Mitten List: Saugatuck Dune Rides

August 10, 2014


Remember when I wrote that post about hiking Sleeping Bear Dunes and I vowed upon my soul to never, ever go near another sand dune in my entire life so-help-me-god?

Well, that vow lasted for all of a month as last weekend I found myself visiting yet more Michigan dunes — this time in Saugatuck, a town about an hour away from Kalamazoo.

Now before you all start rolling your eyes at me and my inability to stick to my soul-vows, I will assure you the trip wasn’t entirely my fault.

First of all, Michigan is so chock-full of sand dunes, you can’t really go more than four weeks in this state without ending up on a sand dune. That’s just how Michigan geography works.

Secondly, the trip was free because I did it for work and I have a strict never-turn-down-free-trips policy.

You see, this month I’m teaching a group of Japanese teachers, who arrived in Michigan last weekend. So the first thing we did to welcome them to the state was to cart them off to go see some dunes.

Because, apparently, this is how international visitors are greeted in Michigan: “Hello, welcome to Michigan! Behold, our large hills of sand! Please enjoy your visit!”

Luckily, we did take it a bit easy on them. We didn’t force them to climb up and down the dunes for hours and hours like I have been known to force myself. Instead, we rode over the dunes on a dune buggy.

This, I’ve decided, is the way to do dunes if you’re going to do dunes.

Sure, you don’t get quite the same sense of accomplishment riding in a dune buggy as you get from trekking up and down the dunes on your two bare, blistery feet.

But, you also don’t get dehydrated and delusional.

Plus, you get to do this:


It was basically like riding a roller coaster. Except the roller coaster was made of sand.

When we first arrived at the Saugatuck Dune Rides, we were told to sign a waiver.

This must be another traditional, Michigander way to greet international guests: “Hello! Thanks for visiting the Mitten State! Can you please sign this form that says you won’t sue us if you die? Kthnxbye.”

After signing the form, we were shown to our dune buggy — a bright blue vehicle that resembled a mini-bus minus the roof.

I promptly climbed into the back seat because I’m lazy and that was the only seat with a  step stool next to it. Three of the Japanese teachers climbed in after me because they probably thought I knew what I was doing. I should have told them that they should never follow me ever because that’s a recipe for disaster.

But I was too busy reading the sign that said this:


In other words, “Sit in the back seat if you don’t mind TOTALLY HAVING A HEART ATTACK.”

The buggy soon took off over the dunes. Our college-aged driver careened the vehicle up and dunes, while we all screamed and took selfies.

Or, at least, that’s what I did.


The buggy would stop periodically for our driver to point out environmental features, like grass.

Oooo, grass.

Oooo, grass.

Or gimmicky features, like fake dummy legs sticking out of the sand.


Oooo, feet.

My favorite part of the tour was when the driver pointed to a large sand dune covered with trees and explained that underneath the sand dune lies the remnants of the once thriving mill town of Singapore, Michigan.


There’s a town under there… somewhere.

Singapore was founded in 1836, and abandoned less then forty years later when deforestation caused the winds and sands from Lake Michigan to overtake the town. In his spiel, the driver claimed that several buildings still remained — including a hotel and a church — all buried underneath the dune.

This must be another Michigander way to welcome out-of-country guests:

“Welcome to Michigan. Where our sand dunes EAT ENTIRE TOWNS. You should probably try not to get eaten by a sand dune while you’re here. Good luck!”

Have you ever done a dune buggy ride? How was it?

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

    • On August 17, 2014 at 11:57 am Sally said:

      I don’t know if I would want my own personal dune buggy. I would probably veer it right off some sand cliff. It was much better to be driven around by a cute college kid.

  1. On August 11, 2014 at 1:02 am janice said:

    Ohhh, one more thing I need to add to my list of things to do before I die. Although I’ve only scratched 2 things off that last in the past few years.
    janice recently posted..Grandma + Naked Janice

  2. On August 12, 2014 at 1:38 pm Ed said:

    I didn’t even know Michigan had so many sand dunes. I’ve never been to Michigan because I was always afraid I’d get sucked over to Flint and end up unemployed on the streets there never to return anywhere. But sand dunes always make me think of Lawrence of Arabia and riding a camel across the sand wearing some white outfit. Of course, I’ve learned that dune buggies are much funner than camels and sand dunes are a bit too romanticized. I do like the story about town-eating dunes though. I know of some towns I’d like to send that dune an invitation too…
    Ed recently posted..Nope…I didn’t see the “Wounded Grizzly” warning sign at the trailhead

  3. On August 18, 2014 at 11:33 pm Tom @ Waegook Tom said:

    I’d totally be woo-ing and pretending that I were on a roller coaster, assuming that my spine wasn’t caving in on the back seat. And I’m kinda really creeped out that there’s a town underneath the dunes. Serves them right for their unoriginal name choice, though.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted..七

    • On August 20, 2014 at 9:08 pm Sally said:

      Speaking of the name, the Japanese teachers I was with were really confused as to why the guide kept on mentioning Singapore. He was speaking too quickly for them to understand the story, so they thought he was talking about the Singapore in Asia and they were like, “Ummm, why is he talking about Singapore? We’re in Michigan!”

  4. On August 19, 2014 at 11:24 pm Choi Kum Fook said:

    In Malaysia, there only have rain forest and no desert. May be possible do a buggy ride on the beach along coastline . It looks quite amusing and adventurous!

  5. On August 22, 2014 at 11:17 pm HotMamaTravel said:

    I’ve never done a buggy ride. They always look so if-y to me. I’m sure they are fun though.
    HotMamaTravel recently posted..Travel with Kids

    • On September 6, 2014 at 1:32 pm Sally said:

      These buggies were really big, so they seemed more stable then the little ones. (Of course, I’m probably incorrect on this assumption. But whatever. They at least FELT more stable to me.)

  6. On March 3, 2015 at 9:15 pm Ceri said:

    I’ve always wanted to do a dune buggy ride. That sounds so cool.

    The legs sticking out of the sand are a bit disconcerting though. 😛
    Ceri recently posted..My Five Favourite Things in February

  7. On August 20, 2015 at 10:40 am Jenny said:

    Hi 🙂 I’ve been lurking through your blog and am loving it! I’m a Michigander born and bred, so it’s fun reading all of your adventures!

    Last summer my husband and 2 year old daughter stayed in Saugatuck for a week and went on a Dune Ride. It was a lot of fun (and somewhat gimmicky) but worth it!

    I also lived in Kalamazoo for 4 years during college (go Broncos) and my husband is from Portage. We’ll be visiting this weekend to hit up either Warren State Dunes OR South Haven (haven’t quite decided).

    Anyway, now that I’ve given you my life story – just wanted to say hey and tell you how much I’m loving your blog!

    • On August 20, 2015 at 10:45 am Sally said:

      Hello, fellow-Michigander-person! So lovely to hear from you! And glad to hear you’re enjoying my blog. (And, yes, goooo, Broncos!) I have yet to visit Warren State Dunes, so if you go, please report back. I should probably mention I have a love/hate (mostly HATE) relationship with dunes, so no matter what you tell me, I will probably go there and hate every minute of it (but also kind of love it). 🙂


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