Some places are so special that I hesitate to write about them, for fear that doing so will destroy their magic. Lumberman’s Monument, despite its ordinary sounding name, is one of those places. Located in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, just north of the “thumb," the secluded, sandy beach, more than the monument itself, is the main attraction. From the visitor center, you can't tell that there is a beach 200 feet below the bluff. Even if you knew it existed, finding it is not easy, which makes it that much more rewarding when you literally stumble upon (and down to) it.
W.J Hunter (Michigan, 2010)
As the name implies, the monument is named for the lumbermen who worked in the area in the second half of the 19th century. In fact, lumberjacks helped create the beach. They cut down the trees in what is now the Huron-Manistee National Forest, and then rolled them down a steep hill into the waters of Cooke Pond Dam, part of the Au Sable River. From there, the loggers collected the logs and sent them down the river to Lake Huron. Without trees, the steep hill rapidly eroded its topsoil and allowed the natural sand dunes in the area to spread, which created a lovely beach.
Accessing the Beach
You can’t easily see the largest of the sand dunes and its accompanying beach from the visitor center, which helps to keep it less crowded, though on hot summer afternoons, you might share the beach with a few dozen people. But what helps the most to limit the crowds is that getting there takes effort.
A metal staircase (which replaced the wooden staircase in 2014) takes you down a steep, heavily forested path to the river and from there you can reach the beach by traversing along the shoreline, but there is a much more exciting way to “stumble” upon the beach, if you are in good physical condition. From the monument, go right and take one of the unmarked trails behind the sand dunes. Keep walking about a quarter of a mile and then take a left, climbing over the sand dunes until you reach a sandy clearing. From here, you can look down to the river, really a lake created by the dam, and see an island (Horseshoe Island) in the distance. Before you is nothing but sand, dropping so steeply away from you that you can’t see the water’s edge below. At this point, the best way to get to the beach is to start running down toward the water. As you run, the bottom of the sand dune slowly comes into view. You realize with a thrill that the steepness of the dune and the lack of any trees as visual cues had created a bit of vertigo, a less intense version of what you might feel on the first hill of a steep roller coaster.
At this point, gravity will take over and you will struggle to stay standing as you rapidly run and stumble your way down the steep, sandy dune toward the water's edge. If you have enough body control, you might be able to slow yourself down enough to stop before you plunge into the refreshingly cold water. If you do happen to plunge into the water, it gets deep quickly.
After a few hours of swimming and sun bathing, eventually you will have to return the way you came. Again, you can try to find the wooden staircase, or just suck it up and climb your way out. For every two steps you take in the sand, you slide back one, so the trek out takes a while.
W.J Hunter (Michigan, 2010)
- Although I have never stepped on broken glass myself, I wear shoes when climbing up and down the sand dunes. Shoes also protect your feet from the hot sand.
- If you bring young children, watch them carefully because the water gets deep quickly when you venture from the shoreline.
If you are going to spend an entire afternoon at the beach, you probably want to bring a small cooler, swim toys, and towels. Don’t bring too much though, because whatever you bring you will have to carry back up. I have seen some visitors bring snow sleds (those round discs), and ride them down the hill into the water (you need to moisten the sand first for best results). This is quite fun, but you might do a face plant into the sand. You can also use the sled to cart supplies back up the hill.
Parking and Other Details
You can park at the Lumberman's Monument Visitor Center, which includes an educational exhibit on the logging history of the area. They also have bathrooms for changing. There is no fee to enter the area.
Hours. The Visitor Center is open from May 10 to October 16, and is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Primitive Camping. If you want to spend more time in the area, primitive camping is allowed, with a permit.
Boat Access. If you are lucky enough to have a boat, you can reach the beach from the river, and avoid the sand dune climb (but where is the fun in that!).
Overlook. To view the lake and Horseshoe Island from an overlook, use the path that goes through the grounds of the visitor center to an overlook deck.
Activities for Kids. The Visitor Center provides guided tours and interactive exhibits for children.
Bicycling. If you are a cyclist, consider staying in East Tawas, and then cycling from there to Lumberman's Monument. The scenic route on Monument Road takes you through the national forest and is about 15 miles one way.
Lumberman’s Monument is near Tawas, about 2 ½ to 3 hours north of Detroit. See the following map.
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Map of Lumberman's Monument
Huron-Manistee National Forests, 5401 Monument Road, Oscoda Township, MI 48750,