Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The Perfect Weekend at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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 the Great Lake Michigan. The surrounding area also includes several lakes and streams, making this National Lakeshore a great summer road trip destination.

Here’s your Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore complete guide!

This Sleeping Bear Dunes itinerary covers the best of what to do on the National Lakeshore, how to get there and where to stay. Add this hidden gem to your summer bucket list. | Her Life Adventures | #camping #usdestinations #travelhacks #travelguide #adventuretravel #roadtrip #nationalpark #nationalparkroadtrip #michigantravel #greatlakes #ustravel #summer #bucketlist #sleepingbear #lakemichigan #sanddunes
Can you see the hikers?
purple star
Best weekend guide to Michigan's East Upper Peninsula including what to do and where to stay! Take a road trip around Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Go camping in a state park or hiking at Tahquamenon falls. Visit the #Great #Lakes #Shipwreck #Museum and #Lighthouses #camping #traveldestinations #ustraveldestinations #michigan #upperpeninsula #tahquamenonfalls #statepark

When to Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes

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.

purple star

How To Get There

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.

purple star

Where to Stay

The sleeping bear dunes are 25 miles west of Traverse City, making this a great city for accommodations, nightlife, restaurants, and wineries. 

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 a Fifth Wheel RV for your adventure or bring a tent. You’ll also find rustic cabins in some state parks.

Read: 10 Amazing Places to Stay by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park

purple star

“Tug on anything at all and you’ll find it connected to everything else in the universe.” 

John Muir
purple star

How are the dunes created?

The sand from the steep bluffs along the lakeshore fall or slides 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.

This Sleeping Bear Dunes itinerary covers the best of what to do on the National Lakeshore, how to get there and where to stay. Add this hidden gem to your summer bucket list. | Her Life Adventures | #camping #usdestinations #travelhacks #travelguide #adventuretravel #roadtrip #nationalpark #nationalparkroadtrip #michigantravel #greatlakes #ustravel #summer #bucketlist #sleepingbear #lakemichigan #sanddune
Can you see the boat?

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.

purple star

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 the sand moves inland and attempts to bury the forests there today.

purple star

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 with 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 the 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.

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.

purple star

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 into the history of the area, learn about the different ecosystems found within the park, and, best of all, spectacular overlooks along the way.

purple star

Lake Michigan Overlook

The No.9 overlook along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive provides you with unforgettable views of the mighty Lake Michigan. You’ll see nothing but fresh water for as far as you can see, and the lake starts to look more like an ocean.

Lake Michigan Overlook Sleeping Bear Dunes | | #camping #usdestinations #sleepingbeardunes #nationallakeshore #travelhacks #travelguide #adventuretravel #roadtrip #nationalpark #nationalparkroadtrip #michigantravel #greatlakes #ustravel #summer #bucketlist

Lake Michigan Overlook dunes are very difficult! The massive dune is 450 ft tall, and the shoreline is further down than it looks.

Visitors who can’t make it back up the dune risk having to pay more than $2,000 to be rescued. Record high water levels on Lake Michigan over the summer have complicated rescue efforts.

This Sleeping Bear Dunes itinerary covers the best of what to do on the National Lakeshore, how to get there and where to stay. Add this hidden gem to your summer bucket list. | Her Life Adventures | #camping #usdestinations #travelhacks #travelguide #adventuretravel #roadtrip #nationalpark #nationalparkroadtrip #michigantravel #greatlakes #ustravel #summer #bucketlist #sleepingbear #lakemichigan #sanddunes

Visitors are advised not to go down the dune at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Lake Michigan Overlook to enjoy the beach. Lake levels are high – the only way out is up. Keep yourself and rescuers out of danger.

When people get stranded, they are pulled up the hill by a rescue crew with ropes and pulleys, or by boat if weather conditions allow. In all my visits over the years, I’ve never ventured down to the bottom of the dune.

purple star

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.

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.

purple star

Hiking Trails

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 portable charger everywhere I travel, just in case!

purple star

visit Traverse City

Traverse City and the Leelanau peninsula are nearby and offer great shopping, delicious restaurants, breweries, wineries, and so much more. Take a half-day guided tour of Leelanau by e-bike and explore the cherry blossoms in spring, or the fall colors in Michigan. There is also a half-day fun pass that gives you access to kayaks, bikes, and paddleboards (SUP)! You can also rent clear kayaks so you can see the water through the boat.

Weekend in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

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.

purple star

Watch a Lake Michigan Sunset

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 the sounds of waves washing below. Glen Lake pictured below is another great sunset viewing spot.

Lake Michigan Sunset in Sleeping Bear Dunes | | #camping #usdestinations #sleepingbeardunes #nationallakeshore #travelhacks #travelguide #adventuretravel #roadtrip #nationalpark #nationalparkroadtrip #michigantravel #greatlakes #ustravel #summer #bucketlist
purple star

If you liked this article, pin it! and share it with your friends

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Affiliate Disclosure: This blog post may contain affiliate links. If you click on them to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission for referring you. This comes at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I have personally used + loved.


