The trip from Richland, MI to Mears, MI (Silver Lake Dunes) was only 2 h 15 min. We stopped in Grand Rapids (aka GR) at REI to get a GoPro 8 (a tad impulsive but just couldn’t handle not properly documenting our first trip out). After watching quite a few videos and experts, I decided this was the best way to go given that I am relatively new to GoPro and will be doing some variation of Vlogging. The max seems cool but doesn’t take as good of underwater video and the 8 really seems to meet most of my needs. The max just may have a bit more “cool” factor.
We headed out to Mears from GR. As soon as you hit the highway going west you start to see people toting all of their toys- dune buggies, jeeps, four wheelers etc. This is definitely a big family off-road destination.
This was the first actual off-road trip with our Mojave (lovingly named Mojavier Lopez and I knew there was going to be a lot to learn along the way. You really need to get comfortable with that idea and be willing to admit it to yourself and others. The fastest way to learn is to ask. Put your ego aside and tell people you don’t know what you are doing and you are new to it all.
I knew I had to have one of those “flag things” which I later found out is called a whip. In my excitement at the first exit pulling into Mears, we filled up and the BP was full of sand duning accessories, so I bought a flag and a base. That was a mistake. It was about $40 and I still didn’t seem to have the right setup. In the end when I finally found the ORV park (that story later), there are several off-road shops right at the entrance that can help you with exactly what you need and will even walk out and put it on your rig in a few minutes. I will admit they were a bit brash, but when I came back in and just said look I don’t know what I’m doing, they said no problem and walked out and it was on in about 3 min.
Next thing you need to know about the off-roading that wasn’t clear to me was there are two permits. The simplest way to explain this is that the ORV permit is for getting into the dune park, then there is an ORV trail permit which is an extra $10 and it is an annual permit as well that allows you to take trails. This isn’t needed if you just want to ride in the dune park but if you want to do overlanding, you are going to need this. Also, I ordered my ORV sticker online, which was a simple process, however they have a permitting office across the road at the welcome center that can sell you both permits and they take credit cards.
Once again, I had some general understanding that I needed to deflate my tires and I even purchased a deflator from Silverback offroad (where they mounted my whip), but I didn’t just ask. I saw a few signs about max pressure and went with it. I should have asked, but I didn’t. So we took off into the park and the first massive hill we took was a bit of a disappointment. I couldn’t get up it. We crawled back down in shame and putted around for a bit and went up another and got stuck. This was a problem because I was stubborn and kept trying to get out and got frustrated with my “desert rated” truck. Finally we got out, but could smell a bit of clutch burning .We played around in the water and it was fine, then before lunch we decided to take the big hill one more time. I attacked it pretty wildly and even threw one of my traction boards out of the bed but just barely made it to the top. There were two guys up there with wranglers. They commented, “dude you really got after that hill hard”, in a nice way but you could also tell they thought I was being a bit reckless. Then they asked what tire pressure I was running on and I told them 18. You could tell they were shocked and immediately responded with “if you take it down to 8 in the front and 6 in the back it will change your world”. So please learn from me and put yourself out there. This is a friendly community of off-roaders/overlanding/etc. – Just ASK. Long story short: Everything changed after I took my tire pressure down. We were flying through everything!
Ask for directions dammit. I assumed I could find the park with the signs leaving from Silver Lake Campground. For the most part it is well marked with the large exception of one critical turn. We didn’t get to hit the dunes the first night because we wasted so much time cruising around the highway. When you take a right out of Silver Lake Resort and Campground, you have to hang a right just past the Turkey Crossing Sign- that’s right I said a Turkey Crossing. Can’t miss it. There is no signage so make sure you look for that and then the signs pick back up and you are home free. Otherwise you end up in Pentwater, MI which is lovely and full of Yachts, but doesn’t do you much good when you are looking to get off-road.
Silver Lake Resort and Campground: this is a very clean and family friendly campground. It’s a very safe option and has a lot of amenities. It’s not the cool rugged dispersed camping experience, but if you want to just have an easy and affordable place to stay to hit the dunes for a day or two its fine. I also noticed there are a several good HomeAway rentals too if you come with a big group. Also, there is a state park campground, which I didn’t get to see, but with COVID the showers and common amenities are probably pretty limited. The good thing about private campsites this year is that they can offer these perks. I will say that Silver Lake Resort was incredibly clean and well managed.