There is no shortage of state parks in Michigan, especially in the Holland area; the problem is choosing which one to visit. Although initially I had thought of venturing to Holland State Park as it’s nearest to the city of Holland, not to mention it offers views of Big Red, one of the state’s most famous lighthouses, when I read about Saugatuck Dunes State Park, my decision was made.
I had only visited one dune before and that was France’s Dune of Pyla, which is the tallest sand dune in Europe. I saw/climbed/marveled at Pyla a decade ago but I still remember how incredible it was being there, looking at the stunning views in front of me.
From our hotel, which was right off Highway 31 in Holland, it was a 15 minute drive to Saugatuck State Park. All of Michigan’s state parks require a “passport” (a state park permit) for entry. For non-Michigan residents, a daily pass is offered at $8.40 per car, which isn’t terrible especially if you plan to visit more than one in the same day. I’m not going to mention the slightly more complicated process for Michigan residents, since I assume you all know about your state’s doings.
The park features 14 miles (23 kilometers) of hiking trails through stabilized and wooden sand dunes. There are a total of four trails; three of them are 2.5 miles long, with the fourth coming in at 5.5 miles. We knew we didn’t want to try the longer trail and instead entered the park at the opening that was nearest to where we parked our car. The trail was not too physically demanding but proper footwear is a must as you traipse through some pretty rough and slippery terrain at times.
I knew we were getting close to the dunes as the ground became all sand (before, sand appeared in pockets) and directly in front of us, a massive hulk appeared. Climbing up the dune (only to come back down to get to the shore) was definitely good exercise. And while I saw plenty of adults there with small children (toddler age), I myself couldn’t imagine having to trudge up the dune carrying a 20 pound toddler.
The views of Lake Michigan from the top of the dune were gorgeous. Although I’ve seen Lake Michigan before (in Chicago), it was neat to see it in a place like Saugatuck, where there was nothing except the dune and the shore-no skyscrapers or frenetic noises-just the same view that has been in place for hundreds of years. It’s also amazing when looking at Lake Michigan to realize that it’s just a lake and not an ocean. You stare out at it and it looks endless given how expansive it is.
We walked around the shore for a bit and then ending up sitting down, doing a combination of people watching, lake watching, and simply relaxing. The park was definitely a locale where one could go if they wanted to “get away from it all.” While it was busy, it was not at all mobbed, although by the time we left (early afternoon), people were starting to park on the grass as all designated spots were taken.
- Dogs are allowed (the ones we saw looked like they were having a marvelous time)
- Bring cash for the state park permit as it’s not “credit card equipped”
- Restroom “facilities” are only located in the parking lot (there is nothing once you start to hike or at the lake). However, facilities is a much too generous way of saying open hole toilets in a wooden outhouse structure. If you’re like me, go before you get there.
P.S. And for any fans of the screen adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, I half expected to see Anne and Diana racing down them at any point. The dunes at Saugatuck were so evocative of that one scene from the film.