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12 Sleeping Bear Dunes hikes you shouldn’t miss

12 Sleeping Bear Dunes hikes you shouldn’t miss

Looking for the best Sleeping Bear Dunes hikes? You came to the right place. Here we will share 12 of the best Sleeping Bear Dunes trails you mustn’t miss.

In the northern part of Michigan lies the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This beautiful and tranquil destination is famous for forests, beaches, and towering sand dunes that visitors can relax on or climb.

There are several incredible trails that you can explore while you’re in the area.

The trails vary in difficulty so no matter your skill or fitness level, you’ll be able to find a hike that’s perfect for you.

So put on your walking shoes and let’s go.

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In a hurry? These are the best hikes in Sleeping Bear Dunes national lakeshore

Overview of the best hiking trails in Sleeping Bear Dunes

Best hikes in Sleeping Bear Dunes

Distance Difficulty Route type Highlights
View on Glen Lake from the Cottonwood trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Cottonwood Trail

1.4 miles

Easy

Loop

An easy trail with beautiful views and just enough of a challenge to be an interesting route
Fall colors seen from the Windy Moraine Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Windy Moraine Trail

1.5 miles

Easy

Loop

The beautiful views of Glen Lake through the trees
Shaugher Hill Trail Shauger Hill Trail

2.4 miles

Moderate

Loop

The opportunity to see the wildlife of the area including woodpeckers
Dune Climb Trail

3.5 miles roundtrip

Hard

Out and Back

The towering sand dunes with the waters of Lake Michigan at the bottom and two shipwrecks
View from the Empire Bluff Trail Empire Bluff Trail

1.5 miles roundtrip

Easy to moderate

Out and Back

The beautiful views of the deep blue water of Lake Michigan and the sand dunes that surround it
Old Indian Trail Old Indian Trail

2.5 miles

Easy

Loop

A short and sweet trail that gives access to a pristine beach area that you often have to yourself
Sleeping Bear Point Trail

2.8 miles

Moderate

Loop

The colorful wildflowers and the many photo opportunities thanks to the wide-open vistas
Boardwalks used in the Good Harbor Bay trail Good Harbor Bay Trail

2.8 miles

Easy

Loop

A short and easy trail that lets you experience the idyllic lush forests and wetlands near Lake Michigan
An old farm seen from the Bayview trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Bayview Trail

8 miles

Moderate

Loop

The lookout point
Aligator Hill trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Alligator Hill

9 miles

Moderate

Loop

The Island Lookout allows you to see beautiful views of the Manitou Islands and fro Big Glen lookout you can see the namesake lake
Otter Lake in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Platte Plains Trail

15 miles

Easy

Loop

The opportunity to see the natural beauty of the landscape and the wildlife that lives there – if you’re lucky you might even be able to see otters in the creek!
The heritage trail connects many park highlights Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

22 miles one-way

Easy

Point to point

A great well-maintained and easy trail that connects many highlights of the park
View on Glen Lake from the Cottonwood trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
View on Glen Lake from the Cottonwood trail (Photo credits: National Park Service)

Cottonwood Trail

  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 1-1.5 hour
  • Elevation gain: 171 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: between May and November
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: An easy trail with beautiful views and just enough of a challenge to be an interesting route

Short description of the trail

The Cottonwood Trail is an easy trail with slightly moderate aspects – you’ll be walking over soft sand which may create a bit of a challenge.

The trail is also well-marked, making it a great option for beginning hikers.

The trail offers beautiful lake views and countless photo opportunities.

You may experience some windy conditions which will cool down otherwise warm weather.

Directions

From Empire, drive north on M-22N until you reach a fork in the road where you have the option to head left to start driving on M-109N. Next, turn left onto Pierce Stocking Scenic Dr. Continue for roughly 2.3 miles before turning into a parking area on the right side of the road – this is where you can park to begin the hike.

Where to start the Cottonwood Trail hike

The trailhead is located next to the parking lot. The GPS coordinates are 44.873258, -86.052197

What people are saying about this hike

The view halfway through is beautiful! You can also see some cool trees and wildflowers while you walk.

The trail is well-marked and easy to follow.

Conclusion

The Cottonwood Trail is a short hike with interesting views through a sandy landscape.

