My friend Candice of Tours Around Michigan was generous enough to offer suggestions of other things I might do on my Michigan trip besides the tings we’d planned with her. One of those was to do a Saugatuck Dune Buggy ride. I trust her advice, so I quickly booked an excursion and discovered that the dune buggy rides fill up FAST!
Visiting the dunes in Michigan is a unique experience for anyone traveling to the state. The dunes there are the largest dune system in the world associated with a freshwater lake– Lake Michigan.
In order for sand dunes to develop, you must have a large source of dry sand, winds, and space for the dunes to take hold. The eastern coast of Lake Michigan is dotted with dunes created by the westerly-blowing winds across the lake. Though there are larger dunes in the northern regions of Michigan, we were just a few miles from Saugatuck Dunes Park and the 300 acres of dunes to be found there.
Saugatuck Dune Buggy Tours
While it might have been fun to climb the 200–ft. tall dunes at the park, I knew from experience how taxing it can be to walk through the sugary sands of the Lake Michigan shoreline. Even on flat sandy beaches there, your legs get a workout. This isn’t the hard-packed sand you find along many ocean beaches; this is deep, loose sand that you sink into with every step. Add a steep climb to the mix and you have Michigan dunes — a challenge to climb, and preserve.
I let my teen-aged daughter tackle the vigorous climb. She felt her muscles burning pretty quickly. I opted to enjoy the dunes from the comfort of a dune buggy. With age comes wisdom. 🙂
We loved our fast, bumpy dune buggy ride with Frosty over the pitted tracks through the dunes. We swerved and curved and stopped along the way to hear some corny jokes and get more insight into the ecosystem of the dunes. It was a fun way to learn more about this regional bit of ecology. And racing through the sand was a blast.
After the excitement of our dune buggy ride, we traveled a little further down the road into downtown Saugatuck.
Saugatuck, Michigan is tucked away on the western edge of Michigan. Head down to the marina to enjoy a lazy summer day on the Kalamazoo River. There are plenty of boutique shops, waterfront restaurants, and two popular options of boat rides from the river dock.
Saugatuck’s Chain Ferry
For $2, passengers can ride “Diane,” Saugatuck’s chain ferry which is operated by manually turning a crank that takes the boat from one side of the river to the other.
I’ll be honest: the trip across the river is not at all exciting. And once across, there’s not much to do but turn around, pay another $2, and go back. But I wanted the experience and did enjoy watching the young men (college-aged? high school?) crank the wheel and guide the boat along the chain that runs across the river water beneath the boat.
The ferry was originally used to carry horses across the river. It is the only remaining hand cranked chain ferry of its kind remaining in the United States. The ride lasts about 5 minutes.
You may opt instead to take a more leisurely cruise aboard the Star of Saugatuck.
This sternwheel paddleboat ventures down the Kalamazoo River into Lake Michigan and then back to the dock. Passengers get a view of the town, the coast, and beautiful million-dollar homes. Or, you could just sit and watch the boats while you eat at one of the restaurants along the dock like we did.
Spending the afternoon in Saugatuck was such a pleasant way to spend the day. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a quiet escape in a beautiful setting.
Are you familiar with the Michigan dunes?
Not familiar with the Michigan dunes, but we just spent a week very close to Saugatuck! We were in South Haven. It was lovely — BUT most people were acting like the pandemic was not a thing. 😦 I think we were able to be safe and responsible still, but I’ll be avoiding any further touristy areas until the pandemic is over, just in case.
Oh. That’s not good. I was actually impressed with the way places were handling social distancing in Michigan. The hotels, restaurants, and other places we visited had made good precautions and masks were required almost everywhere. There were bigger crowds than I expected at the beach, but we were only there to walk out to the lighthouse, so it was easy to avoid the beachgoers.
Like you, I’m looking for less touristy places, but that also sometimes means that the things I want to see aren’t open because of Covid.
The buggy ride looks eco-unfriendly to me, but maybe if they stick to the tracks… Love your dubious description of the $2 ferry 🙂
Haha. I’m always curious about mechanical antiques. It wasn’t thrilling, but it certainly serves its purpose as a ferry to cross the river. 🙂
I’ve always found the Michigan dunes fascinating. It reminds me of how close the Great Lakes were to being inland seas. I love the chain ferry too. So Retro.