Thinking that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore begins and ends at the Dune Climb? Think again. That 284-foot-high mountain of sand is a wonder, no doubt. But don’t stop there! Here’s your guide to getting the most out of Sleeping Bear’s 35 miles of coastline.
Explore the Empire Area of the Sleeping Bear Dunes
To get the lay of this beautiful land (and purchase your park pass), start your visit with a stop at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire. Make Empire Bluff Trail your next stop. Find the trailhead for this 1.5-mile round-trip hike at the end of Wilco Road. The view from the top never fails to thrill. A few miles north on M-109, brake for Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive—a 7.4-mile loop through the dunes dotted with unforgettable views and fascinating interpretive signs. Empire is also the southern end of the 22-mile, non-motorized Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail that ends in Maple City at Bohemian Road.
Photo by Taylor Brown
Dune Climb & Browse in Glen Haven
Ready to scale the 284-foot-high Dune Climb? You’ll find it on M-109. This giant sandbox brings out the kid in everyone. Once you’ve made it to the top, it’s possible to make the 3.5-mile roundtrip trek to Lake Michigan, but be prepared with water, sunscreen, snacks and proper footwear. (This hilly, sandy hike can take up to three or four hours depending on your fitness level.) The sweet hamlet of Glen Haven lies a couple miles north of the Dune Climb on M-109. Park your car and browse the old-fashioned Glen Haven General Store, the Cannery Boathouse Museum and the historic Sleeping Bear Inn—recently restored and re-opening this year for the first time since the 1970s. Turn left in Glen Haven and follow the road to the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum with its fascinating exhibits and interactive activities that make the perils of Lake Michigan come to life. Of course, you’ll want to leave time to spread your towel on Glen Haven beach.
Photo by Taylor Brown
Explore Port Oneida Rural Historic District
This lovely pastoral area was farmed for a century before the establishment of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A number of farmsteads have been preserved as reminders of the bygone era. To get the full experience, bike or drive down Port Oneida Road, taking time to meander the dirt roads that bisect this valley—including Lane Road that ends at Port Oneida Beach. Hiking the Bay View Trail (trailhead on Thoreson Road) reveals beautiful farm and lake vistas. But the don’t-miss hike is Pyramid Point, a 2.7-mile trail that climaxes at a bluff overlooking Sleeping Bear Bay and the Manitou Islands. For more information on the district, drop into the Preserve Historic Sleeping Bear headquarters at the Charles & Hattie Oleson Farm on M-22.
Photo by Rachel Soulliere
Relax at Good Harbor Beaches
This long stretch of pristine beach that follows Lake Michigan’s Good Harbor Bay shoreline is accessible off both Bohemian Road and Good Harbor Trail. From the Bohemian Road Beach turn left and drive down a half-mile or so to find where Shalda Creek empties into the bay. The shallow creek and sand bars are perfect for kids.
Photo by Mae Stier
Tour the Manitou Islands
North and South Manitou taunt from their perches on the Lake Michigan horizon as you travel the mainland coast of Sleeping Bear. These sublimely beautiful, uninhabited islands are accessible only by private boat or the Manitou Island Transit ferry in Leland. You can make a day trip out to South Manitou, but you’ll have to spend the night on North Manitou.
Sleeping Bear in Benzie County
The southernmost part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore begins in Benzie County, just north of Frankfort. For a closeup look at the beaches—both popular and secluded—head here: 7 Ways to Enjoy Benzie Region’s Beaches & Sandy Coastline.
Photo by Angela Brown