  1. Oooo, I want to see them! We have some dunes in Ontario, but nothing like these humongous ones. The water is really clear, too. Another destination for a weekend trip.

  2. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is indeed a great summer getaway. Loving the pictures of the pristine beach and the beautiful water. But what makes the place really unique for me are the sand dunes that offer a unique trekking opportunity. Not to forget the magical sunsets.

  3. Woah! Those dunes are something else. I thought they were quite small but when I spotted the hikers I was shocked. This looks like such a fun place to go with family.

  4. It was perfect the first time. I learn so much from you as well! Keep it up great post.

  5. Ahh that lazy river float sounds like the perfect way to end a busy day on the dunes! I’d never heard of sleeping bear dunes but it looks beautiufl

  6. Our Great Lakes are amazing. It feels like you are on the shore of an ocean. I love that there are sand dunes to climb. I had never heard of this park and will need to visit when I finally get to Michigan.

  7. Man, Sleeping Bear Nunes in Michigan looks really cool. I bet the hike across those dunes is a serious workout for your calves & overall! So cool to find something like a Sand dune in an unexpected place but that is why our world is so cool! So how cold was the water cause I hate seeing beautiful places like this where I can swim only to freeze to death in the water!

    1. Hiking in sand is SO MUCH HARDER than regular hiking. The water is warmest in July-September, and it feels refreshing after a long day in the hot humid sun. Great beaches.

  8. I loved this place as it is perfect for relaxed weekend holiday. I loved the beaches of Lakeshore as they are very clean and the water looks perfect blue.

    1. YES! Lake Michigan is such a beautiful lake. I grew up in Michigan so I’ve visited the Great Lakes my whole life – I forget to appreciate their beauty sometimes πŸ’œ

  9. This looks like a perfect family vacation ! White sandy beaches, emerald waters and the dunes are pretty steep, must be fun to glide down =p

    1. Some people run down them, some people sled down them, and once you’re at the top and look down – you realize just how high up you really are 😍

    1. I’d love to get a camper or something so I didn’t have be in a rush to leave. Good to know you’d need a pass or pay for parking, that sort of thing has caught us out before!

  10. I can’t believe how blue the water is! I have to make a plan to visit here ASAP!!

  11. Your pictures are stunning! I would love to check the dunes out if I am ever in Michigan!

  12. We’ve always wanted to go to Lake Michigan, just to see the clear and green water! But we had no idea there’s actually also a huge sand dunes, almost like the one we used to go to in Arcachon in southwestern France. And that there’s so much other activities!

    1. Yes the sand dunes are massive, and stretch for miles/kilometers along the Lake Michigan’s shoreline. The bigger towns along the water are all storybrook lake communities with adorable downtown areas.

  13. I have Very fond memories of a camping trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes! It really is an absolutely lovely place for a family trip. Thanks for sharing – your photos are stunning!

  14. We have never been to this part of the US, but I can see we missed a lot! That’s the type of scenery we would love to explore and knowing there are so many trails and beaches we could check, would be such a treat. I am not sure about swimming though, to be honest. I am more of a warm-water temperatures type of person, but it sure looks tempting! That, and I am not a big fan of rip currents (though, who is, right?)

    1. Oh gosh, I am terrified of oceans after growing up on the great lakes hahah there are beautiful beaches along the whole coast of each of our Great Lakes. The fresh water is so much better than the ocean, no salt, no sharks! If you go in August, the water temps will be the warmest 70f/31c and it will feel wonderful after the hot humid summer heat.

  15. Ooo, I’ve been to Michigan before but never knew about this place–it looks gorgeous! <3 I'd love to go hiking there someday!

  16. I love the idea of renting an RV and taking our time to explore the area for a few days at our own leisure. It sounds like there is so much to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes. Hiking through the dunes would be great exercise I imagine, so definitely need plenty of water for that. I’d also love to do the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

    1. That is a GREAT idea. I have some other posts on the west coast of Michigan that highlights all the best lake towns to visit! There is SO MUCH to see along all the Great Lakes coastlines.

  17. This place looks gorgeous! I’m from Wisconsin so this isn’t too terribly far from me! I hope to check out one day – with your helpful tips πŸ‘πŸ»

    1. Fellow midwester! I haven’t visited your state yet either. I have friends in Milwaukee I hope to visit after quarantine. I highly recommend summer road trips along the Great Lakes coastlines!

  18. Oh this sounds like so much fun! Would absolutely love to visit – especially interesting in the hiking trails along the Lakeshore. Great post and beautiful photos! πŸ™‚

  19. My husband is from Michigan and he often talks about the Sleeping Bear Dunes! I haven’t been with him – yet! – but we read a book about the legend of the dunes to our kids.

