Looking for a dose of the Caribbean in <checks notes> the Midwest? Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has all the Caribbean vibes with deep blue water, sandy beaches and beautiful hikes with overlooks of the shoreline.
If you are short on time, here are 8 awesome things to do on a Sleeping Bear Dunes day trip. In fact, they’re so awesome that you might be tempted to stay for more than a day!
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Table Of Contents
- Where is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore?
- Sleeping Bear Dunes Day Trip: Know Before You Go
- Sleeping Bear Dunes Day Trip: Top Things to Do
- 1 | Hike to some amazing views on the Alligator Hill Trail.
- 2 | Brave the Dune Climb.
- 3 | Drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
- 4 | Bike along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.
- 5 | Go tubing on the Platte River.
- 6 | Take a ferry to the Manitou Islands.
- 7 | Grab ice cream and a bite to eat in Glen Arbor.
- 8 | Relax at Glen Haven Beach (also called Sleeping Bear Beach).
- Enjoy your Sleeping Bear Dunes Day Trip
Where is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore?
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is located about 30 miles directly west of Traverse City. It’s on the western border of Michigan on Lake Michigan. The nearest town is Glen Arbor.
Because of its central location, Sleeping Bear Dunes is easy to access from both the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan. There is also a ferry service that runs across Lake Michigan from Wisconsin.
For comparison, Sleeping Bear Dunes is about 335 miles from Chicago and 275 miles from Detroit.
Sleeping Bear Dunes Day Trip: Know Before You Go
Unlike many of the US National Parks that have clear entry and exit points, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has many locations spread out along the lakeshore. It may not be obvious, but a national park pass is still required at all of the Sleeping Bear Dunes locations.
Fortunately, there are a lot of places where you can purchase a pass! Here is the current list of where to purchase a Sleeping Bear Dunes park pass.
Sleeping Bear Dunes Day Trip: Top Things to Do
1 | Hike to some amazing views on the Alligator Hill Trail.
This has to be one of the best Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking trails! The trail has three different routes, perfect for hikers of all different skill levels. All of the routes include a stop at the Islands Overlook with stunning views of the shoreline and Manitou Islands from above.
Read my detailed trail guide to plan your Alligator Hill Trail hike.
2 | Brave the Dune Climb.
The Dune Climb is one of the most popular destinations in Sleeping Bear Dunes. Essentially it’s a very large sand dune that you can climb up and over, a total of 3.5 miles from the parking lot to the shore of Lake Michigan and back.
But, be warned! This is a grueling hike with several safety risks to consider. First, there is zero shade on this hike. You are hiking up and down steep, hot sand. Second, while the hike down to Lake Michigan may take under 30 minutes, the hike back up the dune can take 2+ hours! It’s not uncommon for visitors to get stranded and have to be rescued on this hike – and that costs a pretty penny.
- Wear closed toe shoes to protect from the hot sand
- Layer up with plenty of sun protection
- Bring plenty of water
- Do the hike in the morning or evening to avoid the midday sun and heat
- Consider hiking just the first 0.5 miles to get a glimpse of Lake Michigan
Pro Tip: Want a similar dune hike experience with less risk? Try the Baldy Dune Trail in nearby Arcadia Dunes. This 1.8 mile out and back trail has stunning views but much of the trail is through a forest with plenty of shade.
3 | Drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
This 7.4 mile scenic drive winds through the forest, dunes, historical points of interest, a covered bridge and more at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Read more about 12 of the best stops along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive here.
Pro Tip: Download the National Park Service app for a free self-guided tour on this drive. Trailhead maps and park signage also have QR codes you can scan to download the app.
4 | Bike along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.
Explore this 20+ mile mostly paved trail (aside from a small section with crushed gravel) that extends from just south of Empire to the Good Harbor Trailhead. The path takes you past the Dune Climb, along Glenhaven Beach, through the town of Glen Arbor and even to the Alligator Hill Trailhead (see #1).
The trail is relatively flat with some smaller rolling hills, making the trail ideal for beginner and intermediate bicyclists. Find a map of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail here.
Pro Tip: If you are looking for a place to unload your own bikes, try parking at the picnic area across from the Dune Climb parking lot. It’s far less crowded and busy. Keep in mind that a park pass is still required to park in this lot!
There are convenient bike rental options available. The Cyclery, located in Glen Arbor, has easy access to the trail though they also offer delivery of bike rentals. Their shop is open 7 days/ week. Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak, located in Empire, also has easy access to the trail and is open every day except Sunday.
5 | Go tubing on the Platte River.
