When it comes to planning a vacation to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, there are tons of great lists already out there — but most don’t go beyond the can’t-miss shortlist of, say, hiking this one trail or visiting that one beach.
In honor of Sleeping Bear Dunes’ 50th anniversary — which it marks on October 21 this year — we wanted to go beyond the basics. We wanted to create a sweeping list that included peaceful activities and wild adventures, little-known spots and classic stops, to encourage people to get out and truly make the most of this 71,000-acre wonderland.
Of course, no National Park to-do list could ever be truly complete, but we believe this one’s a pretty good start. It’s arranged in no particular order and can be used as a lifelong, multiple-visits checklist or simply for cherry-picking ideas for planning one trip.
Just don’t forget your park pass, and be sure to call ahead or check online when it comes to scheduling details or changes in operation both at the park and at nearby businesses.
1. Hike to the top of Pyramid Point. The spectacular overlook at the top of the Pyramid Point trail (either .6 miles or 2.7 miles depending on which route you want) is a short-list must-see at Sleeping Bear.
2. Have a picnic. Beautiful spots abound in the park; try the aptly named Picnic Mountain if you’re planning on visiting the Dune Climb that same day.
3. Marvel at Lake Michigan from atop Empire Bluff. Easily one of the best hikes in the entire park, Empire Bluff Trail is less than 1.5 miles round-trip but delivers an incredible view over the Big Lake.
4. Catch a Sleeping Bear sunset. With so much west-facing waterfront, there’s no shortage of great sunset spots here. A few tried-and-true bets include Good Harbor Beach and Esch Road Beach, Empire Beach Village Park in Empire, and Stop No. 9 along the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
5. Tumble down the Dune Climb. It’s a Sleeping Bear Dunes tradition: Hoofing it up the iconic Dune Climb hill of sand, then careering back down as fast as you can.
6. Hike the Dune Climb. If that first climb wasn’t enough of a challenge, you can keep on walking westward all the way to Lake Michigan. But be warned: Even though it’s only 3.5 miles round trip, the Dunes Trail is the park’s most strenuous hike, as shifting sands, summer heat and zero shade can render the trek remarkably grueling. Bring water, wear proper shoes, and plan accordingly.
6. Step back in time at Glen Haven. With a blacksmith shop, cannery boathouse, and general store, this restored 1920′s village offers a look into local life from another era.
7. Day trip