Silver Lake

Into Silver Lake

The final leg of our trip was the hike to Silver Lake from Lake Michigan. As we approached, we were on top of a tall dune, so at first, we could not see the lake, but as we walked closer to the living edge of the dune, the lake appeared below. I would estimate we were at least 75 feet above the lake, but in photos, the distance isn't as obvious until you study the entire image.

The sands of the dunes constantly blow into Silver Lake, in essence, moving the dune grain by grain away from Lake Michigan, and into Silver Lake.  The shore of the lake must change constantly.

Above Silver Lake

The depth of Silver Lake is around 20 feet, and the sand of the moving dunes can be seen for quite a bit of depth, yet it appears to drop off very quickly. I haven't been in this lake, so I'm not certain if it does indeed drop, or if the optical qualities of the water simply end at a certain point and the bottom cannot be seen.

Homes across the lake give an idea of the height of the dune, they're quite a bit below us.  The home closest to the dune appears to have a bit of maintenance necessary to keep the garage from being buried by the sand.  In some spots, the sand is about 3-4 feet up the garage wall.  An interesting back yard to say the least.

Burying the Forest

We back tracked a bit to avoid walking on private property to return to the trailhead.  This brought us back into the dunes about a hundred meters or so, and over to the area where the dunes are actively burying the forest.  Soon, these trees will die as they become part of the dunes of Silver Lake State Park - only to be revealed in a few hundred years.

Lines in the Sand

Sand Patterns

On our hike from Lake Michigan, we encountered plenty of interesting things on the Silver Lake dunes. We began our hike in early morning, after a snowfall which covered areas of the dune landscape.  Even with the cold weather, as the day drew on, some of the snow melted, and in some areas, the melted snow left moist spots on the dunes.

Lines in the Sand

These moist areas followed the contours of the low areas of the dunes, creating striking patterns meandering the landscape.  They changed rather quickly as the moisture absorbed into the sand, and then evaporated in the bright sun.

Broken only by the occasional leafless tree, the patterns seemed to stretch forever in some places, painting the otherwise mundane surface with interesting patterns.


Over time, trees are buried by the shifting sands, and they die in place.  Many decades later, the sands move on and the trees are uncovered, these remnants are scattered around the dunes like driftwood cairns marking the way.




Once past the stand of conifers, we paused to contemplate our route from Lake Michigan, through the barren dunes to Silver Lake. We also paused to take in the landscape, and realize just how large of an area was in front of us.  The image above is a panoramic image stitched together from five individual photographs. It gives an idea of just how vast the area is, and how far away the edge of the dune was. The trees in the woods toward the right of the image, are not shrubs, they are full grown pine trees.

I always find a bit of time to stop in such a remote area and take in the surroundings; look and listen for several minutes just to experience nature. Most of the time, I'm hiking quickly to get from point A to point B, and while I experience and admire my surroundings, it's not the same as stopping and immersing yourself in it.

The Way Back

We found a path of dune ridges that would take us through the woods and toward the most barren portion of the dunes in sight. Traveling from beach, to grassy dune, to conifer stand, and wetland, we experienced almost every micro environment Silver Lake State Park had to offer.  Ahead lay the desert-like expanse of sand dunes that, in our minds, conjured images of the Great Sahara.

Hiking the Ridge to Lake Michigan

Following the Ridge

As we drew closer to Lake Michigan, we planned out a route following the narrow ridges of the dunes. The ridge meandered through and above forests and ponds, prairie and sand all the way to Lake Michigan.  From this perspective, we could see how stands of trees took root in only certain dune valleys, while just across the dune, nothing took hold.

The Hike Ahead

Some of the different environments were clearly evident from the ridge.  Vast areas of sand, grassy prairie and conifer stands were just some of the areas we encountered on this hike.  Closer to the lake, the ridge as high enough to see over the adjacent conifer forest. Distant dunes along the Lake Michigan shore appeared like distant mountain ranges due to their sand, forest, and snow patches.


The Foredunes and Lake Michigan

Following a hike of over two hours, we reached Lake Michigan and the Silver Lake State Park foredunes along the shore.  Blowouts and ponds dotted the landscape, as we followed the shoreline south for about a half mile. Not a single person was visible from this point, probably kept away by the 30 degree temperature and 30 mile per hour winds.

Planning Our Return

We pushed south, looking for another dune ridge we spotted in the distance on our trek to the lake. This ridge cut through a large conifer stand, and lead to a huge, open area of sand, and the living dunes which spill into Silver Lake.  Our hike was half over.

Ghosts of the Dunes

Ghost Trees

Hiking the vast Silver Lake State Park dunes, we encountered so many interesting things, and ghost trees were among them. Located about half way through our journey to Lake Michigan, the remains of a small stand of trees came into view.  Probably buried in sand hundreds of years ago, they've been uncovered again by the same force that buried them.

Ghost Tree Detail

Upon close investigation, the remains are filled with interesting texture, probably created by insects, animals, and the fact they were underground for so long. One of the taller ghost trees served multiple purposes for us during our hike.  It was like a sign post, or milemarker, since we could see it from a long distance away.  And when Chris climbed up, he managed to get a great view of what was ahead for us.

Expansive Dunes

The expanse of dunes was unlike any we've visited along the shores of Lake Michigan. To give an idea of the size of the place, the photo above shows two hikers in the distance.  At the center of the image, on the horizon, is a small dot.  This dot is actually two hikers, and the photo below shows them up close. In this image, we were almost half way to Lake Michigan, looking back to the trailhead and parking area.  These hikers are about half way between us and the parking area.

Close up of visitors

Certainly a great place to hike in a dune landscape.

