Four Reasons to Love Springtime at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, Michigan is a wonderful place to visit year-round. Today, photographer Neil Weaver tells us what makes Good Morning America’s choice of “The Most Beautiful Place in America” special in the springtime.

Now that the cold days of winter have surrendered to the warmth of spring, the landscape around us is brand new again. The blooms and blossoms give us vibrant colors that we’ve been missing since last autumn. As a nature and landscape photographer one of my favorite places to photograph this time of year is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The Setting

Spring is an excellent season to visit. The wildflowers are out, the climate is comfortable and the park is peaceful. Upon arrival the first thing you will notice is that this park is not simply sand dunes but a diverse group of forests, streams, inland lakes, beaches, historic buildings, and hiking trails. 

The Beaches

The beaches within the park make for excellent photography subjects.  Whether you visit Platte River Point with its river winding out into Lake Michigan, Esch Beach with the towering Empire Bluffs in view, or Good Harbor Bay with its deep aqua-blue water, it is worth your while to take the time to see each one.  These are just a few of the beautiful beaches you can explore as each one along this 35 mile stretch of lakeshore is pleasantly unique.

The Views

For panoramic views of the area’s unique landscape, I like to stop at the park’s scenic overlooks as I take a ride around Pierce Stocking Drive. This seven-mile driving loop is full of stunning views of the dunes, Lake Michigan, and nearby Glen Lake.  The park also has some short hikes that lead to breathtaking lookouts at Alligator Hill, Empire Bluff, and Pyramid Point. I guarantee that after getting a glimpse of the scenery from these spots you won’t want to leave!

The Trails

When I want the full experience of the Sleeping Bear Dunes I take a walk along one of the park’s many hiking trails, which vary in length and difficulty.  To photograph the large expanse of wind-sculpted dunes I enjoy walking the Dunes Trail.  This path winds up and down through sandy terrain past dune grasses, juniper, thistles and bearberries.  The highlight of the hike is passing through the Ghost Forest, an old grove of sun-bleached trees that have been overtaken by the shifting sand.  When standing among them you’ll feel like you’re in another world.

The park’s features mentioned above only scratch the surface of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – a lifetime could be spent exploring and enjoying every corner of the park, realistically. The best part is knowing that at the end of your stay you will leave with some great photos and a lot of good memories. 

To see more photos of the Sleeping Bear Dunes visit Neil’s website and Facebook fan page.

Neil Weaver is a landscape photographer and proud Michigander.  He travels throughout Michigan photographing the state’s beaches, lighthouses and parks.

Will you be making a visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore this season? Share with us below!

Along Lake Michigan

How much can you discover in one day? Joshua Nowicki, a St. Joseph local, recently found out as he explored the coast of Lake Michigan earlier this fall. Today, Joshua shares his experience with us.

Read about it below and let us know where your favorite place to take a day trip in Michigan is!

Kite surfer near Muskegon, Michigan

Michigan’s Great Lakes feature an astounding number of parks and nature preserves.  Equally amazing is how few of them I have had the opportunity to visit despite being a lifelong Michigander.

So often when I travel, I concern myself with the amount of time that it is going to take for me to get from Point A to Point B.  I have stubbornly ignored dozens of billboards and Pure Michigan signs encouraging me to “Stop, slow down, and enjoy Michigan’s beauty along the way.”

This has been a folly of mine, and this is a wrong that I intend to right.  I recently decided to start taking day trips that do not have set destinations and let the sun determine how far I travel.  I want to focus on all of the ‘places in between’ that I have overlooked in the past and gain a deeper appreciation for my home state.

Holland, Michigan

For my first trip, I wanted to find out how many parks and nature preserves I could visit along the coast of Lake Michigan in one day.  Between busy work days, I planned an adventure, part personal challenge and part scavenger hunt.  How many different locations along Lake Michigan could I photograph? 

I started in the early morning at the City Beach in New Buffalo and completed my journey with a beautiful sunset at Pioneer County Park in Muskegon.  Along the way I visited 24 additional locations, many of which I had never even heard of before.

