Looking for the best things to do in Sleeping Bear Dunes? Our list here can help you!
It can sometimes be difficult to find the right travel destinations for hiking enthusiasts or those wanting to experience nature. However, Sleeping Bear Dunes is the absolute perfect travel destination for those who love the outdoors.
This location has amazing hiking trails, beautiful forests, clear lakes, sand beaches, and historic, charming pieces of remains. In fact, there are so many things to do that we have collected the top things to do in Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Best tips for your Sleeping Bear Dunes trip
Here is an overview of the most important things to know before traveling to Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Where to stay:
Need domestic travel insurance for your Sleeping Bear Dunes trip? Here you can find all info on domestic travel insurance for your trip.
Things to do around Sleeping Bear Dunes
Here’s a comparison table of all the Sleeping Bear Dunes attractions. Read on below the table for more information about these fun activities.
What to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes
|Drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive||
Experience some of the top scenic views of the region from the convenience of one single road.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is a great hiking destination. It features top trails with amazing views.
|Climb the Dune Climb||
Climb, explore, and play on the Dune Climb, and enjoy the popular and amazing views.
|Enjoy the view from the Pyramid Point Overlook||
Take in some incredible views from Pyramid Point Overlook.
|Spend the day on the beach||
A beach day experience in the middle of the forest.
Try enjoying a cool, refreshing swim in Lake Michigan.
|Bike the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail||
You can go for a cycle to see all the best spots!
|Go kayaking or canoeing||
Experience different views while floating on the rivers and lakes.
|Rent a boat||
Enjoy a day out boating in Lake Michigan.
See if you can catch some largemouth bass, bluegill, crappies or rainbow trouts.
|Enjoy the sunset||
Go enjoy, take photographs or simply relax under beautiful sunsets like never before.
|Take a picture of the Robert H. Manning Memorial Lighthouse||
Pay a visit to this charming piece of Empire with a rich history.
|Explore the Manitou islands||
Explore the mysterious Manitou Islands.
|Go wildlife spotting||
Experience the animals’ natural lives.
|Stroll around Glen Arbor||
Take a stroll through this cherry paradise.
|Walk around Glen Haven Historic District||
Experience life as it would have been 100 years ago.
|Visit the Maritime Museum in Glen Haven||
Step into history and enjoy the peaceful seaside views.
|Explore Port Oneida||
Step back and enjoy countryside views.
Go out and eat delicious food.
|Explore the Leelanau Peninsula||
Explore the beautiful towns and unique spots along the Leelanau Peninsula.
|Go wine tasting||
Travel along beautiful countryside roads while enjoying the best of this wine-growing region.
Best things to do in Sleeping Bear Dunes
Drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is considered one of the must-do activities when visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes.
In an 11.9km (7.4mile) loop, the scenic drive covers some of the most beautiful spots in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
There are 12 interpretative stops with amazing views along the way and completing the full loop with all stops takes around 2 hours.
Some of these stops include the Glen Lake overlook, a beautiful observation point looking over Big and Little Glen Lake, and the Dune Overlook, where visitors stand above a 200ft sand dune and can look over Lake Michigan, Pyramid Point, and the Manitou Islands.
There is also a stop overlooking Sleeping Bear Dune itself, the tallest dune in the area.
Some of the other stops on the scenic drive focus on the surrounding Beech-Maple forest and the beautiful scenery it creates.
Following this scenic drive can give a series of amazing views into the surrounding nature.
One of the biggest attractions of the Sleeping Bear dune area is the multiple hiking trails and places to explore.
Sleeping Bear Dunes has 13 main trails covering many miles of the park. The top-recommended trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes is the Empire Bluffs trail.
Many people say that if they had to choose one trail from Sleeping Bear, it would be this one.
The Empire Bluffs trail is a 1.5-mile hike on a slight incline. It is easy for beginners and takes around 20 minutes to reach the viewpoint.
The lookout point looks over Lake Michigan and it is sometimes possible to see South Manitou Island.
Other popular trails include the Sleeping Bear Point Trail, which is around 2.8 miles with a 0.5-mile spur hike.
The Cottonwood Trail, accessed via the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, is another popular trail in the area.
Climb the Dune Climb
The Dune Climb is undoubtedly one of the top attractions of Sleeping Bear Dunes.
