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Swimming at Lake Michigan's Warren Dunes: A Family Day Trip

Updated on November 13, 2014

Climbing the Dunes at One of Michigan's Great State Parks

Michigan's Warren Dunes State Park contains three miles of beach among its almost 2,000 acres of dunes, woods and campgrounds. Located on Lake Michigan near the border with Indiana, it is close enough for a day trip from Chicago so it also get a good number of Illinois visitors.

In fact, Wikipedia says the park receives 1 million visitors each year. Judging by the summer day we visited I imagine that could be correct.

Here are some highlights of our visit. All photos were taken by us unless otherwise stated.

Warren Dunes State Park
Warren Dunes State Park

Taking a Dip in Lake Michigan, One of North America's Great Lakes

Lake Michigan is the second largest of the five Great Lakes by volume, the third largest by surface area, and the only one entirely within the U.S. borders -- the other four are shared with Canada to the north.

While we had been warned that the lake's temperatures could be quite cool even in summer, we found the water to be almost warm when we were there in mid-August. Maybe not Caribbean-like, but very pleasant.

And clear! The thing that amazed us most about swimming in the lake was how clear the water was. We could easily see the bottom even when we went out to where the water was five-six feet deep. That was probably our biggest surprise.

Of course, being a lake there weren't the waves that ocean swimming has to offer. I enjoyed watching the little children futilely try to use their Boogie Boards on the very gentle ripples caused by passing boats on the lake.

The swimming was gentle and relaxing on the day we were there, and though the beach had a good number of people on it there wasn't a feeling that we were being crowded.

Hiking Up The Sand Dunes at the Park

Warren Dunes Michigan
Warren Dunes Michigan

The dunes at the park are caused by westerly winds that have long swept across the lake, creating piles as high as 240 feet. The sand was softer and more off-white than the stuff at the Jersey Shore that we are used to dealing with during the summer, and that seemed to make it easier to walk on the beach.

However, the softness became quite an obstacle when faced with the challenge of climbing to the top of he dune behind the main parking lot! The dune rises at a fairly sharp angle -- more than 45 degree at some points -- and with the sand being so soft our feet sunk right in to it, making progress very slow.

About 30 feet from the top there is some grass and some fallen tree limbs that we used to help get a leg up, but even so it was an arduous enough ordeal that neither my teenager or wife even bothered to try. My son collapsed about 40 feet from the top and needed to rest for a long time before he could complete the climb.

But it sure was sweet when we got to the top.

Warren Dunes Michigan
Warren Dunes Michigan

Watching the Cheerleaders and Enjoying the Shade

Once my son and I got to the top we sat in the shade alongside other families and just enjoyed the view of the lake and surroundings.

In fact, the top of the dune was like a small party. There were families playing with their dogs and friends hanging out and goofing off. A group of cheerleaders (boys and girls) practiced their routines and flips.

The main attraction though was watching people try to run straight down a steep side of the dune that had been long used for that activity. They would pick up speed as they barreled down, their feet churning, sand shooting everywhere -- and a good many would wipe out at some point and go face first to the ground!

We looked inland from the dune and saw the wooded part of the park. There are six miles of hiking trails available, and some 300 campsites as well. (Later, we would try to drive into one of the camping areas to see what it looked like, but we got turned away by a park guard who said only those who paid for a site could travel to that part of the park. And the north part of the park is open to hunting, so we had no interest in going there.)

My son and I stood at the edge, thinking a long time about joining the locals who were barreling down the dune at at top speed. We dared each other to go for it, but in the end we found a more gently slope to one side and strolled down casually. A nice end to a perfect day at the beach.

Have You Been to Warren Dunes State Park?

Warren Dunes Michigan
Warren Dunes Michigan

Have You Been to Warren Dunes State Park?

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Book Your Vacation Room Today

We have used Hotels.com to book our recent vacations, and haven't had a problem yet. You do have to spend a bit of time reading the reviews to make sure the hotel you select is exactly what you want, of course. Sometimes a good price just means that the hotel has had a lot of poor reviews and has dropped what it charges to attract customers!

One other bit of good news is that you get a free night's stay after booking 10 nights. The freebie has to be on a subsequent trip, but it has helped us save money. Check out Hotels.com today:

Michigan Maps to Help Guide Your Way

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For more about who we are and what we write about please see here:

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I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as we enjoyed our travels and writing it. Now it's your turn!

Thanks for visiting!

Now It's Your Turn!

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    • DawnRae64 profile image

      Dawn 3 years ago from Maryland, USA

      When people ask me if I miss "back home", I tell them, there are only two things I miss.... being able to BBQ in my yard...and Warren Dunes! Love this lens. Next time you go, see if you can find the clay pit. Lots of fun! Looking from atop the dune... you would head left up the beach. It's tucked into the trees. Usually, you see people walking around covered in clay as they return from that section.

    • Zeross4 profile image

      Renee Dixon 3 years ago from Kentucky

      Sounds like a wonderful place, would love to go someday!

    • SusanLee2 profile image

      SusanLee2 3 years ago

      When I was a kid, we used to run and dive over the side of the steep dune you are talking about. Too much fun! Thanks for writing about this wonderful park.

    • SusanneB profile image

      SusanneB 3 years ago

      what a wonderful lens, I wish I was there