Last summer, I had the opportunity to ride dunes in Michigan at Silver Lake State Park. An activity that many of us do know is a “thing.” It is not just a thing. It is a “big thing” in states like Arizona. California, Colorado, and Michigan. Unknown to many, the western coastline of Lake Michigan boasts one of nature’s marvels – the most extensive collection of freshwater dunes in the world. Dunes offer a variety of tourist attractions, including riding the dunes.
So, what does riding dunes entail? Essentially, you ride jeeps, buggies, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), utility terrain vehicles (UTV’s), motorcycles, and sandrails. Do not worry; I will cover the vehicles later! Riding dunes is an extreme sport that involves driving up, down, and across giant dunes and the rugged terrain accompanying them. And, for the brave, it also includes jumping these dunes and performing various stunts.
Riding dunes is not for the faint of heart. On the other hand, it is a ton of fun – even if you only spectate.
Fortunately for me, I came across the dunes in Michigan because a dear friend lives in Michigan, and her entire family rides the dunes. This summer, a couple of us made a point to hit Michigan. Not only to visit with our friends but to experience riding the dunes in Michigan for ourselves.
And one of the sweetest things about riding dunes in Michigan is the scenery. Yes, the scenery!
You will be riding around Lake Michigan. If you are not familiar with Lake Michigan, here are a few facts:
The third-largest Great Lake by surface area and the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the world.
The surface area of 22,404 square miles is the second-largest of the Great Lakes by volume at 1,180 cubic miles.
The average depth is 279 feet, and its most remarkable depth is 923 feet.
Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan share Lake Michigan from west to east.
Lake Michigan has many beaches and is considered the “Third Coast” of the United States.
I have experienced Lake Michigan from Chicago and Indiana. Sand dunning was my first opportunity to experience it from Michigan and see the beaches.
Who knew that Michigan had beautiful beaches like this? Michigan will surprise you with what it has to offer!
History of Silver Lake State Park
In 1920 Carrie E. Mears, the daughter of lumber baron Charles Mears donated 25 acres on the east side to be a park. The Federal Government followed in 1926 by adding 900 acres to form “Sand Dunes State Park.” Mears donation and the government’s land merged in 1949, and new boundaries were dedicated in 1951.
History of Riding Sand Dunes
In the 1930’s Malcolm “Mac” Woods offered rides on a “dune scooter,” essentially a ten-wheeled Model A Ford converted with balloon tires. The tours were focused on providing thrill while stopping at scenic lookouts.
Later Woods added scooters and other vehicles to his Mac Woods Dune Scooter Rides business. Still open today and still operated by the family. The Wood family, by all accounts, started the trend at Silver Lake State Park.
How Were Silver Lake Sand Dunes Created?
The sand is made from quartz dumped by glaciers from Canada. The wind blew the sand grains to form dunes as high as four-story buildings following the ice age.
There Are Four Main Types of Sand Dunes
Barchan – A barchan is a crescent-shaped dune.
Transverse – A long sandy dune with a wavy ridge running along the length.
Blowout – A sandy depression in a dune ecosystem caused by removing sediments by the wind.
Linear – Straight or slightly sinuous sand ridges are typically much longer than wide.
Then there is composite – a blend of linear and traverse dunes that accumulate up to 400 meters high.
I am not an expert on types of dunes, but from what I experienced. Silver Lake Sand has a combination of all.
Tours and Rentals at Silver Lake Sand Dunes
While there are many dunes in Michigan, the only ridable one is Silver Lake. Silver Lake State Park is the only dune east of the Mississippi River open to off-road vehicles.
As mentioned, you can ride your vehicle if you have one. If not, you can take a tour or rent a vehicle.
Mac Wood’s Dune Rides: This is a tamer experience, more of a dunes tour. Appropriate for kids, this option allows you to experience the dunes on a slower scenic ride.
Parrot’s Landing Jeep Rentals and Tours: You can rent jeeps and buggies here. You can either rent and go or take a tour you drive but follow a tour operator.
This is the tour we did, and I highly recommend it. This enables you to experience the full effects (minus dune jumping) with an expert.
Silver Lake Buggy Rentals: As the name implies, you can rent a buggy here, and off you go.
Vehicles for Riding the Sand Dunes in Michigan
While you will see people on the dunes in cars, it is not advisable. This said we saw plenty of people in cars which baffled me. And, while hundreds of experienced drivers take on the dunes, I seriously do not recommend that you head out there without taking a tour or lessons first.
Most of the vehicles fall into two categories All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and Utility terrain vehicles (UTV’s).
