The Silver Lake Sand Dunes are a natural phenomenon that attracts more than a million visitors to western Michigan each year. Sand, sun and fun await you at the Silver Lake Sand Dunes nestled between the shores of Lake Michigan and Silver Lake in Oceana County. Tourism in this area dates back to the early 1920’s. At that time people usually travelled by train to the station located in Mears, Michigan. From there visitors and their trunks would be brought to the lake by horse and buggy. The area quickly flourished and before long cottages and campgrounds were popping up while stores and restaurants moved into town.
The dunes are composed of over 2,000 acres of sand dune. The park itself measures 1. 5 miles wide and 3 miles long. The dunes were and continue to be formed by a process known as saltation. The wind, a key component of saltation, causes individual grains of sand to move in a bouncing, skipping course of violent collisions which very seldom occur more than one foot above the surface of the dune. During this process, the sand can exert considerable abrasive action on metal, wood, glass and boulders.
Many dead tree trunks, some said to be 2,000 years old, are scattered throughout the dune and bear testament to this process as they have been sharpened to points by the abrasive action of the moving sand. The magnificent dune is divided into three sections. The first, commonly known as the northern area, is reserved for off-road vehicles. Here a person can test his/her vehicle and their sand driving skills. Whether you rent or take your own vehicle this is a thrill you need to experience. The central region is for hiking, walking, or simply enjoying the beaches of Lake Michigan and Silver Lake.
Within the dune are wetlands with tree growth of many kinds which provide habitation for the animals found there. Fox, deer, raccoon, porcupine, white owl, blue heron, and many more animals and birds can be seen in a typical hike of the dune. Marram grass, also called dune grass, is the primary stabilizer of the sand dune. The root system, located beneath the surface of the sand, reaches down to the water table and then back upward to form new plants. This underground network serves to hold the sand in place providing somewhat of a foundation to the dune.
Other types of vegetation on the dune include: Sand Reedgrass, Bluestem, Hairy Puccoon (easily identified by its’ yellow tubular shaped flowers), Bearberry, as well as many other grasses. Jack Pine, White Pine, Juniper, Wild Cherry, Birch and Poplar trees are also commonplace in the dune area. In several areas of the dune, a visitor will likely notice that many of the trees have been buried with only their tops showing – a result of the shifting sands which make the trees resemble bushes. The southern end is leased to Mac Woods Dune Rides, which has been giving visitors a 40 minute, 7 mile tour of the dunes for over 80 years.
No other dune area in Michigan allows vehicle access thus providing visitors with a truly unique experience. Each year on April 1st the parking lot is packed, and of course come November 1st it’s a bittersweet goodbye til next year. In summary, the natural beauty of the Silver Lake Sand Dunes and the picturesque views of Lake Michigan combine with the rolling hills and vast orchards of western Michigan to provide fun for visitors regardless of their age. Whether you enjoy wine tasting, taking a fast trip up the dune, or just a slow, simple stroll along the beach I am sure that you will be impressed with a visit to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes.