Great Lakes Dunes

by | Apr 1, 2020 | Parks Department, Programs & Education

great lakes dunes

Great Lakes Sand Dunes are like nothing else in the world! You can’t find freshwater dunes anywhere else in the world! They aren’t just where you find sand, but plants and animals that have adapted to live in a harsh ecosystem! Below you’ll find a list of dune resources including scavenger hunts, stories, art ideas, fun videos, and much more. Let these resources guide you the next time you go exploring in our dune ecosystems!

Table of Contents

Use the links below to help navigate to the information you are looking for:

Read Aloud: The Legend of Sleeping Bear

Join Ottawa County Parks Naturalist Guide, George Jaeger as he reads the story of The Legend of Sleeping Bear by Kathy-Jo Wargin and illustrated by Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen.

mi EcoBUZZ Videos

Jessica Gregory with Mi EcoBUZZ has put together a great series of videos about Great Lakes Dunes and some of the creatures that call them home! Check out the selected videos below!

Sand Everywhere!

Michigan’s claim to fame: FRESHWATER DUNES! Dune Formation (part 1)

Michigan’s claim to fame: FRESHWATER DUNES! Dune Formation (part 2)

Michigan’s claim to fame: FRESHWATER DUNES! Dune Formation (part 3)

Species Spotlight: Antlions!

Captive-Raised Monarchs and Migration



Additional Resources

In addition to the dune habitat activities from Ottawa County Parks and partner Mi EcoBUZZ, we also want to share other excellent resources with you. All of the following videos and activities have been reviewed by our Naturalist Team and you can be sure the information is accurate and appropriate for children. Use them to dig deeper as you explore our Great Lakes Dune habitats!

Great Lakes and Sand Dune Formation

These two videos below describe the formation of the Great Lakes from glaciers and the formation of sand dunes around Lake Michigan.

Part 1:

Part 2:

60-Second Snakes: The Eastern Hognose

The Michigan DNR’s 60-Second Snakes video series talks about identification tips and information about Michigan’s snake species. This episode features the Eastern Hognose snake. Learn more about the hog-nosed snake:


The Eastern Hognose snake is commonly found in sand dunes around the Great Lakes.  Learn a little bit more about this snake is able to defend itself against predators.



Have you ever wondered what forms the cone shaped holes in sandy areas? Antlions are one of the neatest creatures that live in the dunes and other sandy areas. The larva of the antlion forms a cone to trap insects for its next meal. Read more about these interesting creatures on Animal Diversity Web.

In the video below from National Geographic, watch as an antlion builds their trap and then catches an unsuspecting ant for a meal.

In this dramatic video from the Smithsonian Channel, watch as an antlion builds a cone shape lair, captures a fire bug and then tosses out the empty bug shell.

Piping Plover

In 1985, the Great Lakes piping plover was listed on the endangered species list with only 12 breeding pairs left. Learn about recovery efforts across the Great Lakes region to protect the Great Lakes Piping Plover and increase the population of this rare bird.

Looking for more info? This article from the US Fish and Wildlife Service has information on the current population and links to other resources to learn more about how the current status of these birds.

Monarch Butterfly

These beautiful butterflies can be seen in the spring and early fall migrating along the coast of Lake Michigan. Learn more about their life cycle and what we can do to help them by checking out the links below:

The Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly with Pictures and Facts

Save the Monarch Butterfly

Check out the video below from National Geographic if you’d like to see the Monarch Butterfly in action and explore their migration!

Pitcher’s Thistle

Pitcher’s thistle is a threatened plant that grows in the foredunes of the Great Lakes basin.  This amazing plant will grow for 5-8 years before producing flowers one time. Check out this brief overview of the Pitcher’s Thistle from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and dig a bit deeper with this plant information page from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Curious about what makes this plant unique to beaches and sand dunes? Explore the pitcher thistle on Manitoulin Island with Judith Jones from Winter Spider Eco Consulting to learn more!

Marram Grass

Have you ever wondered what is the key to holding the dunes together? The rhizomes of this important plant help to hold sand in place to form sand dunes. Find out the important role that marram grass plays in a dune ecosystem.

Would you like to know more about marvelous marram grass? Kids of all ages can learn a little bit more about this interesting grass.

Dig Deeper!

Michigan’s sand dunes are really a unique ecosystem! Would you like to dig deeper into how and where they have formed? Check out these additional links below!

  • Sand dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore:  Read about the dunes  of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  This has an overview of the types of dunes found at Sleeping Bear Dunes, plants that are important to dune formation and role of wind and waves in the shaping of the dunes.
  • Borne of the Wind:  This book is an introduction to the ecology of Great Lakes Dunes.  It is available at this website as a PDF.
  • Dune Systems (PDF): A brief overview of the difference between parabolic and perched dunes.  This information sheet also discusses what we can do to protect dunes.  
  • Coastal forests (PDF): Learn about the forests that are just behind the dunes of the Great Lakes.
  • Dune and Swale Complex (PDF):  Learn a little bit about the threatened and endangered plants and animals that can be found just behind the foredunes of Great Lakes beach dunes.  

Recreational Opportunities:

Are you looking for opportunities to visit Great Lakes dunes in the future?  Visit these sites to learn more about places to visit in Indiana and Michigan.

Get Creative!

  • Monarch Butterfly craft:  Monarch butterflies can be seen in the fall as they follow the Lake Michigan coast during migration.  Create your own monarchs for you garden with these simple directions.


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