Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area: Day Use

Are you looking for something different along Oregon’s coast? If so, Oregon Dunes is for you!

The dunes span 40 miles and rise up to 500 fee above the Pacific Ocean. Among the dunes, you can find everything from rivers to rainforests.

We arrived at the dunes from the East via Reedsport and turned northbound. Oregon Dunes’ day use area is north of Gardinar and south of Dunes City.

5 Tips For Enjoying Oregon Dunes Day Use Area

1. Plan Time to Hike.

The day use area consists of a parking lot and a viewing platform. Once you see the view, it may be hard to resists the hike.

A marked trail leading to the ocean is easily to access from the parking lot. There are two main hiking options. One is a 5 mile long loop and the other is a 2 mile, out and back trail to the coast.

We started our hike around noon, hadn’t eaten lunch yet, didn’t pack water or snacks and opted for the shorter of the two trails. For those of you that have hiked in dunes before, there is a constant false sense of distance. Even with knowing that ahead of time, we were all surprised when we rounded a corner and still had not made it to the coast. It is longer than it seems but the trail is clearly marked and well traveled.

Wooden posts mark the trail through the dunes. The trail through the forested sections is obvious. Even on a hot July day, the beach was nearly empty when we arrived. I can’t imagine it ever gets much more crowded. If you are hoping to avoid crowds and get some exercise, this is the place!

View from Oregon Dunes Day Use area hike.

2. Wear Shoes.

The sand can be hot! When you are not walking on hot sand, you may be walking on hard packed forest trails. Don’t leave your shoes at the car and chose your footwear carefully!

Oregon Dunes trail through the forest is easy to follow and diverse!

3. Bring Water and Snacks For An Afternoon At Oregon Dunes Day Use Area.

This seems obvious but we are famous for being underprepared or overprepared. I can’t decide if we are over confident, lazy, or impulsive but it is not unusual for us to check out a hike and end up 2 hours down the trail without snacks.

We started this hike by walking to the viewing platform, then onto the dune, then down the hill, and so on. I think you get the idea! Hiking on the dunes and into the forest was just too much fun and we didn’t want to stop once we started.

Oregon Dunes day use hike

4. Be Prepared For Signs Giving Instructions In Case Of An Earthquake and Tsunami.

For those of you that have spent much time on the Oregon coast, this shouldn’t be too surprising. I typically read the sign and keep walking. By the time I hit the ocean on this hike, I don’t think I could have evacuated very quickly in the event of a tsunami. We all weigh our risk, I guess.

5. Dress For Exposure To The Elements.

In addition to shoes, I would recommend the following items:

Hat

Sun screen

Sunglasses

Beach towel

Bathing Suit

Wind breaker

Oregon Dunes

Have Fun At Oregon Dunes!

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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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Sleeping Bear Dunes: Bike, Swim, Repeat

We have driven from Oregon to Ontario each summer since 2016. We see beautiful sights and have amazing experiences along the way. The kids start talking about the trip as soon as spring arrives. They set their sights on our annual Sleeping Bear Dunes camping trip!

Whether it is because our nephew joins us on this trip or because we have consistently hit it out of the park in terms of fun, all I know is that they love going to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore. They come by this naturally, as CD and I were married there in 2008. 

Glen Arbor Family History

CD was voting for getting married in the back country of Colorado; I was voting for somewhere a bit more accessible. Next thing I knew, we were in Glen Arbor. I can’t remember if we were having a drink at Art’s or sitting in the coffee shop, but somewhere along the way a local recommended we get in touch with “Don”. Don was well known in the Glen Arbor community. He was elderly and his health was not the best. Don didn’t have any children and he was an active member of the community.

I can’t remember if we were given his number or if we simply walked up to his door and knocked, but later that day we were sitting in his living room. He was happy to meet us and told us about how he met his wife when they were middle aged. She was the love of his life. He asked tons of questions about skiing, Colorado, and where we would ski next. We heard stories about skiing in Chamonix and flying in and out of Aspen. We had an instant friendship. His Lake Michigan beachfront was adjacent to a public access and he invited us to use his beach for our wedding. Glen Arbor has become much more hectic since then and Don is no longer with us but the town still holds a certain charm. Sleeping Bear Dunes is easy to love. 

