Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Here’s our route: Michigan Trip, Summer 2012
After staying two nights in Leland and spending the day at South Manitou Island, we got back on the road for the 40 minute drive to the Phillip A. Hart Visitor Center at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire, Michigan. The drive was easy and we arrived around 10 AM to the beautiful visitor center. There are many exhibits to explore here and we spent an hour or so learning about the area’s animals, the geology of the dunes and the ships of Lake Michigan. We then watched the park’s interpretive video “Dreams of the Sleeping Bear” which was a great introduction to the park’s features. The Visitor Center was bustling with tourists- it is clear this is a very popular destination. There was a short line to talk to the park ranger which we waited in to pick up Junior Ranger packets and get some advice on how best to spend the day.
We always enjoy doing the Junior Ranger programs at National Parks, Historic Sites and Monuments and we especially liked the program at Sleeping Bear Dunes because it covered several different attributes that make the park special like the history, natural beauty, and native wild life. At the park ranger’s suggestion we headed about 5 miles up the road to do the Dune Climb. We parked in the large lot and filled our water bottles up at the water fountains. We later were so glad we all brought large water bottles with us on the dunes because they were hot and pretty strenuous to climb! The round trip hike to Lake Michigan and back was only about 4 miles but was pretty challenging because walking on sand is just plain hard and the dunes are steep. We started up the first major climb and were all full of energy laughing and sliding around. There were a ton of people out playing on the dunes and the atmosphere was very festive. If you do this hike definitely wear sunscreen since there are very few places to seek shelter from the sun. Also, wear shoes or at least carry flip-flops because the sand gets pretty hot in some areas and like I said, there is no place to hide from the sun. Also, when you finally get to the top of the dunes the Lake Michigan shore is rocky and pretty painful to walk bare foot.
The dunes are huge and just when we thought we were almost to Lake Michigan, we’d see the next ridge. It seemed to go on and on and our calves felt like they were on fire. After a while we could see views of Lake Michigan which looked gorgeous in the bright sun. The water looked just like Caribbean water and it was absolutely worth the hard climb to get there! We climbed over the last ridge and everyone jumped into the waves of Lake Michigan. We swam and played for a couple of hours in the lake and also took a short walk along the shore. It was a beautiful place to spend an afternoon and even in the perfect weather we practically had the beach to ourselves which was quite a difference than the crowds at the start.
After a while we started the hike back to the car. This direction was definitely easier but still challenging as the dunes climb and fall what felt like countless times. The twins had a ton of energy and were still running down the large descents. The whole area felt like a giant sandbox and kids were having a blast. We eventually made it back to the bottom of the dunes. What a fantastic hike!
Once back at the bottom of the dunes, the kids finished their Junior Ranger packets and went and got their badges. We sat for a while at a picnic table in the shade of a tree while we cooled off and rehydrated. Our day at Sleeping Bear Dunes had been a blast! It’s definitely a great family destination and we all loved our time here.