Tubing or kayaking the Platte River is a great way to spend a hot summer day in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Riverside Canoes, located in the town of Honor, offers two different tube rental options. If you’re short on time try the Loon and Walk, which a 45 minute float (1 hour total) that starts at their shop. If you’ve got more time and want to float all the way to the beach, try the Weir to Lake Michigan which is a 2-3 hour trip total. Both trips have a short distance you have to walk before or after the float.
Pro Tip: Ask for rope to tie several tubes together for a group float. They also have floating coolers available to rent for drinks and snacks!
6 | Take a ferry to the Manitou Islands.
Why not spend the day on an island? The Manitou Islands ferry runs nearly every day from mid-June to Labor Day with a reduced schedule early and late in the season. On the island, enjoy a day at the beach, climb to the top of the South Manitou Island lighthouse, or paddle along the shoreline.
There are limited services on South Manitou Island, so be sure to pack a lunch, water and anything else you need for the day. There are restrooms with running water at the village (where the boat docks) and outhouses elsewhere on the island. For a fee, kayaks and canoes can be transported on the ferry but rentals are not available on the island.
An alternative to spending the day on the island is to take a 1.5 hour guided cruise around North and South Manitou Islands.
7 | Grab ice cream and a bite to eat in Glen Arbor.
What better way to cool off than a scoop (or two) of ice cream? Be sure to stop at The Pine Cone in Glen Arbor for a treat! If you like cherries, walk over to Cherry Public House for cherry everything including ice cream and pie! They also have a full pub menu!
Unfortunately, my experience at Western Avenue Grill was underwhelming. The food was just ok and overpriced. I would give it a pass.
8 | Relax at Glen Haven Beach (also called Sleeping Bear Beach).
Grab your sunscreen and beach towel and head to the beach for an afternoon! The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail takes you right past this beach, not far from the Dune Climb. So, it’s a great place to stop on a bike ride!
There is a parking lot available but expect it to fill up by late morning. Street parking is available in the area. While you’re at the beach, be sure to stop at the Cannery Boathouse Museum and Glen Haven Village for a brief history of the area.
Enjoy your Sleeping Bear Dunes Day Trip
There are so many fun things to do on a Sleeping Bear Dunes day trip or extended visit. It is such a unique and beautiful part of the midwest!
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Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly adventure, enjoying a fishing trip with your buddies or reconnecting with the teenagers in your life, we’ve got ideas to help you make the most of your camping trip on the Platte River.. Traverse a trail by bike or on foot at one of many beautiful sites around Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Platte River.. We love to hike The Old Indian Trail, which is close to Riverside Canoes and the Lower Platte River.. You can find Sleeping Bear Dune hiking trails here .. A trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes isn’t complete without hearing the Legend of Sleeping Bear.. The ancient Chippewa legend tells the story of a mother bear and her two cubs, escaping a fire and traveling a great distance to the shores of Lake Michigan.. You’ll also find legends for the Petoskey stone, Loon, Mackinaw Island and more, from local publisher Sleeping Bear Press .. Sleeping Bear Dunes has some of the best sunsets in the world.. Because of its rare location, you are sure to see a never-ending sky.. But for the view that earned us the title America’s Most Beautiful Place you’ll want to watch the sunset inside Sleeping Bear Dunes from overlook 9 & 10 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive .. Before you can enjoy your trip you need to book it!. Consider off-season camping in the fall and spring when crowds are smaller.. We hope you’ll stop by and say hi when you’re looking for things to do while camping in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
With that being said, one of the best spots to explore on Michigan’s coasts is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.. Here is your Sleeping Bear Dunes travel guide with all of the activities and things to do in the area.. Around 100 miles of trails are available for use in Sleeping Bear Dunes.. Other than on the roads, the only spot to ride your bicycle in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is on the Heritage Trail.. For a beautiful hike, take the Sleeping Bear Point Trail out over the dunes.. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a beautiful, but a popular spot to visit in Michigan.
Last month we headed up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Michigan for the first time and spent a great week exploring the area!. I’ll give you the inside scoop on things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes, where to stay at Sleeping Bear Dunes, and our favorite parts of the Northern Michigan and Traverse City areas!. You’re close to all the cute towns, like Leland and Glen Arbor, you’re right on the lake, you’re not far from the dune climb, and you get the best of both worlds with the lake and the pools right there.. This is the best spot at Sleeping Bear Dunes to get amazing views of the gorgeous blue Lake Michigan!. This same day we also traversed some of the Sleeping Bear Dunes trails including the infamous Sleeping Bear Dune climb, which the kids really enjoyed!. So as you can see, we had a very busy Day Three visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes!. Day Four (Tuesday) : today we relaxed at the cabins and went out on the kayaks, swam in the lake, and enjoyed some local food and ice cream.
