Finally, a much needed and well-deserved vacation to Northern Michigan. Having never been to this region of the country before, everyone told me, “If you’re going Up North, you HAVE to go check out Sleeping Bear Dunes.” We did some research and found out that Sleeping Bear Dunes is a 35-mile section of coastline that has been designated a National Lakeshore. Sand Dunes, hiking trails, scenic vistas, historic towns (dating back to the days when the Great lakes were the superhighway of the region) are all part of the park. We decide to take a guided tour to make sure we don’t miss out on anything.

The day starts with our guide picking us up at our hotel and we make the 45-minute drive out to the Sleeping Bear Dunes. The vehicle is spacious, comfortable and equipped with a microphone. As we wind our way through the rolling hills and fruit orchards the guide tells the story of how this area went from migratory hunting grounds of Native tribes, to the 1800’s lumber industry to the tourism and agriculture that exist today. “We loved all the history of the native Americans, especially the legends and beliefs around Manitou”.

Empire Bluff Trail

Upon arrival, we make an easy 15-20 minute walk through a Beech-Maple forest to the Empire Bluffs overlook. Our guide informs us that we are standing on massive glacial debris deposits known as Glacial Moraines. “Everyone says the lakes are big. I had no idea. Wow! That’s a lot of fresh water!” The day of our visit, the water is calm, and a number of large ships are out on the water. “How rough does it get out there during storms?” I ask. “We’ll get to that”, responds our guide.

Next up, we travel to the historic village of Empire and are treated to a delicious lunch on the beach right next to the water. The guide tells us we can look for something called Petoskey stones and shows us an example of one. “I have to admit, all this geology is pretty interesting!"

Next, we take in the dune complex via the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. We transition from dense forest to shrub zones to active dune areas and make stops at multiple overlooks to take in views of Glen Lake, Sleeping Bear and Lake Michigan. Equipped with a telescope, the guide says, “You want to see a shipwreck?” Impossible to see with the naked eye, off the coast of South Manitou Island lies the remains of a wrecked freighter that ran aground in bad weather back in the early 1900’s. “That was really cool to be able to see that!

Next up, we travel to the world-famous Dune Climb. Some members of our group remove their shoes and tackle the climb. The walk up looks tough, but the way back down is the real entertainment. People running, some rolling down, some even doing somersaults if they get going too fast.

Family Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Once everyone has reconvened, we head to the historic town of Glen Haven, arguably the most well-preserved example of an 1800’s logging and shipping port anywhere on the Lake Michigan Coast. We are transported back in time with visits to an actual working Blacksmith shop, and the Sleeping Bear Point Life Saving Station which was the only chance of rescue for ships that didn’t navigate the shallow shoals of the Manitou Passage correctly.

Finally, we make our way back to Traverse City along the M-22 corridor, one of the prettiest roads in all of northern Michigan. “Now I know why I see those M-22 stickers and T-shirts everywhere.

At the end of the day, as we shook the excess sand out of shoes and combed through our photos, we realized what a unique area we had just visited. Really what stood out was how much of a greater appreciation and understanding we now have of the area. “We are so glad that we did this tour with Up North Tours! Thanks, we had a blast!

In addition to the company’s Sleeping Bear Tours, Up North Tours also offers a Sleeping Bear & Wine Tour Combo trip. Finish your Sleeping Bear tour and then do some wine tasting on the Leelanau peninsula.

“Hands down, the best! We did the combo SB tour and wine tour. It was the perfect tour package.”- Facebook review

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