Silver Lake Sand Dunes: Michigan’s Hidden Outdoor Adventure Destination

silver lake sand dunes michigan

Considering a visit to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes?

The Silver Lake Sand Dunes are located along Lake Michigan on the west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula in Oceana County. The recreational area open to visitors is within Silver Lake State Park.

Located just south of Ludington, Silver Lake is only a 90-minute drive from the Grand Rapids area. The Silver Lake Sand Dunes are nestled right in between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake. With over 2,000 acres of dunes, they are definitely the main attraction of the area.

With so many other vacation destinations in Michigan, sometimes Grand Rapids families forget – or never knew – that the Silver Lake Sand Dunes are just a short drive away.

And sometimes, people think that a visit to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes is just a smaller version of a visit to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I’m here to tell you – there are major differences between these two sand dune destinations. You won’t get to drive on the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes, and you won’t find amusements like a roller coaster, go karts, or putt putt there, either. Both destinations have their merits and they both warrant a visit.

If you’re looking for adventure or a relaxing day in the sun and sand or out on the water, a trip to Silver Lake Dunes might be just what you need.

Silver Lake State Park
9679 W. State Park Road, Mears MI 49436

SILVER LAKE MICHIGAN OVERVIEW 

Multiple beach options, hiking, an ORV area, boat launch, and in-town amusements are what you’ll find in the vicinity of Silver Lake Sand Dunes and Silver Lake State Park.

The Silver Lake, Michigan area can be confusing for first-time visitors – many of the attractions are not visible from the small business district. If you don’t have a plan, you might land at this roundabout and think you’ve seen the whole town.

downtown silver lake sand dunes

Get Oriented

Here’s an annotated map to help you get the lay of the land.

(If you want to check the weather for the area, search for Mears, MI in your weather app.)

silver lake sand dunes area map

And if you’re brining an ORV of your own, you’ll want this map and info.

7 WAYS TO TURBO CHARGE YOUR VISIT 

A Must-Do Itinerary for Silver Lake Sand Dunes

Visiting for a week? Do one activity a day for a leisurely 7-day trip that will spread out the fun. Only in town for a long weekend? You’ll be busy packing in all there is to do in Silver Lake, but, if you’re up for a challenge, it can be done!

  1. Get out on the Dunes in an ORV (bonus points if YOU do the driving!) Our Jeep tour with Parrot’s Landing was a trip highlight for our family – see below.
  2. Hit the beach. You’ve got options. Lake Michigan? Silver Lake? How about both!
  3. Visit the Little Sable Point Lighthouse (and climb to the top, if it’s open).
  4. Get out on the water – rent a jet ski on Silver Lake or kayak to Benona Township Park in nearby Shelby.
  5. Hike the dunes.
  6. Ride the roller coaster, play putt putt, and conquer the zipline at Craigs Cruisers.
  7. Spend day petting animals at nearby Lewis Adventure Farm & Zoo and stop at Country Dairy for a cone on your way back.

JUST GOTTA ORV 

Me, in an ORV??!

The Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) section of Silver Lake State Park is a huge draw for visitors wanting to scoot their vehicles up and over the sand dunes.

I wrongly assumed – for years – that this wasn’t an activity I’d enjoy. I wish I would have tried it sooner!

If you’re new to the world of driving on sand, start easy and let someone else do the driving for you. Mac Woods Dune Rides has been in business for generations and they offer a great 40-minute, seven-mile dune tour. The tour makes frequent stops for pictures and even gives you a chance to get out and play in the sand while overlooking Silver Lake.

mac woods dune rides silver lake sand dunes

Mac Wood’s Dune Ride
629 N 18th Ave, Mears, MI 49436

While it may sound like a slow pace, the ride is quite an adventure. You’ll go flying over a few steep hills. Kids of all ages enjoy the ride. If you are traveling with an infant, come prepared with a baby carrier and a hat or blanket to keep the wind out of their face.

mac woods dune rides silver lake sand dunes

mac woods dune rides silver lake sand dunes

More Sand Dune Rides, Please

Riding along on the Mac Woods Dune tour gave me a taste of sand dune adventure and I wanted more!

It turns out that there are many different ways to experience the dunes. You can choose to test out your own off-road driving skills in the dunes with your own 4-wheel drive vehicle or you can rent a Jeep or dune buggy.

We don’t own a vehicle capable of handling the sandy terrain, and I have no experience driving one, either, so we opted to go with a learning Jeep Tour from Parrots Landing.

silver lake sand dunes orv area 4

Parrot’s Landing
8110 W Hazel Rd, Mears, MI 49436

When you sign up for a Jeep Dune Tour, you’re signing up to drive, follow-the-leader style, with a guide across the Silver Lake Sand Dunes for an hour. This is an amazing opportunity for first-time dune drivers to get their feet wet and learn how the ORV area is laid out and operates.

Depending on the time of your visit, you’ll be sharing the dunes with thousands – or tens of thousands – other drivers.

My husband did the driving for our family, and it was an exhilarating hour of fun.

