Warren Dunes State Park
Lake Michigan provides hundreds of miles of great beaches, in four different states. Of all the hundreds the best I have encountered is Warren Dunes State Park, in the far Southwestern tip of Michigan. Warren Dunes has some of the best dunes in all of the country.
The main beach is technically three beaches, sometimes one or two will be open. In the summer all three are usually open. The beaches are quite clean (especially if you are used to ocean beaches) and the park service actively cleans up litter and garbage. All along the beach there are small plots of miny dunes (rises that are about 10 to 15 feet high) with small croppings of trees and shrubs. This makes a perfect picnic spot for the family, even if it's a hot day. The shade of the trees and the cool breeze coming off the lake will make a great time. The water is clean and very comfortable in the summer. In the spring it can be a bit cold.
Beyond the beach, there is the great dune expanse that retreats into the surrounding forest. There are several dunes with names. The main dune at the beach is called Tower Hill, which rises 240 feet above the level of the lake. From the Spring through Fall you will find kids, teenagers and whole families climbing the dune. Once at the top you can see all of the surrounding Warren Dunes, the nearby Warren Woods and the campgrounds in the immediate vicinity. When it's time to come back down most people tend to run (especially the kids, teenagers, twenty-somethings) because you can pick-up a great deal of speed, running straight down the dune. And if you fall, no problem, except if you don't like getting all sandy. But if you do, just jump back in the lake for a quick swim and you'll be good to go.
Warren Dunes has two main camping facilities, essentially two rings of camping plots. There are a few cabins, but mostly it is camping plots to pitch your tent, park your RV, or pop your trailer. The campgrounds are heavily wooded, unlike the beach and the dunes. Next to the camping area is a very steep dune, called Pike's Peak. This dune is a challenge for even a healthy hiker, and most people take breaks whlie climbing this one. Once at the top you can see the beach in the distance, and the campfires from the campgrounds in the other direction. From the top of Pike's Peak you can walk to the beach, it's about a mile and a half walk through a dune desert. Some of the desert has small patches of trees to rest under (which is great for the kids in the Summer) and there are some deep sand valleys. If you want to get away from everyone, and have a quiet lunch with your family you could hike out here. Plan to spend an hour getting out here and an hour to get back to the camping area.
This getaway is simple, low cost, fun for the family and especially fun if you have 10-14 year olds that really need to spend more time outdoors. If you live in a city or suburban area, where the only outdoor places are parks and playgrounds, then this is a great destination. The cost is very reasonable for the camping area, the local restaurants are also low cost and the price to spend time on the beach, the dunes or hiking the trails is free. A whole family could go for three days for less than $200. If you bring grilling equipment and coolers full of food, then the price goes down quickly.
My family has gone several times to Warren Dunes, and never had a bad time. Some trips have resulted in a sunburn or a few mosquito bites, but that's about it. All the rest are fun memories of grilling, climbing dunes, hiking, relaxing on the beach, swimming, and campfires. I love it here as an adult, and I loved it even more as a kid.
Now in the summer they have a water slide that is in the sand by the concession stand. It is alot of fun, I would recommend buying a braclet so you can slide all day.