Interested in hiking or camping along Michigan’s gorgeous, western coast? Warren Dunes State Park, with its lakeshore beaches, towering 200 ft sand dunes, and mature forests is a perfect place to do both. Here we breakdown everything you need to know before hitting the trails or pitching your tent at Warren Dunes.
A few weeks ago, we went on our first camping trip as a family of seven at Warren Dunes State Park along Michigan’s southwestern coast. We’ve visited a number of state and national parks along the Lake Michigan shoreline: Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, Ludington Beach State Park, & the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. However, this was our first time visiting Michigan’s Warren Dunes, our first time camping at a beach, and the first camping trip for our youngest two kids. Thankfully, all of these first turned out to be fun and memorable!
Camping at Warren Dunes
Warren Dunes, a ~2000 acre state park along Michigan’s southwestern shore, is one of the top five, most popular camping sites within the state. While it may be popular, it certainly does not feel crowded. All of the campsites are located on the wooded, inland side of the dunes. The woods provide a sense of privacy, especially at the semi-modern campsite, where we camped.
Just behind the picnic table, there was a crude trail. The kids spent quite a bit of time back in the woods playing and exploring.
In addition to privacy, the campsites in the semi-modern campground were spacious. When the kids weren’t exploring in the woods, they had plenty of room to spread out and play games, including one of our new favorites, Yard Dice.
One thing to note about the Warren Dunes campground is its location along the eastern edge of the park, which borders Michigan’s Red Arrow Highway. While not an interstate, but rather a scenic by-way, noise from the highway can be heard at the campground. It’s a subtle, background sort of white-noise from the highway traffic. This was not a bother to our family since we’re no strangers to white noise. We have no less than three white noise machines in our house, which ensure we get the most sleep from our three kids who are three and under. However, if you prefer the sounds of nature, over those of highway traffic you might want to consider a campsite closer to the dunes rather than the highway.
If you are considering camping at Warren Dunes, reserve your campsite in advance! As previously mentioned, this park is one of the most popular in Michigan. We originally planned to camp on Labor Day weekend, but the campground was completely booked. We camped the following, non-holiday weekend, staying for only one night. It’s important to note, a single night reservation has a check-in time of 3 pm and a check-out time of 1 pm, leaving little free time.
We spent the better part of Saturday setting up camp, starting a fire and cooking dinner. While we were able to go on a hike Sunday morning before breaking down camp, we wish we had more time for exploring the park. If we camp at Warren Dunes again, we’ll definitely opt to spend at least two nights.
Hiking at Warren Dunes: Forest & Dunes
Warren Dunes State Park has 14 different foot trails. For our early morning hike, we set out on the Blue Jay Trail, defined by trails markers 8-14. This 3/4-mile Blue Jay Trail first leads you through a low-lying forest. Then climbs up and over a series of dunes with some rather steep inclines.
Although the trail ends at Lake Michigan, sadly, we did not make it that far. We stopped short, roughly 2/3 of a mile in, at which point the little kids slowed to a snail’s pace. So, we stopped to admire the views of Lake Michigan, while the kids played in the sand. Then we hiked back the way we came.
Hiking at Warren Dunes: The Beach
Thankfully after packing up camp, we still had enough time to visit the beach. This time without the hassle of hiking over dunes to get there. From the park’s main beach, we ended up walking along the 1.0-mile Beach Trail, between trail markers 1 and 14. It was more of a leisurely stroll than a hike. The kids had fun skipping rocks, collecting driftwood, and playing in the sand along the way.
The Beach Trail ultimately reaches the same point at which the Blue Jay Trail meets the shore.
Prepare your kids for red flag warnings. Despite the fact that it was slightly too cold to go swimming, the older boys were still pretty bummed that they could not wade in Lake Michigan due to a red flag warning, indicating that water conditions are too dangerous for swimming. When we visited, the red flag was due to high waves, strong undertow and rip currents. We noticed a few park visitors wading in the water, but we chose to keep the kids out of the water entirely due to the white caps and temperature.
Other Useful Info
- When: Hours are 8:00 am -10:00 pm
- Where: 12032 Red Arrow Hwy, Sawyer, MI 49125
- Park Entrance Fee: $11 Annual Fee for Michigan residents, $9 Day Pass Fee for non-residents
- Camping Rates: http://www.shorelinevisitorsguide.com/select-michigan-state-park-maps-and-guides/warren-dunes-state-park/
- Camping Reservations: https://www.midnrreservations.com/home
- Park Map: http://www.michigandnr.com/publications/pdfs/recreationcamping/warren_dunes_map.pdf
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