Fall colors seen from the Windy Moraine Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Fall colors seen from the Windy Moraine Trail (Photo credits: National Park Service)

Windy Moraine Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 226 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: The trail is doable throughout the year – the fall and winter months see fewer crowds, and it’s a great place to go hiking or cross-country skiing when there is snow!
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are permitted during the summer, but are not allowed during the cross-country skiing months (between December 1st and March 31st)
  • Highlights: The beautiful views of Glen Lake through the trees

Short description of the trail

The Windy Moraine Trail is located on stretches of land that were carved out by glaciers around 10000 years ago.

This easy trail provides hikers with beautiful views of Glen Lake.

If you time your visit in fall you will be able to see some colorful foliage. A large part of the trail is leading through a wooded area.

If you visit when it’s snowy, you also have the opportunity to go hiking and cross-country skiing and glide through the beech-maple forest while enjoying the landscape blanketed in snow.

The trail is marked by nine numbered signposts. The trail map that can be found at the start of the trail will give more info about the trees, birds, and soil at these various points.

It’s best to do the trail counter-clockwise so that you go gradually uphill and steeply downhill at the end.

Directions

From Empire, drive north on M-22N until you reach a fork in the road where you have the option to head left to start driving on M-109N.

Once you pass the entrance to Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Entrance, look out for a right turn onto Welch Drive.

The trailhead will be located to your right after you make the turn.

Where to start the Windy Moraine Trail hike

The trailhead is located at 8731 W Welch Road, Empire, MI 49630.
The GPS coordinates are 44.85500542487688, -86.03584136025718.

What people are saying about this hike

This is a really nice and quiet trail! We didn’t see anyone when we went last Saturday afternoon.  It might be busier in the summer, but if you’re looking for a peaceful winter hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes where you won’t see another person – this is your best bet.

Conclusion

This short and easy trail has a great payoff.

If you’re pressed for time but still want to enjoy the incredible scenery and great views of Glen Lake, this is a great option for you.

Shaugher Hill Trail
Shaugher Hill Trail (Photo credits: National Park Service)

Shauger Hill Trail

  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 96 meters
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: in spring to see wildflowers and in autumn for the colorful foliage. In winter the hilly terrain is a beloved playground of cross-country skiers.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are not allowed during the cross-country skiing months (between December 1st and March 31st). Outside this period they are welcome but must be kept on a leash.
  • Highlights: The opportunity to see the wildlife of the area including woodpeckers

Short description of the trail

The Shauger Hill Trail is a moderate but shorter hike through beautiful and serene birch maple forests. As you walk, you can keep an eye out for various birds and other wildlife that call this area home.

For example, you might see some woodpeckers. If you don’t see them, you’ll definitely see the markings they left on the trees along the trail.

In the winter months, this is a great place to go cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

Novice cross-country skiers better start with other trails because some steep ascents/descents make this trail rather advanced.

Directions

From Empire, drive north on M-22N until you reach a fork in the road where you have the option to head left to start driving on M-109N. Next, turn left onto Pierce Stocking Scenic Dr.

Take the first right (before the entrance gates) and park your car at the parking lot.

Where to start the Shauger Hill Trail hike

The trailhead is at the far side of the parking lot at the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Entrance.

The GPS coordinates are 44.85330883102534, -86.04117427615854.

What people are saying about this hike

This is an easy and scenic route! Stick to the marked trails and you’ll have a great time.

In summer this trail lacks the outstanding views you can find elsewhere in the park.

Conclusion

If you want to avoid the crowds and experience a great hike in the woods, the Shauger Hill Trail is a great one to try.

Dune Climb
Getting ready for the Dune Climb!

Dune Climb Trail

  • Distance: 3.5 miles roundtrip
  • Difficulty level: Hard
  • Time needed: 3 hours
  • Elevation gain: 130 feet
  • Route type: Out and Back
  • When to go: The evening – there are great spots to view the sunset from the trail!
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The towering sand dunes with the waters of Lake Michigan at the bottom and two shipwrecks

Short description of the trail

The Dune Climb Trail is a challenging journey up the impressive sand dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan.

This strenuous route starts by taking you up a steep sand dune.

