Home to 35 miles of pristine national lakeshore, dozens of hiking trails, sandy beaches perfect for picnics, and much more, Sleeping Bear Dunes is the crown jewel of Leelanau County. It was even voted by Good Morning America viewers as the “Most Beautiful Place in America.” Planning a vacation to the most beautiful place in American can be daunting, especially with kids in tow. Here’s the guide to kid-friendly travel ideas and activities at Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Spend a Day on the Water
Empire Outdoors is all about getting people outside enjoying Northern Michigan. Your one stop shop for all the fishing gear you will need, Empire Outdoors specializes in carrying 98 percent American made products. Offering beach toys, bike rentals, inflatable rafts and more, it’s the perfect place to gear up for a day on the water.
Paddle the Crystal River
Rarely deeper than two feet, the Crystal River is a family favorite for leisurely float trips and chances to spot wildlife as blue heron and white tail deer on the cedar-lined shore. Incredibly safe for children taking a ride on their first kayak, the Crystal River provides a safe and beautiful environment for children, and adults, to learn and grow. Here are a few safety tips for first timers.
Ride the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
The non-motorized paved path is perfect for an active family who wants to view the beauty of Northern Michigan via bike. When completed, the trail will run 27 miles from the northern end of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Good Harbor Beach at County Road 651) to Manning Road, just south of Empire. Check out the new interactive map on your computer or smartphone to plan your route.
Summit the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb
A mountain of sand aptly called the “Dune Climb” can look a bit frightening at first. But, seeing the joy of toddlers and grownups alike sprinting down the sandy mountain makes the huffing and puffing of the ascent worthwhile. Make sure to pack lots of sunscreen, and don’t forget to jump in the lake to rinse off and cool down afterward. You can also explore Sleeping Bear Dune’s many hiking trails (Pyramid Point is a short hike with an amazing view—great for young kids!).
Hang Ten on the Big Lake
Your kids will have the coolest “What I Did This Summer” story when they tell their classmates that they surfed Lake Michigan. Lessons begin with chilling in the sand while learning about freshwater surfing and end with riding the edge of a Lake Michigan wave. A lesson with the pros at Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak runs an hour-and-a-half and includes wet suits and board rentals for $40.
Enjoy Old Fashioned Treats
Glen Haven, near Glen Arbor, was once a bustling port town. Now, it is part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and operated as a time capsule. For children who love history, Glen Haven offers a village blacksmith shop, a wooden boat museum housed in a defunct cherry cannery and a general store full of old-fashioned treats and toys.
Catch a Reenactment
At Glen Haven’s Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum, you can catch a live reenactment of a shipwreck rescue. The shipwreck rescue show includes actors who portray Raggedy Ann and Andy as the rescued. Perfect for children with big dreams, the reenactment occurs every day of summer at 3 p.m.
Hit the Port Oneida Fair
A bygone way of life comes alive at the Port Oneida fair in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Check out farm animals, children’s activities, folk music and more. The fair also includes demonstrations of native crafts, butter making, candle dipping, basket weaving and more. History comes to life at the Port Oneida Fair.
Book a Charter
Take your little fishermen out onto the scenic waters of Lake Michigan and attempt to catch lake trout, salmon, steelhead or brown trout. Reel Tales’ charter fishing excursions leave from Glen Arbor with Captain Scott McDaid. All you need is sunblock, comfortable shoes and jacket, and food or drink of your choice.