I keep it no secret that I’ve fallen in love with Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan…to the point where I even looked at house prices because I wanted to move there…! I recently returned from my 2nd visit to Mears and was able to explore more of this little Midwest town. I’m now here to share with you my favourite things to do!
Things to do in Silver Lake Michigan
Silver Lake Sand Dunes
Of course the first thing to do in Silver Lake is explore the sand dunes! Silver Lake State Park is divided into 2 sections: the pedestrian area (where you can also sandboard) and the ORV (off road vehicle) zone. There is a public car park at the base of the dunes which has toilet facilities and a wooden staircase to make getting on top of the dunes a little easier…well I say a little, on my last visit it seems that the same dunes are claiming the staircase as their own.
*Tip* Visiting after it rains makes the sand easier to walk up! Although on the other hand, it then makes sand boarding harder…!
Related Post: Exploring Lancelin Sand Dunes in Western Australia
The sand dunes are partly sandwiched between Silver Lake on one side and Lake Michigan on the other as well as a woodland area. It’s crazy to see the contrast between the 2 different types of landscape. There’s endless dunes and then suddenly a straight line where the forest begins! It is said that the dunes were formed after part of the forest was cut down. I find that hard to wrap my head around when you see that some of the dunes are taller than the trees!
The ORV area is fun to experience. You can either take along your own off roader or rent a vehicle from one of several businesses located within the town. The tallest dunes work on a one way system to avoid collisions, then there are several areas that are a free-for-all. It is important to use caution while in the dunes. As tempting as it is, here are a few points to remember:
- You shouldn’t be going full speed when you reach the top of the dunes, as it can cause vehicles to nose dive over the top and even roll.
- There are the remains of tree stumps that have been ‘sand blasted’ over the years and would be like hitting a brick wall if you were to run into them.
- In the ‘Gravel Pit’ ATVs (quad bike riders) like to do high speed donuts and drill themselves into the sand…this leaves giant holes that are wide and deep, and often camouflaged by the rest of the sand. Depending on your vehicle you may fall in and struggle to get out!
- Don’t drive through water in a rental. It may look like a shallow puddle from a distance but I saw a buggy that was almost up to the ‘windows’ in the middle of the water, having to be towed out by another vehicle…engines and sand don’t mix.
One of my favourite parts was a wide, flat area which I nicknamed ‘the drag strip’, where all different kinds of vehicles were racing each other. I had fun seeing how fast I could go (43mph)! As a small person I struggled to see over the front of my buggy so I didn’t trust myself going over the bigger dunes (I’m a quad biker…I like having lots of vision)!
The guy from rental company said that their busiest weekend is often Labor Day weekend when they can reach up to 10,000 vehicles out on the dunes!
Silver Lake Sand Dunes Rentals
A couple of the Silver Lake Sand Dunes rental companies that I have used and recommend are:
Silver Lake Buggy Rentals – We found this rental company to have the most choice for dune buggies type vehicles (both 2 seaters and 4 seaters). Rates start from 2 hours, which we found was a good amount of time in the dunes. There are other companies that hire out jeeps or quad bikes.
If you’d still like to experience the dunes in a vehicle that’s not self drive, Mac Wood’s Dune Rides offer 40 minute tours in a private section of the dunes. The company has been running dune rides since 1930! (Disclosure: I haven’t used this company but it’s a popular option for those that don’t want to drive).
Wave Club Water Sports – Yes, by the name you’d think water and not sand dunes, but I used this company to hire a sand board during my first trip! On my return visit they weren’t hiring sand boards because of the ‘wet’ dune conditions, saving you from wasting money on getting all the way out there to find that the friction was too much and the board wouldn’t even budge down the sand.
Silver Lake (the actual lake)
Wave Club Water Sports also rent out pontoons, speed boats, paddle boards, kayaks, jet skis and sail boats. We were told that 2 hour pontoon rentals can’t be booked in advance, you have to book on the day and it’s first come first served. The office opens at 8am and they suggest ringing up as soon as it opens if renting on a busy weekend day.
There’s a small beach with a large car park and toilet facilities, near the Silver Lake State Park Campground. We took advantage of the free public barbecues. The Parkside Store across the road stock everything you’d need, including mini bags of charcoal! The water around the beach area is very shallow, we saw people quite a way out and it was still only waist deep! Silver Lake is said to be 25ft at its deepest point so keep this in mind!
Go Karting, Zip Lining and Mini Golf!