This is what is called the “dune climb” and most visitors stop as soon as they have conquered this dune.

Departing from the top of this dune is the dunes trail that leads to the shore of Lake Michigan.

Even if this lake can be seen from afar, you will still have to conquer another 5 dunes of various heights before reaching the lake. And once you reach the water you have to hike the same way back.

A view from the Dunes trail towards Lake Michigan
Hiking the Dunes trail, halfway to the lake

Don’t underestimate the journey and be sure to bring sunscreen. Even if it’s not overly hot outside, the sun reflecting on the sand can cause sunburns!

It’s important to wear shoes, especially in the warmer weather. It may not be pleasant to get sand in your shoes, but it’s necessary to wear them to avoid your feet getting burned.

Read Also:

If you are looking for a pair of good hiking shoes, click here.

Those who make it all the way to the lake will find a relatively deserted beach with a refreshing surf and two shipwrecks. One shipwreck is located about a quarter mile north of the trail end, the other is about the same distance to the south.

Directions

From Empire, drive north on M-22N until you reach a fork in the road where you have the option to head left to start driving on M-109N. Keep following this road until you see a sign for the dune climb.

There is a large parking lot where you can park your car.

Where to start the Dune Climb Trail hike

The trailhead is located 6900 S Dune Hwy, Empire, MI 49630, United States.

The GPS coordinates are 44.88190740360075, -86.0421734249814.

What people are saying about this hike

This trail took us about four hours just because we kept stopping to enjoy the beach! It’s marked as a challenging trail but most of the difficulty comes from the fact that you’re walking on sand most of the time.

Conclusion

The Dune Climb Trail is a can’t-miss experience as it’s so unique to the shores of Lake Michigan. If you have time for one unforgettable and challenging route, pick Dune Climb Hill.

View from the Empire Bluff Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
The viewpoint of the Empire Bluff Trail offers a majestic view over Lake Michigan

Empire Bluff Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 miles roundtrip
  • Difficulty level: Easy to moderate
  • Time needed: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 170 feet
  • Route type: Out and Back
  • When to go: Between March and November
  • Dog-friendly:  Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The beautiful views of the deep blue water of Lake Michigan and the sand dunes that surround it

Short description of the trail

For an unforgettable view of Lake Michigan, try the picturesque Empire Bluff Trail. This point-to-point trail brings you to a viewpoint high over the lake.

You can spend time resting at the viewing area near the boardwalk before heading back to the parking lot.

This is a gradual uphill hike with some uneven terrain. Although the hike is rated moderate we found it rather easy.

Halfway is a first scenic lookout with a stunning view over Lake Michigan and South Bar Lake but the real reward is the amazing view you have from the boardwalk at the end.

Directions

From Empire drive south on Wilco Road until you see a small parking lot on the right. It is about a half-mile on Wilco Road and there is a sign with the name of the trail.

Where to start the Empire Bluff Trail hike

The trail starts from the parking. The GPS coordinates are 44.799302312258135, -86.05869332534907.

What people are saying about this hike

This hike is really beautiful! The uphills are a workout but nothing too challenging.

Easy way to see some gorgeous views. I went for sunset and it was excellent.

Conclusion

The Empire Bluff Trail is a short hike with very rewarding views. If you only have time for a few hikes make sure this one is part of it.

Old Indian Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Old Indian Trail

Old Indian Trail

  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 1.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 85 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: between April and October. The green loop can be used for cross-country skiing in the winter. It’s almost completely flat so a good option for those who are new to the sport.
  • Dog-friendly:  Dogs are welcome on the loop but must be kept on a leash. They are not allowed on the spur trail to lake Michigan.
  • Highlights: A short and sweet trail that gives access to a pristine beach area that you often have to yourself

Short description of the trail

This first part of the trail runs through a maple-beech forest. You can choose from 2 variants. The green loop is relatively flat and easy. The black loop is somewhat more hilly but it offers better views as it is closer to the lake.

If you go right where both loops converge you will arrive at a lookout over the dunes and Lake Michigan. From there, you can continue on to the crystal clear water.

Keep in mind that while the journey to the lakeshore is short, it’s only 0.2 miles one-way, you’ll be walking on loose sand and the journey back is uphill. This can be hard for those who are not physically fit.

