Join the National Park Service for their newest program: Sleeping Bear Dunes InstaMeets. Anyone is welcome to participate in these free, ranger-led hikes, and participants are encouraged to bring a camera or phone to capture and share their photos on social media using #EschIM.

During the upcoming InstaMeet, Park Ranger Katie Fredericks will lead hikers along Lake Michigan and Otter Creek, with an optional longer hike to the Marl Springs. The outdoor event is on Saturday, March 26 at 1 p.m., and hikers will meet at Esch Road Beach. Participants should plan to be outside for about 1.5 to 2 hours and be dressed for the weather.

For more information about the Sleeping Bear Dunes InstaMeet hike, we chatted with Katie about what participants can expect and look forward to.

What were some of the highlights from the first ever InstaMeet held last weekend?

For our first InstaMeet, we took visitors to some special places in the northern part of Sleeping Bear Dunes in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District. We saw a one-room schoolhouse, went inside the John Miller Barn, visited a historic cemetery, and hiked up a bluff to a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands.

What types of scenery and wildlife can people expect to see at the second InstaMeet along Lake Michigan and Otter Creek?

For our second InstaMeet this weekend, visitors can expect to see Lake Michigan and the mouth of Otter Creek, the bridge over Otter Creek, a pine plantation, and possibly the Marl Springs. These natural, cold springs flow into Otter Creek. We are not sure what wildlife we will come across, but we could see deer and several different species of birds.

Are there any tough sections along the way hikers should be aware of?

Hikers have the option to spend their time on the beach, hike to the Marl Springs, or both! The hike will be flat and relatively easy. The hike to the springs and back is about 1.5 to 2 miles.

Is there any additional gear you recommend people bring?

The most important thing is for visitors to come dressed for the weather. Plan to be outside for 1 to 2 hours. Visitors are always welcome to bring water and a snack. We suggest that you bring a phone or a camera to take pictures. The InstaMeet is free, but you do need a park pass for your vehicle.

What’s the inspiration behind this event?

This year, the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial! We are looking back and celebrating our first 100 years, but we are also looking to the future. InstaMeets are fun, new programs for us and are a way for us to not only engage our Instagram followers more actively but an opportunity for us to facilitate a more audience-centered program. We want to help our visitors learn more about the park and show them some of the less-visited and off-the-beaten-path, but equally awesome, sites. We also want to know what you want to learn and experience here and what your park means to you. We want to help you Find Your Park!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

You do not have to be an Instagram user to attend this program. Anyone is welcome. Think of it as a chance to hang out with a ranger, meet new people, take some pictures, and explore a really beautiful part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore!

Sleeping Bear Dunes InstaMeet hikers must have a park entrance pass or an annual pass displayed in their vehicle. Park passes can be purchased at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire, which is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information, call 231-326-4700, extension 5010. 

There will be more InstaMeets this spring and summer. Stay tuned for future dates on social media by following the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Instagram @sleepingbearnps, Facebook and Twitter!

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Photo(s) by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore