Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a beautiful place, so beautiful that it was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by the famous ABC’s Good Morning America. The Lakeshore is perched up above the water, 400 feet to be exact, giving the land a usual appearance from the water view, but also offers stunning views from the land perspective. The majority of the area here is now protected and designated as a National Park and has camping, fishing, hunting, activities and much more to see and experience on the beautiful stretch of land. 65 miles of shoreline is shared with Lake Michigan, and you can see the massive dunes rising from the sandy beach areas. The Lakeshore is long and narrow and relatively small, but you can find forests, lakes, streams, meadows and sandy bluffs to explore and enjoy.
Shipwrecks in the Area
Several lush islands are visible from the shores of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. What many people don’t know is that many ships have sunk in this area between the mainland and the islands called the Manitou Passage. One of the islands had the only natural harbor for early settlers and sailors needing provisions. Ships continually sailed the passage to get supplies, but it was a dangerous undertaking. It is relatively shallow, and it is known for its strong winds and severe storms at times. Some ships were able to make it through; others were not so lucky.
National Park Status
The National Park has lots to see and discover. With 35 miles of pristine beaches, two islands and plenty to see on both, there is plenty to do for an enjoyable trip. The visitor centers have ranger-led talks and guides so you can learn the best places to visit. The beaches are a fantastic option in the summer months. The sand is soft and wide, and the waters of Lake Michigan are clear and fun to swim in. Popular beaches include the County Road 651 Beach, the County Road 669 Beach, Platte River Point, Esch Beach and North Bar Lake. Bring your kayaks, canoes, floats, and sunscreen and enjoy the water. While you’re there, you have to try the Dune Climb! The climb is steep and strenuous, but you might see kids running up and down the hill made of tons of soft sand. It can be found 5 miles north of Empire on M-109, and the view from the top is worth the hike! A trip to Glen Haven Village is a blast from the past, as it is the best-preserved cord wood station in the entire Great Lakes area. The village has a general store, blacksmith shop and cannery boathouse to walk through and experience. There are a few lighthouses that exist in the area and one that is open to visitors. Daily tours in the summer months can be taken at the South Manitou Lighthouse where you can climb the 117 steps of the spiral staircase to look out over the lake over 100 feet up in the air. Visit the Inland Lakes, Port Oneida, some of the historical farms and homesteads that can be found here too.
Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
One of the best ways to see and experience the area is to try the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. This trail is paved and is relatively wide so that it can accommodate walkers, bike riders, roller skaters, and strollers. It runs about 16 miles from Empire to Port Oneida along the coastline. It is planned to reach 27 miles of trail throughout the area eventually. Some stretches are fairly steep and beware of people going different speeds on the favorite trail. Most of the major attractions and sightseeing opportunities are stationed along the way and conveniently are located with trailheads to hike from.
The Best Scenic Drive
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is another favorite thing to do during your visit. Pierce Stocking was a lumberman who worked in the forest of Michigan and enjoyed the beauty and surroundings so much; he convinced people to build a road along some of the best points and views that ends at the magnificent sand dunes. The drive is 7.4 miles and is a self-guided tour by vehicle. Along the way, visitors will be able to see some of the best views over the lakes, the surrounding vegetation and of course, the dunes. Stop by the Lake Michigan Overlook on the drive and bring a chair. Here, you can sit in the soft sand hundreds of feet above Lake Michigan. This spot not only has the best view of the water but the best sunsets as well.
Maritime Museum is Fun for All
Just west of Glen Haven you can find the Maritime Museum which was the original U.S. Life-Saving Station for Sleeping Bear Point but was moved as the sand dunes were beginning to bury it. The museum is open from late May until early September, and here you can witness reenactments of the breeches buoy rescue drill and also see the large Lyle Gun fired from the beach which was used to shoot a recuse line from shore to a ship in distress. The museum has incredible displays and exhibits and even a room on the second floor that is outfitted as a Steamer Wheelhouse, complete with a panoramic view of the channel. This is a fantastic way to learn some fascinating history and experience a taste of life in the olden days on the shorefront.
Weddings Along The Water
How would you like to get married on under the huge shade trees and with the lovely water as your scenery? It is an option to get married here, and reservations can be made at The Homestead resort, or you can talk to the National Park and reserve sites for your party and pick the sandy beach to wear your white dress on for a lovely beach wedding. Permits are required within the park area, but a simple phone call to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore visitor center can answer any questions you might have.
Lovely Place, Lovely Time
The summer months are the best months to visit the area, and you will be joined by lots of happy people hiking or just enjoying the magnificent and peaceful lake views from hundreds of feet up. There are wineries, water activities, two islands, restaurants, shopping and many other sights to see and things to do. Stop by the visitor center of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and see what talks to listen too or trails to check out. Enjoy the scenic drives, and your stay on the place voted the most beautiful place in America.