You are welcome to bring your dogs, but they cannot join you on the dunes section of the trail because this is a nesting area for the piping plover.

Bring bug spray in summer. Both loops slinger around several swamps and can be full of mosquitos.

This hike is short and easy but thanks to the beach access it has a great pay-off. It is a great option for an easy-going day.

Directions

From Empire, drive south on M-22S for almost 14 miles until you see a sign and a small parking lot on your right.

Where to start the Old Indian Trail hike

The trailhead is located near 4115 N Scenic Highway, Honor, MI, 49640. The GPS coordinates are 44.702723777396415, -86.18506124799087.

What people are saying about this hike

This is a pretty easy hike! The only thing that might be challenging for some is the part where you hike up and down sand dunes. If you’re used to walking on sand it won’t be too bad.

Conclusion

The Old Indian Trail is a short hike that can be taken at a slow pace and offers a great opportunity to really soak in the environment!

Sleeping Bear Point trail near Lake Michigan
The spur trail to the lake from Sleeping Bear Point Trail

Sleeping Bear Point Trail

  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 1.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 314 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: Between March and October
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are not allowed on this trail
  • Highlights: The colorful wildflowers and the many photo opportunities thanks to the wide-open vistas

Short description of the trail

The Sleeping Bear Point Trail takes you on a beautiful journey through the sand dunes. Along the way, you will enjoy numerous impressive vistas.

This hike is less strenuous than the Dune Climb hike and the length of the trail isn’t too long, but walking on loose sand can be quite challenging – that is why the trail is rated as moderate.

The advice given for the dune climb also applies to this trail: bring sunscreen, plenty of water, and wear proper shoes.

We recommend hiking the trail counter-clockwise. This way the toughest sections are behind you relatively early and the last part is on packed earth.

If you follow the trail counter-clockwise you will also relatively early pass by a branch that leads to the lake. It’s worth making the detour as this part of the beach is usually deserted and a nice place to relax while you take in the breathtaking views.

You will be able to see the Manitou islands from this point.

Be sure to bring your camera as you will probably want to take loads of pictures.

The landscape is stunning, and you may have a chance to see a selection of colorful wildflowers.

Directions

From Empire, drive north on M-22N until you reach a fork in the road where you have the option to head left to start driving on M-109N. Keep following this road until you come to an intersection with Glen Haven Rd.

At this point we would have to make a right to follow M-109N but instead we continue straight, following signs for Glen Haven.

Follow this road until it reaches the lakeshore and make a left on Sleeping Bear Dunes Rd. At the roundabout take the 3rd exit, W Sleeping Bear Dr.

This road leads to a parking lot where the trail starts.

Where to start the Sleeping Bear Point Trail hike

The trailhead is located at the far end of the parking lot. The address is W Sleeping Bear Drive, Glen Arbor, MI 49636.

The GPS coordinates are 44.90965158643537, -86.03960018453799.

What people are saying about this hike

We decided to listen to other reviews and head counterclockwise – it was definitely the best choice! It makes it a bit easier and you walk on the dunes at the beginning and get it out of the way.

Gorgeous! The view at the top is incredible.

It doesn’t get any better than this!!!

Conclusion

The Sleeping Bear Point Trail is a great alternative to the Dune Climb hike – it’s shorter and has less of an incline, but you still get to experience the beauty of the region.

Boardwalks used in the Good Harbor Bay trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Boardwalks in the good harbor bay trail (Photo credits: National Park Service)

Good Harbor Bay Trail

  • Distance: 2.8 mile
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 1.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 16 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is great throughout the year but you might want to avoid it during rainy days as some parts are prone to flooding. Because it is almost level it is also a beloved trail for novice cross-country skiers in the winter.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome on this trail outside the cross-country ski season but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: A short and easy trail that lets you experience the idyllic lush forests and wetlands near Lake Michigan

Short description of the trail

The majority of Good Harbor Bay Trail winds through a forested area, but the start of the trail has several sandy areas where you might be able to hear the waves and currents of the waters of Lake Michigan.

Later on you pass through a shrub zone, a pine-oak forest and a beech-maple forest.

As the trail is located near a swamp, you’ll likely encounter patches of water that cover the trail. It may be a small amount that you can carefully move around, but if there was a recent heavy downpour you may need to select an alternate route.

