To claim your share of Up North nature—as in scenic views of Lake Michigan and the Glen Lakes, not to mention loads of sand in your pockets and shoes—make for the Sleeping Bear Dune Climb, west of Glen Arbor on M109. Either spend a couple hours lounging up and down this 130-foot sand hill or climb it and keep going for a 3-mile round-trip hike to Lake Michigan and back. If you opt for the 3-mile round trip, it is essential you be prepared with sunscreen, snacks, plenty of water and appropriate footwear—Teva-type sandals work the best. Caution: this hike is too long and arduous for young children, the elderly or anyone who is not in shape.
You’ll need a $10 pass, good for the week (or opt for the $20 annual pass) to get into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore—a price that is well worth this adventure.
Okay, time to set out—beginning with that 130-foot sand hill. Choose your own speed–some choose to rocket up the 20-degree incline alongside the indefatigable kindergartners, but most opt to go slow, plodding to the summit. Yes, running and cartwheeling back down is a blast, but save that for the end of this trek. You are going to need your energy.
At the top, turn around to gaze upon the Glen Lakes (Little Glen in the foreground) which dazzles across M109. That cool barn in this breathtaking vista is the D.H. Day Barn—built by a local lumber baron of the same name in the late 1800s. The barn is privately owned and not a part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Find the trail sign that reads, “Dune Climb,” propped on a post like an abandoned mailbox and take a swig of water for luck. From here, it’s 1.5 hilly miles to Lake Michigan. Follow the trail up the next dune that takes you past tufts of American beach grass. Now on the downslope, drop into the inter-dunal plain and feel completely immersed in the dune environment—as in its easy to start to feel like Lawrence of Arabia.
Stay on the trail and take in the remarkable dune environment as you make your way to the shore. The expansive plains provide a rugged splendor as colonies of little blue stem and prairie sandreed bunch in along the trail, and skeletons of long-dead trees jut out of the scrubland. Trace the trail through plains punctuated by pockets of juniper bunched like a holiday wreath, and the tangled mane of buffaloberry bushes. Snap a picture of the gnarled and sun bleached bones of a “ghost tree.” A casualty of sand and time, the hardened timber is a tree once smothered by sand and then uncovered as the dunes shifted.
Markers strung along by line of sight, rather than distance, serve as guideposts. Count off the numbers on these blue tipped posts sunk deep into the dunescape, which will keep you on the winding path. Slow and steady gets you to Lake Michigan where you will want to take a much-deserved swim and rest on the beach before retracing your steps back to the Dune Climb.