Towering dunes, sandy beaches, lush forests, ancient glaciers - you'll find everything you need in an adventurous vacation at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Situated along 35 miles of the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, as well as its two Manitou islands, this park offers a plethora of summer and winter activities that will keep you occupied well past your visit.
Sleeping Bear Dunes offers stunning views from any point in the park, whether you're kayaking, hiking or biking. Coupled with the rich culture and heritage of the nearby towns, you will never run out of things to do. Pets are welcome on leash, but are only permitted in certain areas of the park due to wildlife and preservation risks. Make sure to check online or with a ranger before you start exploring with your furry friends.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is split into several separate parts on both mainland Michigan and the North and South Manitou Islands. The majority of the mainland areas are accessible by M-22 or the M-109 loop beginning 2 miles north of Empire. These are main roads, so you should have no problem getting your rig through all the sights.
If you're interested in heading to either of the Manitou Islands, however, you'll have to ditch the vehicle and book either a private boat or ferry through Manitou Island Transit in Leland, MI. It's recommended that you reserve the ferry ahead of time. If you're going to the islands, make sure you're equipped with food and water as there are no services, and be prepared to hike! It's recommended that you reserve the ferry ahead of time.
D.H. Day Campground is one of the most popular campgrounds not just in Sleeping Bear Dunes, but in all of northern Michigan. From the campground, you'll have easy access to the iconic Dune Climb and the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Plus, it's only two miles east of historic Glen Haven and the museums in the historic village of Glen Haven and two miles west of the restaurants and shops in Glen Arbor.
It is more rustic than Platte River, with vault toilets, picnic tables and fire rings. There aren't any hookups for RVs, but there is a sanitation dump at the entrance to the campground, water spigots and a firewood vending machine. Generator use is allowed only in the first thirty sites in Loop 1, and they can only run from 9 am to 6 pm. The campground is open from April through November, and campers may make reservations up to six months in advance for campsites between May and October. The rest of the time, the campground is first-come, first-served.
Platte River Campground is located along the southern end of Sleeping Bear dunes, about 10 miles south of Empire. It is open year round, and campers may make reservations up to six months in advance for campsites between May and October. The rest of the year, the campground is first-come, first-served.
This campground has a wide variety of sites - from back-in and pull-through RV sites, tent sites, and even some hike-in sites. There is electrical hookup for the RV sites at three out of the four loops, potable water, and a sewage dump station at the entrance to the campground. Water spigots are located throughout the grounds, and each loop has restrooms, dish washing sinks and hot showers. Generator use is prohibited here, so head to D.H. Day Campground if that's something you'll need.
From Platte River Campground, it's a quick 10-minute drive to Peterson Beach, and each loop in the campground has a trailhead that will also take you to Platte Bay.
When it snows at Sleeping Bear Dunes, those sandy dunes become blanketed with a light layer of snow, making them the perfect places to go sledding! That harrowing Dune Climb is transformed into the go-to spot for winter sleds, toboggans, snowboards, and even inflatable tubes.
In the wintertime, what used to be the multi-use Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail turns into a groomed cross-country ski trail. Additionally, while the park's more popular hikes are closed for the winter, there are a large number of trails that become designated ski trails. As always, check in with the rangers or park office for the trail conditions before you head out.
The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail runs through 27 miles of the park and will lead you to the majority of the park's attractions. Ditch your car at one of the eight trailheads and hop onto your bike! With the exception of three miles, the trail is paved asphalt and lends itself to a comfortable ride through all the best parts of Sleeping Bear Dunes. Make sure you plan for extra time on the trail, because you will definitely be stopping often to take pictures and take in the incredible scenery.
There is no shortage of hiking trails in this park, and although you might not get the views you'd see in a kayak, these trails will still lead you to some incredible vistas.
The 1.5 mi Empire Bluff Trail is short and easy, and it will lead you to a fantastic view of Empire, the dunes, and Lake Michigan. For another overlook of Lake Michigan, head to Pyramid Point Trail, a 2.8 mile trail that takes you through lush forests to an opening that provides breathtaking views of the lake.
And, finally, you can't miss the Dune Climb. It's the most famous, and notoriously difficult, trail in the park. With the short distance of 3.6 miles round trip, this trail seems deceptively easy until you take your first step into the sand. You'll find yourself sinking into the ground as you climb sandy dunes, fully at the mercy of the Michigan sun. Bring lots of water, sun protection, and shoes so your feet don't get burned. Most importantly, bring your bathing suit so you can dive into the lake when you arrive at the beach.
Whether on river or lake, you'll have plenty of opportunities to get out on the water at Sleeping Bear Dunes. Bring your own canoe, kayak or tube - or you can rent one in the area - and head out to the waters to experience incredible views that you wouldn't be able to access from land.
If you're interested in paddling or tubing, head to the Platte or Crystal River. You'll have a peaceful ride as you float through the crystal clear waters among the wildflowers, and you might just see a Great Blue Heron nibbling on some grub in the river.
In addition to the rivers, there are plenty of inland lakes that you can launch yourself into - however, the ultimate kayaking destination in the park is along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. From there, you'll be able to see the pristine beaches, towering dunes, and maybe even some glaciers!