With 35 miles of Lake Michigan must-see shoreline, getting the most out of your Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore vacation can be an intimidating (if exhilarating!) proposition. One logical place to start is the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb.

Located on M-109, just five miles north of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s Visitor Center in Empire, the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb is a giant sandbox waiting for you and your kids to kick off your shoes and start hiking up. Dunes are always shifting and changing but the dune climb is hundreds of feet tall so take your time. Stop along the way to check out the changing view. The view from the top is worth the effort—you’ll gasp at the stunning  panorama that includes the Glen Lakes and the historic D.H. Day barn, easily one of the handsomest barns in the country.

The trip down is always the most memorable—run, roll or somersault, your choice, it’s all fun! Picnic tables, bathrooms and a gift shop at the base of the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb make it easy to wile away a summer day. Watch this video about the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb, then read on for other ways to enjoy it.

Hike From the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb to Lake Michigan

Pack plenty of water, sunscreen, snacks and wear good walking sandals for this 3.5 mile round trip that takes you up and down steep dunes to Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Point and back. Along the way, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous water vistas and the sight of the Manitou Islands floating on the horizon. You’ll also pass ghost trees—trees that have been nearly buried in sand and have aged to look like vertical driftwood. You’ll also want to watch for animal tracks scurrying across the sand. If you’re quiet you might catch sight of critters like fox, rabbit, deer and raccoons.

When you finally scramble over that last dune to Lake Michigan, trust us, you’ll be ready for the plunge into cool water. Swim, splash and walk the beach looking for Petoskey stones, but remember: You have to head back with enough time and energy to make it safely.

Bike (or walk, run or ski!) the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

Bike riders of all ages and abilities come back singing praises of this marvelous paved trail that snakes its way through woods and dunescapes from the base of the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb, through the historic Lake Michigan hamlet of Glen Haven to bustling Glen Arbor and on to historic Port Oneida. In Glen Haven, you can break for the beach, browns an old-fashioned general store or take in a maritime museum. Back on your bike again,  it’s two more miles into charming Glen Arbor with its darling boutiques and restaurants.

There’s more good news, in the not-so-far future the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail will stretch 27 miles from the town of Empire to just south of Leland—taking in a lovely swath of Leelanau County!

Enjoy this trailer of our video: Journey Into Sleeping Bear Dunes!

More Sleeping Bear Dunes

Cornerstone article: Sleeping Bear Dune Climb

Photo(s) by Angela Doster Brown