Travel guide for Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshoreon Lake Michigan’s northeast coast

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Vacation At Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore In Michigan

“The Most Beautiful Place In America”  Good Morning America  2011

Located on Lake Michigan’s northeast coast, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has 35 miles of shoreline and over 70,000 acres of protected wilderness.  These spectacular sand dunes loom over the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan.

How did 200+ foot tall sand dunes come to be on a freshwater beach in Michigan?

According to the Ojibi tribe legend, a raging forest fire forced a mother bear and her two cubs into the water.  Reaching the opposite shore, the mother discovered her cubs had drowned in the lake.  The grieving mother stayed on the beach and waited for her cubs to appear.  The winds buried the mother bear under sand which became a giant sand dune in the shape of a sleeping bear.  According to the legend, she waits there still.  Impressed by the mother’s love, the Great Spirit created two islands – North Manitou and South Manitou Islands – to commemorate the cubs.

Geologists have a different explanation.  More than 100,000 years ago, an enormous sheet of ice made its way across a part of the country, gouging out the Great Lakes.  As the ice melted, it left pulverized rock behind in the form of bluffs and hills on the shore.  The finest particles of rock were lifted by the winds blowing across the lake and created the dunes.  Only a few places on the planet have sand dunes like these.

The Dune Climb involves climbing the 300-foot tall hill of sand and it’s hard work.  The reward for your effort is more than worth it – stunning views in all directions of several lakes and Leelanau County.  Be sure to bring your camera to capture the incredible beauty.  And, then give yourself a running start on your descent.  Launch yourself off the dune and land lightly on the sand after going airborne.  It’s fun!

Outdoor Activities

The Dune Climb Hiking Trail is a 3 ½ mile round trip for hiking enthusiasts and those with a great deal of stamina.  It takes you across the sand dunes to Lake Michigan.  The hilly, sandy terrain makes for a difficult hike and may take several hours.  Be sure to take along plenty of water.  The rewards are fantastic views, a sense of accomplishment, and a plunge into the restorative waters of Lake Michigan.

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a hard surface path.  It winds around for miles through the park and you can walk, bike, or skate on it.

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a 7.4 mile road that you can use to drive past some of the most well known attractions in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  You’ll pass through shady forests, bright clearings and see a covered bridge.  Stop at Overlooks for spectacular views of the park.  Lake Michigan Overlook has a viewing platform 450 feet above Lake Michigan.  You can see the glittering water below.  To your left are the Empire Bluffs.  The North and South Manitou Islands are on the horizon.  Sleeping Bear Overlook gives you a view of thee dune that gave the National Lakeshore its name.  Wind and erosion have diminished the size of the sleeping bear.

Sleeping Bear Dunes’ beaches will give you gentle waves of clear blue waters, soft golden sand and breezes off the lake.  There are nine beautiful beaches in the park.

The National Lakeshore has several conifer and northern hardwood forests.  You’ll see meadows, wetlands, lakes, streams and bogs.  These are all examples of glacier movement.  Enjoy canoeing, kayaking, swimming and other water sports.  Hike the many trails through the forests.  Enjoy bird watching, wildlife viewing and just simply enjoying nature at its best and most beautiful.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has been described as nature’s wonderland.  Come see for yourself why.

Glen Haven

Glen Haven was a company town from 1865 to 1931.  The sawmill predated the town by 8 years.  Later a dock was built and was busy shipping lumber on Lake Michigan to Chicago, Milwaukee and New York.  With improved roads and expansion of trucking companies, shipping business at the dock declined sharply and the town witheredl  

Today Glen Haven Village is part of the park and serves as an example of a typical lakeside logging town.  There are many restored buildings that are filled with historical displays.  The Blacksmith Shop offers live demonstrations.  See boats on display at the Cannery Boathouse Museum.


The park has become one of the most popular camping destinations in Michigan with 2 main campgrounds.  Some of the campsites are modern with electrical hook ups, some allow the use of a generator and others are rustic.

If you’re interested in renting an RV, Green Vacation Deals recommends RVshare.

Green Vacation Deals can share ways to save money if you’re interested in buying a tent, a tipi, or camping cookware.

Hotel Deals

If your preference is for a hotel, please check out the following hotels.  They have discounted rates up to 40% and you can book these through Expedia to realize the savings.

  • Coastal Suites Resort       40% Discount
  • Baymont by Wyndham Beulah       32% Discount
  • Bay Port Lodging       10% Discount
  • Bayshore Resort       10% Discount
  • Leland Lodge       10% Discount
  • Park Place Hotel       10% Discount
  • West Bay Beach-A Delamar Resort       10% Discount
  • M-22 Inn Suttons Bay       10% Discount