Empire: Small Town, Big View, Big Heart

Have you ever heard of Empire? Many outside of Michigan probably have not. Locals can even be found bragging about Empire’s slow pace of life in the heart of the awe-inspiring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Real people of all walks of life (just shy of 400 of them) live year ‘round in Empire, more come just for the summer. And who can blame them?

Empire Bluffs is one of the most popular photo-taking spots in all of Michigan

Photo Courtesy of Experience 231

It’s one of those places you think just exists in stories. Stunning natural beauty in all four seasons, friendly shop owners selling gourmet chocolate, freshwater surf boards and bikes, antiques, local art and of course, great burgers, whitefish, perch and ice cream. But there’s something about the people and environment here that draws you in and makes you never want to go back home. The community is known for working hard together to make a living while at the same time enjoying themselves, creating a quirky community and not taking life too seriously.

These are the people who cut a big hole in the ice in February and jump in and come together to celebrate spring’s coming and its first local crop with the renowned Empire Asparagus Festival. Parades in Empire “are so nice, they go around twice.” All we’ve got is time some days so why not?

There's incredible beauty to be found in Empire no matter the season

There’s incredible beauty to be found in Empire no matter the season

Locals migrate west down to the public beach right on Lake Michigan for sunsets in the summer, almost the latest one in the eastern time zone. After looking for the infamous green flash as the sun dips below the horizon, bonfires are built and people gather to sing songs of Great Lakes pirates, rogue waves and the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Surely you’ll come for the incredible Lake Michigan waves to surf, shallows of North Bar, Platte or Otter Creek to play all day and possibly pick up a skim board habit, miles of epic trail to hike, bike, ski or horseback ride and the incredibly legendary vistas of Dunes and Caribbean-like azure and emerald water, but it’s the people you’ll meet in the businesses and walking down the street that will get you wondering, “people get to live here too? Lucky.”

The beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes are truly breathtaking

Photo Courtesy of Chris Arace

So don’t just tell your friends about the green flash, the parade that goes around twice or the miles of sugar sand beach…experience it for yourself.

What do you love most about Empire? Share with us by commenting below!

Five Places to Discover Amazing Sand Dunes in Michigan

It’s no secret that Michigan is home to some beautiful places – from sandy beaches and amazing forests to crisp, blue water and massive sand dunes! Michigan has more than 300,000 acres of sand dunes that offer breathtaking views or thrilling experiences across the state, some of which have been getting national acclaim for their beauty.

Take a look at the roundup below to learn more about some of the many sand dunes across the state. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Empire
Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore encompasses a 60 km (35 mi.) stretch of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline, as well as North and South Manitou Islands. The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park was established primarily for its outstanding natural features, including forests, beaches, dune formations and ancient glacial phenomena. Named by Good Morning America as “The Most Beautiful Place in America” and voted one of

America’s Top 10 Family Destinations by Family Fun magazine, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are a must see destination. More information about tours, trails and more can be found here.

Empire-Bluffs

Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Saugatuck
The Saugatuck Dunes State Park is a day-use park along a secluded strip of Lake Michigan shoreline, Saugatuck Dunes State Park offers 2.5 miles of shore line. The park has fresh water coastal dunes that are over 200 feet tall. The park’s terrain varies from steep slopes to rolling hills. Visit the website for more information.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes
HartMears and Pentwater
The Silver Lake Sand Dunes are a beach paradise! These massive dunes are nestled along the shore of Lake Michigan and Silver Lake —the only sand dunes in Michigan where you can drive your own ORV—and miles of pristine shoreline beaches designed for pure family fun. The Silver Lake Sand Dunes encompass the towns of Hart, Mears, and Pentwater making it the perfect spot for a family vacation with miles of tree-lined bike trails, historic towns, a lighthouse and more. Spend the morning on the dunes, the afternoon in the water and finish the day in one of the charming villages for a relaxing dinner at a locally owned restaurant. Visit the website to plan your trip.

Silver Lake Sand Dunes - Margaret Jane Ginster

Silver Lake Dunes, Photo Courtesy of Margaret Jane Ginster

Grand Sable Banks and Dunes
Munising
Located about one mile west Grand Marais; the best place to view is from the trail beginning at the Sable Falls parking area. Another access point for the dunes is from the North Country Trail, one-quarter mile east of the Log Slide. Please stay on the trail as the dunes vegetation is fragile. Five square miles of Grand Sable Dunes are perched atop the 300-foot high Grand Sable Banks. Left by enormous glaciers, the Grand Sable Dunes dwarf comprehension. A portion of the Grand Sable Dunes is set aside as a Research Natural Area. For more information visit the website here.

Warren Dunes State Park
Sawyer
Warren Dunes has three miles of shoreline, six miles of hiking trails and is open year-round. It also has a dune formation that rises 260 feet above the lake with spectacular views and 1,952 acres of recreational opportunity. We have 221 modern & rustic campsites and three modern mini cabins. Visit the website for more information.

Where’s your favorite place to visit the dunes in Michigan? Share with us below and learn more on michigan.org.

Lake Advice from Our Fans: What to Do in West Michigan

For the last month or so, our Facebook fans have been giving us great advice on their favorite things to do all around Pure Michigan. First up on our list is West Michigan, home to fantastic destinations like Traverse City, Ludington and Kalamazoo. Here is a round-up of what to do in the western part of the Great Lakes state.

Find your lake this summer by visiting michigan.org/lakeeffect

Grand Haven, Ludington, Traverse City, Holland, Manistee, Sleeping Bear Dunes all are such wonderful locations to visit. We love the west coast of Michigan most of all. We Buckeyes cannot wait to return.  In any season!” – Sondra Snyder

“Don’t miss Grand Haven! Love the beaches, lighthouses, boardwalk, Musical Fountain, trolley and sunsets!” – Stefanie Herder

Photo Courtesy of Trevor Billinghurst

Grand Haven, Photo Courtesy of Trevor Billinghurst

South Haven anytime of the year; sand dunes, lighthouses and magnificent sunsets.” – Amanda McGauley

“Benzie County in the north and the wineries in the south.” – Steven Lynn

Allegan is a super charming small town in West MI on the Kalamazoo river with a beautiful boardwalk.” – Peg Eileen

Empire Bluff Trail has the most incredible view of Sleeping Bear Dunes.” – Gregg Burian

Photo Courtesy of Tamie Pietrantonio

Empire Bluff Trail, Photo Courtesy of Tamie Pietrantonio

Kalamazoo Air Zoo. Holland and Windmill Island. South Haven Lighthouse. St. Joseph Silver Beach.” – Marvin Darling

“Leelanau Peninsula! Sleeping Bear Dunes!” – Kerri Tang

Leland (fishtown) and Traverse City area and wineries!” – Trudy McLeod

Photo Courtesy of S. Young

Carlson’s Fisheries in Leland, Photo Courtesy of S. Young

“Walking and riding on the Silver Lake Sand Dunes! And laying on anything that floats on Silver Lake.” – The Sand Box

“Go to a concert or performance at Interlochen Center for the Arts!” – Valerie Beth Gilbert

Is there anything we missed? Let us know what you love to do in West Michigan by commenting below!