Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore: In An Afternoon

Do you have 1 day to spend at Pictured Rocks but are unsure of how to spend the time? If so, here is our recommendation!

We drove west from Munising, swam in Lake Superior, waded in streams, and hiked to the Au Sable Light Station.

Here are a few things to know about going to the light station.

1. The last 1.5 miles to the Au Sable Light Station is on foot.

You can either walk the trail or walk the beach. We walked the trail there, had a picnic there, and walked the beach back!

2. You can see Lake Superior both from the top of the light house and from the beach. It is amazing either way!

3. There is a ship wreck on the beach between the light house and the trail head.

The shipwreck is different than most I have seen. It is just a skeleton of a boat and is fully accessible from the beach. You may be aware that lake levels change over time. This picture was 2019 so the water was relatively high compared with past years but a bit lower than 2020.

4. Remember to bring your National Park Passport and Junior Ranger books.

We carried drinks, sandwiches, snacks, sunscreen, hats, and plenty of other things. We didn’t bring our passport books and had to settle for a stamp on a blank piece of paper. Its not the same!

5. You may end up swimming in Lake Superior.

It may sound cold and daunting but, on a hot day, it is clean, clear, and refreshing! It was unbelievable hot the day we were there. I wasn’t prepared to swim in the lake and ended up taking a nice long swim in my tee shirt and skirt. It wasn’t my proudest moment but I was perfectly content, comfortably cool, and it was worth it! Next time I will be better prepared!

6.Wear water shoes and carry bug repellent.

The beach is rocky in places and all of the tales that you may have heard about biting flies in the U.P. of Michigan are true!

7. Consider stopping once or twice on your drive to the trail head.

You may want to plan enough time to go wading in a stream.

8. The ranger talk at the light station offers a quick glimpse of the history.

Learn about the Au Sable light station, Lake Superior, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The tours are thirty minutes long and require a $3 donation per person.

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Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan: Summer Top 5.
5 Tips for Starting Your Sprinter Camper Make-Over.
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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
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Kids Bike Review: Prevelo

Our daughter rode a strider bike at one year old and a two wheeled bike before age two. On son was a bit older but only because of our own ignorance. We didn’t know that two or three year old kids can ride two wheeled bikes. Well, they can! It helps if you have the right kids bike.

Islabikes is our first love in kids specific bikes. I was lost when they discontinued their store in the United States but things tend to work out and it led me to an even greater kids bike love.

Prevelo Kids Bikes!

Prevelo

Here are my top 5 reasons that both you and your kids will love Prevelo bikes.

1. Prevelo Customer Service.

My son had barely outgrown his bike when my daughter was more than ready for a bigger bike. We went to every bike shop within a fifty mile radius. We read bike reviews, articles, and blogs. My son test rode every bike we could find.

His reach was just a bit too short for any of the bikes, including some of the kids specific brands. I had nearly lost hope when I found Prevelo online.

Jacob answered on the second or third ring when I called.

He is the owner, designer, and mastermind of the company. He was happy to provide custom measurements, answer questions, provide encouragement, and fill me in on company policies and perks. These include the following.

  • 30 Day Money Back Guarantee
  • $15 Shipping, refundable in the US

I was pretty much sold when Jacob answered the phone as if he was an old friend.

They don’t mess around with shipping!

2. Kids Bike Design

Once you see your kids on a bike designed just for them, you will be convinced. The difference between a bike that is small and a bike that is for kids is unbelievable!

Jacob could tell you all about it but here are some of the basics.

  • Low Geometry!
    • Riders are low to the ground
    • Low seat heights, low peddle brackets, and increased rider and parent confidence!
  • Short crank arms and narrow Q angle.
    • You may want to look these items up but, trust me, this is a good thing!
  • Robust designs
    • Improved kid specific durability
HB’s first two wheeled bike. A 14 inch Islabike.
HB learning to work on bikes. He asked for all of the accessories on his Islabike.
Grace learning bike maintenance.

3. Social and Environmental Responsibility

Check out Prevelo’s advocacy and giving page for a full list of organizations that they support. The list includes People for Bikes and 1% for the Planet.

For places like this!

4. Trade Up Club: Kids Bike

Its exactly what you think. Send back your bike when it is too small and put 40% of your original purchase price towards a new bike.

As the mother of a 7 year old and a 5 year old, the previous owner of 4 kids specific bikes, and the current owner of 2 kids bikes, I am especially interested in this program!

Out to lunch a few years ago. Kids bike.

Highlights of 5 Years of Family Bike Riding:

  1. Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, Michigan

2. Luton Park, Michigan

Prevelo Kids Bike

3. Commuting around town on kids bikes!

This is actually at Sleeping Bear but our local commute has a similar trail. Grace rode her bike to her first day of preschool and I didn’t even get a picture.

4. May Flower Gulch, Colorado

Kids bike.

5. McDonald Dunn Forest, Oregon

5. Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada

Disclosure: Please note that this post contains affiliate links. This means that we may get a small commission if you click a link and purchase something that we recommend. Clicking these links will not cost you extra money but will help us grow our website. Thank you for your support!

A Michigan Summer Garden

Sometimes I think about our Michigan garden.

The pinnacle of our gardening and canning experience was in 2011. My grandparents had a nice garden and CD was invited to tend to it for the summer. Our garden was mostly tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, strawberries, onions, and potatoes.

