Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Saugatuck Dunes State Park: Trails and Beach!

I love Michigan. Fred is from Holland originally and still has family there so we go up a few times a year to visit and vacation. I'm always overwhelmed by how beautiful it is there. The trees seem greener and more lush, the sunsets are breathtaking, and the beach, well, Lake Michigan is surrounded by miles of gorgeous sandy beaches.

Every time we go, I can't wait to get my running shoes on and hit the numerous bike/walking paths or a trail. The bike paths are extensive running for miles and miles through several towns along West Michigan. It was one of the first things I noticed even before I started running. We don't have that in Central Illinois.

When Fred and I had been dating about 7 months, he brought me up to Michigan and took me on a hike to Saugatuck Dunes State Park. You hike about a half mile or so from the parking lot to the beach. The trail goes through the woods and over sand dunes and then opens up to a gorgeous beach and view of Lake Michigan. We sat and watched the sunset. It was spectacular and romantic. Unfortunately, that's where the romance ended as we spent the next 2 hours hiking through pitch black darkness, in the woods, up and down sand dunes, trying to find our way back to the parking lot. I started thinking it was all planned and he must be a very patient serial killer. I realized that no one even knew we had gone to that particular park. They wouldn't have any idea where to look for my body.

At one point we decided to just head back toward the beach and start over. After reaching the top of a HUGE sand dune, we were faced with more woods that were simply not passable. I wanted to cry knowing that I had just climbed that dune for nothing and had to turn around. Finally we passed near a pond and Fred said that he knew where we were. We just had a little farther to go. He claimed we had taken a wrong turn, (no kidding), and we were now back on the right trail. Since it was too dark to even see a trail, I couldn't argue but wondered how he knew this. I figured he was just being optimistic.

We came out by the parking lot and I wanted to run and lock myself in the car. I figured since he didn't kill me in the woods this would be his last chance. Turned out he wasn't a serial killer, just really bad at navigating the woods in the dark.

We've talked about that hike over the years. Mostly when Fred wasn't letting me have my way and I would say something like, "Remember when you got me lost in the woods for two hours, at night, and I almost died? I do. So, what do you say I get the last bite of that brownie?"... "I don't care that it was 10 years ago, Fred. I could have died. Time doesn't heal death."

My kiddos
It's now been 13 years since that hike took place. Long enough to talk me into going back for another hike. I made sure it was early in the day with plenty of light. We took the kids and just did the simple trail to the beach. It's a nice hike through the woods. Short enough for the kids to trek. We easily found our way back after spending a wonderful afternoon and evening swimming and sunning. It was not at all scary. In fact is was enjoyable enough that Fred talked me into going back again for a trail run without the kids.

Fred pulled up the trail map on his phone and off we went. We ran along the trails through the woods for while. After a mile or so they opened up into sand dunes. We ran up and down some pretty big dunes. It was challenging for sure. Running in sand is hard enough but running uphill in sand is just a little crazy. Running downhill in sand is fun though. You just let yourself sink in with each step and the sand just kind of catches you. It was hot and sweaty work for sure. Two miles felt like four or five. I had to stop 4 or 5 times just to dump the sand out of my shoes.

Top of one of the giant dunes.

We climbed up one trail with a particularly tough dune. When we got to the top, the view was worth it.

Lake Michigan!

We did a few of the loops on the map. The wooded paths were not as sandy and much easier to run on. It's a beautiful park filled with a lot of pine trees. There were lots of hikers, beach goers, and even some people playing on the disc golf course that runs through part of the woods.

We finished up our run at about 4 miles and then walked a bit of another trail. All of the trails are very nicely marked. It's pretty easy to navigate when it's not pitch black. There are several maps posted along the way too so that you can see exactly where you are and which trails you can take. There are even signs posted on a few trails letting you know that those trails are not mapped out and you are going off course. That would have been helpful 13 years ago.

We will be in Michigan a couple more times this summer. I am looking forward to running these trails again. They no longer hold a scary place in my heart. I'm finding that trail running is my new love.

Peace, Love, Happiness!


Have you tried trail running? 
Do you like it as well as or better than road running?


  1. That sounds like a lot of fun! My girls go to a camp in Lawton Michigan and the oldest has been to some dunes near by, she loved it! That sounds like a great trip!

  2. I adore trail running - the only downside is I have to drive to the trails in order to get them in around here!

    Looks beautiful - I can't wait for some beach sand running - this post has me excited for that.