Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan: Summer Top 5.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sits on the western side of northern lower Michigan. With dunes rising 400 feet above its 65 miles of shoreline, this park does not disappoint! Check out forests, wetlands, streams, inland lakes, historic homesteads, campgrounds, hiking trails, a 1920’s village, and the more recently added Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail bike path.

It is hard to decide where to begin but here are 5 ideas to get you started!

5. Empire Bluff Trail

This trail is short and sweet. This 1.5 mile round trip hike will satisfy hikers and photographers alike.

Start at the Visitor’s Center in Empire and get directions to the trail head which is just a few miles down the road. The trail is unassuming at first but don’t let that fool you. The views from the top some of the most remarkable in the park.

4. Glen Haven

Whether you are looking for a Junior Ranger cancellation or are excited to check out a working blacksmith’s shop, Glen Haven is worth the stop!

There is a general store, boat house, clean restrooms, and beach access with picnic tables.

4. Sleeping Bear Point Lifesaving Station

On your way out of Glen Haven, follow the road until it ends at Sleeping Bear Point. The building from 1901 is now a Maritime Museum.

Learn about the lives of the people that lived at the station and the tools they used for rescues. Look out for an opportunity to participate in the daily lifesaving demonstration and you may even see them fire the Lyle Gun!

You can also access the Sleeping Bear Point Loop Trail from here. This 2.8 mile trail may not be the most picturesque in the park but it is certainly one of the most diverse. Hike up and down rolling dunes as you experience some of the different terrain and ecosystems that Michigan has to offer. Bring water and keep in mind that 2.8 miles over sand dunes takes longer and is more difficult than the same distance on pavement.

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2. Dune Climb

Whether you want to play in the sand, have a picnic, or climb for a view of Glen Lake, the Dune Climb has it all. Some amenities include clean restrooms, potable water, a gift shop with a park passport cancellation, and an ice cream vending machine.

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For those of you that are looking for a challenge, the Dune Climb trail ends at Lake Michigan. Be aware that this hike is rated strenuous and in my experience, it is easy to underestimate its difficulty. There are wooden posts marking the trail so keep an eye on those. bring water, hat, and sunscreen. Prepare to be exposed on wide open sand dunes for 3-4 hours.

While there are much easier ways to get to Lake Michigan, you will likely feel the greatest sense of accomplishment if you arrive there by foot via these dunes. Honestly, I only do it for the exercise so if that is not a huge motivator for you, I recommend skipping this hike, accessing Lake Michigan at Glen Haven, and climbing the dune just high enough for a bird’s eye view of Glen Lake.

1. Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

This is one of my favorite things that has happened anywhere in the past several years! The Heritage Trail is a mixed use, non motorized trail planned to extend 27 miles from Empire to North of Glen Arbor. There are currently 22 miles completed.

Avoid traffic and parking hassles by utilizing the trail. In 2019, my husband, myself, and three kids under 10 logged 29.1 miles on the trail in 2 days. Bikes were our only means of transportation once we set up camp at DH Day campground.

Here are the top reasons we love the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

  • It is more safe for families than riding on the road
  • It is the fastest route from DH Day campground to Glen Haven or the Dune Climb on a busy day.
  • Bike parking in Glen Arbor is less stressful and more available than car parking.
  • Your car can be kept safe from sandy kids.
  • Riding the trail is good exercise and better for the environment than driving a car.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

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18 thoughts on “Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan: Summer Top 5.

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes sounds like a great place to stay and hike and just relax. It’s also close enough to drive (although it would be too far to drive for 1 day)

  • I’ve never heard of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. The Heritage Trail looks really interesting and fun, especially if you are traveling with kids! Thanks so much for the information and for the idea of a great family trip!

  • Looks like a super cool place to discover. I’m glad you pointed out the difficulty levels – especially the difficulty of hiking in the sand. It always looks much easier than it really is from my experiences.

  • A hike along the beach sounds wonderful! I’ve never been to Michigan or heard of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. It looks like a great family getaway.

  • Love the photo of the people seen through the gap in the tree. I’m always looking for different angles for my photographs, and love it when I see a shape or a gap or something similar, that means I can add an edge and interesting element to my photographs … your’s is even better because of the red top. Good eye!

  • That dune climb sounds like quite a workout! I’d probably stick to the easier trails and bike riding 😀 I bet the Maritime Museum is a fascinating place to visit, and the 1920’s village you mentioned piqued my interest. I’ll keep this in mind for future travels!

  • Fun! I am currently located in Chicago and I am brainstorming a week-long summer road trip. This might be a good option!

  • We will be driving through southern Michigan next week. I wish we had time to go up to Sleeping Dunes, it looks like something we would like. I would love to go up the Dune Trail as it sounds unique.

  • Are the dunes big enough to surf? Or are there too many obstacles? Looks like a great area to explore!

  • Nearly 30 miles in 2 days is awesome, especially with little kids! Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail sounds awesome. I think I’d prefer it too the more strenuous Dune Climb trail – that’s way beyond my level!

  • The Sleeping Bear Dunes seems to be a nice place for a family outing. What I like best is the fact that it offers som many options to suit different visitors, those looking for moderate hiking, for families, and those looking for more challenging options too. The Heritage trail looks really interesting and so does the Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving station. Personally would really enjoy the Dune climb.

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