Back Roads and Time Travel, Discovering Sleeping Bear Dunes’ Best-Kept Secret

Today, Northern Michigan photographer Aubrieta V. Hope lets us in on Sleeping Bear Dunes’ best-kept secret.

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Photo courtesy of Aubrieta V. Hope Photography (

Sometimes the best travel secrets are hidden in plain sight. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, known for its Dune Climb and majestic Scenic Drive also harbors a secret place off the beaten path that many visitors never see.  It’s a quiet place that invites exploration, where the past seems so near that maybe you could just slip into it.  To discover this special place, travel north on M-22 from Glen Arbor and turn west on Port Oneida Road into the Port Oneida Rural Historic District.

Drive slowly, or better yet, ride a bicycle along the back roads that branch out from Port Oneida Road.  It’s a storybook landscape with more than a dozen farmsteads dating from the mid-1800′s surrounded by rolling hills, wildflower-tangled pastures and beautiful Lake Michigan beaches.

Photo courtesy of Aubrieta Hope Photography

Photo courtesy of Aubrieta Hope Photography

The old pioneer community is quiet now.  But life goes on: wild roses and poppies bloom, orchards bear fruit, and migrating birds and other wildlife proliferate. Two well-marked hiking trails (the Bay View Trail and the Pyramid Point Trail), traverse the region, both offering panoramic views.  You can spend an entire day here and feel like you have just begun to explore.

Port Oneida offers endless inspiration for artists. As a photographer, I visit the area every chance I get.  I especially enjoy photographing the old farms on misty days and during the fall color season when the trees glow like candles on the hills.  I find secrets of Port Oneida’s pioneer past everywhere, in the glint of an old window at sundown or the crunch of a vintage apple in late summer.    ­

Photo courtesy of Aubrieta V. Hope Photography (

Photo courtesy of Aubrieta V. Hope Photography (

Every season brings beauty to Port Oneida, but summertime is special because that is when many events bring the old farms to life.  It’s a fun way to connect with the area’s rich history.  Some events during the summer in Port Oneida include: the Port Oneida Fair, a 5K Barn to Barn Trail Run/Walk, ranger-led interpretive programs, art classes, horse and wagon tours, and volunteer building and restoration projects.

Go ahead, take a back road and time travel into the heart of Sleeping Bear Dunes’ past.  Bring your hiking boots, your binoculars, a picnic, a friend, maybe even your whole family.  You might just want to stay awhile…

For maps, schedules and other information, stop by Sleeping Bear Dunes’ Visitor Center in Empire.

Aubrieta V. HopeAubrieta V. Hope is a landscape photographer with a special interest in Northwest and Upper Michigan.  To see Aubrieta’s images, visit her website,, check out her Michigan Scenery Facebook page, or stop by Petoskey Pete’s in Glen Arbor or Great Goods in Suttons Bay, Michigan.


From our Community: What’s your Favorite Place in Michigan to get Comfort Food?

As temperatures drop, it’s the perfect time of year to cozy up with friends and family and enjoy your favorite comfort foods. From the mac and cheese at the Clarkston Union Bar & Kitchen to the chicken at Zehnder’s or Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, there are plenty of places to indulge in your favorite comfort dishes across the state – including a few hidden gems.

We got some great responses over the weekend when we asked fans on our Facebook page: “What’s your favorite place in Michigan to get comfort food?” Here are some comments we wanted to share. Thanks to everyone who responded!

xochimilcos in Mexican town in Detroit.” – Alex Gurne

“Chicken Jalapeno soup at Art’s in Glen Arbor!” – Aline Levanen Gauss

“The best breakfast comfort food is at Suomi’s, in Houghton, way up in da UP. Traditional Finnish breakfast and regular breakfast foods. All. SO. GOOD.” – Olivia Zajac

RUB BBQ across from Comerica park has the best Mac n Cheese hands down.” – Jesse Cahill

Clarkston Union has awesome (gourmet) mac n cheese.” – Patrick Fetterman

“Mac and cheese from Blue Tractor in Traverse City. ♥ it!!” – Chelsea Lyn

Grand Rapids: Hopcat – Killer Mac n Cheese. Tip: add bacon and jalapenos, mmmm!” – Kevin Littlepage

