Updated: Jun 15
Home to beautiful white sand beaches, scenic hiking trails, and countryside biking paths, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is the perfect midwest weekend getaway. This guide outlines the top things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes, as well as, amazing nearby eateries and breweries.
Legend of the Sleeping Bear Dune as told by the Chippewa Indians:
"Long ago, along the Wisconsin shoreline, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. The bears swam for many hours, but eventually the cubs tired. Mother bear reached the shore and climbed to the top of a high bluff to watch and wait for her cubs. The cubs drowned within sight of the shore. The Great Spirit [Manitou] created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the eternal vigil of mother bear." - NPS
Top Things To Do at Sleeping Bear Dunes
[1.5 miles; 170 ft Elevation Gain; Out & Back; Difficulty: Moderate]
A nice easy stroll through the woods leading to AMAZING Lake Michigan coastline views. Although AllTrails rates this trail as "moderate" we would say this is the easiest trail in the area that leads to such incredible scenery. With that being said, it is also one of the most popular so make sure to arrive early for a more enjoyable hike. This hike is family-friendly, pet-friendly and can be completed by all skill levels.
J&L Recommended: Epic Views!
[3.6 Miles; 636 ft Elevation Gain; Out & Back; Difficulty: Hard]
This is a difficult hike through rolling hills of sand dunes the entire way. An absolute workout, yet extremely rewarding no matter how far you make it into the trail before turning around. If the difficulty rating is having you label this as a "skip", you may consider attempting as much as you feel comfortable with since the views are EPIC throughout. This hike is unlike anything you may be used to as it navigates through such a unique biome of sand and flora. Without trees overhead, be prepared for sun the entire way. Protect yourself with UVA & UBV blocking sunglasses, sunscreen, & a hat.
Tip: Protect yourself with UVA & UBV blocking sunglasses, sunscreen, & hat.
[2.8 Miles; 570 ft Elevation Gain; Loop; Difficulty: Moderate]
VIEWS VIEWS VIEWS. Amazing lake Michigan views, meadow views, and forest views. This trail has it all. A short hike, yet filled with lots of climbing that definitely make the EPIC views earned. Although the AllTrails route in the attached link has you continuing past the Pyramid Point lookout, we recommend staying on the NPS designated trails to avoid getting lost and/or disrupting any wildlife. Take the 0.4 mile in-and-out section to Pyramid Point and then double back to get to the remainder of the loop, per the NPS trail signage.
J&L Recommended: Top Hike!
[4.7 Miles; 669 Elevation Gain; Loop; Difficulty: Moderate]
Not all of the amazing views are seen from the shoreline. Alligator Hill Trail loops through Sleeping Bear Dune park and offers spectacular vantage points highlighting miles of Lake Michigan coastline. Not only that, but later in the hike you will also be able to experience beautiful views of Glen Lake.
You may notice this has the same elevation gain as the Dune Climb above rated hard, however, the elevation gain on Alligator Hill is much more gradual and consists of far less sand. A magnificent hike any time of year that encompasses a wide range of Sleeping Bear's natural beauties.
[7.2 Miles; Loop]
This is one-way road typically driven, however, the AllTrails link above does reference how you can make this into a hike (some times of year the road is closed to cars and only hiking is allowed). The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is named after a man who had a love for the woods, dunes, and Michigan nature. He developed this road to allow visitors to drive close to the dune vistas and see the beauty within these woods. This loop is a very popular part of Sleeping Bear Dunes so be sure to stick to the 20 mph speed limit and yield to hikers and bikers.
The loop consists of covered bridges, lake overlooks, picnic spots, dune overlooks, and hiking trails. To educate yourself throughout the drive, be sure to pickup a free guide to the Scenic Drive at the Visitors Center in Empire. Click here for a virtual tour of all the stops.
Tip: Click here for a virtual tour of all the stops.
Accessed along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, the namesake Sleeping Bear Dune can be viewed here. Estimated to be roughly two thousand years old, Sleeping Bear Dune is perched high above the lake on top of a plateau. Once having stood 234 feet tall, the dune continues to erode as the waves wear away the base of the plateau and it is currently down to about 103 feet tall.
There are incredibly breathtaking views from the overlook and the park recommends that you enjoy the view from the top to avoid rescue fees or the two hours it may take to climb back up the dune. Despite the people you may see descending the dune to get to the crystal clear waters below, it is in your best interest to stay at the top.