Tucked away near sleepy Empire, Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is home to white sand beaches, incredible views, and beautiful hiking trails.. Around two miles round trip, this trail takes you to the top of Empire Bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, with sweeping views of the coast and North Bar Lake.. The Empire Bluffs Trail is one of the most popular trails in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, with one of the most iconic Michigan views.. The scenic drive has some of the best short and easy hikes in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.. The Manitou Islands offer a true backcountry hiking experience in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
It’s worth timing a trip around these showers as the rangers share the best spots for sky viewing as well as constellation and star lore.. There are 21 lakes in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore park, and the park’s shoreline spans for 35 miles along Lake Michigan.. Whether you are looking to charter a boat, paddle out in a kayak or stand in shallow waters in waders, there is a perfect fishing spot waiting for you.. Inland lakes like Otter, Bass, and Glen Lake provide great spots for catching trout, bluegill, perch and more – and in the fall, you might even snag a few salmon coming down the Platte River!. For deep water fishing, charter a boat and get a local’s inside scoop on the best fishing spots on Lake Michigan.. Both islands are the “cubs” in the park's namesake legend of the sleeping bears.. Hit the tracks on the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.. The park has the best beaches in the Great Lakes according to a national beach expert who zeroed in on the clear water, fine sand, soaring dunes and beach abundance.. There are 35 miles of shoreline beach on the park's Lake Michigan shoreline, another 30 miles if you count the park's two islands.. The trip (two riders minimum) soars over Glen Lake, Glen Arbor and the Sleeping Bear Dunes.. Head to the Platte or Crystal rivers, both notable for frequent sightings of graceful water birds and salmon that head upstream in fall.. Enjoy the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive , a series of stops at which your scavenger hunt reward is the distinct scenery, forests or dunes you'll find at each.. Hiking Along the Sleeping Bear Dunes | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan. There are 13 distinct hiking trails in the park, and the overlooks with wide expanses of Lake Michigan are popular for photo-taking, engagements and more.. Sleeping Bear's west-facing beaches are made for sunsets.
A trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is perfect for any type of family vacation .. There is a private beach you can use when you are not out in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and the hot tub is perfect after a long day out on the trails.. Each one of the available options are within a few miles of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, which means you will spend less time traveling and more time having fun within this outdoor location.. The spring , summer, and fall months in Sleeping Bear Dunes bring nice weather and that means that there are more things you can do during those times of the year.. The winter months at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park usually brings snow and cold.. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes winter.. It is always best if you plan your trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore well in advance, so you know exactly what you are doing once you arrive.
Where are the best spots for hiking in Sleeping Bear Dunes?. Following the blue topped posts through the sand to end at Lake Michigan When you first arrive in Sleeping Bear Dunes, stop at a visitor’s center to grab a free map.. 8 miles.. To access the Platte Plains trails from the Trail’s End trailhead, continue south from the visitor center on M-22 for 6 miles.. The Empire Bluff Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes is quite popular for its Lake Michigan scenic overlooks.. You’ll instead view them from above.. How to get there: From the visitor center, head north on M-22 for 3.7 miles, then turn left onto M-109.. Treat yourself to views that overlook Lake Michigan, Glen Lake, and the D.H. Day Farm in the distance.. This is the 2.8-mile loop.. You’ll find the trailhead at the end of the road in less than 1 mile.. Best Viewpoints: Cottonwood Trail Best Terrain Variety: Old Indian Trails Best Overnight Hike: Platte Plains Trail Best Easy Hike: Empire Bluff Trail Best Moderate Hike: Sleeping Bear Point Trail Best Advanced Hike: Dune Climb Best Hike with Children: Pyramid Point Trail
The iconic Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes.. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is blessed with many great beaches.. With 35 miles of Lake Michigan mainland shoreline, Sleeping Bear Dunes boasts some of the best beaches in the entire Great Lakes region.. Park officials are currently working to develop better resources for sharing this important part of Sleeping Bear Dunes' history, but in the meantime, visitors can find stories and signage online, at the park’s Phillip A. Hart Visitors Center, at certain stops along Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, and at the Platte River Picnic Area.. Founded in 2013, the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail spans the entire 123 miles of M-22, with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore smack in the middle.. Boat, swim or fish the day away in six distinct regions, including the Manitou Islands.. Plan a summer camping trip.. Check out Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes.. There are three spots in the park to stock up: The visitors center in Empire, the Dune Climb Book Store and the Glen Haven General Store.
