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 LakeSand 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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
Hit the beach. You’ve got options. Lake Michigan? Silver Lake? How about both!
Visit the Little Sable Point Lighthouse (and climb to the top, if it’s open).
Get out on the water – rent a jet ski on Silver Lake or kayak to Benona Township Park in nearby Shelby.
Hike the dunes.
Ride the roller coaster, play putt putt, and conquer the zipline at Craigs Cruisers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 Day Use Area: Beach, Boat Launch
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 kiddiepool were also a nice bonus. Our boys were never bored between all of the crafts, games, wagon rides, and movies that were available every day.
Silver Lake Resort and Campgroundemploys 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.