Camping at Warren Dunes State Park – May 24 to 27, 2013
This year for Memorial Day weekend we decided to try something a little different. Instead of heading somewhere north we went south almost to the Michigan border to camp at Warren Dunes State Park. We were thinking that by heading south it would be a little warmer, but unfortunately it was a cool weekend. Even though we didn’t have beach weather most of the weekend was perfect for hiking and biking.
About Warren Dunes State Park: Located in southwest Michigan about 2.5 miles south of the town of Bridgman. The park protects over 1,900 of acres open dunes and rolling forest including 3 miles of Lake Michigan beach. The interior of the park can be explored on 6 miles of marked hiking trails. There is a modern campground with 182 sites with electric, restrooms, showers, playground, camp store and 3 mini cabins. Warren Dunes also has a small 36 site rustic campground.
The most popular attraction is the large day-use beach area with access to the beautiful white sand beach. The backdrop for the day use area is the Pikes Peak dune rising right up from the edge of the parking area and almost begging to be climbed. Each of the 3 parking areas has it’s own restroom and changing building. The middle lot also has a beach store and food concession. The park is open year round, but most of the amenities are only open during the summer season.
Camping at Warren Dunes State Park:
We stayed at campsite #171 on the northern loop of the modern campground. It is the last site on the loop which offered more privacy than most with thick trees on the back and left side. The north loop seemed to be in a newer growth forest and did not have much shade and was very thick around the outside. The south loop was more open with older growth trees providing more shaded sites.
Overall this is a nice campground tucked down in the southwest corner of Michigan. The only sign that you in the busy southern crossroads of the state was the constant sound of traffic on the nearby expressway.
This campground has the updated bathhouse and the kids were excited to find the small playground behind it.
Just a short walk from our site was a nice little camp store. They had firewood, ice, camp supplies and enough food that you could piece together a small meal if you needed to. The girls made several trips over for the popsicle and ice cream treats, but were disappointed by the lack of junky souvenirs.
Reid doing laps on the hill in front of our campsite.
Biking through the rustic campground.
The rustic campsites are about 1/4 mile up the road from the modern campground. Most of the sites were close together and even closer to the noisy road.
Dr. T.K. Lawless Park – Mountain Bike Trail
The first morning was very cool so after breakfast we loaded up and drove to T.K. Lawless park near Vandalia, MI.
The main reason we came here was so that I could ride the T.K. Lawless mountain bike trail. This trail has been on my to do list for several years and even though it was about an hour drive from Warren Dunes it was definitely worth making the trip.
The T.K. Lawless mountain bike trail is about 10 miles of hard packed rolling and twisting single track that is a real pleasure to ride.
Even this early in the season some of the open places on the trail were getting pretty tight. I would think that by late summer it must be getting almost overgrown.
Overall this trail is easy to follow the only part that confused me for a minute was the cutback at mile 6. If you follow the green arrows it sends you back across the road to the parking area for a shortened 6 mile ride. By following the red arrow at the post shown above you will complete the 10 mile loop.
Make sure not to miss the last 4 miles of trail. The part just after the cut back was probably my favorite park of the ride with sweeping banked corners and rolling hills.
The Mountain Bike Trail Map
While I was riding the mountain bike the rest of the family checked out the park. There is a children’s play ground, 2 picnic shelters, modern restrooms and a hand pump for water. In addition to the bike trails there are also 7 miles of hiking trails. The park also had plenty of open space for the girls to fly their kite and for Reid to run.
I would have liked to hike some of the trails, but by the time I finished the ride and we ate a picnic lunch everyone was ready to head back to the campsite. They really wanted to get back so they could go to the camp store and spend their money that they took along. Next time I will have to let them go right away in the morning so we do not have to hear about it all day.
Dr. T.K. Lawless Park is located at: 15122 Monkey Run Street Vandalia, MI 49095 (click for directions)
Warren Dunes State Park Beach and Dune Climb
Later in the afternoon we drove over to check out the beach area at Warren Dunes State Park. It is almost a 2 mile drive from the campground to the day use beach area. The first thing that you notice in the parking area is the huge inflatable water slide in the middle of the parking area. They were just installing and getting it ready when we were here, so we are not sure how much it is to try it. The kids thought it looked great, but personally I am a little disappointed that the DNR is allowing concession operators to turn our parks into carnivals.
There is a beach store in the middle restroom building. The north building has also has kayak and stand up paddle board rentals.
Playing on the rails on the breakwall between the beach and the concession building.
After checking out the beach and store we walked across the parking lot to climb the Pikes Peak dune.
The back side of the dune is a steep slope where the sand is spilling down and starting to bury some of the trees. As you can see it was perfect for jumping down. To bad the girls turned around and ran back down the front just before we got over the top. I wanted to try it, but thought it might look at little funny for an old guy like me to be jumping all by myself.
Looking back from near the top.
The view of the Warren Dunes beach area from the top of Pikes Peak.
This tree has to be the ultimate dune survivor.
Playing in the sand at the base of the dune.
It took at least 5 tries to get Reid to look so I could make this shot.
The Warren Dunes State Park Map – If it does not show above click here >>
The next morning was still clear and a little warmer. It is nice to have a couple helpers making breakfast. Reesey was in charge of the eggs for our breakfast burritos.
