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Ultimate Guide to Warren Dunes State Park

Warren Dunes State Park

by Sydney Weber

Guide to Exploring Waren Dunes State Park

Headed to Warren Dunes State Park for the day?

This Michigan State Park is one of the top travel destinatons in southwestern Michigan, with miles of shoreline, towering sand dunes, hiking trails and more. 

I’ve put together a guide to this amazing Michigan recreation spot just miles from the Indiana state line. So get ready to find some beach glass and hike some real Michigan sand dunes aong the shores of Lake Michigan. 

Read on to plan your visit to Warren Dunes!

Warren Dunes Entrance Fees

You’ll need a Michigan Recreation Passport to enter the park. The are required by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for entrance to any Michgan State recreation area. You can also purchase a daily pass. Visit the DNR home page to purchase online or purchase at the park. 

Warren Dunes State Park Map

Where Is Warren Dunes State Park?

Located between New Buffalo and St. Joseph, Warren Dunes is an easy day trip from northern
Indiana border or southwest Michigan
. Its waterfront location offers three miles of direct access to Lake Michigan, and the state park boasts over 180 campground sites.

Click on the map above to go to an interactive Google map to help you plan your visit.

sign from warren dunes state park

What to Expect When you Visit Warren Dunes 

  • Warren Dunes State Park is an amazing experience for all five senses:
  • Feel the sand shifting under your toes (and feel the cry of your muscles after hiking up the dune)
  • Hear the rustling of wind through the leaves of lakeside trees
  • See the vast swath of lake and dune and smell a clean, aquatic breeze
  • You can practically taste the fresh, fresh air

It’s the dunes, though, that are the main attraction. Tower Dunes rises 260 feet above the lake, and represents hundreds of years of natural forces shaping the shoreline. Water, wind, and grass all played, and continue to play, a role in the formation of these dunes.

The Beach at Warren Dunes State Park

All About Warren Dunes State Park

The long natural history of the coast means that there’s so much to explore at Warren Dunes
State Park.

If you start at the lake and walk up the dunes, you could go through five different micro-ecological systems. Each one offers something special.

The Beach at Warren Dunes State Park

Closest to the water is the beach, wide and sandy. While it might not be extremely deep, it is long. Three miles of Lake Michigan shoreline are yours for the walking, exploring, and enjoying. One of my favorite sights is looking down the coastline to see the beach stretching on and on.

Near the middle-most pavilion, where food trucks can be found, there’s a beach access surface that allows people with wheelchairs, strollers, and other things that don’t roll well in the sand to head towards the water.

You can enjoy the beach with your four-legged friend, too, at the dog beach. Pups can splash in the waves, play fetch on land and in lake, or even hitch a ride on your stand-up paddleboard. (Seriously, I saw someone doing that; it was great.)

the dunes at warren dunes state park in michigan

The Foredunes

Leaving the beach and heading inland, you arrive at the foredunes. This is where you start to encounter plant life, namely shrubs and grasses throughout the park, as well as some trees. These areas are raised up above the beach, providing a vantage point to look out towards the water.

Plus, these sandy slopes are smaller than the big guys, meaning they’re easier to go up and slide down over and over. Can I get a “wheeeeee”?

Exploring the foredunes is one of my favorite parts of Warren Dunes State Park. Trails sneak through the marram grass, and when you round a corner, you might find an awe-inspiring view of the dunes or a breezy vista of the lake.

Interdunal Ponds

If you keep going, past the foredunes but before the dune face, you might come to what’s called the interdunal ponds. These small bodies of water can feel like a hidden lake, which only adds to the sense of wonder-filled discovery. Look for birds and butterflies.

Climbing up the dune face is quite a challenge, but the view from the top is almost as breathtaking as the ascent. I’d be lying if I said it was as breathtaking; that climb is a doozy.

From the main parking lots, the big big dune that you see is called Pike’s Peak. Tackle it head-on if you want, but going up the side nearest the park entrance is a relatively gentler slope.

