The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is located in the northwest corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore encompasses 65 miles of sandy shoreline along Lake Michigan. The area also includes several lakes and streams, making this National Lakeshore a great summer destination.
The fall will bring you bright vibrant orange, yellow, and red foliage making for a spectacular display of color. The winters can be brutally cold, but the snow provides great snowshoeing conditions through the dunes.
How To Get to Sleeping Bear Dunes
Before booking your trip, make sure you protect yourself and your money and purchase travel insurance! You will need to rent a car to get to Sleeping Bear Dunes. It is a 4.5 hour drive from the Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) and a 3.5 hour drive from the Flint Bishop International airport.
Where to Stay by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
The sleeping bear dunes are 25 miles west of Traverse City, making this a great city for accommodations, night life, restaurants and wineries. Try an AirBnB and see how the locals live. If you’re looking for a closer city outside the park you can find hotels in Empire or Glen Arbor. There are several state parks, and private campgrounds in the area. Rent an RV and spend a weekend exploring. Bring a tent, or you can rent rustic cabins in some state parks as well.
“Tug on anything at all and you’ll find it connected to everything else in the universe.”John Muir
How are the dunes created?
The sand from the steep bluffs along the lakeshore fall or slide into Lake Michigan. This provides massive amounts of sand and gravel to the National Lakeshore. Some individual landslides have dumped a million cubic yards of sand into the great lake in just one single event.
Waves cut away the bases of the bluffs, providing a continuous supply of sand and gravel to the winds blowing against them. The sand continues to get whisked up and deposited on top.
More National Parks to Explore
- North Cascades National Park
- Camping Guide: What to Pack + Free Packing Checklist
- Must See Historic Cranbrook Botanical Gardens
What To Do In Sleeping Bear Dunes
The Lake Michigan coastline along Sleeping Bear Dunes and the offshore Islands are a very large component of the National Lakeshore environment. Small patches of ancient forests buried by sand eons ago continue to be exposed, as sand moves inland and attempts to bury the forests there today.
The Dune Climb
Climb the dunes or enjoy the sand. The Dune Climb offers plenty of fresh, wind-blown sand for your climbing pleasure. While the climb can be strenuous, the run back down to the picnic area is a blast!
The climb up the dunes provides you a view of Glen Lake. The Dune Climb is located just about 5 miles north of Empire on M-109. You will need an annual National Park Pass or $25 for parking at this dune climb. For those who have extra time and a lot of energy, take a hike through the dunes all the way to Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan Overlook
Safety Tips: Take lots of water and remember you’ll be walking up and down the dunes of loose sand the entire way. Hiking through the dunes can be disorienting, so be sure to keep children within sight. If hiking with a group, agree on a time and place to meet up before leaving.
Avoid getting stuck at the bottom of the dune at the Lake Michigan Overlook!
Michigan Lakeshore Beaches
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has miles of pristine beach! Cool off in the beautiful clear water of Lake Michigan with beach activities like sunbathing, reading, or making sand castles. The whole Lake Michigan lakeshore is open to swimming, but there are no lifeguards on duty, and be aware of possible Rip Currents.
Visitors are advised not to go down the dune at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Lake Michigan Overlook. Lake levels are high – the only way out is up. Keep yourself and rescuers out of danger.
Play in the waves, swim, or just take a stroll along the beach. Lake Michigan is beautiful, but it’s more refreshing than the inland lakes, so be prepared!
Safe popular access points to the Lake Michigan Lakeshore can be found here.
You can hike over 100 miles of designated trails along the Lakeshore. There are thirteen hiking trails on the mainland, most of which are maintained during the winter for cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. Each trailhead has a parking area, and the trails will be marked with blue tipped posts.
Tip: There is limited or no service throughout the park. To keep your phone fully charged and ready to catch those amazing shots, you’ll need an extra battery charger. I take my Mophie everywhere I travel, just in case!
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a must-do when visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This 7.4 mile drive loops through the Beech-Maple forest and sand dunes. You’ll gain insight to the history of the area, learn about the different ecosystems found within the park and, best of all, spectacular overlooks along the way.
Do a Lazy River Float
Cool off with a relaxing float down the Platte River on a hot summer day. This is one of the most popular summer recreational activities in the area. The river is shallow and clear, moving at a good pace, with no rapids making it perfect for all ages. You can either bring your own tube, raft, air mattress, etc. or you can rent them from local outfitters. If you need to rent during the height of the summer season, you will want to plan ahead and get reservations.
Lake Michigan Sunsets
Lake Michigan sunsets will take your breath away. Find a good dune to hike along the shoreline and watch the sun slowly set along the horizon. We were able to find our own private viewing area along one of the dune trails. Taking in the glow of the sunset in peace, with sounds of waves washing below. Glen Lake pictured below is another great sunset viewing spot.