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Saugatuck / Douglas Historical Photo

The Great Art-Doors


The hub-and-spoke for bicyclists, kayakers, canoeists, paddleboarders, hikers, surfers, birders, fishing enthusiasts, geocachers, poets, photographers and artists.



The Saugatuck Dunes are part of the largest assemblage of freshwater dunes on our planet. Created by glaciers thousands of years ago, they have been gracefully sculpted ever since by the contest of prevailing southwest winds, crashing waves, and freeze-and-thaw cycles with the stabilizing effects of stubborn and resilient native vegetation. The mountainous heaps of silvery-gold sand are ever-shifting with elemental forces that gradually build up, violently scoop out and blow down these dramatic parabolic dunes.

The Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area, which borders Oval Beach (holder of many global “Best Beach” honors) was recently nominated in a competition for the 8th Wonder of the World on the heels of being designated as one of the eleven most endangered eco-systems in America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Kalamazoo River’s harbor mouth, altered to aid 20th Century boat navigation, still survives as a natural greenway, much as it would have appeared to the native Potawatomi people five centuries ago. Towering above the scenic river channel loom forested dunes, the tallest of which, Mt. Baldhead, was the setting for Potawatomi ceremonial gatherings.

Early European settlers cleared and built directly on the Lake Michigan shore, but after cutting down the trees (primarily to rebuild Chicago after the 1871 fire), they were forced to flee the site as the untethered sand literally buried the once-thriving lumber town of Singapore.

Birders celebrate Saugatuck’s dunelands as a well-trafficked stop on the migratory tropical bird flyways. Sixty-seven of the over two hundred locally spotted bird species have a special status as rare, threatened or endangered including the Prairie Warbler which relies on one of the last stands of healthy Jack Pine trees for survival. Bald Eagles, Ospreys, Northern Harriers, Black Terns, Piping Plovers, various owls, hawks and entertaining waterfowl frequent these coastal waters and marshes.

Fishing here is terrific! Some 102 varieties of fish live in the waters of the river and in Lake Michigan our “freshwater ocean.” Grill your catch at Oval Beach overlooking Lake Michigan after a thrilling day of charter fishing for king salmon or lake trout. Or just relax with a worm and a hook and snag some sunfish or blue gills with the kids.

Since before the dinosaurs, the shy lake sturgeon have hidden in this river, too. Some are over a century old and eight feet long. Once counted by the millions, the few surviving sturgeon are slowly being restored to their coastal habitats. New Richmond’s sturgeon breeding station, a few hours paddle upriver, makes a great family outing. Independent float trips and guided kayak excursions begin there and end in Saugatuck Harbor. You can also paddle one direction and bike another to access the scenic countryside. Bring your own gear or rent everything you need from a local outfitter.

Serious speed cyclists have a choice of routes including the old West Michigan Pike (Blue Star Highway-Route 31). The history and culture associated with the Pike played an important role in the development of tourism along the lakeshore. It was the first continuous hard surface road between Chicago and Mackinaw City and opened West Michigan to automobile tourism beginning in 1912. The West Michigan Pike corridor will certainly stimulate “nostalgia” travel as Michigan’s version of Route 66. The road meanders along the lakeshore passing through the area’s emerging historic strip with its hip retro designer Motor Inns, vintage diners, large antique pavilion, historical markers and one of the last Red Barn Theaters in the U.S. By foot, bike or waterway, explore on your own the web of paths, back roads and water trails which ramble along the lakeshore and its tributaries that converge in the Saugatuck-Douglas area. Trails pass by vineyards, U-Pick orchards, microbreweries, local farm produce stands, artists’ studios, horticultural nurseries, berry plantations and scores of nature preserves and state parks. The Pike is perfect for those who savor history at a leisurely pace with lots of stops along the way. If you prefer, leave the navigating to a local expert and enjoy a guided culinary tour or behind-the-scenes art studios tour.

Saugatuck & Douglas function as a hub-and-spoke for experienced and inexperienced bicyclists, kayakers, canoeists, paddleboarders, hikers, surfers, birders, fishing enthusiasts, geocachers, poets, photographers and artists, to find a place to design the perfect masterpiece vacation. Hiking across sand dunes to a world-class beach, paddling along the Lake Michigan Water Trail, geocaching at Ox-Bow Lagoon, hiking Fishtown Trail, biking the Blue Star Trail, sledding down Mt. Baldhead or snowshoeing and skiing cross-country through Saugatuck Dunes State Park, Oval Beach or the Allegan State Game Area...Saugatuck-Douglas is an all-season natural environment for an action-packed vacation in the great art-doors.

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Copyright Saugatuck/Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau All Rights Reserved 1996
Photography by Felicia Fairchild - All Rights Reserved