From breathtaking views to laid-back hidden spots, dive in to find your new favorite Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore beach for this summer.
The Top 4 Sleeping Bear Dunes Beaches You Can’t Miss
This Top 4 section is from the 2021 Traverse Magazine Vacation Guide. Download your free digital issue today to experience the full guide for yourself.
Esch Road Beach
AKA Otter Creek Beach, this beach is near the mouth of Otter Creek, which gently empties into Lake Michigan. The creek’s shallow water is ideal for splash-happy kids and great for little ad- venturers who choose to wade upriver and into the belly of the forest. Find plenty of sand to park the cooler and beach chairs. From Empire, drive south on M-22 and turn right onto Esch Road. Unpaved parking, basic facilities. Road to Esch will be closed for a bit this summer, though the goal is to finish construction before “peak summer.” Beachgoers are advised to seek alternate beaches during construction.
Peterson Road Beach
Splitting Esch Road and Platte River Point, Peterson Road beach offers plenty of sand, a grandstand of beach grass and a bounty of elbow room. Just east of Platte River Campground, turn off M-22 onto the unpaved (and narrow) Peterson Road and follow it to Lake Michigan. Unpaved parking, basic facilities, short walk to the beach.
Platte River Point Beach
Find this beauty down the road from the Platte River Campground at the mouth of the Platte River. This finish line for Platte River tubers and rowers means a bustling parking lot, but you’re a short walk away from bathing in the shallows of the river or taking a plunge into Lake Michigan. Perfect for kids, and views of the Empire Bluffs certainly don’t hurt. Take Lake Michigan Road off M-22 near Platte Lake; drive straight to Lake Michigan. Paved parking, picnic tables, basic facilities.
Tiesma Road Beach
Trek to Tiesma if you are seeking seclusion. The beach is along the same strip of shoreline as Platte River Point and Peterson Road, yet it is unmarked and under the radar. From Platte River Campground, take Lake Michigan Road north, turn right on Isle View Drive and drive till the road ends. Short walk to the beach through soft sand. No facilities, dirt road parking.
Our Guide to All Sleeping Bear Dunes Beaches
Sleeping Bear Dunes beaches provide an unforgettable sensory experience: gentle waves of the fresh, sapphire-blue water…golden, soft sand between your toes…the warmth of the sun and the kite-catching breeze. When will they figure out how to bottle up that Northern Michigan beach vibe? For an easy and fun summer travel idea, take the time to visit both the beautiful beaches within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and several Leelanau County beaches of nearby Lake Michigan towns. By boat or by car, there’s no beating these gems of Northern Michigan’s outdoors.
Sleeping Bear Beaches (from north to south along M22):
- Good Harbor Beach
- Port Oneida Beach
- Glen Haven Beach
- Glen Lake Picnic Area at Dune Climb
- North Bar Lake
- Esch Rd Beach
- Peterson Rd Beach
- Tiesma Rd Beach
- Platte River Point Beach
- Municipal Beaches near the Sleeping Bear Dunes
Good Harbor Beach
The Copacabana of Sleeping Bear Dunes. A big, long beach that can accommodate the crowds that flock to it. Views of North Manitou Island, huge swathes of soft sand and a softly-sloping, kid-friendly beach; perfect for a sunset bonfire. Take either County Rd 669 (Bohemian Rd) or 651 (Good Harbor Trail) from M22 near north corner of the Dunes parkland. Paved parking, picnic tables, basic facilities.
Port Oneida Beach
Access this beach from a new stairway descending the steep dunes. The nearest beach to the Pyramid Point hike and Bay View trail; gravel road access means fewer people, but expect more people with the addition of the stairs. From Glen Arbor, drive east 4 miles to Port Oneida Road, then take a soft left on Lane Road. No facilities, dirt road parking, short walk down steps.
Glen Haven Beach
After visiting the historic village of Glen Haven hit the beach near the Cannery Boathouse Museum. Park at the museum and enjoy not being a dockworker in the early 20th century and views of the Manitou Islands. The beach can also be accessed via the Sleeping Bear Point Trail. From Glen Arbor, drive west on M109, then turn right onto Glen Haven Road. Facilities nearby, paved parking.
