Sand Dune Adventures Up North!

Get ready to shake sand out of your shoes for weeks, because… Sand Dune Alert!

I came back earlier today from a great weekend excursion – an overnight trip up north, designed with one goal in mind: to have an excellent, unique workout experience.

One of the things I miss most about living in Los Angeles are the mountains, and the endless (and challenging) outdoor exploration opportunities that they provide. I’m an avid hiker, and I loved climbing to new summits, finding abandoned mines, searching out remote caves, or the remains of shipwrecks that crashed against the rocky coast.

There are plenty of things to explore in Michigan, but it’s very different, because the landscape is much, much flatter. I’ve done my share of hiking here, and while I’ve enjoyed it, it’s not the same. I’ve had a craving recently to get out of town and do some outdoor exploring, and about two weeks ago, I decided to satisfy that craving with a quick weekend trip.

My friend Ross has told me, a couple times, about a fantastic workout venue a few hours north – a giant sand dune in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, near the Lumberman’s Monument. It’s not the only sand dune in Michigan, but it might be the closest one of any size, and it did not disappoint.

I dropped JJ off with my folks, and drove up Saturday, arriving there around 1pm. The dune is a quick half-mile walk from the parking lot, and the trail spits you out near the top, with the Au Sable River a couple hundred feet below.

I’m not exactly sure how tall this dune is. Two informational signs at the park gave different numbers (one said 120′, the other 200′), and I suspect the elevation gain on my watch was inaccurate. Regardless, it’s a BIG sand dune – somewhere between the height of a 12- and 20- story building – and it’s steep, too!

I’ve exercised on a (different) sand dune before, and it is not easy. There’s nothing to hold on to, and with every step, you slide back almost all the way to where that step started. At least it was cloudy October day in Michigan, so the sand wasn’t scorching hot!

I didn’t waste any time when I arrived – I bounded down to the water’s edge.

And then I started climbing. It was as brutal as I was expecting. Sometimes I got lucky when I stepped in someone else’s footprint, because the sand underneath was more firmly packed, but that wasn’t an option most of the time. And did I mention it was steep?

Here’s the satellite image of the dune, with the red line being my climbing path. It maintained that level of steepness for about the first two thirds, before it finally flattered out somewhat towards the top. It never became completely flat, but the shallower incline was very much welcomed.

I could hardly breathe when I got to the top. I had stashed a water bottle on a tree stump, so I could hydrate, and then I started back down to the bottom.

I ended up climbing that dune four times. I was (not surprisingly) fastest on my first climb, getting to the top in 9:20. My finished my second climb in 11:15, my third in 12:30, and then rallied on my fourth climb, getting to the top in 10:40! This picture hints at my exhaustion:

I was super proud of my four climbs!

But I wasn’t done yet! Guess what else is at Lumberman’s Monument? A giant stairway!

The stairs also lead down to the water’s edge, where I got a nice view, from a distance, of the dune I just climbed.

The stairs were sturdy and very well-built, with lots of landings and, for the most part, short flights (averaging between 6 and 10 steps per flight).

I’m not exactly sure how many steps there are. One tourism website says 200, while the US Department of Agriculture website says 300. I counted 243, and a couple that I passed told me that they counted 244, so I suspect the answer is right around there, but I’m not sure I trusted my brain after all that dune exercise.

I was feeling pretty beat up by the dune, but I still got in two climbs up the stairs before it started drizzling.

The wind had also picked up, and between the wind and rain, I was getting pretty cold. Plus, I had clocked nearly 2 hours of exercise, between the dune, the stairs, and the short hikes to get to them. So I called it a day, and before driving off, spent a little time at the actual Lumberman’s Monument, where there’s a huge statue, and a lot of information about the logging industry, which was the predominant (and incredibly dangerous) industry in this area during the second half of the 19th century.

I spent that night at a hotel in East Tawas, Michigan, and the next morning, woke up very sore. I went on a 4-mile hike at Tawas Point State Park, which is on a peninsula sticking out into Lake Huron. It was a gorgeous hike along the water’s edge, complete with lighthouse, some big birds I didn’t recognize, and two guys kiteboarding in what must be very cold water. It felt good to stretch my legs before getting back in the car for the 2.5-hour drive home.

Needless to say, this weekend totally hit the jackpot. Seeking out new exercise adventures is a great way to shake things up, and I look forward to coming back to Lumberman’s Monument again, maybe in the spring!

Keep it up, David!


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7 Responses to Sand Dune Adventures Up North!

  1. Robina says:

    Thank you for sharing your inspirational journey! Stay well and safe!


  2. mfclingan says:

    What a fun adventure!!! I was actually thinking of you on my vacation. We went to New River Gorge in West Virginia. One of the hikes we did was the Kaymoor Miners Trail. It takes you down a steep trail to an abandoned mine…halfway down the mountain you get to a shelf…where the first set of buildings are. But then there are stairs that take you further down the mountain. 821 steps to be exact (that’s what the NPS sign indicated as the number). That is good training for your stair run races! And more abandoned buildings at the bottom!!! (A link to the video of the hike… )

    • David says:

      Thank you for sharing – I definitely would love to check that out one day! That video is funny: “You can call them the stairs of misery if you like.” I just looked it up… it’s a 7.5-hour drive for me… totally doable for a road trip! Maybe in the spring!

  3. Jeff Dinkin says:

    Great outing. Both the sand and the stairs look brutal.

  4. lunchmuffin says:

    You found stairs. Doesn’t surprise me one bit. wtg

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