The park, operated by the National Park Service, protects – you’ll never guess – huge sand dunes, North and South Manitou Islands, and some historical sites relevant to Great Lakes history.. The Lake Michigan Overlook is the most popular spot on the Pierce-Stocking Scenic Drive.. There are other stops along the way that offer views of Glen Lake, a smaller inland lake, and the original though much eroded sleeping bear dune.. There are lots of hiking trails with views of the lake and mainland, and South Manitou also has its own little lake within it .. If the Caribbean-blue waters of Lake Michigan have tempted you for a swim, there are places at the National Lakeshore to go for a dip without having to climb back up a 400+ foot dune like the one along the Pierce-Stocking route.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is more than just towering sand dunes – although they are pretty spectacular.. Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook There are just some things that are MUSTS when you visit Sleeping Bear Dunes.. You’ll want to know what to see in the dunes, the best Lake Michigan beaches and which beach towns to check out.. In addition to dunes that tower up to 450 feet, lush forests and popular lakes like Glen Lake, Lake Leelanau, Little Traverse Lake and more, there’s towns like Empire, Glen Arbor, Glen Haven Historic Village and Leland.. Platte River Beach Beach, Swimming, ADA-Accessible Restrooms
We read reviews and only planned to climb the initial hill by the parking lot with our kids under 5, but we ended up going to marker 15 where we could see Lake Michigan in the distance.. The hike is strenuous so definitely bring water (even for the first hill if it’s hot out) and food (if you plan to make it to Lake Michigan).. You can see Lake Michigan in the distance if you climb to the very top of the first/main dune, but to get anywhere near it is going to take some effort.. Most travelers interested in visiting Sleep Bear Dunes National Lakeshore will have heard of and read about the challenging “Dune Climb.” This is not a climb from the shore of Lake Michigan but one inland starting from a parking lot and the starting point of the Dune Trail that will take you to the lake.. The suggestions below are based on the assumption you want to hike to Lake Michigan (and back) and not just climb the big dune.. The Dune Trail lay straight ahead but we climbed the dune to our right for a higher point of view.. As we climbed the dune we expected to arrive at Lake Michigan over every hill.. The dune climb is the ultimate experience at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and a real bucket-list item.. Hiked the Dune Hike late in the day (5:30).
ReviewsTotal review count and overall rating based on Viator and Tripadvisor reviews. We have been here to see the dunes on our own, but the guided tour was so much more than I expected.. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about everything we saw.. It was all memorable; the many stops, the long hike, all the fantastic views, the historical information, our guide Matt, the tasty picnic lunch, and the beautiful warm weather and sunshine.. We highly recommend this tour.. Highly recommend this tour!. Our driver was an excellent orator , extremely detail , passionate, humorous at times with sharing so much knowledge about the tour.. Matt, our tour guide was fantastic and very knowledgeable, the bus was clean and inviting with the snacks and drinks that Matt provided for our trip.. We wore masks when we learned that the other 2 on the tour bus were not safe.. I learned to not get on another such tour bus unless I know that people are safe and wearing masks.. After consulting with the writer of this review, they have requested that the review be taken down due to the real source of contention being an overall concern in general about peoples refusal to get a Covid vaccine.. It is not about our company, the guide nor the tour itself.
Check it out to discover 45 fun things to do on road trips with friends.. Looking for fun things to do in the car on road trips?. The following 45 fun things to do during a road trip should help!. Tracking your route on a map might not sound like one of the fun things to do on a road trip in the car.. You might have days on the road with the same road trip travel companions.. For more joke-related fun things to do in the car on a road trip, you could spice things up a bit and have a competition to see who can tell the worst one.. With so much road to cover, you’ll definitely need some road trip food to keep the munchies at bay!. Looking for fun things to do on road trips and fancy having a giggle?. Basically, while researching the next stop on your road trip, you could challenge each other to come up with 3 things to do there.. These are often the most fun things to do on a long road trip.. Camping out along the way is an awesome thing to do on a car road trip with friends.. Fun things to do in the car on road trips are great.. In any case, making TikTok videos would be a fun way to pass the time, record the trip, and let your friends back home know how much fun you’re having!. You’ll never feel bored or let down if you know the best things to do on a road trip.. Pin these road trip things to do!