In areas that are prone to flooding, there may be certain measures taken to keep the trail navigable, such as small boardwalks. Either way, it’s best to wear durable and waterproof hiking boots.

You can spend time before, after, or during your hike at the beach. You might be surprised by how crystal-clear the waters of Lake Michigan are and how sparkling it’s white sandy beaches are. Although the temperatures might not be as tropical as other beach locations you might be used to, the beaches here are stunning!

A little further down Lake Michigan Rd is a small pic nic area where you can take a break.

Directions

From Empire, drive north on M-22N until you reach Glen Arbor, make a right and continue on M-22N until you arrive at an intersection with S Bohemian Rd.

Make a left and then make a right turn onto W Lake Michigan Road. There is no parking lot but you should be able to park your car on the road.

See the GPS coordinates below to find the exact trailhead.

Where to start the Good Harbor Bay Trail hike

The trailhead is located along W Lake Michigan Road. The GPS coordinates are 44.93678568825229, -85.85743000105523.

What people are saying about this hike

This is a nice trail with pretty views of the lake. Several parts of the trail were flooded but we found some alternate routes and were able to continue on.

Conclusion

The Good Harbor Bay Trail is an easy hike that is only made somewhat challenging due to slight flooding.

An old farm seen from the Bayview trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
An old farm seen from the Bayview trail (Photo credits: National Park Service)

Bayview Trail

  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 3 hours
  • Elevation gain: 479 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: The trail is beautiful year-round but at its best in the colorful fall season. In winter this trail system is ideal for snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome on this trail but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The lookout point

Short description of the trail

The Bayview Trail is actually a series of smaller loops that you can combine into a larger excursion.

You will walk through beech-maple and pine tree forests and open fields that were once farm fields.

You will come along historic barns and abandoned farmhouses that are currently being restored by the National Park Service.

This trail network is popular among cross-country skiers but often overlooked by hikers as it lacks the real spectacular dune scenery that can be found elsewhere in the park.

Don’t let this stop you from exploring this area. The view from the lookout point on Lake Michigan and the surrounding wooded hills is truly amazing and during the fall the colorful trees make the area really enchanting.

That the trail is usually less crowded only adds to the charm. Sometimes you’re able to explore it without seeing other hikers.

There are markers along the trail, however, it is best to bring a map to help you orientate. It will also help you with being creative combining some of the loops.

The full 8-mile loop stretches all the way from the farms trail in the north to the Homestead resort in the south. A popular shorter alternative is a combination of the farms trail and the ridge trail in the north. This is a mere 1.6 mile and it takes you along the lookout point. To make it a little longer, slightly over 3 miles, you can add a small section of the high and low trail.

If you have the time we really recommend doing the full loop though. The high trail offers beautiful vistas over former farmland with lake Michigan in the background. It’s also a lovely section where you will cross several fields of wildflowers.

The return along the low trail is easy as this section has recently been paved because it’s part of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. This is a 22-mile long multi-use trail that connects Empire in the south with Glenn Arbor and Bass and School lakes in the north.

Cars are not allowed and it is popular with skaters and bicyclists in summer and skiers in winter.

During the winter you can take advantage of the snow and explore the landscape by cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. The low trail is an easy cross-country trail but other trails will require you to have more skills.

Directions

These are the directions to the main trailhead:

From Empire, drive north on M-22N to Glen Arbor. Make a right and continue east on M-22N until the intersection with S Thoreson Road.

This is about 3.3 miles past Glen Arbor. There is also a sign that points to a parking lot for the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

Head into S Thoreson Rd, this is a dirt road, and follow it for 0.3 miles. You will see the parking on your left.

Alternatively you can start the trail from the Miller farm. To do this you need to head a little further north along M-22N. Make a left on S Port Onelda Rd and again on W Miller Rd. The farm is at the far end of the road.

Another alternative is to start at the Homestead Resort.

Where to start the Bayview Trail hike

The main trailhead is located at Thoreson Road, Empire, MI, 49630.

The GPS coordinates are 44.93415531214824, -85.9495151390899.

