Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: 8 Reasons To Visit This Gem In Michigan (Photos)

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was once one of the best kept secrets in the state of Michigan and all of the US.

And though it was recently named “Most Beautiful Place In America” and its popularity has grown in recent years, it still qualifies as one of Michigan’s best hidden gems in my eyes.

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In this guide, we’ll tell you all about Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, what makes it so special, and the main reasons you should seriously consider making a trip here at some point.

Interesting Facts About Sleeping Bear Dunes

One of only three National Lakeshores in the United States, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is famous for its iconic white, sandy bluffs that tower over 450 feet above the waters of Lake Michigan below.

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was established in 1970 in order to protect the dune formations and other natural features of this gem.

It’s located on the northwestern Lower Peninsula of Michigan and extends along a 35-mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline, including both North and South Manitou Islands.

It shares the state with another hidden gem of a national lakeshore, in the stunning Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to its north.

8 Reasons You Should Add It To Your Vacation Bucket List

Dune Climbing at the Dunes Overlook

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Climbing the dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers an exhilarating experience that’s both a physical challenge and a unique adventure. 

The Dune Climb is particularly popular, allowing visitors to scale massive sand dunes for breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and the surrounding landscape. 

It’s a fun activity for families, providing a memorable workout and the perfect spot for panoramic photos. 

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After reaching the top, you can run or tumble down the dunes, making for an exciting descent. 

This natural playground is a must-visit for those seeking a blend of adventure and natural beauty.

Scenic Drive on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

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This 7.4-mile drive is a highlight for visitors, offering stunning vistas of the dunes, Lake Michigan, and Glen Lake. 

With multiple overlooks, including the famous Lake Michigan Overlook, visitors can step out to admire the views, capture photos, and enjoy picnics. 

The drive combines the convenience of car travel with the beauty of the park’s landscapes, making it accessible for all ages and abilities. 

Each stop along the way tells a part of the story of the area’s natural and cultural history, enriching the experience.

Kayaking and Canoeing on the Crystal River

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Paddling through the Crystal River offers a serene and intimate way to experience the park’s diverse ecosystems. 

This gentle, winding river is perfect for kayaking or canoeing, allowing visitors to glide through clear waters surrounded by lush forest and wetlands. 

Credit: Kaylee Cawood

It’s an excellent opportunity for wildlife viewing, with chances to see birds, fish, and perhaps even otters. 

Rentals are available nearby, making it easy for everyone to enjoy this peaceful waterway, regardless of skill level.

Hiking the Empire Bluff Trail

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This moderate hike leads to one of the most spectacular views in the park. 

The trail is relatively short but rewarding, culminating in a breathtaking overlook of Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. 

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Along the way, hikers traverse through diverse habitats, including forests and meadows, making it a great way to experience the park’s natural beauty. 

The viewpoint at the end provides a perfect backdrop for memorable photos, especially at sunset.

Have Yourself A Beach Day

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Families who visit Sleeping Bear Dunes may find that the best way to spend a day here is on one of the many sandy beach areas.

The beaches are all extremely clean, and the brisk waves rolling onto the soft, white sand at the various beach areas makes for a perfect traditional beach day setting.

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The kids will have a blast building sand castles, and the cool water is all kinds of refreshing during the warmest days of summer.

The most popular beach areas within the National Lakeshore area are Glen Haven Beach, North Bar Lake, and Platte River Point.

Exploring the Sleeping Bear Point Maritime Museum

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For those interested in the rich maritime history of the Great Lakes, the Sleeping Bear Point Maritime Museum is a fascinating visit. 

It offers insights into the life of the U.S. Life-Saving Service (precursor to the Coast Guard), shipwrecks, and the area’s nautical history. 

Demonstrations, exhibits, and guided tours provide a deep dive into the challenges and heroism of those who protected the waters of Lake Michigan. 

It’s a unique educational experience that appeals to history buffs and casual visitors alike.

Star Gazing at the Dune Climb

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is known for its dark skies, making it an exceptional spot for stargazing. 

The Dune Climb area, away from city lights, offers an unobstructed view of the night sky. 

Visitors can marvel at the Milky Way, spot constellations, and even catch meteor showers on clear nights. 

It’s a magical experience to lay back on the cool sand and gaze upwards, feeling a connection to the universe. 

The park occasionally hosts stargazing events, enhancing the experience with telescopes and guided tours of the stars.

Biking the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

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This multi-use trail offers a fantastic way for visitors to explore the park’s scenery on two wheels. 

Stretching for miles, the trail connects key attractions within the park, including dune overlooks, forests, and historic sites. 

It’s suitable for all skill levels, with both challenging and easy sections, and bike rentals are available nearby. 

Cycling the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a healthy, eco-friendly, and enjoyable way to see the park, offering a different perspective on its landscapes and wildlife.

Final Word

Michigan is one of the more underrated states in the US in terms of natural beauty, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore certainly adds to this.

Visiting this gem is certainly an experience you’ll never forget.