Ever since “Stranger Things” gambled on repeating Kate Bush’s classic “Running Up That Hill,” we’ve been thinking about some of our favorite Lake Michigan spots to get our cardio fix.
The beautiful sand dunes that encircle the edge of Lake Michigan not only offer us stunning scenery, but also offer great places to dune or climb stairs.
The Lake Michigan shoreline has some stretches that are better suited for this than others. There are so many state and county parks dotted along the coast like little forest jewels, with superb elevated stair systems or dune inclines just waiting for your swift feet.
When hiking up a dune in a state park or on public land, it’s important to first make sure you’re not in a climb-free/erosion-control zone. Otherwise, look for established paths up the dune so you don’t disturb new areas.
Some of these spots are already known. I’ve been a few sunrise climbs only to be greeted by a group of high school athletes or weekend workout buddies heading back down — and they clearly do the climbs more than once. Your determination is always a great motivator.
We have put together a few suggestions for you, from south to north. They certainly offer some heart-pounding quad building exercises. But the reward at the end is always that extra: Stunning views and a breeze blowing off the big lake.
Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer: Located on the southern edge of Lake Michigan, Warren Dunes State Park offers many opportunities for adventure on its nearly 2,000 acres. It has miles of dog-friendly hiking trails, but also something for uphill enthusiasts: dunes that rise 260 feet. Once you make it to the top, don’t be surprised if you see someone flying off nearby. Hang gliding is permitted at Warren Dunes for those who obtain a permit in advance. Related: Big Beach, Cool Trails, Dog Friendly: Why We Love Warren Dunes State Park
Mount Baldhead in Saugatuck: Saugatuck Dunes State Park is a great place to hike because its hilly terrain makes you feel like you deserve a good snack. But for a better cardio stint, don’t miss the ascent of Mount Baldhead in town: its wooden staircase takes you 250 meters straight up the edge of a back dune for some pretty amazing views. Once you’ve climbed the 302 steps, you can walk down into the dunes to Oval Beach on Lake Michigan or walk the wooded trails at the top before descending the stairs again. Related: Why you need a day of adventure by the water in Saugatuck
Mt Pisgah, Holland: This 239-step wooden staircase is a fun attraction tucked between Holland State Park and one of its campgrounds. It begins quite harmlessly, under a white arch along the main road to the beach. A short walk through the woods and you are at the bottom of the stairs. Losing your step count while puffing your way up? just look down The step count is engraved on the stairs approximately every 25 steps. The view from above extends not only over the state park’s Lake Michigan Beach, but also over the Big Red Lighthouse, the canal, and the connecting Lake Macatawa. Once back on the ground, dash across the street to the Ottawa Beach General Store. Their sundae collection is legendary.
While you’re in Ottawa County, don’t miss these stair-climbing gems.
(A tip for parents: if you’re towing kids to the beach at these spots and leaving them something in the car only to discover this when you’re already at the beach, you may be faced with a double workout that you didn’t actually do want.)
- Olive Shores County Park
- Rosy Mound Nature Area
North Beach Park, Ferrysburg: This Ottawa County Park has a really pretty beach area, but its dune stairs and trails are made for rock climbing. If the beach is crowded—or not—walk up the stairs for panoramic views of the area. Would you like to go even deeper into the dunes? North Beach is connected to the North Ottawa Dunes system, best explained as follows: “Ten miles of trails connect the North Ottawa Dunes to North Beach Park and PJ Hoffmaster State Park. The property has tremendous topography with an elevation of 185 feet in the parabolic dune formations. Eight different dunes in the rugged landscape are over 750 feet high and offer spectacular scenic views of the area.” Related: Find your bliss at this Lake Michigan gem
PJ Hoffmaster State Park, Muskegon: Campers, beach goers, and hikers could spend days here exploring all the trails, cool views, the nature center, and other fun things to do. But the Dune Overlook Trail is a big draw for climbers who love some sand underfoot. Description of the park: “One of the park’s main attractions is the dune climb along the Dune Overlook Trail, a half-mile loop trail with about 220 steps and benches along the way. For a slightly steeper hike, follow the 2-mile (round-trip) Homestead Trail, which includes a stop at Lake Michigan.”
Arcadia Overview: Arcadia is a perfect stop to stretch your legs, whether you’re looking for a mile-long destination hike in the Arcadia Dunes or just a quick, heart-pounding climb up the 120 steps at the famous lookout point along the M-22.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: Sleeping Bear has so many great hikes and viewpoints it’s hard to do them all unless you’re a local. But when you think of climbs, there are a few like Empire Bluff and Alligator Hill that get lots of rave reviews. Perhaps the most famous is Sleeping Bear’s Dune Climb. But it’s also often misunderstood by many visitors who think that if they just scurry up the towering mountain of sand at the edge of the Dune Climb parking lot, they’ll be overlooking Lake Michigan. Not so fast, the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes group explains: “This is the most strenuous hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes. It starts at Dune Climb and ends at Lake Michigan, about 1.75 miles away. Hikers have to climb several large dunes with steep slopes and soft sand. The first view of Lake Michigan is about 0.5 miles from Dune Climb. You’ll still have over a mile of strenuous hiking before you reach Lake Michigan—and then you’ll have to hike back.” See also: Top 10 Tips for Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Clay Cliffs Natural Area, Leelanau County: This trail system gives you great lake views as well as North Lake Leelanau. You can traverse the 1.5 miles of trails that include both flat and hilly terrain. There is also a viewing area. Related: The wild cliffs on the lake shore you’ve never seen before
READY TO EXPLORE? WE HAVE SOME TIPS:
Michigan’s best M-22 road trip from Traverse City to Suttons Bay
This Michigan scenic route is one of the most spectacular in the United States
Art’s Tavern, a legendary northern Michigan watering hole since 1934