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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers magnificent views over sweeping vistas of Lake Michigan from atop high dunes, miles of perfect freshwater beaches, forested wilderness islands, hiking trails and a series of preserved historic farmsteads. The glistening waters of Lake Michigan make a stunning backdrop for the dunes and forests, while abundant wildlife and a diverse ecosystem thrill the nature lover. 

The abundance of hiking trails throughout the Park offer visitors the chance to take in the awe-inspiring vistas of Sleeping Bear. Recently, the much-anticipated five-mile 'Dune Climb to Glen Arbor' portion of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail was opened to the public. When complete, this trailway will run for 27 miles from the northern end of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to a point just south of Empire. (For a complete listing of hiking trails, please visit our Trails page.)

The Legend

Sleeping Bear took its name from an Ojibway legend about its formation.  According to the story, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven by forest fires from what is now Wisconsin and forced to swim across Lake Michigan. When the mother bear reached the Michigan shore, she turned to discover that her cubs had vanished. The Great Spirit was so touched by her plight that he had her fall off to sleep there, creating Sleeping Bear Dune, and marked the place where her cubs disappeared by creating the Manitou Islands.

Philip A. Hart Visitor Center 

Located on M-72 just east of Empire, the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center is named for the long-time Michigan senator whose efforts were central to establishing Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The center, an excellent place to begin a visit to the park, is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day and 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the year. Exhibits and dioramas display the history, geology, flora and fauna of the park. A 15-minute slide show airs throughout the day, while maps, including a large-scale relief map, offer travelers, especially hikers and bikers, assistance in making plans for visits to the park. Staff is available to answer questions, and books, videotapes, posters and souvenirs are offered for sale.

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive located off M-109 south of the Dune Climb and north of the Visitors Center, winds through 7.4 miles of dunes and woods, providing breathtaking scenery, including views of Lake Michigan. A self-guided tour using a brochure available at the entrance provides information on 12 sites of interest, including overlooks of the dunes, the surrounding forest, and the changing landscape. Two picnic areas with restrooms are available.  Bicycles are permitted. A park fee is required.

Dune Climb

Children and energetic teens and adults often make it a special point to test the Dune Climb, a challenging but rewarding part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore visitor experience.  The reward for climbers includes views of Glen Lake and the dunes' summit.  The Dune Climb is off M 109 eight miles north of Empire.  Restroom facilities are provided.  Those wishing to continue on can hike trails at three degrees of difficulty.  They are:  the rugged Dunes Trail, a 3.5 mile (5.6 km) trip to Lake Michigan and back, the moderately difficult 2.8 mile (4.5 km) loop trail to Sleeping Bear Point, and the easy Duneside Accessible Trail, a handicapped-accessible 1.8 mile (2.9 km) hike through fields and woods.

Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum

In 1901 the Sleeping Bear Point Life-Saving Station opened, along with an identical one on South Manitou Island, to serve ships passing through the sometime treacherous Manitou Passage. Shifting sands forced the station to move to its present location in 1931. It was closed after World War II, and in 1982, historic restoration efforts began which led to establishment of the museum in 1984. Today the grounds and buildings appear as they did in 1931, except for the crew's bedroom and the interior of a boathouse, both of which appear as they did in 1901. Exhibits illustrate the history of the life-saving efforts launched by the crews, the techniques and equipment they used and how they went about their daily lives. 

Manitou Islands

North and South Manitou Island, the cub symbols of the Sleeping Bear legend, offer visitors two diverse travel experiences. South Manitou Island offers a daylong excursion into the lives of the early settlers of the region, with farmsteads, an old schoolhouse and the island cemetery amoung the highlights. Park ranger presentations are provided at the island lighthouse built in 1871. The Manitou Island Transit company offers daily ferry rides to the island much of the summer. Round-trip rates are $35 for adults and $20 for children 12 and under. The ferry company also offers ninety-minute walking tours ($10 adults, $7 children) of South Manitou. North Manitou Island is a wilderness experience, offering 15,000 acres of camping, hiking, backpacking and solitude, with the exception of a 27-acre managed village site.


Please contact the park for information regarding fees and commercial tour charges.

Do not drive off the established park roads. Always keep your pet on a leash. Pets are not allowed on the Dune Climb or Manitou Islands.  Camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is restricted to authorized campgrounds. There are two family campgrounds and two backcountry campgrounds, as well as backcountry sites on both Manitou Islands. Campfires are permitted only in campgrounds and picnic area fireplaces. Beach fires are restricted to bare beach sand between the water and the first dune and are not permitted on the Manitou Islands. Do not collect ghost forest or other wood on the dunes or disturb plants or natural objects. Campers can collect dead and down wood elsewhere.  You may pick mushrooms and fruit for personal use. Bicycles are not permitted off roads.