Things to Do on a Week-Long Sleeping Bear Dunes Vacation

A seven-day Sleeping Bear Dunes vacation will really get travelers in synch with the Northern Michigan lifestyle: boating, hiking, biking … enjoying the outdoors is what it means to live Up North. Read on to discover travel ideas, attractions, and secret spots only those who stray off the beaten path can enjoy. Head north and explore Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Check out these articles if you’re a dunes vacationer on a deadline:


Sleeping Bear Dunes Main Attractions

There are several must-see attractions at Sleeping Bear Dunes—these are the ones that experience the most foot traffic and certainly deserve all the attention they’ve received over the years.

  • Dune Climb: 300-foot tall dune, the climbing of which reveals Glen Lake to the east and rolling dunes to the west. The best part: sprinting down (just make sure to close your mouth in case you take a tumble).
  • Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive: A self-guided, 7.4-mile driving tour through the beautiful landscapes of the dunes; 12 interpretive stops to learn about the many ecosystems, including access to the Cottonwood Hiking Trail and the majestic #9 overlook of Lake Michigan.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Day Trips

  • Bike the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail: This paved, multi-purpose trail in a great way to see a large swathe of the inner lakeshore. Spend all day on two wheels, and visit Glen Haven Historic District and the Dune Climb while staying off the main roads. When complete, the trail will stretch 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. It currently stretches from Empire to Bohemian Road in Maple City.
  • Float the Platte River: The Platte River is a gentle, inner-tube friendly waterway that courses through the southern edge of the Dunes. Take your own tube or canoe, or rent from Honor Canoe Rental or Riverside Canoe Trips.

  • Visit South Manitou Island or Camp on North Manitou: The Manitou Islands are isolated, serene islands off the mainland of the Sleeping Bear Dunes—you’ll see them from many of the beaches or bluff overlooks at the Dunes. South Manitou is home to a lighthouse, an old Coast Guard Station, and many abandoned farms that used to support a small community of islanders. Sign up for the motorized tour of the island on the ferry over (ferry leaves from Leland). It’s also a great spot for families to camp. Camping on North Manitou is not for the faint of heart—it’s a true wilderness, but it’s back-country camping at its absolute best.
  • Road Trip M22: Along this iconic road you’ll see beautiful farmland, miles of lakeshore, a handful of quaint towns and smiles across your companions’ faces.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Beaches and Trails

A Sleeping Bear Dunes vacation isn’t complete without some serious unwinding. The best ways to reach zen-like levels of relaxation are on the beach or trail.

With miles of beaches lining the western shore of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore, there’s plenty of real estate to plop down the cooler and towel. Here’s your guide to beaches —we recommend North Bar beach for its small creek that runs between the warm North Bar Lake and the cool Lake Michigan.

It’s hard to beat Sleeping Bear Dunes trails: coursing across the properties of centuries-old farms, over meadows and through forests, many feature jaw-dropping vistas of Lake Michigan. Learn about all the trails here—we recommend Pyramid Point for its epic view.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Towns

Glen Arbor and Empire are the two anchor towns of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, but nearby Frankfort and Leland are two lakeside towns rife with eateries, shops, and lots of small-town charm. Take a long day—or several—to explore them! (Here are a few travel tips.)

Wineries of Leelanau County

Home to 26 world-class wineries, Leelanau County is a mecca for wine-tasting tourists. Here’s your guide to Leelanau wine!

A Few Secret Spots

The surface of the Sleeping Bear Dunes is certainly special—but those under-the-radar, backwoods corners are unforgettable. Here’s a sampler of off-the-beaten-track spots.

  • Inspiration Point: A scenic overlook of Glen Lake—private, quiet and peaceful. Take MacFarlane Road south of the Glen Lake to Inspiration Point Road, a dirt turnaround that leads to the overlook.
  • Treat Farm: Inaccessible by road, park near Stormer Road off of M22 south of Empire, then walk west to a gated two-track that leads to the farmstead. This abandoned farmland is scenic, but views of Lake Michigan make this hike worthwhile.
  • Bow Lakes: This isolated portion of the lakeshore features small inland lakes and hiking trails lined with forests and wildflower-laden meadows. Take Lanham Road southeast of Glen Lake to access the interior of this Sleeping Bear Dunes oasis.

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