It stretches along the Lake Michigan shore for miles and offers tons of recreation opportunities and spectacular views of my favorite Great Lake.. Spanning 35 miles of the Lake Michigan coast , it protects (as its name would indicate) large sand dunes, North and South Manitou Islands, as well as some historical spots where you can learn about Great Lakes history.. The cubs didn’t make the crossing and became the two large islands offshore (North and South Manitou) and the mother, waiting on shore for her babies, became a large sand dune that is said to have resembled a sleeping bear, though over time the dune has changed in size and shape.. Climbing down the steep sand dune to the lake for a swim isn’t prohibited, but the climb back up is long and strenuous and the NPS has signs warning that you’ll be charged if you need to be rescued.. There are other stops along the way that offer views of Glen Lake, a smaller inland lake, and the original though much eroded sleeping bear dune.. For those of you wanting to try your hand at climbing a sand dune, head a couple miles north of the Pierce-Stocking Scenic Drive to the Dune Climb area .. The nice thing about the dune climb is that because the parking lot is below it, if you’re climbing and get tired, you can just turn around and let gravity assist you on the way down, whereas if you’re climbing the dune on the Pierce-Stocking Scenic Drive, you have to keep plodding uphill.. If the Pierce-Stocking Scenic Drive gave you a craving for a swim in Lake Michigan, there are places in the park to go for a dip without the 400+ foot climb.
While there are countless opportunities to kayak in Northern Michigan, one of the best places to kayak is Sleeping Bear Dunes.. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a popular attraction for kayakers who want a variety of water to launch their boat.. There is an average of 12-15 days that will see rain, and October is the last month until April that visitors can bring their kayaks out.. This also includes parking on the road when the parking lots are full.. A park pass is required to park and launch at Good Harbor Bay Beach, plus a $10 parking fee.. This launch site is located at the west end of Bohemian Road and is 123 feet from the parking lot to the beach.. Crystal River Outfitters is located at 6249 W. River Road, Glen Arbor, MI, near the Crystal River.
Whether you’re camping, taking a day trip, or hitting up the Northern Michigan area, we’ll help you plan your trip to the dunes with tips and resources to get your visit started.. And now there exists a North and South Manitou island – just offshore – and you can see the formations on a clear day from the Sleeping Bear Dunes, which are said to be the two baby bears.. The park is located right near the Traverse City area.. There are a few 4-hour hikes that you can take all the way to Lake Michigan, so make sure to bring plenty of water and be prepared for the elements if you’re planning on making the long treks.. Sleeping Bear Dunes is heavily associated with the dunes, but there are actually many places to go and see outside of the dunes, such as beaches, lighthouses, inland lakes, etc.. Water Activities – Platt River empties into Lake Michigan, making it a fantastic place to get your water activities on.. A popular way to get around and see the various sites within the park is the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.. There are a few camping options nearby.. Planning a trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes depends greatly on how long the trip will be.. Are you going for a day trip, camping, or staying a few days?. The Dunes are about a 45-minute drive from Traverse City.. Outside of the park, there is a lot to see or visit in the area.. If you wanted to take a National Park tour, you could start at the Indiana Dunes in the southern part of Michigan, drive up to Sleeping Bear Dunes, and then keep going north to visit the Pictured Rocks National Park there too – a 3-in-1 National Park road trip in Michigan.
Getting to Antelope Island State Park: Antelope Island is just an hour from Salt Lake City on I-15 North and UT-108 North across Farmington Bay.. Getting to Brigham City: Brigham City is essentially a straight shot north from Salt Lake via the I-15.. Fly fishing is just one of many sports that are on offer throughout the year in the Wasatch Mountains © Getty Images Twenty miles south of Park City, Heber City (population 15,792) and its vast valley make an alternative base for exploring the surrounding mountains.. Getting to Herber City and Midway: Herber City is 43 minutes from Salt Lake via I-80 E and US-189/US-40 East, just on the other side of Wasatch peaks like Park City and Bald Mountain.. Ogden blends aspects of a mountain town and a college town just a short jaunt from Salt Lake City © Alamy Stock Photo During Ogden's heyday, historic 25th St was lined with brothels and raucous saloons; today the restored buildings house restaurants, galleries, bakeries and bars.. Since skiing here is more than an hour's drive from Salt Lake City, most metro-area residents head to Park City or the SLC resorts, leaving Snowbasin and Powder Mountain luxuriously empty.. Getting to Park City: Park City is about 40 minutes from downtown Salt Lake via I-80 East.. Getting to Goblin Valley State Park: Goblin Valley is admittedly a stretch for a day trip, at three and a half hours from Salt Lake City.
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