    1. How wonderful!! What city did he grow up in? I’m in the Detroit/Berkely area but I grew up in Lake Orion. Your kids would love it there. Especially running down the dunes!

  20. The hiking trails and beaches look so inviting, and floating down the river sounds so relaxing! I am always a bit fascinated by beaches next to the great lakes. It always blows my mind that freshwater can create such seaside-like beaches!

    1. Growing up on the Great Lakes I didn’t see an ocean until i was a teenager. I wasn’t that impressed with it because it looks just like the Great Lakes πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚I still prefer the fresh water, salt + shark free waters of the Great Lakes to the ocean haha

      1. Lol That makes total sense…it really does look the same!

  21. Looks so fun and family-friendly! Thanks for the check list. My friends & I love having an adventure check-list and we often make our own. This is perfect.

    1. oh yes, I’ve spent many summer days on top of the sand dunes watching the sunset on the horizon of the Great Lakes πŸ™ŒπŸ˜if you have the chance to visit one day, you will be pleasantly surprised by the beauty 😍

  22. Looks like so much fun! I have a friend who lives in Grand Rapids, and I’ve been wanting to get out and explore this area. The sand dunes look so cool and unique!

    1. Grand Rapids is one of the best cities in the state (in my opinion πŸ˜‰) if you have the chance to visit go beer/wine/cider hopping and visit the dunes!

  23. This looks like such a fun time! I think my family would love to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes. And really helpful tips too!!

  24. This place seems really lovely ! Would like to spend some days exploring, rent an RV seems so much fun as well πŸ™‚

  25. This is gorgeous and looks like such a fun trip. I’ve never been to Michigan, but I would love to visit this place. The sunset photo is so pretty.

  26. Hi, I was excited to read your article about Sleeping Bear Dunes. I am from Michigan (now in L.A.), and it was one of the places that I wanted but was never able to visit. What a beautiful lake! It looks like the view is well worth the climb. Thanks for the virtual tour! 😊

    1. I used to fly out to LA for work 4x a year, its quite the contrast to the Great Lakes state πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ i’m glad you enjoyed the tour πŸ€— I hope you can make it there someday!

  27. I’m always amazed at the places where these massive dunes are found. This looks like a great place to visit. I did a drive through Michigan a few years ago but wasn’t able to get to this spot. I guess I’ll have to go back.

    1. Oh yes you certainly should! We take summer road trips all over the state, visiting the different lake towns across the Great Lakes. Where did you visit when you were here?

  28. Great article! It was very informative and inspiring! I’ve always wanted to explore the lake region around Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota more.

  29. Wow looks like such a fun place to visit in the summer! I have never heard of this place before, thanks for sharing!

  30. Each time I hear about all the magnificent outdoor fun around the great lakes I vow to go back. But, I’ve only been to sections along Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. These unbelievable dunes sound like such an interesting feature and I hope to experience a steep uphill dune walk after a dip in Lake Michigan one day!

    1. I haven’t been on Lake Ontario but I have beached in Lake Erie – which in my opinion is the least appealing of the great lakes lol unfortunately there are 3 states that have access to it, and a lot of pollution over the years has made it not as clean/healthy as Lake Michigan/Lake Huron/Lake Superior.

  31. Very complete article! For me, who never heard about it before it is a discovery! Thanks! In France, Portugal and other countries in Europe Dunes are now in restricted access to protect them… is there no such issue in Michigan?

    1. The dunes on the National Lakeshore are protected under the federal government just like our National Parks! The whole coastline around the majority of Michigan has sand dunes and access to 4/5 of the great lakes!

  32. I have never heard of the sleeping bear dunes national park before! Looks like the perfect place to climb the dunes, play in the water and also go on scenic drives. Lake Michigan looks beautiful in its unique blue color! I am saving your blog for my future trip to this place. πŸ™‚

  33. The lazy river float sounds a lot less strenuous that hiking those dunes! They look like quite a workout. Is the dune sand pretty compact or is it hard going to get up them?

  34. I’m not familiar with the USA coastlines but this looks like the Caribbean, fabulous. Sounds a great place to visit especially with family and those sunsets are glorious.

  35. This looks beautiful! I love exploring coastlines 😊 I’ll definitely check it out if I’m ever in the area

  36. This place looks absolutely stunning! I’d love to go here when I eventually get to go on my USA road trip! Saving this for later! Thanks for the awesome read!

  37. Such a detailed and thorough guide to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Seems a perfect destination for solo and/or couples/ family. Pinned for future use.

  38. Wow, I’ve truly never heard of this place before but it looks absolutely stunning. Coming from the UK, I had no idea Michigan had shoreline like – awesome! Adding it to my list!

Did you enjoy this post? Comment below and let me know πŸ™‚

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!