“The Hilltop in L’anse. Cinnamon rolls the size of your head.” – Robert Bruce Brevitz

Central City Tap House in downtown Kalamazoo serves mac & cheese with pork belly. Can’t think of a more perfect combination! Plus vast scotch whisky menu and craft beers.” – Karel Juhl

Slow’s BBQ in Corktown, and the Mac ‘n Cheese at Zingermans Deli in A2 (Ann Arbor) can’t be beat. It’s divine!” – Colleen Smith Adkins

“Besides my own kitchen, DeLuca’s in Lansing.” – Lucy Dionise Platte

Fieldstone Grille in Portage…they have the best pot roast sandwhich!” – Jennifer Zindler

“At home; my husbands meatloaf. It must be why God made cows! And Zehnder’s in Frankenmuth for CHICKEN !!! YAY!!!” – Sarahlynn E Kelly

Dog Days Inn

Tucker poses beneath the Days Inn & Suites sign

Kath Usitalo, a contributing writer for Michigan Travel Ideas, gives in to her husband’s plea and allows Tucker, the family dog, to be part of a mini getaway.

Traveling with a dog is overrated. Don’t get me wrong—we love Tucker, but his blend of Australian shepherd and terrier translates into lots of energy. His last road trip (one week with two teenagers) convinced my husband, TJ, and I that Tucker and trips just don’t mix.

With the kids in college, however, we decide to give Tucker another try—just a side trip—in what became affectionately known as our Dog Days Inn trip.

On our way home from our cottage in the Upper Peninsula, we detoured to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. After researching the Grand Traverse area, we decide on the Days Inn & Suites. With the 10 percent discount from their ad in Michigan Travel Ideas, we partially recover the $15 fee for Tucker.

We park outside our door, which makes it easy to unload our gear and Tucker. It’s a standard room with simple decor. The room includes a mini fridge, microwave and safe (for Tucker’s treats?). We drop off our bags and set out to find a dog-friendly eatery.

A restaurant meal with our dog is a first for us, but many Traverse City outdoor cafes welcome pups. We sit under an umbrella at a table on the deck at Folgarelli’s, a gourmet market, and tackle fabulous, made-to-order sandwiches. Two of us (sorry, Tucker) share The Mobster, a tower of Italian meat and cheese. It’s so filling that we decide we’ll have to try the luscious smoked salmon sandwich at lunch the next day. Tucker licks a classic vanilla cone from Dairy Lodge.

Too worried about leaving Tucker alone in the hotel, we skip the indoor pool. Next time, maybe. We like the flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi. Did I mention the convenient dog run? Before hitting the road the next morning, we take turns walking Tucker and enjoying the complimentary breakfast bar.

To take Tucker’s mind off food, we head to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive to enjoy the Sleeping Bear Dunes views. Well, TJ and I enjoy the panoramas of water and sand; Tucker barely glances up from the nearest shrub.

D.O.G. Bakery makes yogurt-frosted cookies in dozens of shapes, including the Michigan mitten.

D.O.G. Bakery makes yogurt-frosted cookies in dozens of shapes, including the Michigan mitten

After the drive, Tucker gets free samples of WoofWhomper Dog Cookies at Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor. While nibbling on cherry cobbler on the deck, we strike up a conversation with a couple who fall for Tucker. Of course, Tucker gives them the look hoping to score a head rub or more treats. In Traverse City, we can’t pass up the all-natural dog snacks from D.O.G. Bakery, a bright inviting shop.

All in all, we had a good weekend. We may give this Dog Days Inn thing another try; the chain has hotels throughout the state.

Kath Usitalo is a freelance magazine writer who is bi-peninsular. She is at home in the Detroit area and at her family’s Lake Michigan getaway, Blue Skies, in the UP. She travels and writes about Michigan—usually without her dog—for a variety of outlets, including Michigan Travel Ideas and her Great Lakes Gazette blog.