A few highlights:

  • Enjoyed watching deer walk across foggy dunes at Warren Dunes State Park
  • Talked with fishermen on the pier at Silver Beach County Park while standing under the monumental sculpture ‘And You, Seas’ by Richard Hunt
  • Delighted at seeing the Friends Good Will Tall Ship in South Haven.  
  • Waded in the water and rested on the beach at Pier Cove Park.
  • Watched sailboats near Saugatuck.
  • Stood amazed by the breathtaking view of Lake Michigan from Tunnel Park.
  • Felt exhausted and accomplished after walking the trails at Rosy Mound Natural Area.
  • Marveled at the patterns in the windblown sands of P.J. Hoffmaster State Park.
  • Enjoyed the view of the autumn leaves and Lake Michigan from Muskegon State Park Blockhouse.
  • Stood in awe of the paddle and kite surfers at multiple locations throughout my trip.
  • Relaxed on the beach at the end of the day and enjoyed the sunset from Pioneer County Park.

    Pioneer County Park, Muskegon, Michigan

My trip was fun, beautiful and tiring.  I hiked miles through woodland trails, over sand dunes and climbed thousands of steps on boardwalks.  I intend to return to and spend more time hiking the trails, wading in the water and appreciating all of the new destinations I have newly ‘discovered’ close to home. 

I look forward to my next road trip along the Great Lakes in Pure Michigan… See you there!

Joshua Nowicki is the Director of Community Relations at the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph, Michigan and is a member of the board of directors of the Michigan Museums Association where he serves as the Vice President for Marketing.  Joshua’s interest in photography began while working for a museum in the Metro Detroit area, photographing artifacts, exhibits and events.  After moving to St. Joseph, Michigan in 2011, he started taking nature photographs to encourage his friends and relatives to visit and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the area.  Joshua’s inspirations range from Lake Michigan and wildlife to sculpture and architecture.

Five Great Lakes in 24 Hours

Kathryn Kinville and Shelby Kear are two proud Michiganders who met in college. They recently took on the challenge of conquering all five Great Lakes in one day. Today, Kathryn shares their adventure on our blog.

Shelby Kear and I have been friends since 2003 when we met our freshman year at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids.  Shelby is from Petoskey and I am from Northville, and we are both proud to be called Michiganders!  When Shelby saw someone wearing a t-shirt that said, “I swam in all five great lakes in one day,” we knew what we had to do – a great adventure to all the Great Lakes.  And what a perfect day: 5-24-2012, 5 great lakes in 24 hours!

The Chevy Equinox was packed with beach towels, swimsuits, and a cooler full of Guernsey Farm Dairy Chocolate Milk and water.  Waking up at 5:45 a.m., we grabbed a quick breakfast, brushed our teeth, and put on our swimsuits.  By 6:15, we were at stop number one – beautiful Lake Michigan.  Let’s just say there was no need for coffee; the chilly water woke us right up!  

Stop number two was Lake Superior at 8:30 a.m. in Sault Ste. Marie.  The water was low so we had far to walk until the water was deep enough to swim.  By that time our toes were popsicles, but we still managed to go under water and swim around.  It was a beautiful morning, but we couldn’t stay long, as we still had three more lakes to swim in that day.

The longest drive of the trip was from Sault Ste. Marie to Sarnia, Ontario.  We made one stop to get gas, ate our turkey sandwich lunches in the car, and cruised right along.  After 5.5 hours we were ready to get out of the car and there was no hesitation getting into the water at Lake Huron.  It was 2:30 p.m. and the water felt refreshing!  It was a hot day and there were many people at the park. It was a perfect beach day, but we couldn’t stay.  We had places to go and more lakes to swim in. 

By 6:00 p.m. we had arrived at Hamilton, Ontario, just in time for rush hour traffic.  After a couple of “navigational corrections,” we finally found the lake front to swim in Lake Ontario.  It had already been 12 hours and we had been to so many amazing places. 

The sun was setting over Lake Erie at Port Stanley, Ontario at 9:00 p.m. It was beautiful!  The water was rejuvenating.  We were overjoyed by what we had just accomplished!  Something any Michigander would be proud of!

Two friends, 15 hours of driving, 882 miles, swimming in all five Great Lakes in one day!  Mission Complete!

Along the way there were a few things we learned and some advice we want to share:

  1. Bring a waterproof camera.
  2. Remember cell phones (and GPS on cell phones) do not work in Canada.
  3. The advice my dad gave me, “Don’t be shy about it.  Don’t think how cold the water is, just get in.”
  4. Remember your passport.
  5. Enjoy every minute of the trip!

Have you ever thought about taking an adventure like Kathryn and Shelby? For fun information on the Great Lakes, ideas for Michigan road trips and more, visit michigan.org.