How to Plan a Sleeping Bear Dunes Wedding

Sandy shores, sapphire water, sweeping vistas and stunning islands. It sounds like the setting for a dream wedding. An expensive dream wedding.

But at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you can have all that, and for $200 or less. All you need is a permit and a park pass. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your Sleeping Bear Dunes wedding.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

How to get Married at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Pick the Location. 

The National Park Service has a list of approved locations for weddings (posted below). You can also propose a location although a permit isn’t guaranteed. Things you’ll need to consider: parking, restrooms, beach access, wedding size and availability dates—some sites are available year round while others are just for the summer.

The most popular locations include Esch Road Beach, Good Harbor Bay Beaches and Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Overlook, but none of the sites have ever been booked for the entire season.

You can also get married on North or South Manitou Island. Click on the link below to learn more about a Manitou Island wedding:

Find out how to have a beach wedding on a Northern Michigan island!

If you propose an area that isn’t already approved and/or the proposed group size exceeds the maximum group size listed below, a park employee is required to monitor the event, which costs an additional fee of $50 per hour.

Two things to keep in mind: wedding permits will not be issued for heavy use periods—Memorial Day weekend, July Fourth weekend, and Labor Day weekend—and the time allowed for outdoor events is three hours.

Chart courtesy of the National Park Service. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes wedding

Complete the Application for a Special Use Permit.

To have a wedding in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you’ll need a permit. The short, two-page application asks for your telephone number, address, e-mail address, the number of people, date, time, and exact location. Allow a minimum of four business days to process the application. If you choose an already approved location, the permit can be finalized within two weeks.

There is a nonrefundable $50 application fee that must be included with the application. If you receive approval, a Special Use Permit will be mailed to you for your signature. The permit costs $100. Make checks or money orders payable to the “National Park Service.”

Weddings can be scheduled up to one year in advance, and must be scheduled at least 21 days prior to the ceremony.

Fill out the permit application.

Applications and fees should be mailed to:
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Attention: Special Park Uses/Weddings
9922 Front Street
Empire, MI 49630

Get Park Passes. 

The couple and guests are required to have a park pass for each vehicle, not each person, that enters the park. A Park Entrance Pass costs $15 per vehicle or $10 for a motorcycle, and the pass is valid for 7 days from the date of issue. Contact the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center to purchase park passes in advance at 231.326.4700 ext. 5010. You can also purchase park passes the day of the event at the locations listed here. An annual pass can be purchased online for $30.

More information on fees and passes can be found here.

Pick the Reception Location. 

Have a champagne toast and hors d’oeuvres on the beach in lieu of a reception (bring bathing suits for swimming if it’s nice!). If you want a more formal dinner and a night of dancing, here are several nearby wedding reception venues:

Photo by Dan Stewart Photography, taken at Glen Arbor Township Hall

Glen Arbor Townhall Wedding

You can also rent a local township hall for your reception, and add lights and flowers for a romantic evening (like seen above). There are 11 townships in Leelanu County; contact them individually for rental information.

Plus, view MyNorth’s guide to wedding services for more reception venues, local vendors, and photographers for your Sleeping Bear Dunes wedding.

Make a Backup Plan in Case of Bad Weather.

In Michigan, it can be sunny and 70 degrees one day and raining the next. And since you’re planning an outdoor wedding, there is a chance you might get wet. So, plan on having matching umbrellas and cute rain boots just in case! But remember, no matter the weather, it’s your Sleeping Bear Dunes wedding and it’ll be a beautiful day no matter what. 

If the forecast is calling for rain, hold your ceremony at the reception venue. You and your guests can still visit the National Lakeshore when the rain clears out since your park passes are valid for 7 days!

Photo by Melissa Lande, Lux Light Photography

lux-light-photography-07

7 Rules to Remember When Having a Sleeping Bear Dunes Wedding

  1. The wedding permit does not allow the ceremony to restrict other park visitors from the location, and it doesn’t guarantee the availability of a specific site. Applicants must remember that they do not have exclusive use of the area. There will likely be other visitors at the location.
  2. The approved permit must be in the applicant’s possession at the time of the wedding.
  3. Birdseed or rice may not be thrown within the park because it’s an unnatural food source for wildlife.
  4. The use of balloons, helium, or other types of decorations isn’t allowed.
  5. Directional or event signs may not be used within the park.
  6. Picnic areas may not be reserved and are available on a first-come basis. The set up of tents with stakes is not allowed.
  7. Parking is limited in most locations. The use of car pools or shuttles is recommended and may be required as a condition of the permit.

View a complete list of official Sleeping Bear Dunes wedding rules here.

Photo by Melissa Lande, Lux Light Photography

lux-light-photography-02

Frequently Asked Sleeping Bear Dunes Wedding Questions

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Ranger Activities Assistant Dawn Majewski answers three of the most commonly asked questions.

Can we have chairs for quests?

“A few chairs are allowed for the elderly or handicapped.”

Can we have arbors and other structures or decorations?

“Arbors, decorations, balloons, rice and all the extras are not allowed.”

How many weddings are held each year at the lakeshore?

“Number of weddings held at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore 2007-2015:

  • 2007 – 13
  • 2008 – 12
  • 2009 – 16
  • 2010 – 10
  • 2011 – 17
  • 2012 – 29
  • 2013 – 17
  • 2014 – 23
  • 2015 – 19

Plan the Rest of Your Sleeping Bear Dunes Wedding

Once you’ve nailed down your location and your permit and park passes are in hand, have fun planning the rest of your Northern Michigan wedding! Here are some helpful tips and ideas. Find even more inspiration in MyNorth Media’s Wedding Services Guide.


More Northern Michigan Weddings

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