You don’t have to have kids to enjoy Craig’s Cruisers! As 4 adults we found it a great way to spend a morning in Silver Lake! There’s an indoor arcade, a regular go-kart track, a SLICK go-karting track (which was HILARIOUS…think real life Mario Karts when the characters spin out on bananas!), a Soaring Eagle zip line (same as the zip line at Chestnut Mountain in Galena, IL), an 18 hole mini golf course on an ISLAND and bumper and peddle boats! Prices start from $6 or your can pick 5 attractions for $25.
Little Sable Light Station
The Little Sable Lighthouse was built in 1874 after several shipwrecks occurred in this area of Lake Michigan. For a while the lighthouse was painted white to make it more visible during the daylight hours but was restored back to brick that you can see today, in the 1970s. The lighthouse sits next to a small sandy beach and visitors can climb 130 stairs to the top for $5 ($2 for under 12s) during the summer season. We were told that the Little Sable Light Station is the best place in Silver Lake to watch the sunset!
(Some car parks in Silver Lake require a Michigan Recreation Passport, information can be found on the Michigan DNR website)
Bamboozled Escape Room
It’s always good to have a rainy day back up activity and it was needed during my visit! Bamboozled Escape Rooms is located 15 minutes away from Silver Lake in the town of Hart. From the outside it does look a little sketchy and abandoned (the sign is spray painted on a big concrete block) but the lady running it couldn’t have been nicer! There are 3 themed rooms altogether, each with a different storyline and challenge and you have 60 minutes to crack the clues and escape. We took part in ‘The Shop’ room, where we had to find $50,000 hidden in an old man’s garage and then escape. I’ve now done several escape rooms around the world and this one was designed differently from those I have completed before!
Where To Eat in Silver Lake Michigan
Silver Lake only has a few places to eat. The majority of the ‘tourist accommodations’ are campgrounds so therefore the majority of people would have their own kitchen facilities. As mentioned above, the free public barbecues in the Silver Lake State Park Campground are a good option for a cheap meal. There are plenty of picnic benches and toilet facilities and it’s a nice place to people watch.
Our favourite place to eat was the Sand Castle Restaurant. If you are visiting during a weekend, they have an all you can eat breakfast buffet, with a limited breakfast ‘on request’ menu, but during the week the breakfast menu is HUGE. The prices are reasonable and the food is good. It’s what I’d refer to as a ‘greasy spoon’ cafe, a little like a transport/truck drivers cafe but that’s fine with me!
Silver Scoops is YUM. There’s a large ice cream menu serving up all different styles and then a typical fast food menu with things like sandwiches/subs and hotdogs. Silver Scoops only has outdoor seating (with umbrellas), which is lovely on a sunny day!
Where To Stay in Silver Lake Michigan
I stayed at the Dunes Waterfront Resort. There’s a whole range of different camping options in Silver Lake but not many hotels. During my stay in July, all the hotels in Silver Lake were completely booked up, so look into booking in advance! The biggest plus of staying at the Dunes Waterfront Resort is the view from the balcony, it’s definitely worth paying extra for the lake view. Being the honest blogger that I am, I will say that it IS an expensive hotel, the wifi was pretty none existent (and the phone signal in Silver Lake is next to zero, there’s one AT&T tower that’s not that close by) and there is no restaurant (or breakfast) on site. But I still enjoyed my stay. It was clean, there was free tea and coffee in the room and in the lobby and the 4th floor has a fairly large pool, a games room and a roof terrace. I guess it depends on what your priorities are! We were happy to switch off, enjoy time as a family rather than being constantly online and eat out in surrounding places.
Silver Lake Driving Distances
Grand Rapids, MI – 79 miles (1hr 20)
Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI – 106 miles (2hr 10)
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, IN – 179 miles (2hr 55)
Chicago, IL – 222 miles (3hr 35)
Detroit, MI – 234 miles (3hr 25)
Milwaukee, WI to Muskegon, MI ferry – Takes around 3hrs 10 with a further 50 minute drive on to Silver Lake.
Travelling from Illinois/Indiana there is a 1 hour time zone change! (This has caught me out on both trips!). When at Silver Lake Sand Dunes, I would recommend wearing a watch as sometimes mobile phones will pick up the WISCONSIN phone towers and therefore the time on the clock will change by itself!
If you are after some more ideas and information on things to do in Silver Lake Michigan, check out the ThinkDunes tourism website!