Warren Dunes State Park is one of the top five busiest state parks in Michigan.
Its location in the very southwestern corner of the state, in close proximity to the Indiana border, makes Warren Dunes State Park a prime destination for visitors from Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.
What attracts so many visitors? 1,900 acres of land, three miles of white sandy beach, huge sand dunes, and a large family friendly campground.
History of Warren Dunes State Park
The Dunes part of Warren Dunes State Park comes from the towering sand dunes that line the shoreline. The Warren comes from local Three Oaks businessman and shopkeeper Edward Warren, the inventor of the featherbone corset. Back in the 1800s, most corsets were made from whalebones, which were expensive, heavy, and brittle. Warren experimented and ultimately decided turkey wing feathers were more lightweight and durable for his female customers.
He amassed a large fortune and purchased various plots of land in Three Oaks and surrounding areas. This land was eventually donated to the state through his Featherbone Foundation to be preserved and used as public parks. One section is now known as Warren Woods State Park and the other is Warren Dunes State Park.
The famous beach
Warren Dunes State Park is well known for its extensive beach, which is visited annually by more than 1 million people. Since the beach is so massive, the recent high-water levels have hardly made a dent. There is plenty of room for thousands of guests, their towels, beach umbrellas, a volleyball court or two, and more.
A relatively new beach house for changing and bathroom facilities is available, as is a concession stand with food, clothing, and souvenirs. If you need accessibility assistance, a mobile wheelchair can be provided free of charge. An ADA-friendly rubber mat also extends from the parking lot halfway to the water.
Due to its location near the bottom of Lake Michigan, the water temperature at Warren Dunes State Park is much warmer than you’ll find at the parks located further north. On the day we visited in July 2019, the water was 75 degrees.
Climbing the dunes
Rising behind the beach and the parking lot is Tower Hill, the tallest and most-climbed dune. While it’s a bit strenuous to climb the 260 feet to the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Michigan. Once finished, run down to the beach for a dip in the lake.
Around six miles of trails traverse the woods and dunes in the park. Since the dunes are protected, the trails are foot-only, no bicycles.
Camping at Warren Dunes
If you want to camp at Warren Dunes State Park you’ll want to get your reservations early! The 182 modern sites and 37 semi-modern sites are full almost all summer long.
In the modern campground, you’ll find sites that work for every camping style and rig: large sites, small sites, shady sites, sunny sites. There also are open sites for groups to pool their picnic tables and chairs together. And there are private sites to relax in a hammock. It is important to note, however, that quite a few sites in the modern section are designated as tent-only.
While the majority of the sites are 20/30 amp, a small portion has been upgraded to 50 amp. None of the sites are paved, but a handful of sites are designated as ADA-accessible as they are flatter, more open, and closer to the bathroom facilities.
The semi-modern campground is for tents-only with vault toilets and no electricity.
While both campgrounds are nice, they can be loud. The noise is a combination of typical park noises — kids, air conditioners, laughter around the fire — as well as the sounds of vehicles on I-94 and a nearby train track. This is probably the biggest complaint we and other visitors had.
Visiting Warren Dunes State Park
If you are coming just for the day, especially on a summer weekend, arrive early and be prepared to stay all day.
The park is so popular that you’ll likely find yourself waiting in a double row of cars lined up all the way from the booth, out of the park and down the main road. The parking lot is massive and can handle the volume of vehicles, but you won’t want to leave the park and sit in that line again.
In addition to the beach area, there are a number of pull-off parking spaces with shelters, picnic tables, and grills throughout the park. While the shelters can be reserved, the other areas are first-come, first-serve.
It’s definitely worth the visit to find out for yourself why it’s one of the most popular state parks.
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