The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the most beautiful and amazing places in the country. And it’s only a short drive from downtown Traverse City! Here are 10 ways to explore Sleeping Bear.
1. Do the Dune Climb
Think you can climb 150-foot dune? This huge sand dune is just waiting to be climbed and then run—or rolled!—down toward Lake Michigan.
2. Stop by the Visitor Center
The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center is located in the picturesque village of Empire. It has a museum, brochures, maps, and lots of information about the park. You can scope out places to visit by looking at a huge scale model of the dunes in the lobby and ask questions of the helpful rangers and volunteers.
3. Take a Hike
There are 13 separate hiking trails in the park, and almost all of them are short enough for kids. One favorite is the half-mile hike out to Sleeping Bear Point and back, which takes less than an hour and includes great views of the shoreline, dunes, and islands. You can also ride your bike on the paved Sleeping Bear Dunes Heritage Trail!
4. Head to the Beach
There are miles of beautiful Lake Michigan beaches here where you can bodysurf the waves, make sandcastles, or take a long walk down the shore.
5. Explore an Island
Did you know there are two islands just off the coast of Sleeping Bear Dunes? They’re called North and South Manitou Island, and they are the “cubs” to the park’s “mama bear.” Catch the morning ferryboat out of Leland and spend the day roaming South Manitou Island with its tall lighthouse, giant cedars, and quiet beaches.
6. See a Shipwreck
There are lots of shipwrecks to be found around Sleeping Bear Dunes. One of the best places to see them is the Manitou Passage State Underwater Preserve between the dunes and the islands. You can also see shipwrecks from certain high points on the dunes on a clear day!
7. Visit the Past
The former port of Glen Haven was a steamship stop on Sleeping Bear Bay that has been restored to the way it looked in the 1920s. There’s a general store, a working blacksmith shop and a former cannery that now houses a large exhibit of Great Lakes boats. To the north is the Port Oneida Historic District, which preserves the homes and barns of a vanished turn-of-the-century farming settlement.
8. Practice a Rescue Mission
Each day during the summer season, there are special ranger-led programs created especially for kids. One popular activity is the “shipwreck rescue” at the Sleeping Bear Point Lifesaving Station at Glen Haven, where young visitors get to be part of a turn-of-the-century rescue crew that has to save survivors of a shipwrecked vessel.
9. See the Dunes in Winter
While the sun and the sand make for a magical summer trip, Sleeping Bear is equally beautiful in the winter. There are ranger-led programs—like fun snowshoe hikes up into the dune forests—and it’s a great time to look for wildlife tracks!
10. Become a Junior Ranger
Sleeping Bear Dunes encourages young visitors to participate in its Junior Ranger program. Pick up a free workbook at the visitor center, the Dune Climb bookstore, or the Glen Haven General Store. When you’re done, take the completed booklets back to the Visitor Center, and you can receive an official Junior Ranger Badge or Patch!