Sun and Sand in the Midwest

     Anybody who knows me personally knows that I despise being trapped in the Midwest for the majority of the year. There is one particular spot that makes me forget that I reside in such a flat, boring area. Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan is the perfect nearby getaway spot for people in the northern Midwest who wish that they were somewhere else.

About the Park

     Warren Dunes is run by the Michigan DNR. The park has a few miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, trails, camping, and a giant sand dune. There are towns nearby for any of your needs. A nominal fee is charged per car, which is pretty standard for most state and national parks.

     Camping

     Camping is $22 per night for a basic non-electric campsite, and of course, a bit more for electric hookups. I have only been camping here once and stayed three nights. The campground is not on the water and is a little bit farther away than ideal. It's within walking distance of the beach, but if bringing a cooler or other beach equipment, it's much more convenient to drive over to the beach parking lot. Be aware that there are a lot of nighttime critters in the campgrounds-- don't leave out any food or garbage! Overall, the camping is adequate but I wouldn't normally stay there.

     The Beach

     Of course, the highlight of the trip is the wonderful Lake Michigan beach. If you've never been to a beach on the Great Lakes, you may be surprised when you arrive there and feel like you are on the ocean. From the beach at Warren Dunes, there is water as far as the eye can see. Some small fish may be visible, but generally I haven't seen much in the water. The water gets deeper as you go in. It doesn't take long to get in over your head, so weak swimmers and small children should stay pretty close to shore. Close to the buoys that mark the swimming area is a sandbar. This may be a little outside of the swimming area, but I've never seen anyone get in trouble for going there. I would not go farther than the sandbar though. Rip currents are a recurring issue in the lake, so pay attention to advisories and learn about what you should do in case you get caught in a current.
     I like this beach compared to others on Lake Michigan because it's far enough south that the water gets comfortable in the summer. It's also pretty clean, as opposed to some beaches in Chicago or northwest Indiana.

     Clay

     While you're relaxing on the beach, you may notice some people walking around covered in clay. One fun thing to do besides swim is head to the clay pits. When you are walking toward the beach from the main parking lot, on the left you will see a creek that runs into the lake. If you walk through the water up the creek, you will run into some areas of clay. It only takes about 10 minutes to get to some of the clay areas, with some larger areas a little farther on. There is even an area with a clay slide-- though I wouldn't personally try to go down it. Be advised that last time I was there, in August 2016, there were signs advising not to go in the creek due to bacteria. 

     Other Things to Do

     If you'll be staying more than one day or find that the water is cold, there are a few different activities for you to do: 
  • Do some hiking. There are several short trails to choose from for a fun day of hiking.
  • Check out the concession area. There is a snack bar and a little shop. I believe there may be some other activities going on there, but I don't normally make a point to head that way.
  • Run down the giant dune. It's on the opposite side of the parking lot from the beach. It will take some effort to get to the top though!
  • Look into rentals. I've never rented anything for recreational use in the park, but I know there are places you can rent kayaks and paddle boards from.

My Ideal Trip

     I've been to the Dunes enough times to have the trip planning down to a science. Pack a cooler to save money on food and drinks. Keep in mind that beach days are pretty tiring, so make an extra point to have enough to eat and drink. I usually bring food for two meals. Bring your beach necessities-- bathing suits, towels, a blanket, beach toys, sunscreen, and whatever else.
     Normally, we take a day trip. It's usually about a 2.5 hour drive from where I live to the park. Usually, I leave home around 9am. Michigan is in eastern time, so the local time is about noon when we arrive.
     We bring out all of our beach stuff and have a good solid couple of hours in the water, goofing around in the heat of the afternoon. By mid to late afternoon, we work up a good appetite and eat. Afterwards is usually about when we head to the clay pits for a while. Come back and rinse off in the lake before the air temperature starts to cool down too much. The early evening is a good time to climb the dune and explore, as the sand will cool down. Eat some more food, lay out on the beach, and wait for the sunset. Sunsets are beautiful from this beach, as it sets over the lake. We usually leave right after sunset.


     In conclusion, whether you live in the Midwest or are passing through, this park is worth a stop. You may easily find this to be one of the nicest places within hundreds of miles. It'll remind you that nature is all around us, even in the boring ole' Midwest.








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Comments

  1. Warren Dunes State Park is my absolute favorite place from when I was growing up. We camped there every summer (drove through the night from Iowa to get there first thing in the morning and get the best available site). The campsites are beautiful, the dunes are magnificent, and the beach is wonderful.

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