Highlights of our Sleeping Bear Dunes Annual Trip

  • DH Day Campground
    • Pit toilets, water, access to the bike trail, close to Glen Arbor and Glen Haven
    • Reservations: Until summer 2019, this campground was first-come-first-serve only. We typically try to avoid crowds by going August, mid-week. I have mixed emotions about the reservation system but we were able to get a site, so it has worked out so far.  
Glen Haven
Walk to Lake Michigan from DH Day
  • Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
    • This paved bike trail is the gold standard by which I measure national parks and campgrounds. We rode North to Glen Arbor and South to North Barr Lake in 2019. Together with three kids, we logged 29.1 miles on the trail in 2 days! The kids would have gladly ridden farther if we had stayed longer.   
    • Here are some reasons that we love this trail
      • It keeps you and the kids from riding on the shoulder of the road
      • You can get from DH Day to Glen Haven in under 5 minutes. You will find nice restrooms with flush toilets and running water when you get there
      • You don’t have to find a place to park in Glen Arbor 
      • It keeps your car free from of sand after the Dune Climb
      • You feel motivated to swim in Lake Michigan. Simply ride, get hot, swim, and repeat. The kids and I are all about this plan!
      • It is good exercise and better for the environment
      • It’s nearly impossible to ride and not smile
      • You get to talk with other riders 

2019 Biking Itinerary

First Day: 

  • Bike from DH Day to Glen Haven to rescue raggedy Ann from a shipwreck using a Lyle Gun.
  • Ride bikes from Glen Haven to Glen Arbor to pick up provisions at Anderson’s Market
  • Bike from Glen Arbor to DH Day

Second Day:

  • Bike from DH Day to the Dune Climb in time to catch the Dune Climb Concert
  • Ride bikes from the Dune Climb to DH Day

Third Day:

  • Bike from DH Day to Glen Arbor for breakfast 
  • Ride bikes from Glen Arbor to DH Day
  • Bike DH Day to North Barr Lake

CD was kind enough to be the support vehicle. He packed up the campsite and met us at the North Barr Lake parking lot.

Parking in Glen Arbor: 2018. Dinner at Art’s
Dune climb parking
2018
2018. DH Day to Glen Arbor
Crazy storm damage from straight line winds: DH Day to Glen Arbor
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore
    • Too many great trails to mention. I have pretty much tried and like them all.
    • The Dune Climb trail has earned a quick mention though. Don’t underestimate this trail. If you think you climbed the last dune and are headed for the beach, you aren’t. There are still more dunes to climb! Before having kids, I loved this trail for the pure exercise.
    • South Manitou Island
      • There are campsites. Our site was fine but some of the sites looked really amazing. Try to get one of those!
      • We spent one night there and hiked all the entire island
      • It would be a fun place to take the kids. One night would be enough
    • North Manitou Island
      • More remote than South.
      • We camped one night and walked around the island. It is likely that we would have gotten restless there if we stayed longer
North manitou, 2011?
A few dunes up on the dune climb. Fewer crowds here
Sleeping bear point trail
Sleeping bear point trail; Sleeping Bear Dunes

Towns

  • Glen Arbor
    • Art’s Tavern: A local favorite. There may be a wait in the summer. Bring cash – they don’t take credit
    • Good Harbor Grill: The food here is genuinely good and fresh 
    • Anderson’s Glen Arbor Market: bigger than the store in Empire
    • Great Lakes Tea and Spice: Pick up Christmas gifts while you are here!
    • Crystal River Outfitters: We rented kayaks here in late September and spent a day exploring the Lake Michigan between Glen Arbor and Glen Haven. You can also paddle the river.
Glen Arbor public access. Sleeping Bear Dunes
  • Empire
    • Village Park: 1 block from downtown. 2 playgrounds, 2 beaches, boat launch, shelter, vault toilets. Fires are permitted in fire rings. This park was free previously but now parking fees apply. Parking may be tough to come by during the summer. 
    • Empire Bluff Trail: This is a “do not miss” trail if you are looking for the best views in the park
    • National Park Service headquarters: Just in case you need a park cancellation for your park passport book
      • There are at least 4 cancellations in the park.
        • Dune Climb
        • Visitor’s Center
        • Glen Haven general store
        • South Manitou 
Empire Beach

South End

  • Riverside Canoes: Platte River
    • Head here during the fall salmon run. You won’t be disappointed. Avoid it in the summer unless you love crowds!

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