Interested in camping along Michigan’s gorgeous, western coast? Warren Dunes State Park, with its sprawling lakeshore beaches, towering 200 ft sand dunes, and mature forests is the perfect place for camping on Lake Michigan. In this guide, we tell you everything you need to know about camping at Warren Dunes, answering questions such as: How much does it cost to camp? Can you swim at Warren Dunes? And what are nearby popular attractions? Here we provide you with helpful tips for camping at our favorite Lake Michigan Campground.
Where is Warren Dunes?
Warren Dunes State Park is located along the southwestern shores of Michigan’s Gold Coast. The 2000-acre park has spacious beaches, rolling sand dunes, and mature forests, making it a great place to go swimming, hike and camp. It is best reached by car due to its close proximity to Interstate 94. At ninety minutes east of Chicago, 3 hours north of Indianapolis and 3 hours west of Detroit, it is a convenient camping destination for much of the Midwest.
Camping at Warren Dunes
Warren Dunes campground is one of the top five, most popular camping sites within Michigan. Once you’ve camped there, you’ll undoubtedly understand why. But before you can set up camp, you’ll need to select and reserve your campsite. The following are some helpful tips.
Select the Right Campground & Campsite
There are two campgrounds at Warren Dunes, Mt Randall Campground and Hildebrandt Campground. Mt Randall is the modern campground, with electrical service and plumbed bathrooms. This campground can accommodate tents as well as RVs. Campsites range in price from $33 to $45 per night depending on the hook-up. Hildebrandt, on the other hand, is a semi-modern campground for tents only. It offers no electrical service and only has pit toilets, although campers are welcome to use the facilities at the Mt Randall campground. Campsites here cost $25 per night.
Both campgrounds are located on the wooded, inland side of the dunes. The woods provide a sense of privacy, especially at the semi-modern Hildebrandt Campground, where we camp. In addition to privacy, the campsites in the semi-modern campground are very spacious, as you can see below.
It is important to note, both campgrounds are located 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 campgrounds. It is very subtle and was not a bother to us. 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.
Reserving a Campsite in Advance!
The Michigan State Park & Harbor Reservations allows you to book 6 months in advance. And people do! Since Warren Dunes is one of the most popular camping sites in Michigan, it frequently reaches capacity in the summer and around holidays weekends. It’s important to note, a reservation has a check-in time of 3 pm and a check-out time of 1 pm, leaving little free time in between. If you plan on visiting the beach or hiking, we recommend booking at least 2 nights.
Be Prepared for Racoons
A word of warning, there are racoons at both campgrounds. While the pesky animals are not a nuisance during the day, they will scavenge your campsite at night for food. We have thwarted their efforts by hanging our trash, and keeping food in our car or using a latching cooler. However, we have friends who camped at Warren Dunes using a cooler without latches or locks. They awoke in the middle of the night to find the racoons had opened the cooler and made off with their food!
Warren Dunes Beach
The main attractions at Warren Dunes State Park are the towering 200-ft sand dunes. The best way to experience the dunes is to climb up them! The tallest dune, 240 ft Tower Hill, is easily accessed from the beach parking lot. If you are successful in scrambling up the steep dune, you are rewarded with stunning views of Lake Michigan. Although, the best part of climbing Tower Hill, is running back down. Our boys had so much fun sliding down the dune.
As you can see, the dunes give way to spacious, sandy beaches. The park includes 3-mile of Lake Michigan shoreline that is perfect for swimming, playing in the sand, and beach activities like frisbee and flying kites.
Tip: Bring a Beach Umbrella!
Other than the gorgeous tree in the photo below, there is very little shade on the beach at Warren Dunes. We suggest bringing a beach umbrella or tent for shade. If you forget, like us, you can find a nice shady area on the other side of the parking lot sea wall. While it’s not exactly picturesque, it provides a fair amount of shade during the morning hours.
Caution: Understanding Flag Warnings
Beaches on Lake Michigan use a colored flag warning system. The color of the flag flown at the beach tells visitors if it is safe to enter the water. A red flag means stop, stay on the beach and do not enter the water. Whereas a yellow flag means caution, there are potentially dangerous currents and high waves. And a green flag means that you can go in the water, but be aware of changing conditions.
During our first camping trip to Warren Dunes, the beach had a red flag warning, indicating that the conditions (high waves & strong undertow) were too dangerous for swimming. While we noticed a few park visitors wading in the water, we chose to err on the side of caution. We kept our kids out of the water entirely due to the white caps.
After visiting the beach, our favorite thing to do at Warren Dunes State Park is hike. During our camping trips, we have hiked a number of the park’s 6 miles of foot trails. We’ve particularly enjoyed the following:
Blue Jay Trail
Located north of the park’s beaches and campgrounds, and accessed via the Red Arrow Highway, the moderate 0.75-mile Blue Jay Trail (trail markers 8 – 14) leads hikers through a low-lying forest, before climbing up and over a series of exposed dunes with some rather steep inclines. The trail terminates when you reach the Lake Michigan shoreline.
From the park’s main beach, the easy Beach Trail (trail markers 1 to 14) heads north for 1.0 mile along the shoreline. Walking this trail is more of a leisurely stroll than a hike. Our kids had fun skipping rocks, collecting driftwood, and playing in the sand along the way. The trail terminus is the same point at which the Blue Jay Trail meets the shore.
Mt Randal Trail
Beginning on the western edge of the Mt Randal campground, this moderate 1.0-mile trail (markers 3 to 1) winds through a shady, mature forest just north of the Mt Randal sand dune. The trail ends at the northern edge of the swimming beach, with lovely views of Lake Michigan. This is perhaps our favorite trail due to the shade.
Nearby Popular Attractions
Galien River County Park
Just 10 miles southwest of Warren Dunes along the Red Arrow Highway, is the Galien River County Park. If you enjoy hiking, the park, composed of both forested upland and swampy wetlands, is a great place for an easy hike. The 86-acre park surrounds the New Buffalo Marsh just upstream from where the Galien River empties into Lake Michigan. While there are a couple of short trails, be sure to check out those that lead to the Canopy Walkway and Marsh Overlook Platform, as well as the Marsh Boardwalk. These are rather unique features that offer lovely views of the surrounding wetlands.
New Buffalo Township Memorial Park Playground
Across the Red Arrow Highway from the Galien River County Park is a fun playground and spray park. Located in the New Buffalo Township Memorial Park, this newer playground never ceases to entertain our kids (ages 1-12) for at least an hour. If you visit during the summer months, there is a small spray park where your kids can run through the water features on a hot day.
One of our favorite things to do when in southwestern Michigan is to visit one of the region’s U-pick fruit farms. Generally, we opt for picking strawberries from Garwoods Orchards in Laporte, Indiana during June.
- Address: 12032 Red Arrow Hwy, Sawyer, MI 49125
- Hours: Daily 8:00 am -10:00 pm
- 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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