In this guide we’re exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore which is fantastic! These Lake Michigan sand dunes tower over the lake and provide some really impressive views. Watch the video of our visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and all the things to do here. Then keep reading to learn about how you can plan to visit, things to do, where to stay, and where to eat!
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In this guide we share all the things you need to know to plan your own trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore!
About Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was established in 1970 and is made up of 65 miles of Lake Michigan lakeshore. Overlooks here are about 400ft above the lake. The dunes are perched on top of headlands that are glacial moraines.
When To Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is open year round, but some locations close between Labor Day and Memorial Day. The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive also closes to vehicle traffic but is open for foot traffic from November to April.
How To Get To Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is on the west side of Michigan on the shores of Lake Michigan. It is in the northwestern part of the lower peninsula and about 25 miles west of Traverse City which you can fly into or take a bus from. You can also reach Sleeping Bear Dunes by roadtripping with your own vehicle from some of the larger cities like Detroit and Chicago, or wherever you are coming from!
Cost To Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
There is a cost to enter the national lakeshore and you can check the park website fee page for current rates for a 7 day period, or you could purchase an annual pass. Various passes will get you in for no additional cost if you do have them such as the American The Beautiful Pass.
Things To Do At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is full of many varied things to see and do. We recommend you take at least a full day if not a couple days or more to see and enjoy the park. Here are several sights, overlooks, scenic drives, and hikes we would recommend!
Stop by the Visitor Center
The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center is a great place to stop to grab a map and talk with rangers about any hikes you want to do and questions you may have. If you have kids, pick up Junior Ranger packets for them to do while at the park and learn more about Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
There are several other centers operated by the National Park Service here that you may want to check out as well if you have time, including:
- South Manitou Island Visitor Center
- Port Oneida Heritage Center
- The Dune Center
- Glen Haven General Store
There are about 100 miles of hiking trails at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. A full list can be found on the park’s hiking page, but below are a couple examples.
Empire Bluff Trail
The Empire Bluff Trail is 1.5 miles long. The trail leads to a high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. You can grab a self-guided brochure at the trailhead. You get a really spectacular view at the end and the water looks quite blue along the shoreline.
Pyramid Point Trail
This loop 2.7 miles long. You can take a spur to a lookout point over Lake Michigan. If you don’t want to do the entire loop hike, the overlook is about 0.6 miles from the trailhead.
You can either just check out the first part of the Dune Climb, go part way up and just enjoy the first dune like we did, or you can do the entire Dunes Trail hike. The full hike will take you over 9 dunes, a distance of 3.5 miles roundtrip, all the way out to Lake Michigan. If you do go the entire way, be prepared for hot and sunny conditions, bring lots of water, wear shoes, and carefully follow the trail markings which are posts with blue tops.
We climbed the first dune and after looking at the continuation of the trail, made our way back down again and let our kids play in the sand. The kids were perfectly content to find a patch of sand, and they would have just played there all day long.
Bike ride the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a 22-mile paved multi-use trail that winds through the National Lakeshore. It will eventually be 27 miles long. It has several trailheads including one at the Dune Climb. You can simply walk the trail, or you can bike it!
Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a 7.4 mile loop through part of the park.
Pierce Stocking was a lumberman who loved the area and wanted to share the beauty of the place with others. As a lumberman, he conceived the idea of the road and building it through the forest, through the difficult terrain. And in fact that’s what he did, and he maintained the road until 1976 upon his death. Then it was purchased and became part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
There is a sign at the first stop on the drive showing where his trail originally went compared to today’s road. Back then it even went out onto some of the dunes. I think back then it was 14 miles long. It’s a bit shorter today, but it still shows you the beauty of the area. There are 12 waypoints along the road that show different scenic areas.
You can pick and choose the stops to park and get out at, while some you might just drive on by. We’ve put an asterisk next to the ones we stopped at below.
- #1 Covered Bridge*
- #2 Glen Lake Overlook*
- #3 Dune Overlook*
- #4 Cottonwood Trail*
- #5 Dune Ecology
- #6 Leaving the Sand Dunes
- #7 Beech-Maple Forest
- #8 Changes Over Time
- #9 Lake Michigan Overlook*
- #10 Sleeping Bear Dune Overlook*
- #11 North Bar Lake Overlook*
- #12 Pine Plantation
Lake Michigan Overlook
In our opinion definitely stop at #9 (Lake Michigan Overlook) and #10 (Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook) even if you don’t stop anywhere else, as these were the most impressive.
#9 at the Lake Michigan Overlook really is a spectacular view of the lakeshore and a fantastic spot for watching the sunset. There is an observation platform here as well just a short walk from the parking lot. You’ll be about 450 feet above the lake level. From here it is very steep down to the lake and there are warning signs here as well encouraging people not to try to go down as the cost of rescue is high.
The second overlook at #10 Sleeping Bear Dune Overlook is a bit further through the sand, so it also provides more solitude, but the Lake Michigan Overlook gives you more of a 180 degree sweeping view of the whole lakeshore.
There are numerous beaches that you can choose from the spend the day or catch a sunset. Check out Platte River Point beach, Esch Beach (aka Otter Creek Beach), North Bar Lake, Glen Haven Beach, County Road 669 Beach, or County Road 651 Beach.
And of course the list goes on including:
- Lighthouses – several lighthouses are in the park, visible from it, or nearby.
- North & South Manitou Islands – you can access the islands by private boat or ferry service for backpacking and camping.
- Inland Lakes – there are 21 lakes within the national lakeshore!
- Glen Haven – restored logging village with General Store, Cannery Boathouse, and Blacksmith Shop.
- Port Oneida – historical farms and heritage center.
- Maritime Museum – here they say you can learn about the history of the U.S. Life-Saving Service, U.S. Coast Guard, and Great Lakes shipping.
Where To Stay At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
There are various options for where you can stay in the area. We brought our RV and stayed at the national park campground. We’ll tell you about this and other options below.
Camping in the National Park
There are several options for camping in the park, including:
Platte River Campground
The Platte River campground is where we camped with our RV. Loops 1-3 have electric, but in loop 4 where we stayed it was primitive camping only. They did not allow generators. We also got one of the only sites that was long enough to accommodate our rig and it was still a little bit tight so beware of that if you have a larger rig. It is a nice campground though and was really quiet.
D.H. Day Campground
In the north end of the park there is the D.H. Day Campground. They do have some sites up there that do allow generators to run during certain hours, but other than that it’s still primitive camping with no electric. These sites seemed smaller in general with more trees to navigate.
- Camping On North or South Manitou Island
- White Pine Backcountry Camp
In Towns Around The National Park
For other places to stay nearby, check out the NPS Nearby Attractions page for links to individual area Chambers of Commerce and Visitors Bureaus with various suggestions.
- For example, search the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitor Bureau suggested accommodations here.
Where To Eat & Drink
There are a multitude of options in towns around the park. Check out the NPS Nearby Attractions page for links to individual area Chambers of Commerce and Visitors Bureaus with various suggestions. For example:
- Leelanau Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Dining Suggestions
- Traverse City Food & Drink
- Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau Restaurants
We hope this gives you several ideas to add to your list of amazing things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Check out some of them and you’re sure to have a great time. Let us know if there’s anything else you would add to your list of amazing things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore!
Ready To Plan Your Trip To Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore?
If you’re ready to plan your own trip, download the free Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Trip Planner, with all the things to do, places to stay, and where to eat on one easy to reference page. You can print it out, or save it to your phone for when you’re out and about! It even has a link to this blog post and each item mentioned so you can get all the details on the go!
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