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.
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.
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.
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.
Motor through the Pierce Stocking Scening Drive, stopping for lake and dune overlooks along the way.
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!
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.
In addition to driving on the dunes, you can also go for a dune ride or hike on the dunes.
Spending time on the sandy beaches is another popular thing to do here.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|US-2 Sand Dunes Beach, Upper Peninsula||low dunes||open sand||3853 US-2, Moran, MI 49760|
|Wilderness State Park||low dunes||open sand||903 Wilderness Park Dr, Carp Lake, MI 49718|
|Petoskey State Park||low-medium dunes||mostly forested, some open||2475 M-119, Petoskey, MI 49770|
|Fisherman’s Island State Park||low dunes||forested||16480 Bells Bay Rd. Charlevoix, MI 49720|
|Ludington Dunes||low-medium dunes||open sand||8800 M-116, Ludington, MI 49431|
|Mears State Park||low-medium||mostly forested, some open||400 W. Lowell St., Pentwater, MI 49449|
|Holland State Park – Mt. Pisgah||low-medium||mostly forested, some open||2238 3rd Ave, Holland, MI 49424|
|P.J. Hoffmaster State Park||low-medium||mostly forested, some open||6585 Lake Harbor Road, Muskegon, MI 49441|
|Kitchel Lindquist Dune Preserve||low-medium||open sand and wooded||20001 Berwyck Street, Spring Lake, MI 49456|
|Rosy Mound||low-medium||sandy and wooded||13925 Lakeshore Drive, Grand Haven, MI 49417|
|North Beach Park||low-medium||mostly forested, some open||18775 North Shore Drive, Ferrysburg, MI 49409|
|Van Buren State Park||medium||open sand and wooded||23960 Ruggles Road, South Haven, MI 49090|
|Grand Mere State Park||medium||open sand and wooded||7337 Thornton Dr, Stevensville, MI 49127|
|Sleeper State Park||low||forested||6573 State Park Road, Caseville, Ml 48725|
|Huron Sand Dunes Trail||low||mostly forested, some open||1775 Port Austin Rd, Port Austin, MI 48467|
Sand Dune Profiles
Tell us about your favorite Michigan Sand Dunes in the comments below.