Iconic Roads of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey—the adage has never rung truer than when applied to a trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Yes, there are places to go—a favorite beach or Northern Michigan town, the Dune Climb or Pyramid Point—but the open roads that carry you through the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore and Leelanau County are beautiful and iconic in their own right.  So don’t expect the kiddies to ask if you’re there yet—they’ll be be rendered speechless by the serene water, historic farms and forests that line roads like M22, M109 and M72.

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M22

Here’s an analogy: M22 is to Northern Michigan as Highway 1 is to California.  You may know this road from the thousands of bumper stickers and t-shirts that grace its bold-font symbol, but it’s better to drive M22 to understand why this road is special to so many people.

M22 outlines the shoreline along Leelanau and Benzie Counties.  From Traverse City, M22 shoots north along the eastern shore of Leelanau Peninsula.  It travels through Suttons Bay and to Northport, where it then turns southward to course the western shore of Leelanau Peninsula.  From Northport, M22 runs to Leland, then Glen Arbor, then Empire—between these three towns rests the northern portions of the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  M22 continues south of Empire through the southern area of the Dunes towards Frankfort; south of Frankfort, M22 terminates near Manistee when it merges with US31.  From end to end, M22 stretches 117 miles.

M22, then, connects all the hubs near the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore.  While it may not to be the quickest route from A to B, it’s the best way to experience all that Northern Michigan has to offer.  M22 is lined with award-winning wineries, unique restaurants, eclectic shops and profound Northern Michigan scenery.

From Traverse City, you could set out in the morning and grab breakfast in Suttons Bay, sample wine at vineyards along the northern stretches of M22, lunch in Leland’s historic Fishtown and watch the sun set from Empire’s impressive public beach.  With virtually all of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore, Leelanau County and Benzie County under your tires, M22 is a road you may never need to turn off of. ↑ To Page Contents.

M72

Stretching from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron, M72 is a 157-mile long east-west road that runs horizontally near the 45th parallel; M72 connects Empire, Traverse City and Kalkaska with I-75.  M72 intersects M22 in both Empire and Traverse City: M22 triangulates Traverse City, Northport and Empire, while M72 runs from Empire to Traverse City directly.

For those commuting to the Sleeping Bear Dunes from or through Traverse City, M72 offers the straightest, fastest means to get to many of the Lakeshore’s attractions; even if you’re aiming for a destination on the northern or southern fringe of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, M72 will likely be your road of choice for much of the trek.  From M72, drivers may take M22 or county roads to other locations.

While ideal for traveling quickly to and from the Sleeping Bear Dunes, M72 is a well-maintained road that traverses the heart of beautiful Leelanau County.  The trunkline cuts through farmland and forests, and its wide shoulders make it a favorite of road cyclists.  Many small businesses line M72: sample tea at Light of Day Organics—which blends botanicals grown on site with fair trade teas—or stop by the small workshop that makes original Peace Poles.  Whether you’re bee-lining it to the Lakeshore or taking in the sights and sounds of Leelanau County, M72 is a quintessential Sleeping Bear road. ↑ To Page Contents.

US31

US31 is the fastest way to travel from Traverse City to the southern tip of of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near the Platte River. It connects Traverse City with the towns of Honor, Benzonia, Beulah, Frankfort (via M115) and Manistee.

The US31 corridor is lined by many small businesses between Traverse City and Honor, with light commerce heeding to farmland and forest further south.  Near Honor, the famous Cherry Bowl Drive-in Theater—one of a handful of operating drive-ins in Michigan—provides fantastic post-Dunes evening entertainment. ↑ To Page Contents.

M109

M109 is a short trunkline (only 7 miles long) that merges with M22 at both its ends: from Glen Arbor, M22 runs directly south and bridges a narrow straight that separates two sections of Glen Lake, while M109 runs west from Glen Arbor and traces the western edge of Glen Lake.  M22 and M109 converge south of Glen Lake.

M109 is the gateway to many of Sleeping Bear Dunes’ most popular attractions.  If you plan on visiting the historic village of Glen Haven, the Dune Climb or the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, you’d better plan on taking M109, as those locations are accessible by M109 and M109 only. ↑ To Page Contents.

M204

M204 is a 7-mile east-west shortcut linking Suttons Bay and M22 to the south of Leland; the road passes through the village of Lake Leelanau.  M204 is ideal for shaving off time when traveling from Suttons Bay to Leland or vice versa—taking exclusively M22 from one to the other would take 35 minutes verses 10 on M204.

From M204 road trippers can visit a handful of Leelanau County vineyards and shops, as well as stores and pubs in Lake Leelanau. ↑ To Page Contents.

County Roads

The beauty of visiting the Sleeping Bear Dunes is that drivers in the area can more or less get by on a general sense of direction: a driver need only travel in a north-western direction from Traverse City to eventually hit M22, which will then guide him/her to the Dunes or other destinations.  County Roads can be utilized to both shave time off a trip and add a little spontaneity to an otherwise straightforward excursion.

A Few Useful County Roads Are:

  • CR 667: Connects M72 with M22 east of Glen Arbor
  • CR 651: Connects M72 with M22; terminates at Good Harbor Beach
  • CR 616: Connects M72 with M109 south of Glen Arbor, and passes through Burdickville
  • CR 677: Connects M72 with M22 south of Glen Arbor and near the Glen Lake narrows

We suggest acquainting yourself with a map of the environs of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, learning about some of the area’s attractions, and just hittin’ the road. ↑ To Page Contents.


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