What people are saying about this hike

Trail is really a great hike. We started from The Homestead doing the upper on the hike north. You get excellent wooded hikes, crossing meadows, a cool old cemetery, and peekaboo views of Lake Michigan along the way up.

THE best under-the-radar hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes. Views of the lake and old farms. Shaded hike along a high ridge overlooking the lake. There’s a hidden 1800s cemetery along the way. Tons of options for side trails to explore.

Conclusion

The Bayview Trail hike is a moderate route with scenic views and beautiful forested areas.

Aligator Hill trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Aligator Hill trail (Photo credits: National Park Service)

Alligator Hill

  • Distance: 9 miles
  • Difficulty level: Moderate
  • Time needed: 2.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 669 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: between April and November for hiking, outside this period for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are allowed on the trail between April and November only and must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The Island Lookout allows you to see beautiful views of the Manitou Islands and from Big Glen lookout you can see the namesake lake.

Short description of the trail

Unlike many of the other trails on this list, you won’t find loose sand anywhere when you hike the Alligator Hill trail. Instead, it takes hikers through a forest and to two lookout points.

If you don’t have time to complete the entire 9-mile hike, you can complete a stretch of the trail that’s just under three miles long to reach the Island Lookout point where you can take a break from hiking and soak in the stunning views of the Manitou Islands.

To go to the Big Glen viewpoint you will need to add 1.6 miles.

You can lengthen the trail by adding the intermediate or advanced loops. They will add loads of colorful foliage to your journey in the fall but are less rewarding in the other seasons. Many visitors skip those and only head to the two lookouts.

This will shorten your excursion to 1 hour for the lake lookout and about 1,5 hour for the combination of the two viewpoints.

The trail is well-marked and signs indicate where to go to find the lookout points.

Directions

From Empire, drive north on M-22N until you reach a fork in the road where you have the option to head left to start driving on M-109N. Keep following this road and take the first right past Glen Lake Beach Park.

You’re now on Day Farm Rd. Make a left at the end of this road onto Stocking Rd. The parking is a little further on the right.

Where to start the Alligator Hill hike

The trail starts from the parking lot. The GPS coordinates are 44.88961458112537, -86.02143789288773.

What people are saying about this hike

This trail is definitely moderate but that’s because it’s a steady uphill. There’s nothing too extreme and there are beautiful views to enjoy as you hike!

Beautiful fall colors in mid-October and fairly empty.

Conclusion

This beautiful hike is customizable. You can complete all 9 miles or choose from one of the shorter loops.

No matter which way you choose to go, you’ll be able to take in some incredible views as you go!

Otter Lake in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Otter Lake seen from the Platte Plain Trails (Photo credits: National Park Service)

Platte Plains Trail

  • Distance: 15 miles
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: 2.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 131 feet
  • Route type: Loop
  • When to go: This trail is great throughout the year but you might want to avoid it during rainy days as the trail is prone to flooding
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome outside the cross-country ski season but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: The opportunity to see the natural beauty of the landscape and the wildlife that lives there – if you’re lucky you might even be able to see otters in the creek!

Short description of the trail

The Platte Plains trail is actually a series of three loops: the Otter Creek Loop, the Bass Lake Loop, and the Lasso Loop.

Each route varies in length and difficulty, but they all have a natural surface and take hikers through a beautiful landscape consisting of open fields, wooded areas, and lakes.

It’s advisable to bring a map to orientate yourself during your hike as the multiple routes might get confusing and are not always marked at the intersections.

The Otter Creek Loop is 4.6 miles, the Lasso Loop is 7.2 miles and the Bass Lake Loop is 3.5 miles. Otter Creek Loop and Bass Lake Loop are both almost flat and mostly wooded.

The Lasso Loop has a more diverse terrain and offers views on Lake Michigan and its dunes. It has the most difficult terrain with some steep ridges. Nothing too challenging for hikers but somewhat more difficult for skiers.

As you walk you’ll have the opportunity to see an abundance of wildflowers and birds. You might even be able to see otters if you’re lucky.

Bring bug spray in summer as there can be many mosquitos.

Directions

There are several options for where to start your hike depending on the loop, or combination of loops, you want to hike.