Glen Lake Picnic Area at Dune Climb
Hit up this public access to Little Glen Lake to cool off after the Dune Climb. Located kitty-corner from the Dune Climb HQ, the site is a picnic mecca, and a good spot to launch a kayak or canoe for an evening cruise; sand is a tad rocky, the beach is mostly grass. Find the Dune Climb on M109; parking lot for the beach is .5 miles north. Nearby facilities, paved parking, picnic tables, short walk.
North Bar Lake
Cool off in Lake Michigan after basking in the warm water of North Bar Lake—a small inland lake that drains into Lake Michigan. The creek between North Bar and Lake Michigan was made for skimboarding, sand dams, and general splashing around. From Voice Road north of Empire, take N. Bar Lake Road to Larahr Road—park and shuffle along the boardwalk to bliss. Unpaved parking, basic facilities, medium walk.
Esch Road Beach
Esch Road Beach AKA Otter Creek Beach: the beach is near the mouth of Otter Creek, which gently empties into Lake Michigan. The creek’s shallow water is ideal for splash-happy kids; great for little adventurers to wade up river and into the belly of the forest. Plenty of sand to park the cooler and beach chairs, and usually not as crowded as Good Harbor. From Empire, drive south on M22; turn right onto Esch Road. Unpaved parking, basic facilities.
Peterson Road Beach
Splitting Esch Road and Platte River Point, Peterson Road beach offers vistas of dunes to the north; lots of sand and a grandstand of beach grass, but quite private—Peterson Road is unpaved. Just east of Platte River Campground, turn off M22 onto Peterson Road and follow to Lake Michigan. Unpaved parking, basic facilities, short walk.
Tiesma Road Beach
Trek to Tiesma for the most seclusion; the beach is along the same strip of shoreline as Platte River Point and Peterson Road, yet the beach is unmarked and under the radar. From Platte River Campground, take Lake Michigan Road north, turn right on Isle View Drive, and drive till the road ends. No facilities, dirt road parking, short walk.
Platte River Point Beach
Down the road from the Platte River Campground at the mouth of the Platte River. This finish line for Platte River tubers and rowers means a bustling parking lot, but you’re a short walk away from bathing in the shallows of the river or taking a plunge in the depths of Lake Michigan. Perfect for kids, and views of the Empire Bluffs certainly don’t hurt. Take Lake Michigan Road off M22 near Platte Lake; drive straight to Lake Michigan. Paved parking, picnic tables, basic facilities.
Photo by Dave Weidner
Nearby Municipal Beaches
Empire Village Beach
Boasting a covered picnic pavilion, playground equipment and a pedestrian-friendly village, Empire’s beach is a hub for families making a day of it. A straight shot from Traverse City makes getting there easy: from TC, drive west on M72 to Empire, turn right onto M22, then a quick left on Niagara, and drive to the water. Basic facilities, picnic tables, paved parking.
Lake Street Beach in Glen Arbor
Plop the towel down on either side of the boat launch for a quick sun by Glen Arbor’s Le Bear Resort; don’t miss the Hawaiian Ice up the street. Head over to nearby Art’s Tavern for a quick, classic bite and some weird taxidermy. Take Lake Street north in Glen Arbor. Roadside parking, no facilities.
Old Settler’s Picnic Area near Glen Arbor
At the southeast corner of Big Glen Lake, the Old Settler’s Picnic Area is just that: the place where the first residents of the Glen Arbor area would kick back on a Sunday evening to watch the sun set. With a gazebo, canoe launch, playground equipment, barbecues and picnic tables, the spot’s perfect for a family afternoon or a post-meal lounge after dinner at eateries La Becasse or Funistrada. From Glen Arbor, drive south on M22 over the Glen Lake narrows, then turn left on County Rd 675; 1500 feet past La Becasse. Basic facilities, paved parking, picnic tables.
Frankfort/Elberta Public Beaches
South of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore sit the twin towns of Frankfort and Elberta. Separated by the Betsie River, the two towns each have massive sandy beaches with natural dunes nearby. Elberta’s is markedly less crowded, as it a bit less accessible. For Frankfort, take M22 from Empire, and drive west on Main to the water—paved parking, no facilities. For Elberta, continue south on M22, turn left on Frankfort Avenue, continue on to Furnace Avenue, then Bye Street—dirt road parking, no facilities.
Find this article and more in the 2021 issue of the Traverse Magazine Vacation Guide. If you’re not subscribed to Traverse Magazine, you can download the Vacation Guide for free.