Sitting between Lake Michigan and Silver Lake are the 2,000 acres of moving sand dunes (constantly changing with the winds) open to the public to drive your dune buggy, jeep, truck, 4-wheeler, anything that will get up and down the dunes on. For off-road vehicles, the dunes are open from April 1 to November 1, but townspeople tell us the July 4th weekend is the big season opener. The dunes run one and a half miles wide and three miles long and are still growing and moving each day. This area is considered one of the largest deposits of living dunes on the shores of Lake Michigan. Most of the area is part of the Silver Lake State Park and is open to the public.
The dunes are divided into three sections. The northern area is reserved for off-road vehicles where licensed drivers can test their sand driving skills. The center region is for hikers and has access to both Lake Michigan and Silver Lake. The southern end is leased to Mac Woods Dune Rides. These are long, open-top jeeps that people of all ages can ride in to experience the dunes.
In the winter months, people go ice fishing on Silver Lake and ice fishing shanties dot the surface of the lake. Cross country skiers and snowmobilers come out to take their turn to enjoy the country side of the dunes.
Within the town of Mears, next to Silver Lake and called the "Gateway to the Dunes", there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. There are several go-kart tracks, but our favorite was Craig’s Cruisers Family Fun Center. This track was bigger, longer, and better than the others and was newer. A bridge is built across the track so you can walk up and view the track and watch your kids race their go-karts and drive beneath you. We found all the tracks charged $4 for each go-kart. Also within this family fun center was a video game room. This is where you find all the kids and teenagers in the area! All of the games give tickets in order to purchase prizes, which is a big draw for the kids.
To eat, the Sands Restaurant sits on the main drag and offers a nice buffet breakfast for $6.95 for ages 11 and up. Younger patrons get the buffet for $1.95. Across the street is the Pizza and Bakery store where you can get pizza for lunch and dinner and fresh baked donuts in the morning. There’s also the Café Espresso, Par 5 Sports Grill, The Pizza Factory, Schooners Bar and Grill, and an old-fashioned ice cream store. There are also a few souvenir stores where you can purchase your very own Silver Lake Dunes t-shirt or other memorabilia.
As a historic note, Mears was named after Charles Mears, who started the village with the help of Samual Odell. In the 1890s there was a sawmill, three story hotel, express office, smokehouse, barns, and a two-story general store on 5th Street. Up to 12 passenger trains ran daily. Fire destroyed most of the village and it was then moved from near Pentwater to its present location next to the lake. Some of the first buildings constructed, such as the Charles Mears Boarding House at Silver Lake, are still standing and being used today. Owners have preserved or restored many of them.
Until watching the movie Sweet Home Alabama this year, I had never heard of fulgurites, and then I read about them at Silver Lake too. Fulgurites are formed when lightning strikes the sand. The heat of the lightning fuses the sand making a greenish type of glass. They are below the surface of the sand and usually look like a lightning flash with a main piece and several small branches. Here they are called "lightning sticks" and are rare, but have been found in the dunes. The average fulgurite is less than a foot in length, but they did find one measuring 13 feet in length. Specimens can be seen at the display at the Mears Newz Museum. One was found recently in 1998 and measured 9 feet in length.
This is a beautiful area to bring the family and enjoy all the outdoors has to offer.