After you catch your breath comes one of the best parts—standing on top and taking in the scenery. And then, of course, you dashing down the dune if you so choose.

You can also sandboard down, if you rent equipment from a place like Third Coast Paddling, which is right on the beach. True to their name, they have kayaks, as well as stand-up paddleboards.

warren dunes foredunes


Let’s say that instead of going back down the dune, you go a little further inland. Now you’ve come to the backdune. This is where the big trees are, the oaks and the pines. It feels like another world, high and deep, up here.

Feeling brave? Tower Hill is a great place to hang glide. In fact, the area is used a hang gliding training ground.    

Lowland Westland

The final mini-ecosystem you’ll find, which is further inland than even the backdune, is the lowland wetland. These are critically important ecological areas, providing a home or temporary lodging to an abundance of species. Many songbirds, including the stunning scarlet tanager, live in or pass through this area.

To preserve this diversity, please leave any animals alone, and don’t take any plants home with you. Make sure you’re not bringing in any invasive plants, either, because they can wreak havoc on this precious ecosystem.

Off-roading on the dunes is also damaging to a fragile area, and we want to preserve this natural treasure. It offers so much to visitors; let’s take care of it so that more and more people can enjoy this underrated state park.

Best Things to Do in Warren Dunes State Park

After all, there’s something for just about everyone here: you can swim or kayak by the lake, get your exercise climbing the dunes, or just relax on the sand and in the sun.

There are six miles of trails to hike, too. Camping is a great choice, as is going to one of the many nature programs that the state park staff offer. Visit in the winter for some cross country skiing: you’ll find more than 10 miles of trails to cross country ski.  

We highly recommend the nature programs. You can learn about wildlife with the park rangers, check out an exploring pack (which has binoculars, compass, and field guides), or go metal detecting or stargazing.

Rangers lead beach walks, insect safaris, and fossil-hunting expeditions.

All of this means Warren Dunes State Park has something to offer the active, the curious, the relaxed, and the needing-a-break. If any of those sound like you, we recommend heading to the dunes.

harbor country michigan

Warren Woods State Park

Just a mere seven minutes away from the renowned Warren Dunes State Park down the Red Arrow Highway  is Warren Woods State Park. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. This expansive 311-acre expanse, this hidden treasure beckons nature enthusiasts.

You’ll find hiking trails through the towering beech and majestic maple forest, and the meandering Galien River for kayaking and paddleboarding. The park’s stunning landscapes provide the perfect backdrop for birdwatching and taking in the vibrant Michigan fall colors. 

Afterwards, you might check out the town of Sawyer Michigan. The downtown is small, but the Sawyer Home & Garden Co. certainly isn’t. It looks normal-sized until you enter, where you’ll discover that it keeps going and going (and going and going…seriously, it’s like a Tardis). They’ve got fresh produce, garden supplies, home and kitchen goods, stickers, and apparel.

If you’re feeling peckish, stop by the Peasant’s Pantry for some incredible baked goods. I recommend the honey carrot and goat cheese pastry, which was splendid. Next door is the Historian Cocktail Bar if that’s what you fancy.

Be sure to head to Greenbush Brewing Co., one of the top craft beweries in Michigan. It’s a solid choice for lunch by itself but adding to the attraction is the fact that as an appetizer you can get a snifter of bacon. That’s certainly one of the more unique menu items I’ve seen in a while.

In summary, the state park offers abundant fun in the sun, and Sawyer’s restaurants and stores can help refuel your energy for another round of dune climbs. Onwards and upwards!

michigan warren dunes

Camping at Warren Dunes State Park and DNR Reservations: Warren Dunes

You’ll find 185 campsites with electric hookups, 24 rustic sites, and 3 mini-cabins.

Contact DNR for more information. 

More Michigan Travel Destinations To Explore 

About the Author-

Sydney Weber is a Feature Writer for and a graduate of Indiana University. She grew up in the Detroit and Lansing areas and spent many weekends going down side streets to see what’s what. Sydney loves finding little gems of places wherever she goes.