For the Otter Creek Loop:

From Empire, drive south on M-22S for about 3.7 miles until you reach an intersection with Esch Rd. Make a right and follow this road almost until the far end. Just before you reach the beach you will see a dirt road on your left. This is where you can park your car and start the trail.

For the Bass Lake Loop and Otter Creek Loop (not accessible in winter):

From Empire, drive south on M-22S for about 5.8 miles until you reach Trail end. Make a right onto Trail End and follow this road as it turns left to arrive at a small parking lot.

For the Bass Lake Loop (only in winter):

From Empire, drive south on M-22S for about 6.4 miles. You will see a parking area on the right side of the highway.

Lasso Loop:

From Empire, drive south on M-22S until you reach the intersection with the 708, there will be a sign for the Platte River Campground. Turn right and park your car in the parking lot of the Campground.

Where to start the Platte Plains Trail hike

These are the GPS coordinates to start the hikes:

Otter Creek Loop: 44.761726604146716, -86.07393953046778

Bass Lake Loop & Otter Creek Loop (summer): 44.73700359982302, -86.06530323952057

The bass lake loop starts to the south, the otter creek loop to the north.

Bass Lake Loop (winter): 44.72514057293661, -86.05884302683528

Lasso Loop: 44.71306812646509, -86.11397610574313

What people are saying about this hike

This is a long but easy hike! There are a few mosquitoes which I expected because it’s near the water. A little bit of bug spray solved the problem and we enjoyed this hike!

Conclusion

The Platte Plains Trails are a trio of loops that can be hiked separately or done as one longer hike.

The heritage trail connects many park highlights
You can use the heritage trail to bike or hike to other highlights (Photo credits: National Park Service)

Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

  • Distance: 22 miles one-way
  • Difficulty level: Easy
  • Time needed: +/- 6 hours one-way
  • Elevation gain: 2,080 feet
  • Route type: Point to point
  • When to go: This trail is well-maintained and doable throughout the year. It has some good cross-country sections in the winter.
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a leash
  • Highlights: A great well-maintained and easy trail that connects many highlights of the park.

Short description of the trail

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a mostly paved trail that is popular for biking, skating and walking. If you’re walking on the trail you’ll likely see plenty of other people also enjoying the trail on foot.

The trail starts in Empire and ends near Bass Lake at the other far side of the park. It connects many park attractions such as the Dune Climb, Pierce Stocking Scenir Drive, and the Glen Haven trailhead as well as many other trails.

In the future it will be extended to end at the Good Harbor trailhead.

Due to the length of the trail we recommend biking instead of hiking. Bicycles can be rented in Glen Arbor if you don’t have your own. Thanks to the bike-n-ride system operated by BATA you can bike one-way and hop on the bus to head back home.

BATA buses drive along M-22 and connect Empire and Glen Arbor with Traverse City.

This trail takes you on a gentle and picturesque journey along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Directions

The parking lot is slightly north of Empire, along N Bar Lake Rd, just past the intersection with W Voice Rd.

Where to start the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail hike

This are the GPS coordinates of the trailhead: 44.83011484807258, -86.05477442226903

What people are saying about this hike

A really beautiful trail with a lot of places to stop and explore! We saw a lot of people biking as well as walking and running so you just have to keep an eye out and make sure you’re not getting in anyone’s way.

Conclusion

The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a great trail with a lot of variety. It connects the many beautiful spots that can be found in the Sleeping Bear Dunes park.

Some hiking tips

To conclude we would like to share a few hiking tips for the Sleeping Bear Dunes park:

  • It is recommended to wear proper hiking shoes when you go hiking in Sleeping bear dunes.
  • Hiking also becomes more fun when wearing proper hiking leggings. If you aren’t convinced of hiking leggings, high-rise hiking pants are a good alternative.

Take some snacks and enough water.

Do not forget your camera and perhaps carry a bag/backpack to store it.  It’s safer to store it when you’re clambering up, otherwise, your camera may bump into some rocks when it’s dangling around your neck.

Conclusion

The hiking trails you can experience when you visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan all vary in difficulties, but they do have several things in common including their beauty and idyllic charm.

With all of the different routes and options that you can take from each trailhead, you’ll be able to customize a hike that’s perfect for you.

Which Sleeping Bear Dunes hike is your favorite?

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