Our tour guide was in constant communication (via radio) with our group and did an excellent job coaching each driver up, over, and through the dunes.

You can opt to add an hour or two on to your Jeep rental if you want to stay and play for even longer.

parrots landing silver lake state park sand dunes ORV rental (1)

parrots landing silver lake state park sand dunes ORV rental

BEACHES & WATER FUN 

Silver Lake State Park Beaches & Water Play

There’s a lot more to do than ride on the dunes when you’re at Silver Lake, Michigan.

Family day trips to the beach are popular here, as well as multiday camping and hotels stays (more on lodging later.)

If you’re looking for a beach day, start by picking your beach. Here are your options and how they compare:

Lake Michigan Beach at the Lighthouse

Little Sable Point Lighthouse & Beach Area
287 N Lighthouse Dr, Mears, MI 49436

About the Lighthouse: Little Sable Point Lighthouse is located on Lake Michigan south of the Sand Dunes area. The lighthouse opened to the public in 2006 and normally allows you to climb to the top for a small fee (closed in 2020 due to COVID). Standing at 115 feet up, the views are quite spectacular!

You must be at least three feet tall to go up and for safety reasons you are not allowed to carry anyone. If you make it all the way up the steps to the portholes you’ll be rewarded with a great view and photo ops.

About the Beach:

The beach is sandy. Lake Michigan waves can get big here, and they have been eating away at the small dunes. In some areas, the sandy beach area is very small.

silver lake state park little sable point lighthouse beach

silver lake sand dunes beach lake michigan

Silver Lake State Park Day Use Area: Beach, Boat Launch

Silver Lake State Park Day Use Area
8674 W Silver Lake Rd, Mears, MI 49436

The Silver Lake State Park Day Use area is located on Silver Lake. The State Park campground is adjacent to this location.

Boaters can launch their boats here. There is also a large beach, picnic tables, volleyball courts, and modern bathrooms.

The Sand Dunes are across the lake from this access point.

silver lake state park beach

silver lake state park beach (1)

Silver Lake Beach via Silver Lake State Park Pedestrian Dune Access

Dune Beach in Silver Lake State Park 
8890 W Shore Dr, Mears, MI 49436

There’s a beautiful beach on Silver Lake in the State Park that you can only get to via the dune pedestrian area parking lot (near the ORV area entrance.)

silver lake sand dunes beach swimming

A visit to this beach is earned – there is no flat public pathway to this beach from the dune pedestrian area.

Climbing up stairs and over dunes is how you make it to Dune Beach. A hearty climb back up a big dune, followed by more hiking, is part of the exit trip. To leave the beach, you must climb up the dune in the photo below (note the people on the side of the dune are on the Pedestrian Dune Access trail.)

Silver Lake State Park Pedestrian Dune Beach Access

silver lake state park pedestrian dune beach access

Alternatively, you could launch a boat from the State Park Boat access on the other side of Silver Lake and moor at this beach.

One more word of caution here – the water isn’t shallow at Dune Beach.

The deepwater drop-off is extreme and can be dangerous.

Life jackets are a good idea for kids or anyone who is not a strong swimmer.

silver lake state park dune beach access

Tubing to Benona Township Park at Lake Michigan

Benona Township Park
9202 W Garfield Rd, Shelby, MI 49455

Benona Township Park is located on Lake Michigan and is located about 10 minutes south of the Silver Lake area. Kayaking and tubing down the Stony Creek to Lake Michigan is a popular pastime.

The river is slow, making it nice for kids. There is a lot of seaweed in the river and lots of dragonflies along the way.

The place where the beach meets the river is sandy and a lovely place to park a beach chair. Facilities are limited to an outhouse and the parking lot is quite small.

River tubes for floating down the river can be rented or purchased at the small convenience store, Stony Lake Store & Cafe, near Stony Lake Park. We floated the river in about 2 hours.

benona township park michigan

kayak to benona township park michigan

Silver Lake Pontoon Boat & Jet Ski Rentals

Wave Club Water Sports
1220 N. Shore Drive, Mears, MI 49436

Ski boats, pontoon boats, wave runners, SUP’s, kayaks, and more are available to rent here. Reserve early for best selection, and then enjoy playing on the water at Silver Lake Michigan.

Silver Lake Stand up paddleboards

HIKING SILVER LAKE STATE PARK 

In addition to the ORV area, there is also pedestrian access to the dunes in the State Park. You begin your trek into the dunes by climbing several flights of stairs and then you have a fairly steep climb in the sand before reaching the “top” of the dunes. (This is the same path you’d take to reach Dune Beach.)

Park in the pedestrian area and walk up the dunes.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes Pedestrian Access

Kids loving running up and down the hills.

If you’re adventuresome, you can hike to Silver Lake or even out Lake Michigan (a super long hike) from the pedestrian part of the dunes. Bring water and a snack!

silver lake sand dunes hiking

Silver Lake Lanscape Feature Dimensions

You could literally walk for hours through the dunes while watching the off-road vehicles and enjoying the spectacular views of Silver Lake. An added bonus? Kids absolutely love watching all of the vehicles racing through the sand!

silver lake sand dunes michigan (3)

Pictures hardly do justice to the vastness of the dunes: it is truly something you need to see for yourself – and it’s absolutely magical at sunset.

