The Inside Look: Michigan’s Dune Buggy Culture

The Inside Look: Michigan’s Dune Buggy Culture

Most Michiganians can agree that, when summer comes around, we tend to split into two groups: lake people and golf people. But the fastest-growing demographic just might be a third, currently lesser-known, group: dune people!

Even though I love spending long summer weekends on the lake, I would rather do so while storming my supercharged, sand-modified Ford Raptor through some of Michigan’s amazing sand dune parks.

Dune Buggy - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy Clayton Park.
You have probably seen, heard of, or even driven a dune buggy before. But have you ever truly experienced the sand duning culture? This unique lifestyle has greatly evolved over recent years to become one of the region’s favorite summer pastimes. Some could even argue that this off-road lifestyle is now an integral part of the local culture.

A Whole New Ball of Sand

For years, Michiganians would drive their pick-up campers up north to their favorite dunes and spend their weekends attempting to run converted VW Bugs and old trucks on narrow fire trails or up the steep sand dunes, often times hardly making it up the test hills. Since then, the popularity of sand duning has exploded. Nowadays, you see people in monstrous RVs camping at seasonal hot spots and lux campgrounds, enjoying the upgraded perks of a new brand off-roading lifestyle. Dune-ready off-road vehicles (ORVs) have evolved from the old VWs of yesteryear into long-travel suspension vehicles with blown-out, heavily-modified V-8 engines…some that can cost upwards of six figures! You’ll even see modified all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), beefed-up side-by-sides and motorcycles tearing up sandy ORV parks.

Dune Buggy - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy Clayton Park.
For those of you who have made a trip to the nearly 3,000-acre Silver Lake Sand Dunes, you know how exciting it can be to be surrounded by a wide variety of dune runners, Jeeps, pickup trucks and ATVs — all running full-throttle over one of the largest deposit of dunes in the state.

And for first-timers looking to dip their toes in the dune buggy waters, there are great rental options and guided tours to help get you acquainted with the sport. Not to mention, the exceptional camaraderie that has built up within the community will ensure that you are always in good hands when you find yourself stuck on the dunes. (It happens more often than you think!) Like most other outdoor sports, the community is a key part of the experience, and within a single weekend you’ll make friends that you’ll keep for years.

Be Prepared

Dune Buggy - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy Clayton Park.
Thinking of planning a dune trip this summer? Here are some tips and tricks to make it the adventure of a lifetime:

  • Prep your tires. Always start off with a good set of tires set at the right pressure. The maximum pressure for driving on the dunes is typically 15 to 18 psi, but lighter weight vehicles can run as low as 4 to 5 psi.
  • Familiarize yourself with the rules. Each park will have a different set of rules — from where to mount the safety flag to how loud your vehicle can be — so be sure to read up and prepare your vehicle the right way.
  • Pack a safety kit. It is likely you will find yourself stuck mid-way up a dune at some point. But don’t panic! Make sure to pack a tire gauge, some tow straps and hooks, and a shovel. Before you know it, a fellow dune rider will be there to pull you out of trouble.
  • Optimize your gas. Running dunes all day is hard on your vehicle. High temps, high RPMs and lots of quick acceleration and deceleration demands the most from your engine. Filling your tank with a high-octane fuel (premium) is a good measure to keep your engine running its best.

The sand duning culture is real and taking over Michigan’s summer itinerary. Have you made it a part of yours? 

~Clayton Parks, Contributing Writer

Clayton Parks is the VP of Strategic Development for Bar’s Leaks and Rislone, two local aftermarket automotive performance chemical and stop-leak manufacturers with over 90 years of chemical engineering experience. Clay is a Michigan-born off-roading enthusiast that has been a part of the dune buggy culture since he was 9 years old. He spends the majority of his summers running his supercharged Ford Raptor through the Silver Lake Sand Dunes park and hopes that his passion for the sport will ignite exciting, new summer adventures for all Awesome Mitten readers.