It’s no wonder that viewers of “Good Morning America” named Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore the “most beautiful spot in America.” A breathtaking symphony of water, sky and towering sand dunes on our Lake Michigan shoreline, Sleeping Bear is a 64-mile curve of breathtaking beaches, forests, meadows and lakes.
Although its grandeur can be viewed from well-placed overlooks along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, it’s even better to see Sleeping Bear “close up and personal.”
Just watch what happens when the average youngster arrives at the famous “Dune Climb” and races from the parking lot to hit that 150-foot vertical wall of windblown golden sand. Before you know it, they’re headed for the top – only to turn around and run back down so they can do it all over again! Visitors love to bring their children and friends to the Dune Climb because they remember how much fun they had playing in the dunes when they were here as children.
So what’s there to do at Sleeping Bear other than run up and down the dunes? Here are a couple of suggestions:
Swimming and beachcombing
There are miles of beautiful Lake Michigan beaches here, and lots of places where you can bodysurf the waves, make some sand castles, or take a long walk down the shore. Esch Road Beach and Good Harbor are particularly good beaches. (Another is at the mouth of the Platte River, where you’ll love riding the swift current out into the lake.)
Take a hike
There are 13 separate hiking trails in the park, all suitable for people in reasonably good shape. One favorite is the half-mile hike out to Sleeping Bear Point and back, which takes less than an hour and includes great views of the shoreline, dunes, and islands – as well as the remains of a buried “ghost forest.”
Visit a ghost town
Speaking of ghosts, there are plenty in this park. The former port of Glen Haven was a steamship stop on Sleeping Bear Bay that has been restored to the way it looked in the 1920s. There’s a general store, a working blacksmith shop and a former cannery that now houses a large exhibit of Great Lakes boats. To the north is the Port Oneida Historic District, which preserves the homes and barns of a vanished turn-of-the-century farming settlement.
Explore an island
Who doesn’t love this? Catch the morning ferryboat out of Leland and spend the day roaming South Manitou Island with its tall lighthouse, giant cedars, shipwrecks and isolated beaches. (Make sure to bring a lunch -- there are no stores out there!) North Manitou, its wilder cousin, usually requires an overnight camping stay.
The National Park Service, which has administered this area since 1972, has done a great job of making sure that you get the most out of the park. A good place to start your visit is the Visitor Center in the village of Empire,which has a nice little museum, brochures and maps and lots of helpful rangers and volunteers around to answer questions.