Discover the Gillette Sand Dune at Hoffmaster State Park
When it comes to the beauty and serenity of nature, Michigan is second to none. Matt Forster, author of Michigan’s Best Nature Centers and Wilderness Preserves, invites us to discover the Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center at Hoffmaster State Park.
You might think that dunes are only found in deserts or in far-flung places like the Sahara, but you can see them right here in Michigan at Hoffmaster State Park. This park is also home to 3 miles of sandy beach!
Located about halfway between Muskegon and Grand Haven, Hoffmaster State Park is perched on the dunes overlooking Lake Michigan. The north section of the park houses a campground with modern and semi-modern sites, as well as a day-use area with easy access to the beach. Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center is found in the southern half of Hoffmaster, adjacent to the park’s designated natural area. The center has a wing dedicated to the natural and human history of the surrounding dunes.
Exhibits show how dunes are formed and how they change over the years. Different dune residents, such as the antlion, get some time in the spotlight. This predator creates funnel-like traps in the sand, waiting just below the surface to pounce on any poor insect that wanders in. A scaled-up model of the antlion is accompanied by a short video. Other exhibits look at the pioneers of dune conservation; the bottom level of the visitor center has a small room dedicated to invasive species, such as the sea lamprey and the zebra mussel.
The visitor center has different things going on all the time, and you won’t necessarily find them on the calendar. On my last visit, for example, a taxidermist was sewing up a turtle and explaining the process while guests looked on. From the visitor center parking lot, you can also link up with a number of trails and paths. Some lead out toward the water, up over the dunes to a high dune lookout, and then through the wooded back dunes. A visit to the park is incomplete without a hike up the Dune Climb Stairway. Tough and a little laborious, the panoramic view of the dunes at the top is worth the effort. There are also quite a few trails for more extended hikes.
Don’t forget that Hoffmaster State Park has 3 miles of beach. You can drive back to the day-use area and park with the other beachgoers, or hike the Homestead Trail a half mile out from the visitor center. Don’t forget to bring your suit!
Walking in from the beach over the dunes, you’ll encounter several ecological zones; walking from a young, unformed beach to a mature forest is almost like walking through time.
The Gillette Sand Dune Visitor Center at Hoffmaster Park is located at 6583 Lake Harbor Road, Muskegon, MI 49441. Contact the center by calling 231-798-3573, or visit their website.
Most people are familiar with the legendary state parks, national parks, and waterfalls, but are you aware of the hidden gems? Michigan offers some of the best preserves and nature centers in the world! Find out more in Matt’s book.
About the author: A native of Michigan, Matt Forster has lived in the Midwest, New England, and the Rocky Mountain regions of the country. His experience has contributed much to the books he’s written so far—Best Tent Camping: Michigan, Backroads & Byways of Michigan, Best Hikes Near Detroit and Ann Arbor, Backroads & Byways of Ohio, and Explorer’s Guide Colorado. When he explores Michigan, he travels with his wife and their two children. This has created some great opportunities to learn how best to camp, hike, and discover nature with kids. Matt’s family currently lives in a restored nineteenth-century schoolhouse on a small lot that backs up to one of Oakland County’s largest parks, with a fine nature center just 520 yards (as the heron flies) from his desk.