WHERE TO RIDE: MICHIGAN

— Great places to take your UTV —

Story & photos by Mike Bennett

The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page. This story actually starts out 30 years ago when, as a teenage boy, I read an article in a magazine featuring the sand dunes of Silver Lake, Michigan. In the days before the World Wide Web, printed stories and word of mouth were how we found out about new places to ride. The pictures were stunning, and it was certainly different from the terrain I was used to riding in Ontario, Canada. I made a promise to myself that one way or another I was going to experience those 2000 acres of sand on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan.

Can-Am-sponsored NASCAR driver Matt DiBenedetto poses with the kids and the Guardian. Special thanks to Best in Detail of Petoskey, Michigan, for getting the Guardian show-worthy after two weeks of hard wheeling.

I finally did make the trek to Silver Lake with my family in 2010, wheeling our lifted Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. We had an amazing time exploring the dunes—but at a slower pace than I would have when I was in my teens piloting a Quadracer 250. We loved the town. We filled our week camping, playing on the beach, swimming, boating, exploring historic lighthouses and spending some part of every day in the dunes.

Bottom of Test Hill, Silver Lake Sand Dunes.

We enjoyed the area so much that we all agreed we wanted to go back someday. Although, this desire to return to Silver Lake produced a bit of a conundrum for our family. We pride ourselves on never vacationing in the same place twice.  Life is short, and we want to see and experience new things every year, so while this desire existed, we carried on with new adventures.

Wave Club Water Sports can satisfy all your water-sport needs under one roof. The company offers top-notch equipment, and over the course of our stay, we rented Wave Runners, a ski boat and sand boards (www.waveclubwatersports.com, [231] 873-3700).

That all changed in January 2018 when the Michigan Department of Natural Resources opened 6300 miles of state forest roads to ORV users. Permit information and trail maps can be found on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources website (www.michigan.gov/dnr).

The trails in the Atlanta, Cheboygan, Black Mountain and Indian River areas are well-maintained and UTV-friendly.

This new development meant we could visit the dunes again and also explore the beauty of the excellent trail network of the northern Lower Peninsula.

We immediately began planning a two-week motorsports adventure. We selected four areas of interest within the Lower Peninsula, allowing us to balance off-road days with side trips and historical exploration, taking in all that Michigan has to offer. Follow along and see why Michigan is on its way to becoming a world-class destination for off-roading families!

SILVER LAKE SAND DUNES STATE PARK (43.40.21 N 86.30.53 W)

Silver Lake is located along the shores of Lake Michigan, nestled between Muskegon and Ludington. The town is home to Silver Lake State Park, which features 2000 acres of sand dunes and the protected waters. In addition to riding the dunes, families can keep busy jet skiing, boating, renting go-karts, playing mini golf, sand boarding, zip lining, fishing and camping.

Accommodation options include hotels, cottage rentals and several campgrounds all within a short drive to the dunes.

Remember, the roads are not open to OHVs, so be prepared to trailer your equipment to the dunes daily.

The girls with the Guardian at Webber Lake.

ALANSON (45.26.39 N 84.47.12 W)

The Village of Alanson is situated on the banks of the Crooked River, a major link in the inland Waterway of northern Michigan. The village is also in the heart of ATV country, with several trailheads within a 30-minute drive. We stayed at Staffords’s Crooked River Lodge (www.staffords.com/crooked-river-lodge/) just outside of town and enjoyed all of the amenities, including the large trailer-friendly parking lot.

Our tour with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours took us around the island and past the Grand Hotel, which has the world’s largest covered porch at 660 feet.

Dave Jabrish and his website
(www.fishweb.com) are a must-visit before planning any off-road trip to Michigan. We hooked up with Dave and some friends for a day on the Indian River OHV Route. Local knowledge is hard to beat, and these fine folks made sure we didn’t miss a thing along the way. A non-riding highlight of our vacation was our day on the water with Plumber’s Helper Charter Service in nearby Petoskey. Jim and Kim Mussleman pilot the largest charter vessel on Lake Michigan and have over 30 years experience on the waters in and around Little Traverse Bay.  We landed over 100 pounds of fish and experienced an amazing day of freshwater fishing. See www.bayharborfishing.com or call (231) 357-3413.

MACKINAC ISLAND (45.50.57 N 84.37.08 W)

We parked everything with an engine and spent two days on Mackinac Island, enjoying the quaint, historic ambiance of a pre-automotive era. Automobiles were banned here in 1898, and visiting the island is like taking a step back in time, as the only options for getting around are horse-drawn carriages, bicycles or on foot. Access to the island is by ferry, and we rode out and back on the high-speed Hydro-Jet with Star Line (www.mackinacferry.com). The main street is lined with hotels dating back to the 1850s, and the area is overlooked by Fort Mackinac, which was built by the British in 1780.  The fort played a role in the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The imposing fort is in magnificent condition, and the views of the straights are amazing from its ramparts.

Sierra Sands Family Lodge was our host during our time in Silver Lake. The family-run facility is without a doubt one of the most motorsport-friendly hotels we have ever stayed at. Located about a mile from the dunes, the hotel is within walking distance of restaurants, attractions and Silver Lake itself. The hotel features a heated pool, hot tub, fire pit and, best of all, large vehicle parking
(www.sierrasands.com, [231] 873-1008)!

BROOKLYN (40.04.00 N 84.14.38 W)

If you are planning a motorsports vacation to Michigan, think about visiting in June or August, and take in a NASCAR event as part of your trip. Michigan International Speedway
(www.misspeedway.com) is the circuit’s fastest track, with qualifying speeds in excess of 200 mph! We were invited by Can-Am to display the Guardian at this year’s Consumers Energy 400 and took in an amazing weekend of racing.

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