What is the Difference Between an ATV and a UTV?
All-terrain vehicles (ATV)
An all-terrain vehicle (ATV)is typically a quad or a four-wheeler for single riders, sometimes double riders. The more maneuverable and can handle tight turns and dense timber or brush with ease.
Arctic Cat Alterra 300
Polaris Sportsman 450
Textron Alterra VLX 700
Honda Fourtax Foreman 4×4
Suzuki Kind Quad 750
Utility terrain vehicles (UTV)
A utility terrain vehicle (UTV) is an off-road vehicle that can seat between 2 and 4 people and is designed to handle rougher terrain and hauling. They are often called side-by-sides (SXS).
Utility Terrain Vehicles, or UTVs, are built and used more for work than recreation. They are large, powerful, able to seat passengers side by side, and made with lots of storage space.
Polaris RZR XP
Honda Pioneer 1000
Can-Am Defender Mossy Oak Edition
Kawasaki Mule Pro-FXT Ranch Edition
Sand buggy, dune buggy, and beach buggies are recreational motor vehicles with large wheels and wide tires designed for dunes, beaches, roads, or desert recreation.
Here We Are Riding The Sand Dunes In Michigan In A Jeep:
A sand rail, or “sand crawler,” is a lightweight off-road motor vehicle specifically built for traveling in sandy terrain. Similar in some respects and often mistakenly referred to as a dune buggy or sand car, a sand rail is a different specialty vehicle.
I think it is safe to say that sand rails are all the rage, and these are big-ticket items. Many people go for custom sand rails!
Popular Sand Rails
Joyner Sand Viper 1100cc EFI
BMS Sand Sniper T-1500 4S
Yamaha YXZ1000R SS SE
Polaris RZR XP Turbo
Can-Am Maverick X3 X rs Turbo R
Tatum Dragon Sand Car
BuckShot Racing X5R
Jeeps – The same types you see on the road, only tire pressure is lowered to handle the dunes.
Motorcycles – Otherwise known as dirt bikes, or sand dirt bikes, are adapted to handle dunes.
Videos of Riders at Silver Lake Sand Dunes
Recall I said spectating is as much fun as riding. Trust me when I tell you that you could go and watch it – it is equally entertaining.
Essentials You Will Need To Ride the Sand Dunes in Michigan
Where To Stay At Silver Lake
Map of Silver Lake Michigan
Situated on the shoreline between Muskegon and Ludington, on the northeast side of Michigan:
Additional Things to Do at Silver Lake
There is much more going on at Silver Lake than just dune riding!
First, it is a beach, let us not forget that and a beach comes with many options!
For example, you can camp, hunt, swim, hike, boat, fish, and many other options!
Other Sand Dunes in Michigan
There are five other dunes; however, these dunes are not for riding.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Grand Sable Banks and Dunes
Warren Dunes State Park
Frequently Asked Questions About Riding the Sand Dunes in Michigan
Do I need a permit to be on the Dunes in a motor vehicle?
Yes. An ORV Permit and an ORV Trails Permit are required, along with a Recreation Passport. And, to drive, you must be over 16 with a valid driver’s license.
If you are taking a tour with an operator, you need not need an ORV permit. If you are renting, you must also provide proof of insurance.
What are the requirements to take my vehicle on the Dunes?
You need an ORV Permit, a 4-wheel drive vehicle, tires with a max of 15PSI, and a safety flag (whip flag)
Are there different flags required for the Dunes, and how tall should it be?
No whip flag works; however, all 4-wheel drive vehicles must display the flag mounted to the front bumper 10 feet off the ground. All motorbikes and ATVs must display the flag mounted 10 feet off the ground to the rear.
What should my tire pressure be while riding the Dunes?
12-15 lbs. max PSI
Before the Pandemic, I traveled to Chicago at least once a month. Michigan is always advertised in Chicago as a vacation destination in the Midwest.
I understand why it is drivable and there are four seasons of fun to be had, and I do not know why “The Great Nation of Michigan,” as my friends call it, is not as well known throughout the rest of America as a vacation destination.
Having been to Michigan twice. Both experiences were completely different yet wonderful. Riding dunes in Michigan is a bucket list adrenaline, a sweat-worthy activity that almost anyone will enjoy. It is reason alone enough to visit Michigan.
I am going to Michigan again next year to explore more of the upper peninsula. I think it is safe to say that Michigan is becoming one of my favorite states!
Looking for more posts to inspire you? Start here:
Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job without breaking the bank. Nikki is always in search of off-the-beaten-track experiences and unique stays. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles annually and has visited 68 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com or follow along on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.