Park Sand Dunes
US-2 Sand Dunes Beach, Upper Peninsulalow dunesopen sand3853 US-2, Moran, MI 49760
Wilderness State Parklow dunesopen sand903 Wilderness Park Dr, Carp Lake, MI 49718
Petoskey State Parklow-medium dunesmostly forested, some open2475 M-119, Petoskey, MI 49770
Fisherman’s Island State Parklow dunesforested16480 Bells Bay Rd. Charlevoix, MI 49720
Ludington Duneslow-medium dunesopen sand8800 M-116, Ludington, MI 49431
Mears State Parklow-mediummostly forested, some open400 W. Lowell St., Pentwater, MI 49449 
Holland State Park – Mt. Pisgahlow-mediummostly forested, some open2238 3rd Ave, Holland, MI 49424
P.J. Hoffmaster State Parklow-mediummostly forested, some open6585 Lake Harbor Road, Muskegon, MI 49441
Kitchel Lindquist Dune Preservelow-mediumopen sand and wooded20001 Berwyck Street, Spring Lake, MI 49456
Rosy Moundlow-mediumsandy and wooded13925 Lakeshore Drive, Grand Haven, MI 49417
North Beach Parklow-mediummostly forested, some open18775 North Shore Drive, Ferrysburg, MI 49409
Van Buren State Parkmediumopen sand and wooded23960 Ruggles Road, South Haven, MI 49090
Grand Mere State Parkmediumopen sand and wooded7337 Thornton Dr, Stevensville, MI 49127
Sleeper State Parklowforested6573 State Park Road, Caseville, Ml 48725
Huron Sand Dunes Traillowmostly forested, some open1775 Port Austin Rd, Port Austin, MI 48467
Rosy-Mound-Feature-Image
Rosy Mound in Grand Haven
mt-pisgah-steps-and-water-with-toddler-malski
Mt Pisgah in Holland
Wilderness State Park Sand Dunes

Sand Dune Profiles

World-renowned National Lakeshore park with sweeping lake vistas and colossal sand dunes

The only place in Michigan where you can drive on the dunes

Hike through the wooded dunes at this rustic state park to find a pristine Lake Michigan Beach

Tell us about your favorite Michigan Sand Dunes in the comments below.

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