Michigan Sand Dunes Worth A Visit

Explore these beautiful sand dunes on the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near Glen Arbor is a popular destination for visitors from around the globe. // Photograph from Adobe Stock.

Michigan has the largest collection of dunes on a freshwater coast in the world. They are visible from space and take up more than 275,000 acres statewide.

The most well-known and well-researched dunes are those on Lake Michigan, formed over time by sustained winds blowing sand inward toward the land.

They also have a unique ecosystem. There are plants growing on Great Lakes-adjacent dunes that can’t be found anywhere else — for instance, the Pitcher’s thistle (a favorite snack of the American goldfinch) and the Lake Huron tansy. Both of these species are federally classified as “threatened.”

Here are just a few notable dunes to visit:

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Glen Arbor

Considered one of the most tranquil locations in America, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a popular destination for visitors from around the globe. There are miles of trails and beaches you can explore to experience the beauty this park offers.

Grand Mere State Park, Stevensville (South of Benton Harbor/St. Joseph)

Grand Mere State Park is a National Natural Landmark and a case study in natural history. It contains three ancient glacier-formed lakes and is home to rare plants and animals.

Olive Shores, West Olive (South of Grand Haven)

The final scene in the Tom Hanks gangster flick Road to Perdition was filmed here on Lake Michigan’s shore. With a 20-acre wooded stretch of land, a steep dune formation, and a beech-maple-hemlock forest, it’s quite a cinematic location.

Nordhouse Dunes, Free Soil (South of Manistee)

Pack a compass — Nordhouse Dunes lost its signage, markings, and trail names after it was redesignated as a wilderness area (the only one in the Lower Peninsula) in 1987 under the Michigan Wilderness Act. It’s quite a tough hike, but the rugged beauty is worth the effort.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Hart

Since 1955, Silver Lake State Park has been the place to catch a lakeside dune ride. A huge area is reserved for off-road vehicles, motorbikes, all-terrain vehicles, and more (rentals are available, too). There’s also a pedestrian area, campground, and guided dune tours.

Green Point Dunes, Frankfort

In Lake Michigan by Green Point Dunes, there’s a piece of history to be glimpsed through scuba goggles. The City of Boston was a cargo ship that found its watery resting place just offshore in 1873. Besides the shipwreck, visitors can enjoy the 2-mile trail loop with three observation decks, along with beautiful meadows of birch and wildflowers.

Grand Sable Banks and Dunes, Burt Township (Southeast of Marquette)

Located on Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, this short hike has breathtaking views of the largest Great Lake. The Grand Sable Dunes cover 5 square miles and sit on top of the 300-foot-high Grand Sable Banks. However, climbing is restricted on many of the dunes — a large swath of the park is designated as a Research Natural Area.

This story is from the July 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.