With an afternoon promising sunshine, a slight breeze and zero percent chance of precipitation, our family’s planned ride on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail couldn’t have been better timed. We loaded up our bikes, water bottles and backpacks stocked with snacks, and headed to the Lakeshore for our first exploration of the northeast stretch of this nearly 22-mile-long pathway, the section between Bohemian Road and Glen Haven.
Our group of six—my husband, Joe, me, our three kids and our son’s girlfriend—took turns leading the way through the forested, sometimes-mildly hilly route. We made stops along the way, when we crossed the wood-planked boardwalk over the edge of Narada Lake to listen to birds and watch for wildlife, and at Glen Haven Beach, our turnaround point, to soak up this shoreline’s always-stunning Lake Michigan blue hues. The nearly 26-mile round-trip was the ideal way to spend a summer afternoon in the Lakeshore with our kids, then ages 13, 16 and 18.
Whether hiking or biking, taking to the trails is just one of many ways we’ve explored all that Sleeping Bear offers with our kids over the years. The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, which runs from Empire to Bohemian Road, with future plans to continue even further, is ideal for biking, walking, and cross-country skiing in the winter. The park features 100 miles of designated trails for hiking—there are 13 mainland trails, with most of them maintained during the winter for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and each trail has a trailhead with a parking area. A favorite is the Sleeping Bear Point trail—you can hike the whole thing with older kids or take the trail that leads to the beach for a shorter version that still has great views. And for kids of all ages, the miles of gorgeous Sleeping Bear beaches are always a great payoff.
Photo by Angela Brown
Photo by Angela Brown
Planning a day trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with kids? We checked in with Lisa Griebel, a park ranger and interpretation and education program manager, for a few great ideas that’ll keep everyone happy. Here are her top 6 picks:
Take on the Dune Climb.
Of course, we need to start with this all-time kid (and adult, let’s be honest) fave. Sure, it’s a bit of a workout getting to the top, but that expansive view of Big and Little Glen is worth it! And the running (and tumbling) back down is the stuff of childhood memories-in-the-making for your kiddos. Find the Dune Climb about five miles north of Empire on M-109 (you’ll see it on the west side of the road). This spot features modern restrooms and a picnic area. If you’re looking for more sandy fun (and you’ve got the energy for a longer dune hike), you can climb the dunes and keep going all the way to Lake Michigan. Just remember that this can take as long as three to four hours—bring plenty of water and consider the ages and abilities of kids when determining the length of your hike.
Become a Junior Ranger.
This activity gets kids out and about in the park learning about many of the park’s great resources and why they are important. This includes things like measuring the movement of the dunes and learning about Piping Plovers, the endangered birds that nests on the shores of Lake Michigan. Required activities to become a junior ranger include attending a ranger-led program (or creating your own), doing a service project (picking up trash, recycling or a project of your own) and completing activities that encourage direct experience and discovery learning in different park environments. Kids can earn a badge, a patch and a certificate. Learn more about the Junior Ranger Program. “We also have our limited edition 50th anniversary junior ranger booklet where you can earn a special anniversary badge,” Lisa adds. Kids can download the 50th Birthday Junior Ranger pages and complete the required number of activities. Kids aged 10 and older are challenged to do research to answer the “Children of the Anishinaabek” portion. When finished, email the park at firstname.lastname@example.org to let them know what you completed.
Visit a Lake Michigan beach.
Every kid loves Esch Road Beach, where you can walk to Otter Creek and splash in the water flowing into the big lake. Another top pick: Platte River Point at the southern end of the park, where you can skip stones, build sandcastles and watch tubers, kayakers and SUPers finish their river floats and excursions where the river meets Lake Michigan. Have a rock hunter in the family? Head to Bohemian Beach off M-22 between Glen Arbor and Leland for stones of all sizes and colors. (Please don’t take any rocks home; enjoy them at the beach. It’s illegal to take any natural thing from a National Park, even flowers, mosses and rocks.) Or make a full day and evening of it at Good Harbor Bay, where you’ll likely catch the most amazing sunset. (Pick up a bundle of firewood on your way there to have a beach bonfire to cap your awesome day. Don’t forget the s’mores stuff.)
Visit Port Oneida and the Port Oneida Farms Heritage Center.
You and your kids will learn about the agricultural history of the area, as well as the people who lived and farmed along the lake. Port Oneida was farmed for more than 100 years; the houses and fields passed down from generation to generation. At the Heritage Center, your family can explore the homestead, view exhibits, go on a history hunt, play an old-fashioned game and enjoy a picnic on the grounds. And while the Port Oneida Fair will not take place in August this year, the park is planning sampler days during which each farm will be open for tours and activities each week in August. Mark your calendars for one or more of these dates and farm visits: Aug. 4, Dechow; Aug. 11, Olsen; Aug. 18, Kelderhouse; and Aug. 25, Thoreson.
Stop by historic Glen Haven.
Just north of the Dune Climb, you’ll find the tiny village of Glen Haven, which was a company town and eventually diversified into farming, canning of fruit and tourism. Visiting this spot is a step back in time when small villages and docks supplied fuel to steamers along the Great Lakes. During your visit, check out the historic cannery, blacksmith shop and boat house. Due to the pandemic, these buildings aren’t open to visitors, but you can still meet with a volunteer and peek in the windows and doors. “The spots will be staffed by volunteers and as things open up, the plan might change,” Lisa says, adding that the maritime museum remains closed for now. While you’re there, take time to stroll Glen Haven Beach.
Don’t forget these virtual options!
If you can’t make it to the Lakeshore or want to have some fun before you arrive or after your visit, check out these ways to stay connected with the park at nps.gov/slbe:
- Download the mobile app
- Visit the virtual museum
- Follow the park on social media
- Check out park videos on YouTube