ATTRACTIONS, FOOD & SHOPPING 

Craig’s Cruisers
8343 W. Hazel Road, Silver Lake, MI 49436

Craig’s Cruisers in Silver Lakes offers plenty of opportunities for family fun.

You’ll find an arcade, roller coaster, go-cart rides, bumper boat rides, a zipline, a miniature golf course, and more!

craigs cruisers zipline
Silver Lake Craigs Cruisers

Silver Lake Craigs Cruisers Roller Coaster

Whippy Dip
591 N 18th Ave, Mears MI 49436

Visit Whippy Dip in Silver Lake, the home of the famous Turtle Sundae, for sweet treats for the family. Plus, they offer some decent pizzas and subs if you’re looking for more than just sweet treats.

Silver Lake Whippy Dip

We also enjoyed some of the local shops. They have wonderful and unique specialty stores, restaurants, and bakeries as well as candy, fudge, and ice cream shops.

Silver Lake Michigan

Big Hart Brewing Co.
4086 W Polk Rd, Hart, Michigan 49420

Big Hart Brewery was new in 2016 and is located in Hart. We love that they have patio dining and a good kids menu.

Cherry Point Farm & Market, Lavender Labyrinth & Fish Boils
9600 W. Buchanan Road Shelby, Michigan USA 49455

This farm and market is a fun stop. The herb garden, in the center of their Labyrinth, is thriving and open to walk through. The remainder of the Labyrinth is in a regrowth phase after being harmed in the 2019 Polar Vortex.

Stop and walk through the plants, grab some fresh produce from the market, and make plans to return for one of their iconic summer fish boils (Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.)

silver lake Cherry Point Farm & Market labyrinth

NEARBY FUN 

Another highlight of our trip was a stop that we made on our way home at the Lewis Adventure Farm & Zoo in New Era, which is a few miles south of Shelby on US-31.

Lewis Adventure Farm & Zoo
4180 West M-20, New Era, Michigan 49446

They have everything from pedal carts to delicious homemade baked goods in addition to plenty of furry friends to pet. Your kids will LOVE the number of fun things that they can do there. They have everything from pedal carts, bounce pillows, a petting zoo with tons of animals to feed, a kiddie wagon ride, a great farm stand market, and more family fun that your whole family will enjoy.

My boys particularly enjoyed the jumping pillows, duck races, pedal carts, barrel train, and of course, some Hudsonville Ice Cream! In the petting zoo, there are donkeys, goats, deer, alpacas, miniature horses, a camel, and a peacock just to name a few. We plan to return in the fall when they have their corn mazes, pumpkin patch, and apple picking open.

Lewis Farms Petting Zoo feature image

Country Dairy 
3476 S 80th Ave, New Era, MI 49446

Country Dairy not only offers a fun place to get ice cream or even lunch but also has a fun dairy farm tour. You’ll feel like an expert after this tour and have fun learning at the “Moo School”. This is also a fun place to stop by for lunch or order pizza. You’ll find a good selection of meals for families, plus each meal includes their “bottom-less” cup of chocolate milk. Kids meals include a kiddie ice cream cone. Plus, while you’re there check out the Moo-School and tour the dairy. Learn how Country Dairy’s milk, cheese, and ice cream is made. Yum!

country dairy, new era MI

Double JJ Waterpark
5900 S Water Rd, Rothbury, MI 49452

Double JJ Waterpark is a perfect rainy day option. You can purchase day passes for $25 per person and utilize the waterpark and the activities taking place at the resort that day. Some of the additional daily activities include crafts, face painting, archery, and more. Activities vary by the day, so you’ll want to check out their daily calendar.

LODGING OPTIONS 

There are plenty of lodging options including hotels, adorable cabins and cottages for rent, and campgrounds.

We chose to stay at the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort due to the many pre-planned and scheduled activities that are included in the stay. The pool and kiddie pool were also a nice bonus. Our boys were never bored between all of the craftsgameswagon rides, and movies that were available every day.

Silver Lake Resort and Campground employs a “hotel approach” to camping. The front desk staff provide concierge services and can help you plan all or part of your trip while at Silver Lake. You’ll love the friendly staff, super clean bathrooms, onsite heated swimming pool, playground, picnic area, volleyball, and a small pond for fishing.

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Silver Lake Sand Dunes Michigan Pinterest (1)

3 thoughts on “Silver Lake Sand Dunes: Michigan’s Hidden Outdoor Adventure Destination”

  1. Country Dairy is amazing!! We are trying to think of a place to camp this summer maybe we will go to Silver Lake:)

  2. When you head back in the fall, be sure to go a little bit further down the road in New Era to the Country Dairy.

  3. Thanks … enjoyed reading. We had almost went there this past weekend, but were unsure. I think we will definitely make a trip out there now knowing there are so many options.

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