During our family visit in Michigan we spent a day at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on the west coast of the state. The park covers a 35 mile-long stretch of Lake Michigan, with sandy dunes rolling between wooded forests and the blue waters of the lake. We got spoiled with a hot sunny day and tropical-turquoise waters.
We started our visit with a stop at the giant Dune Climb (pictured below), a popular place for picnicking then conquering a climb. The way up is steep, but gravity helps (sometimes too much) on the way down! I was hoping for a rewarding view of the lake from the top, but my sweaty brow was met with only more dunes. Looking back toward the picnic area gives you that triumphant feel you need after trudging an entire dune, though. From the top, it’s only a 1.5 mile hike to the lake, but don’t be deceived–those sand piles take forever to cross, and are seemingly endless. The whole trip could take 3-4 hours with little shade!
After a tasty picnic and a sandy climb, our whole family caravanned off on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. It starts with a picturesque covered bridge, then loops 7.4 miles through wooded hills, gradually giving way to sandy dunes. Twelve stops showcase the views and history of the area, like dune ecology and forestry. Stops nine and ten are outstanding, with a towering overlook of Lake Michigan from a 450-tall dune. Signs warn visitors that the way down may look deceptively easy, but the steep climb up can take more than 2 hours! I recently read an article that claimed more rescues are required at Sleeping Bear than at bigger parks like Yellowstone or Olympic!
We chose to stay on the path with 4 week-old Edda, trying our best to shade-hop and keep her covered. She chose to nap the entire time, thus missing out completely on her first National Lakeshore experience. (I’m ignoring the hint of “I’m boreds” that may follow in the coming years.) We’ll just have to come back when she’s older, and can tackle the Dune Climb on her own little legs.
If You Go:
The Dune Climb is a great stop for kids, especially to get some energy out before the scenic drive.
We didn’t get to stop there, but the Maritime Museum offers history of the Coast Guard in the region, and the historical Glen Haven offers a tiny glimpse of the 1900s with their Blacksmith Shop and General Store.
Glen Arbor makes a great home base for the area, with a beach-town feel, farmers markets, restaurants, and the inimitable Cherry Republic (all things cherry. And I mean All.)