Warning: Despite the people you may see descending the dune to get to the crystal clear waters below, it is in your best interest to stay at the top.
[19.7 Miles; 633 ft Elevation Gain; Point to Point; Difficulty; Easy]
If you like biking, you have to check out this amazing bike trail with incredible vistas! The bike path is 20-miles one-way and paved with 10 feet wide asphalt paths throughout 17 miles (3 miles through the Oneida Historical District has packed stone instead of paved asphalt trail).
A great place to start this bike trial is in the parking lot of the Dune Climb mentioned above. Heading north, this will give you 12.3 miles of gorgeous biking through Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, Glen Haven, Glen Arbor, as well as, the scenic and famous M-22. It should take roughly an hour (without stopping at vistas) to get to the northern end of this trail at S Bohemian Rd. Plan for a 2-3 hour round trip bike ride from the Dune Climb parking lot if intending to complete the full 24.6 miles (highly recommended!).
If you do not have a bike of your own or do not have the space to bring it on your trip, rent one from Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor for a very affordable price!
Note: One of the Top 8 Things to do in Traverse City
Leland is a very picturesque little village on the western side of the Leelanau Peninsula sitting right between Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau. We enjoyed walking around this town, admiring the quaint shops, eateries, and local crafts.
Our favorite part was taking a stroll through Fishtown, a beautifully preserved area of Leland with fishing shanties, smokehouses, overhang docks and charter boats along the Leland River. Fishtown leads out to the immaculate beaches and piers along Lake Michigan. Fishtown is also the location to catch a ferry to South or North Manitou Islands. Learn more about getting to these islands from Leland here. When heading up M22 and touring the breathtaking Leelanau Peninsula, be sure to add a Leland stop to your list!
J&L Recommended: Hidden Gem!
Also Read: Top 7 Beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes
Three words. Ice Cream Flights! If you are looking for some delicious, homemade, award winning ice cream, look no further! Moomers is a family owned small business that overlooks their family dairy farm. Try one of their 160 ice cream flavors while gazing out onto the farm and thanking the cows which supplied it. We loved the option to try multiple flavors with an ice cream flight! A truly one-of-a-kind experience that left us pondering if we could possibly pick a favorite.
Try: Their ice cream flights!
From Memorial Day to Labor day The Little Fleet hosts half a dozen food trucks with some of the area's most delicious noms! Whether you are traveling with a group of diverse taste pallets or in the mood to try a little bit of everything, you cannot go wrong with this food truck alley. Head inside to their bar for some local brews, handcrafted cocktails and wines by the glass or bottle. Enjoy out on their patio with some bites from a food truck and you have yourself the perfect afternoon.
Also Read: Top 8 Restaurants of Traverse City
This breakfast spot has been around since1975 and is most famous for their goat cheese and wild mushroom omelette with bacon and chives. You also cannot go wrong with their lump crab egg benedict or one of their giant cinnamon rolls! Their small diner-style restaurant and popularity may lead to a short wait. However, certainly worth the wait for one of the best spots in Traverse City!
J&L Recommended: Best breakfast!
Recommended Brew: Big Bad Apple [Cider 6.9% ABV]
Big Bad Apple is a semi-dry cider made with, of course, Michigan cherries. A one-of-a-kind Michigan cider perfectly paired with any outdoor activity. Cherry Republic is not just a microbrewery, but also a winery, bakery and overall Michigan cherry shop born from the cherry orchards of Leelanau County. A quaint little village in Glen Arbor, stop at the Great Hall to sample over 200 types of cherry products or the Public House for brews and cherry-inspired meals. Much more than a microbrewery, Cherry Republic is fun for the whole family!
Also Read: Best Michigan Coffee Shops
Recommended Brew: The North Porter [Porter 7.0% ABV]
One of the coolest breweries in the area, located alongside the scenic M-22 with an awesome beer garden and patio. Located among the North Woods with firepits, igloos, and live music, Hop Lot is fun any time of year. We recommend trying The North Porter. With deep roasts and hits of chocolate, this porter will keep you feeling cozy next to the bonfire.
J&L Recommended: Incredible atmosphere!
