Things to Do for a Week-long Sleeping Bear Dunes Vacation

One week at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will more than scratch the surface of this beautiful protected park in Benzie and Leelanau Counties.  A seven-day Sleeping Bear Dunes vacation will really get travelers in synch with the Northern Michigan lifestyle: boating, hiking, biking…in all, enjoying Northern Michigan’s outdoors is what it means to live here.  Read on to discover travel ideas, attractions and some of the secret spots in the Dunes that only those with time to stray off the beaten path can get to.

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

Main Attractions at the Dunes

There are several attractions that are not to be missed at the Sleeping Bear Dunes—these are the ones that experience the most foot traffic throughout the year, and that certainly deserve all the popularity they’ve gained. Those attractions are:

  • The 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 if you tumble to the soft sand underfoot)
  • The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive: A self-guided, 7.4-mile driving tour through the beautiful landscapes of the Dunes; twelve interpretive stops to learn about the many ecosystems, including access to the Cottonwood Hiking Trail and the majestic #9 overlook of Lake Michigan.

Day Trips

You’ve got time to burn, so why not commit a day to one of the following activities:

  • Bike the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail: Connecting Empire and Glen Arbor by July of 2014, 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.
  • 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). Camping 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.

Beaches and Trails

A vacation isn’t a vacation without some serious unwinding. The best way to reach zen-like levels of relaxation are at a Sleeping Bear Dunes 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. Learn more about all the beaches —we recommend North Bar beach for it’s small creek that runs between the warm North Bar Lake and the cool Lake Michigan.

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

Towns near the Sleeping Bear Dunes

Glen Arbor and Empire are the two anchor towns of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, but nearby Frankfort and Leland are two lakeside towns rife with eateries, shops and an unmistakable charm.  Take a long day—or several—to explore these towns.

Read about All Four Towns

Wineries of Leelanau County

Home to 25 world-class wineries, Leelanau County is a mecca for wine-tasting tourists.  Off the beaten path: Silver Leaf, Boskydel and Good Neighbor:

Learn About All the Wineries of Leelanau County

A Few Secret Spots

The surface of the Sleeping Bear Dunes is certainly special—but those under-the-radar, backwoods corners of the Sleeping Bear Dunes are unique and 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 Rd. south of the Glen Lake to Inspiration Pt. Rd., a dirt turnaround that leads to the overlook.
  • Treat Farm: Inaccessible by road, park near Stormer Rd. off of M22 south of Empire, then walk west to a gated two-track that leads to the farmstead. This abandoned farmland is scenic instead, 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 Rd southeast of Glen Lake to access the interior of this Sleeping Bear Dunes oasis.

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