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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Updated: Mar 11, 2022

Looking for miles of sandy beaches, crystal clear water, hiking trails, and 75 degrees with a breeze in June? Well then look no further than the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the Northern part of lower Michigan.

Located a little over nine hours from Hayward, WI this destination is perfect for a long weekend or extended vacation. This past weekend my mom and I were able to take our first girl’s trip together since November 2019. We decided to leave on a Thursday night and arrive home Monday evening. Our long weekend in the Bear Dunes was the perfect escape for experiencing the sites while also taking time to relax!

On the way to the shores of Lake Michigan there are some great spots to stop along the way to break up the trip. Driving through the UP there is no shortage of hole in the wall places offering pasties, smoked fish, and fudge! Munising, MI has the gorgeous Pictured Rocks, drive along the Michigan Scenic Highway, or even spend an afternoon on Mackinac Island like we did!

Once you’ve completed the journey to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore there is much to do! Enjoy the stunning scenery, bask on the warm sandy beaches, explore the hiking trails, bike, kayak, and make sure to check out the numerous Bed & Breakfasts waiting to accommodate your stay. My top suggested recommendations are to make sure you complete the Dune Climb, drive along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, admire the crystal clear water, and enjoy the small town shops and eateries in the surrounding areas of Empire and Glen Arbor.

The following is a breakdown of more detailed information about the sites, activities, and accommodations that I recommend checking out.

Dune Climb:

The “Dune Climb” is a quick and intense upward jaunt that provides an overlook of Glen Lake. However, if you’re able, don't stop there! The dune trail is a steady incline of rolling sand dunes that extends to Lake Michigan over the course of 3.5 miles or “nine dunes” as the park ranger told us.

  • My first tip is that we discovered that if you climb to the top of the “fifth dune” you will have the summit view of Lake Michigan! It is a stunning overlook and worth the struggle of your toes digging into the sand with every step! Each additional dune after that is just a bonus to the end of the trail. Don’t forget you must climb back ;p

  • My second tip is to make sure you begin the climb in the morning! Much like the desert, by mid-afternoon the sand becomes scorching hot. Or as my mom said; “I was coming down off that last dune like a cat on a hot tin roof”

  • To find out more about safety measures and tips for the trail click this link:

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive:

Along the same road as the Dune Climb there is a really nice road that winds along the shores of Lake Michigan. There are a multitude of overlooks along the way. The most stunning is the “The Lake Michigan Overlook”. Here you will see a visual straight out of a catalog. This view does come with the temptation to climb down an extremely steep dune to reach the shores of the lake. However, be prepared to pay the $3,000 rescue fee if you get stuck and can’t make it back up!

Glen Haven Beach:

Sandy shores, clear water, and a welcoming breeze is what we experienced while taking the afternoon after hiking to relax. Whether you’re the type to lay out in the sun or dip your toes in and walk you will be highly impressed with the quality of the water. In my personal opinion the perfect beach day is curated by a soft blanket, sunscreen, and a good book! After you’ve spent enough time in the sun, be sure to drive 5 minutes towards town and get some ice cream at “The Pine Cone” in nearby Glen Arbor! It will hit the spot.

Accommodation Recommendation:

We stayed at the Sleeping Bear Dunes Bed & Breakfast! The owners Libby and Dean have created a haven of relaxation and activities for an extremely enjoyable stay!

Our room was furnished with a couch, television, electric fireplace, mini fridge, whirlpool bathtub, and more. There are common spaces indoors and outdoors for reading, playing games, hammocking, building a fire, or just admiring their beautiful gardens and landscape.

The best part? They excel in breakfast. Local, fresh, vegetarian dishes are Dean and Libby’s specialty! Each morning you will wake up and have your tastebuds blessed by their cooking.

Centrally located to both Empire and Glen Arbor you are about 6 miles away in each direction for exploring all of the nearby fun!

Thanks for checking out my first travel blog for The Northern Nerd! I will keep exploring and providing recommendations so that you too can experience the beautiful Northland.

- Claire Christenson

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