Recommended Brew: Jungle Fungus [IPA 5.3% ABV]
If you are looking for a brewery that will give you the classic "up north" feel, Lake Ann is the place to go! Specializing in American ales, meads, ciders, and wines, Lake Ann has an option for everyone.
Grab a burger or pizza from the neighboring Stone Oven restaurant and head over to Lake Ann's outdoor beer garden where they host regular summer concerts. There is no better place up north to enjoy great beer and live music! Try their flagship IPA, Jungle Fungus, made with Mosaic and Simcoe hops and citrus notes.
Also Read: Top 6 Craft Breweries of Traverse City
Planning Your Trip
What fees are required to enter Sleeping Bear Dunes?
There is a $25 park pass required for vehicles, $20 for motorcycles, or $15 for individuals over 16 years old entering by foot/bike to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. The pass lasts for up to 7 days from purchase and is also required for entry to Sleeping Bear Dunes campgrounds. For information regarding annual and group passes, visit the NPS website.
Park Entry: $25 Park Pass per Vehicles
What is the best lodging near Sleeping Bear Dunes?
Hotel Options near Sleeping Bear
If you are looking for hotel options, there are several Cottages/Inns in Glen Arbor, Leland, & Empire. These towns would also be a good location for any Airbnb/VRBO if looking for some woodsy cabins. If you are looking to have more of the amenities a city has to offer, Traverse City would be another great option for lodging (located about 30 minutes from Sleeping Bear Dunes).
Search for a great deal on hotels in Glen Arbor, Leland, or Empire during your travel dates below!
Camping near Sleeping Bear
When in the outdoorsy state of Michigan, we would recommend camping. Our favorite Sleeping Bear Dunes campground is Platte River Campground (so popular, most weekends book up 6 months in advance). Platte River Campground is located on the southern side of Sleeping Bear Dunes, alongside the Platte River with close proximity to Lake Michigan shoreline. We had a trailhead right next to our campsite that led to a beautiful secluded beach after a short 1-mile hike. They also have Riverside Canoe Rentals located just outside the campground along the Platte River.
When staying at this campground, we would recommend driving down to the very end of Lake Michigan Rd [Platte River Beach Parking] for some AMAZING Lake Michigan sunsets (pictured below). Overall, this was an clean, beautiful campground with great proximity to all of the things we wanted to do within the park. We would book again in a heartbeat and recommend you do to!
J&L Recommended Lodging: Platte River Campground
Sleeping Bear Dunes Camping Tips
Read up on Bear Safety ahead of your trip - over 2,400 black bears live in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Although black bears are less of a threat than grizzly bears, bear spray is still a good precaution. This is an excellent video demonstrating how and when to use your bear spray.
Unlike grizzly bears, if a black bear approaches you be sure to FIGHT BACK.
Before entering the park, you may consider buying bear mace from a store in Traverse City - We used Frontiersmen and although we never needed to use it, felt it was a reliable choice.
Bring a separate set of clothes to only wear in the tent to avoid the scent of food that could be on your clothes throughout the day
Bring waterproof jackets/pants
Also Read: Camping Hacks
We recommend 3-4 days in order to allow enough time for Sleeping Bear Dunes and the surrounding area.
J&L Recommended Duration: 3-4 Days
When to go to Sleeping Bear
This depends on your preference and the activities in which you plan on doing at Sleeping Bear Dune. The busiest time of year is peak summer months, allowing for optimal swimming and beach weather with the least chance of rain. However, many choose to go in the spring to avoid the crowds and have comfortable hiking weather. Others prefer fall for the same reason with the addition of the beautiful fall foliage up the Leelanau Peninsula. The beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park is that you can enjoy activities throughout almost any time of year!
J&L Recommended: Late Spring/Early Fall
Average Temperatures by Month:
April: 54˚ F
May: 67˚ F
June: 76˚ F
July: 81˚ F
August: 79˚ F
September: 71˚ F
How do I get around Sleeping Bear Dunes?
Most travel the roads of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore via car, RV, or motorcycle. Almost all attractions can be accessed via the scenic M-22 & M-109. If planning a trip to either North or South Manitou Islands, check transit options here.
Is there Cellular Service in Sleeping Bear Dunes?
Limited to none within Sleeping Bear Dunes. SAFETY TIP: learn how to download interactive maps to your phone that can give you driving, walking, & biking directions even without cellular service! Visit our Exclusive Content to learn more.