One day hardly seems enough to explore the vast and varied region that is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. But, hey, you’re on a schedule and this is a must-do experience…so here are some highlights that are well worth your limited time.
Yes, you read the time correctly….this is no day for lollygagging. The sun is up early and you should be too. Especially if you want to capture one of the Sleeping Bear’s sensational sunrises. Turn your car onto Pierce Stocking Drive and follow the slow (but gorgeous) climb upwards to the lookout platform. If you’ve timed it right, you’ll be marveling at one of the most breathtaking sunrises. (Small wonder this place was named “Most Beautiful Place in America” by ABC’s Good Morning America.)
Fully invigorated, it’s time for some nourishment. Take the minutes-only drive to Empire and head to The Shipwreck Café, right on the main drag. Owners Steve and Jennifer Nowicki serve up fresh and hearty breakfasts. Dig into the popular Lighthouse; a breakfast wrap with all the morning essentials—egg, cheese, choice of protein, etc. Wash it down with some strong coffee and you’re good to go.
It’s time to hit the trails (you brought bikes and sufficient hydration, of course). Family-friendly riding is available along the new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, a 22-mile, paved, multi-use trail that winds through the National Lakeshore. Feeling a little more adventurous? Many secondary, non-paved roads are open to biking in the park. Important note; bikes are permitted on maintained roads only within the park. They’re NOT allowed on hiking trails or beaches.
After enjoying a good stretch of the legs, it’s lunchtime. Head to Glen Arbor and Art’s Tavern; a summer food mecca for area visitors. Keep it simple…get the famous cheeseburger with a side of their too-good-to-miss, beer-battered onion rings. A Bell’s Oberon pairs perfectly with the midday feast.
It’s probably a good idea to walk off a little of that lunch. Fortunately, Glen Arbor has plenty of shops and galleries for doing just that. Be sure to visit Cherry Republic; the unofficial headquarters for everything “cherry”. Stop in the Glen Arbor Artists Gallery and discover the incredible talents of some of the local artisans. You might even meet one of them.
This is what you’re trip’s really been leading to….the dune climb. Apply the sunscreen, put the shoes in your backpack, and up you go. With each step sinking into the sand, it’s definitely a cardio workout. But it’s definitely worth it. Once at the top, you witness the most amazing view of Glen Lake (Yes, take a selfie.) Be sure to check out the “ghost forests”; once-living trees that, long ago, were buried by moving dunes. On the way back down, you have the option of running or walking (kids choose the former).
Whew…what a day! And the perfect way to top it all off is back in Glen Arbor at Boonedock’s. Grab a table on the patio (weather permitting) and settle in for some live music. Start with an order of Coconut Shrimp or Calamari Fries, either are a perfect segue to the Fresh Lake Perch dinner.
With day nearing its end, you have a couple choices. Head home for the evening (it was a busy day). Or head down M-22 to Esch Beach to catch the last rays dipping beneath the surface. If you plan ahead, you can enjoy a roaring beach bonfire too. Either way, it’s been a magical day you won’t soon forget.