About Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Located on beautiful Lake Michigan between Saugatuck and Holland, the Saugatuck Dunes State Park offers 1,000 acres of land with 2.5 miles of sandy shoreline. The park features a varied terrain, from steep slopes to rolling hills, making it a great destination for hikers of all levels. There are four (4) hiking trails that cover 13 miles in the park. As a mostly undeveloped state park, Saugatuck Dunes is a quiet, secluded beach getaway perfect for the whole family. It is open for day use only. No camping is allowed within the state park. Activities abound in the state park, including cross-country skiing, wildlife watching, picnicking, hiking, metal detecting, and swimming.
The History of Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Saugatuck Dunes State Park lies on a stretch of Lake Michigan’s shoreline that is renown for its peaceful, stunning beauty with its freshwater coastal dunes that rise 200 feet in the air. But hidden in its past are stories of struggles between man and nature and of towns that were buried or destroyed by heavy storms and blowing sand. One of these towns was Singapore, once called “Michigan’s Pompeii.” As a growing lumber village, the town included a few lumber mills and a village with a boardwalk that connected a general store, schoolroom, cemetery, boarding house, many houses, and a bank. In the mid 1800s, the pine forests that stood as a barrier between the unforgiving winds of Lake Michigan and the lumbering village were cut down for lumber. Unable to withstand the harsh winds and blowing sands, the unprotected village was eventually buried in sand. In a quest to feed their lumbering business, the town’s lumbermen unknowingly exposed their village to harsh conditions that it could not withstand, and forced its residents to seek refuge elsewhere. All that’s left of this ill-fated village is slightly visible from a boat as you approach the park, and through stories from hundreds of people whose ancestors lived in this legendary village.
The power of the Great Lakes is also evident by the destruction of a robust lighthouse in Saugatuck in 1859. A tornado ripped through the park, tearing down the lighthouse and blowing so much sand into the harbor entrance that it transformed it into a dune! Consequently, Fishtown and Shriver’s Bend, two small fishing villages, became landlocked from the devastating storm and soon shut down. Like Singapore, they became “lost villages.”
While Saugatuck Dunes State Park has a history littered with tragic stories of loss and displacement, there are also stories of growth and forward thinking in the area around that time that are still relevant today. The Ox-Bow Summer School of Art, the oldest summer art school in America, was built down the beach from the old harbor. It still stands today and artists of all ages who visit it can use the quaint, cottage-like surroundings of Saugatuck to inspire their masterpieces.
Another bright spot in Saugatuck around this time was the development of a camp for poor children from the city called the “Forward Movement” camp. Founded by a Chicago business man, this camp continues today to inspire thousands of visitors.
In contrast to the environmentally unfriendly actions of past peoples, the fathers of Saugatuck had the foresight and means to purchase Mt. Baldhead, the impressive dune, in 1884, and then Oval Beach in 1936, to preserve it for future generations. Saugatuck Dunes State Park is one of the most beautiful beaches on earth, and it’s ours to enjoy and protect. Take a ride to the park or visit it by boat to see some of the most stunning Lake Michigan views!
Things to Do in and Around Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Saugatuck Dune Rides Take a 40-minute schooner ride through the dunes to learn about the lost city of Singapore and see the area’s wildlife and vegetation. This exhilarating ride is a great activity for the whole family. See their website for hours and pricing.
Oval Beach Ranked as one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Conde Nast Traveler, Oval Beach has quite a fantastic reputation. It has also been voted one of the top two freshwater beaches in the US by National Geographic Traveler magazine, #1 among the Midwest’s top five beaches by the Chicago Tribune, and also the top beach on Lake Michigan by the Chicago Tribune. The beach has restrooms, showers, a playground, concession stand, picnic tables, grills, and three large parking lots.
Butler Street Stroll along tree-lined Butler Street and shop in quaint boutiques and art galleries for one-of-a-kind finds. Sip coffee in one of the many charming coffee shops, enjoy ice cream from the local creamery, have a beer in one of the bars, or sit down for a meal on the deck at The Butler, a Saugatuck tradition for 54 years and counting.
Mt. Baldhead Park Trail Climb the 282 steps up to the top of Mt. Baldhead within Saugatuck Dunes State Park and you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Saugatuck/Douglas and Kalamazoo Lake. There are numerous benches along the way for those who need a break.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
6575 138th Ave.
Saugatuck Dunes, MI 49453
For other great state parks in Michigan, visit Sterling State Park along the shores of Lake Erie, or Traverse City State Park along the Grand Traverse Bay!