Regan was on the grill making the breakfast sausages…now if we could just get them to help clean up.
Hiking in the Great Warren Dunes Natural Area:
After breakfast we drove to the north end of Warren Dunes State Park for some hiking.
We started our hike at the parking area off from Floral Lane and walked down to the end of the paved road to trail marker #9. From here we followed the trail up along the top of a dune ridge and out to the beach by going: 8, 13, 7, 14 and then out to the beach. After playing on the beach we headed back to the car by way of: 14, 13, 8 and 9. On older maps this route is labeled the Red Squirrel and Blue Jay Trails.
Heading up the sandy trail to junction #13. There was not a trail marker at this intersection, but the turn off was easy to find.
After the junction the trail follows along the top of a nice ridge before dropping down to marker #7.
From here the trail drops down in between the dunes for a little ways and then starts climbing up and out into the open dunes.
Out in the open dunes the trail is soft and sandy.
Heading over the small dunes on the way out to the beach.
Other than a few other hikers passing by we had this nice beach all to ourselves.
The beach here is beautiful white sand with smooth stones scattered on top.
Reid was happy get out of the backpack carrier and run on the beach with his “pp toes” out. (translation: piggy toes)
The trail back is shorter, but the first half is a steady climb up a soft and sandy path.
Wild flowers in the dune grass in the Great Warren Dunes Natural Area.
Looking back down the trail and out to Lake Michigan near the high point of the trail.
We usually let Reid out for the last part of the hike and as soon as his feet hit the ground he was off running down the trail. I forgot to turn on the GPS, but I think this hike was around 2 miles long.
For more on hiking in Warren Dunes: 50 Hikes in Michigan: The Best Walks, Hikes, and Backpacks in the Lower Peninsula
Fat Bike Beach Ride at Warren Dune State Park :
When we stopped at the beach on our hike I noticed that the conditions were nearly perfect for a beach ride so after lunch I hopped on the fat bike.
Just north of Warren Dunes you come to Weko Beach Park. This 40 acre park is operated by the city of Bridgman and looked like it would be a nice place to spend a day on the shores of Lake Michigan. It has a new beach house with restrooms and a concession stand. Looking at their website there is also a 70 site modern campground that I would have checked out if I had known it was there. Kayaks and stand up paddle boards were also available for rent on the beach.
I was hoping to ride all the way up to Grand Mere State Park, but when I came to this by the Cook Nuclear Energy Plant I decided it would be best to turn around.
The ride from the campground up to the Nuclear Plant and back was about 13 miles and took a little over an hour to complete.
St Joseph, Michigan – Silver Beach County Park:
On our last evening we drove back about 25 minutes north to St Joseph, Michigan. We parked inside Silver Beach County Park and then walked up the road and put our name in at Silver Beach Pizza for dinner. This unique pizza place is located in a historic train depot. The restaurant occupies most of the building, but this is also still an active station with a small Amtrack office at one end. You can sit and eat in the open air seating only a few feet from the tracks and watch the train come in.
It was going to be about a 30 minute wait so we walked around to check out the area.
Across the street from Silver Beach Pizza is the Silver Beach Carousel. Outside Reid found a train to play on.
In front of the carousel they also had hula hoops, bean bag toss and side walk chalk to keep our hungry kids distracted while we waited for our table.
The Whirlpool Centennial Splash Park is also nearby.
It wasn’t to long until we received a text message that our table was ready We were seated in a nice new family room with big screen doors.
Thumbs up for the tasty thin crust pizza.
Reid’s favorite toy has recently been Thomas the Tank Engine and he couldn’t wait get back out and play on the tracks.
After dinner we went back to take a spin on the Silver Beach Carousel.
It is only $2 for a carousel ride token or 3 for $5. Just as we were getting on for our ride, Reid saw the model train set by the window. I ended having to hand him back over the fence to mom and ride the horse by myself with all the other kids.
Reesey first picked the MSU stallion.
Reid watching the trains. He kept saying: “I have it, I have it” and could not understand why he could not play with the toy trains.
The Silver Beach Carousel in open year and is great place to entertain the kids for a little while. More at: silverbeachcarousel.com>>
After this we walked back towards the beach and followed the sidewalk along the channel out to the end of the south pier.
No sunset, but it was still a nice night for a walk.
Looking across the channel to the St Joseph Pier Lighthouse.
There was a huge play structure right on the beach and a nice new restroom and concession buildings nearby. The kids really wanted to play here, but it was getting late and it was time to head back to the campsite.
This area of St Joseph was all very nice and we would like to go back sometime and see more of it. Berrien County has done a great job with Silver Beach Park and it is one of the best beach areas that we have been to. Next time we will have to come for an entire day to make the most of our $8 nonresident entrance fee.
Unfortunately Memorial Day was a bust. We woke up in the morning to rain tapping on the roof of the camper. Since we were closer to home than usual we had planned to spend the day doing some more hiking and going to the beach. However, after getting some Mc Breakfast and looking at the radar we decided to pack it up and head home.
With 3 small children this has become one of our favorite hiking guides. This is really a good book for anyone looking to get out and find short, but interesting hikes all over the state. Like all of the books written by Mr. DuFresne there are well written trail descriptions and nice maps of each outing.
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