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Fat-Tire Bikers Return to Winter Dunes

By Jim DuFresne

This winter fat-tire lovers will again enjoy one of the most unusual off-road bike rides in Michigan and possibly anywhere in the Midwest. And they don’t have to travel far for the experience.

After its inaugural season last year, Silver Lake State Park in Oceana County is staging its second Fat-tire Biking Season in its ORV Area, a 450-acre tract of open dunes.

Fat-Tire Bikers Reach Lake Michigan at Silver Lake State Park.

Each summer, thousands of motorcycles, quads, four-wheelers, and other off-road vehicles descend on these sugar-sand dunes, the only sand dune riding opportunity east of the Mississippi River.

Come winter, the recreation options switch to fat-tire biking from Dec. 15 to March 15, when cyclists have the opportunity to climb snow-capped dunes and cruise the sandy Lake Michigan shoreline.

“People who are into this have told us this is a highly unusual experience for fat-tire bikers,” said Jody Johnston, Silver Lake State Park manager. “I can’t think of any other place in Michigan where they can do this.”

The shoreline and dune opportunities are part of the Department of Natural Resources’ ongoing efforts to expand off-season outdoor recreation in the Silver Lake ORV Area.

“Fat-tire biking at Silver Lake draws cyclists of varying ages and experience levels,” said Johnston. “It’s a one-of-a-kind outdoor activity that capitalizes on the area’s natural features and beauty, and we’re excited to bring it back for a second season.”

During the biking season, cyclists park and stage at the Pedestrian Access Trailhead at 8890 W. Shore Dr on the north end of Silver Lake. From there signs direct them along a snowy, unpaved road to the massive ORV staging area and then into the dunes along Down Ramp, the return route during the summer for off-road vehicles.

Once into the dunes, the terrain will range from frozen and hard to soft and snowy. Bikers will experience riding across open sand, ascending 80 to 100-foot-high dunes or struggling over frozen snow drifts covered with a thin layer of sand.

“Some bikers want to ride up hills and then coast down,” said Johnston. “Others just want to ride out to Lake Michigan and then along the shoreline.”

A ride out to Lake Michigan is roughly 1.2 miles depending on the route.  The steepest and tallest dune, dubbed Test Hill, is a 140-foot ascent from its west side. If you reach the crest of it, you are rewarded with a 360-degree view of all that lies around you. If you’re still around around after 5 p.m. you might catch a stunning sunset over Lake Michigan.

Fat-tire bikers ride across the Silver Lake Sand Dunes.

Among the winter regulations is a ban on E-bikes. Johnston says he’s received a few calls about that but points out that snowmobilers are not allowed in the ORV area either. Nor does he think that fat-tire bikers are an environmental problem riding in this area of Silver Lake Dunes in the winter.

“There’s no way a fat-tire biker is doing the damage that an ORV with motor does,” said Johnston

There is no cost or registration to ride a fat-tire bike at Silver Lake State Park, but a  Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry into all state parks. A Recreation Passport self-pay station is available at the staging area.

For general questions about the park and season, Click Here or call the park’s main office at 231-873-3083.

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