From the Dune Ridge

Interdunal Pond

Looking a bit like a miniature view of the western United States, the view from the dune ridge was quite different than the surrounding areas.  That was the theme of this day's hike, take a few steps in any direction, and the environment changed.  While the majority of the dunes at Silver Lake State Park were vast and barren, there were countless areas where the vegetation differed dramatically from any we've encountered previously on the hike.

Hints of the West

Steps out of the conifer stand on our way up the dune ridge, we found ourselves in what appeared to be the dry western US. Low growing evergreens and old trees dotted the dune landscape. Somewhat of another micro environment, where certain plants take hold due to conditions just right for them.  A few meters over the ridge, and the conditions no longer suit the needs of the plant, and it doesn't survive.

From the Ridge

Once to the top of the ridge, we could look down at one of the interdunal ponds we passed on our hike. Water from rain and snow filters its way through the surrounding dunes and collects here in these low areas between dunes.  Most ponds harbor plenty of life including grasses, trees, and shrubs, providing places for small animals to live and hunt. We encountered signs of deer and plenty of water birds on this cold morning.

Through the Trees

The top of the dune offered great views of the pond below and the surrounding area. We paused to take in the view, and to plan the next part of the hike.  We also took note of a distant dune ridge that appeared to pass right through another conifer stand - that would be our target for our return trip after we reached Lake Michigan.

Peaceful Pond

Peaceful Pond

A half mile or so into our hike across the barren dunes of Silver Lake State Park, we encountered one of many stands of conifers. Situated in a dune valley, the stand was an island of green surrounded by empty sand- an oasis. Dense stands of Jack pine and grasses made our hike a little more difficult, a stark contrast to the rolling sand dunes just a few yards away.

Conifer Forest

These valleys harbor water and vegetation, creating micro environments within the park. We came upon several interdunal ponds (ponds between dunes) with clear evidence of deer and other wildlife. A sleeping area for deer was the perfect spot for a view of the pond, which was greening up from a long winter.

Conifer Stand

Seen from a dune ridge, the conifer stand and interdunal ponds appear as an island within the vast expanse of the dunes.One encounters so many different types of environments on a hike here. The landscape often appears so different than Michigan.

We were almost half way from the trail head to Lake Michigan at this point, with much more to see.

Hiking Silver Lake State Park

The Dunes Across Silver Lake

Our hike began at Silver Lake with a view of the expansive dunes between us and Lake Michigan.  The dunes make a beautiful backdrop to Silver Lake, and Lake Michigan is just about a mile over the dunes.

We climbed up the first living dune and found plenty of dead trees - buried by the shifting sands as they move inland driven by winds.  We were amazed at the size of this place, nothing but rolling sand dune for miles left and right, and at least a mile in front of us.  Dotting the dunes were small interdunal ponds and areas of conifer forest, just waiting for exploration.

Distant Snow Showers

One could barely see Lake Michigan on the horizon from out vantage point, but it appeared every so often as we climbed the taller dunes. We spent hours exploring the small ponds and forested areas on our way to the lake.

Almost Half Way

Here, we were almost half way to Lake Michigan. Just after exploring a frozen pond, we looked back to see how far we walked.  Silver Lake was beyond the farthest dune, and most features we encountered were now tiny dots on the landscape.

Enduring Another Cold, Windy Day

Little Sable Point Lighthouse<

Standing guard since 1874 over Little Sable Point, the 108 foot tall lighthouse endures punishing winds and frigid temperatures each winter.  This day was no exception, as the winds exceeded 30 miles per hour. Temperatures weren't sub zero, but cold enough to produce an April snow storm.  The snow remained for much of the day, regardless of the bright sunshine.

Located just south of Silver Lake State Park, in Mears, Michigan, the lighthouse attracts visitors year-round.  The lighthouse is open to the public from the end of May to the end of September, and visitors are allowed to climb to the lantern room for a very small fee of $5.  We arrived in the early evening, after a full day of exploring the seemingly endless dunes of Silver Lake State Park.

Standing Guard

Exploring the dunes and lighthouse in early spring has some advantages, no crowds.  In our five hours of hiking the dunes, we saw only 2 people in the distance.  Three visitors shared the lighthouse grounds with us.

It's been a couple of years since we last visited, so we'll certainly need to come back to climb the 130 steps to the top of the lighthouse, the views of the lake and dunes are spectacular.

Waiting for the Sunset

Waiting for the Sunset

Just one day after temperatures in the low 40s, and alternating sun then blizzard conditions every 15 minutes or so (no kidding), the weather turned warm, and sunny.  We made a last minute trip to the Lake Michigan shore for the first warm sunset of the year, and found ourselves on Porter Beach, part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

The setting sun bathed the sandy dunes in golden light, as visitors sat waiting for the sunset. Small groups of people were scattered about the dunes, each finding a place to sit and watch the horizon and the other people on the beach.

Moments later, clouds took over the sky, obscuring the sunset, as scattered rain showers approached.

Converging Landscapes


Back up to the summit from the beach, we came upon an area of the dunes where a few landscapes converged. The sandy, grassy dunes met with the wooded dune and both met with the wetlands and lake in the distance. The landscape converged at many different angles, all seeming to meet in this area.

The Way Down

The path down toward the woods was loose and steep, but if you run, taking big steps, you get down very quickly. This is not the place you want to fall while holding a camera; cameras don't take to  sand very well.

Matted Marram Grass

Once down, we continued our hike through the rolling dunes. The marram grass was still matted down by the winter snows, but there were signs it was greening up. Or, was the grass matted down by the black bear spotted in the park over the last few weeks? Black bears have not been seen in this area since the 1870's, but late last year and this spring, one has been on the prowl in the park and nearby neighborhoods. Perhaps he just came out of dormancy and was watching our every move as we hiked the meandering trails of Grand Mere State Park.