Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Get ready to find pristine soft powdery sand beaches, lush beech tree forests, amazing hiking trails, and stunning dunes, some as high as 450 feet, leading down to crystal clear turquoise waters and epic sunsets over Lake Michigan. If you want a spectacular weekend getaway, explore the 35 miles of Northern Michigan’s scenic sand dune vistas at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

By Heather Raulerson

Travel Writer

Ride Along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

This 7.4-mile stretch of road through what seems like endless beech trees have breaks for you to stop at several scenic overlooks. You can drive all the way through, admiring the view from your car windows, but you would miss out on the adventures waiting for you. The drive starts by going under the beautiful reconstructed Pierce Stocking Covered Bridge. You can get a photo of the bridge by pulling off to the side after the bridge. The next few stops give you fabulous views of Glen Lake and Lake Michigan, dune overlooks, the ability to stretch your legs on short trails, and ending with the lush, shady world of Beech and Sugar Maple trees.

Hike the Diverse Ecosystem Trails

There are many hiking trails in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The Sleeping Bear Point Trailhead is a trail that epitomizes the Sleeping Bear Dunes area. The trail includes shifting dunes, dune plants, and a shipwreck. Heads up – this is a mildly strenuous 2-mile dune climb, but worth the sore muscles the day after.

The most strenuous hike is the Dune Climb Trailhead. This trail goes up and down five large dunes to Lake Michigan. The complete hike takes 3-4 hours. Don’t forget to bring water and sun protection. One of my favorite nature trails in Sleeping Bear Dunes is Cottonwood Trail. My niece and I had fun hiking this 1.5-mile trail. It took us about an hour to complete the loop due to stopping a lot for her to do a little climbing and running down the dunes. Ok, I might have done that as well.

Climb the Sand Dunes

The highlight of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is, of course, the sand dunes. There are two must-see dunes. The first and the most popular is the Dune Climb at the trailhead of the Dune Climb Trail. This 284-foot-high white sand dune is unique in its formation. Most dunes are formed when the wind takes sand from beaches and piles it up. The Dune Climb sand has never been on a beach; the wind has moved the sand from dunes higher up, making this an active dune that continues to move yearly. It takes only 10 minutes to climb to the top of the dune, and a heck of a lot faster coming down. Whether you walk, run, jump, or roll down, staying upright with how steep the dune is, is extremely difficult. But that doesn’t stop the hundreds of families that try.  The second sand dune is at the Lake Michigan Overlook on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This is a tempting sand dune to run down to the clear blue waters. But remember that even though running down looks fun and easy, you still have to climb back up 450 feet to the top. For those who want to watch the brave ones that attempt the dune, there is a nice wooden deck overlooking where you can watch the antics of them running down and long, exhausting climb back up.


Enjoy the Interactive Exhibits at the Maritime Museum

If you are visiting with young children, you should plan to visit the Maritime Museum. There is plenty to see in the museum and boathouse, where in the early 1900s, the Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station was kept busy by the heavily-used shipping lane and, unfortunately, shipwrecks. During the summer, the younger ones can participate in the Heroes of the Storm re-enactment of a turn-of-the-century shipwreck rescue. It is exciting to see how they rescued sailors from the sinking ships.

Wander Through the Historic Town of Glen Haven

After a day of running up and down the dunes, head over to the historic village of Glen Haven. You can tour the Cannery and see the largest public exhibit of historic Great Lakes’ small craft, watch a blacksmith using the tools of their trade, and wander through the Glen Haven General Store. The general store appears as it did in the 1920s and features typical merchandise, items related to the history of the Glen Haven area, and souvenirs to take home.

Sleep the Night Away

There are several places to stay for a weekend while exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. There are a few camping places if you want to rough it outdoors. My niece and I stayed at the D.H. Day Campgrounds. The campground is a close location to walk the trails, visit the museum, and play on the beach.

Another great location to stay at is the Homestead. This one-mile beach access accommodation has many amenities, including spa & salon services, a fitness center, a general store, fishing, biking, bird watching, and several dining options. The Homestead is the perfect location for relaxation, close to the exhilaration of playing on the dunes and enjoying the magnificent natural wonder of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

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