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Discover Michigan In a JeepJeep Off Roading in Silver Lake, Michigan

by Jessica Howell

Tumbling through the backwoods of Michigan's pristine west coast tackles an afternoon unlike any other activity. While sweeping, white sand dunes beckon and the cool Lake Michigan water seductively churns, there's simply no alternative to the thrill of climbing behind the wheel of a sturdy Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and putting the machine to work.

"Along rutted trails and over gnarled, old tree roots we slowly meander, glimpsing piece by piece the splendor that is rarely viewed by motored wheel."

It will prove to you, as it obediently treks through Huron/ Manistee National Forest, that it was built for just this type of rugged excursion. It will taunt you to push it just a bit further, to take it just a bit steeper, to give it just a little bit more gas.

Jeeps caravan through the forest

These weren't the vehicles that founded this northern state—the mitten of the U.S., but they are the vehicles that proudly explore its every nook and cranny with stunning ease. In other words, if you're looking to remove yourself from the heavily-trodden tourist trail, off-roading is a diversion that happily obliges. And if you happen to be near Michigan's shimmering Silver Lake Sand Dunes, you'll want to head woodward with none other than Sandy Korners Adventures.

Specializing in scenic off-road excursions, this adventure outfitter holds residence in Mears, Michigan, a small town that neighbors the lovely Silver Lake and namesake city. Approach from the east and you'll see the inland lake that’s connected to Lake Michigan by a small river and the silvery-white sand dunes that lend to its charmingly mythical appeal.

Only a block away sits Sandy Korners, a building conspicuous because of the shiny Jeep line-up that is parked head-to-tail outside. As I walk inside, Sandy Korners co-owner, Jack Warfield, 68, is paying two young Jeep washers, whose mother is on the way to pick them up. An idyllic summer job, I imagine, for two 'tween boys that hold the record for the fastest Jeep washing—22 minutes per vehicle—of any of Warfield’s employees. (Twenty-two minutes per Jeep?! Exactly how dirty are we going to get today?)

Dirty. The west side of Michigan, Warfield explains, has been experiencing a mini-drought of sorts. The dust will be flying. He points to one woman's white shirt.

"That's gonna be brown when we get back," he says matter-of-factly. He's not bluffing.

After a brief safety chat, we're paired up and pile into assigned Jeeps, creating a caravan that moves quickly across paved highway until we reach the seasonal dirt roads and forest trails our "off-road course" consists of.

Silver Jeeps = Sandy Korner's 25 yrs.

Up the dirt-laden slopes we climb, our vehicles easily gripping the hardened clay. Along rutted trails and over gnarled, old tree roots we slowly meander, glimpsing piece by piece the splendor that is rarely viewed by motored wheel. Trees shade us from the beating rays of sun, an occasional mud bog splashes up a gooey drip or two, and low branches catch the open roof and skim our heads and arms.

Three of us are in the "caboose" Jeep, and after every turn we click on the transmitter radio and notify Warfield, who leads the line up, that the "caboose has cleared." I'm told, however, that each Jeep can hold either four adults or two adults and three children. With a two-hour trail drive option, as well as a five-hour, there's a choice for families of all ages.

And if the Huron/Manistee National Forest isn't getting far enough away for you, there are multi-day adventures available too. The Lake Superior Color Adventure ($495 per adult, $150 per 10-and-under child) is a breath-taking fall foliage journey that spans four nights. A shorter, but more challenging adventure, takes place on Drummond Island ($595 per person.)

Our day trip, which lasts about five hours, is interrupted only a few times: once for a lunch of hot dogs, macaroni salad and sweet, homemade rhubarb cobbler at the Whiskey Creek Campground (included in pricing) and another couple of times to pull a fellow spinning-tire Jeep out of a deep rut.

No deer are spotted on this particular jaunt, but Warfield assures us that wildlife spottings aren't uncommon. One guest, who has come back for a second tour with Sandy Korners, recounts her last adventure—where a forlorn doe leapt directly over one vehicle while driving through the low portion of a vast farming field—leaving only a tuft of soft hair caught in the Jeep roof as evidence and souvenir.

Sierra Sands Motel pool area

At day's end, we're covered in a thin layer of dust. I blow my nose and don't look at the black dirt now lodged in the tissue. My fellow driver's white shirt is brown. So is her face… and mine too, for that matter. Damn the drought. On a rainy day we'd have cloth tops on the Jeeps and more mud to sling around—but this, in all of its dirt and glory—still proved more thrilling than any lazy day on the beach.

There are plenty of lodging options in Silver Lake, including vacation rentals, hotels, motels and campgrounds. I stayed at the Sierra Sands Motel, a new, clean property, a half-mile from Silver Lake itself, that offers a playground, pool and grills to maximize summer sun. Rooms rates vary by season and weekday. Family suites that feature bunk beds, microwaves and refrigerators are available. (


Sandy Korners

1762 North 24 th Ave.
Mears, Michigan 49436

West Michigan Tourism Association
Pure Michigan Travel