My brother offered some space at his house so we planted black beans for fun. I don’t mean that we germinated beans and planted them carefully. We bought a bag of dried beans, planted them in rows, and hoped for the best.

Herb garden box with drainage
Drip Irrigation

The garden was a huge success! We were eating vegetables all day, every day. Days were busy with chopping and freezing, canning, and canning more. We couldn’t keep up.

Apples

I stopped by an apple orchard to ask about some seconds and they offered me bushels of beautiful seconds for nearly nothing. Now I was coring and peeling, chopping and making sauce, and canning some more. We couldn’t stop. Did you know that green tomatoes make great muffins? The first two dozen or so are great anyway. We had muffins and frozen muffins and chopped green tomatoes.

My back was aching but I felt great. We had endless cans of whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato chunks, salsa, banana peppers, and apple sauce. The freezer was full of zucchini and peppers.

Black Beans and our Michigan Garden

I took a breathe and decided to check on the black beans. They had drip irrigation but other than that, we had not seen them in months. The garden was full. Black beans were everywhere. I have no idea how or why it happened but it seemed like every bean we planted produced dozens more.

Thank goodness for the internet because I had no idea what to do. We got the beans from the pods, put on cookie sheets and put them in the oven on low until they were fully dry. This yielded gallons of dried beans.

Post Garden Bike Trip

With the garden mostly under control, CD had wanted to take a bike trip so we headed to Glen Arbor on a weekday in mid-September. It was quiet. The weather was as good as any summer day. We stayed at DH Day campground and packed the supplies for our trip.

It wouldn’t be possible today but, at that time, DH Day was happy to let us leave our car there. The next morning, we hopped on our bikes and headed to Northport. Our route was through Glen Arbor and mostly up the center of Peninsula. Farm markets and apple orchards were everywhere.

We checked into Leelanau State Park in Northport by dinner. Hardly anyone was there so we picked a prime lake-side campsite. It was easy to sleep after riding my bike all day.

Back to our car in Glen Arbor by dinner the next day. my legs felt great. My first overnight bike trip was a success. Every year since then, CD has suggested more and longer bike trips. We have yet to make it happen but maybe this is the year!

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Sleeping Bear Dunes: Bike, Swim, Repeat
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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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Mountain biking: Sprinter DIY. Brief kids bike review.

We drove from Oregon, through the coastal range, the Canadian and US Rockies, and even the Porcupine Mountains of northern Michigan before making the jump from road biking to single track. We took the leap at Luton Park in Rockford, Michigan and this is an account of how we got there.

Our kids have been proficient bike riders for what seems like their whole lives. Before HB was even born, we were given a hand me down Strider bike full of good biking karma. He started riding it shortly after he could walk.

He was ready for a two wheeler by the time we moved to Oregon. We were introduced to Islabikes right away and these bikes blew our minds. They were built for kids. The awkward top heaviness of many kid’s bikes was not an issue. 

We ordered the smallest model and HB quickly started riding. We were impressed. Despite being two years younger than HB, Grace was desperate to keep up. She walked at eight months and used the Strider bike shortly after. 

For HB’s fifth birthday, we upgraded him to a 20” Islabike and gave his old bike to Grace. At just over 18 months old, she had been waiting to ride. My mom helped Grace onto the bike seat and expected to help her learn to ride. Instead, she ended up running next to her as she took off down the driveway. A short while later, Grace was two-tracking through the weeds.

First day on a peddle bike.
Her second Islabike and our family’s third.

A year later, we were ready for all four of us to have gears. We were convinced that if Grace had gears we could start taking some of the days trips that we imagined. 

Islabikes no longer had a Portland showroom and we were lost.  

We tried every Trek, Giant, and Specialized in town. HB just wasn’t quite tall enough for a 24 inch bike but Grace was tall enough for his 20”. I started searching the internet.

Prevelo bikes was the first company that I called. I spoke with Jacob, the owner and mastermind. He gave me exact measurement for his bikes. He also agreed to ship it right away so that we could have it before we started our summer road trip next week. I was sold. Digging deeper, I learned that Prevelo participates with 1% for the planet and supports several other like minded organizations. I couldn’t have found a better fit!

The bike arrived a few days later, two days prior to leaving Oregon for the summer. I can’t say enough good things about Jacob and his company. The bike was obviously packaged carefully. It fit HB perfectly. He took off on it and Grace quickly claimed ownership of the 20” Islabike. She had been practicing with the gears and didn’t miss a beat!

Prevelo bike packaging

We headed North from Oregon to Leavenworth Washington. From there we went further North to British Columbia, South to Idaho, and East to Montana. We crossed the planes, turned North again towards the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, South to the lower peninsula, crossed the Mackinac Bridge and eventually landed at my hometown in lower Michigan. 

The bike was in and out of the van most days during this trip.  

CD had already decided to introduce the kids to single track once we made to Rockford. Luton Park was where we took the leap. We added my nephew’s bike to the van and headed out.  

We pulled the bikes out of the van, looked at the map, and headed for easiest trail. The kids loved it and wanted more. We chose a larger loop and they kept up the enthusiasm. The other bikers that we saw were considerate and supportive of our young riders. 

On our second lap, we stopped for a dip in the creek and everyone was happy. We went back as many times as we could during the next week or so and each time the kids got faster, more confident, and more skillful. A few laps on the single track followed by van side apres-biking and I almost felt like I was 30 again! 

Family style apres-biking