Big Dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Visitors at Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes

If you happen to be in a boat in Lake Michigan and look eastward toward the northern reaches of Michigan’s lower peninsula, you may be able to make out (with a little bit of imagination) the outline of a bear lying down. The image is sketched on a series of pristine sand dunes lining the shore and gives the area, managed by the National Park Service, its name.

Philip A. Hart Visitor center

For an introduction to the dunes and the area’s ecology, begin with a stop at the visitor center in the town of Empire. Here you will see a large relief of the dunes and can obtain maps and other useful information. The movie, shown throughout the day, provides a worthwhile overview of the park.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

After getting your introduction at the visitor center, take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive (named for the gentleman who designed and built the road), which will lead you to some of the Lakeshore’s outstanding features. After crossing a picturesque covered bridge, the drive winds along the ridge top past a series of overlooks providing views of dunes, forests and pretty Glen Lake. The Lake Michigan overlook is an exciting spot to stop and actually walk on top of a high dune. You may be drawn to venture down the side of the dune, but use caution as the uphill climb back on the soft sand is very difficult. Each year, a few foolhardy souls lose their footing, roll down the hill and wind up in Lake Michigan, several hundred feet below.

Getting on the dunesHiker has difficulty climbing up a sand dune at Sleeping Bear

The place to go dune climbing is aptly named the Dune Climb, about 5 miles north of Empire on M-109. It’s a safe area for children to clamber up a dune and frolic in the sand. There are picnic tables at the base of the dune and an interpretive trail with information on local flora and fauna.

Included in the park are two islands in Lake Michigan, North and South Manitou. which can be visited by ferry from the town of Leland.

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