While there are many sand dunes, the Dune Climb is the only officially-endorsed area in the park for dune climbing.
There are lots of amenities around this area making it safer and easier for both individuals and families.
This is a great activity for both adults and children because there are many different ways to tackle the Dune Climb. The first little hill isn’t too steep and so it’s easy for children.
Glen Lake can be seen in the back, the higher you go, the more spectacular the views become.
Then you can keep walking across the dunes, at this point you can even start to see views of Lake Michigan. About halfway through the trail, there is a resting spot, so it’s easy to take a picnic or have a break before continuing.
Lake Michigan with the forefront of sand dunes is incredible.
This is a very popular spot for both tourists and locals alike due to its versatility and ability to enjoy at all ages.
Enjoy the view from the Pyramid Point Overlook
While we have already spoken about hiking trails, the Pyramid Point trail is unique and incredible to the point that it needed its own section.
The hiking trail is about 2.7 miles, with the overlook being 0.6 miles in. The trail is more difficult because there are several (small) hills that need to be conquered.
A beech-maple Forest is largely surrounding the trail, which is very scenic, especially in fall. However, as you move along you will notice other vegetation grows around the sand. Look around you for an insight into the changing of fauna and different plants within just a small area.
Along the way, you will need to follow the spur trail to the Pyramid Point Overlook, one of the best viewpoints in the park. The Pyramid Point Overlook looks over Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes.
However, unlike other places with similar views, the placement of this overlook makes Lake Michigan panoramic, as if it never stops.
The high place also creates an ‘above from everything’ feeling.
There are some picnic tables and places around the area so you can stop and rest for a while if you like.
Spend the day on the beach
While Sleeping Bear Dunes first comes to mind as a place of forest and sand dunes, there are also many beautiful beaches to enjoy.
The National Lakeshore is clear and beautiful with room for playing, walking, or just relaxing.
There are many beaches along here. Some include Peterson Beach, a secluded beach on the south end of the shore.
On a clear day at Peterson Beach, you can see South Manitou Island. Another great option is Glen Haven Beach, which is perhaps one of the most popular beaches with many amenities and even a museum.
There are also restaurants, bars, and picnic areas nearby.
As mentioned, there are many beaches in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area.
But are you able to swim at these beaches? Yes! Many of the beaches in Sleeping Bear Dunes allow swimming, especially in summer.
However, the water is a bit cold, even in the warm months. It averages around 18˚ – 21˚C.
There is also the fact that due to the size of Lake Michigan, it can act like a normal ocean with a current. This means there are also rip currents, and it is important to not swim alone.
There are also no lifeguards on these beaches so it’s important to take care of yourself and the people with you.
Some of the best beaches for swimming are Platte Point Beach (which is also popular for canoeing, kayaking, and tubing), Glen Haven Beach, and North Bar Lake.
North Bar is popular because of the beautiful clear water, and it’s often a little warmer than the rest of the beaches.
Bike the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
In general, Sleeping Bear Dunes isn’t much of a biking area.
But the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is ideal for biking. Technically still under construction, the trail is currently around 22 miles and is intended to be 27 miles when it is completed.
However, the current 22 miles are still able to be enjoyed perfectly well. The trail currently starts in Empire and ends near Bass Lake on the northern side of the park.
It connects a lot of the top attractions, making it ideal for visiting the Dune Climb, Glen Haven, and the like. The trail is an ideal versatile activity.
While it is 22 miles, there is no need to complete the entire 22 miles in one go. This means you can make it a relaxing bike ride and a fun activity with children. There are many amenities along the way.
Local busses have a bike rack, you can bike one-way and use the bus to get back to your origin.
The majority of the way is also wheelchair-friendly, being made of asphalt or boardwalk.
This means it is more accessible and open to more people. This is wonderful as often nature-based places are cut off from disability access.
Go kayaking or canoeing
For those who want to enjoy the water of Lake Michigan but aren’t too keen on swimming, kayaking or canoeing are great options.
Both of these are available and provide a complete experience.
For those who prefer, there’s also river kayaking to get up close to river life.
The best time to go kayaking is late Spring to Fall, largely because the lakes and rivers can become very cold and even freeze.
However, in summer it is important to be careful about storms and dehydration.
River kayaking is sometimes considered easier for beginners, as there is less control needed. One of the best places for river kayaking is Platte River, with a short float or long float available.
The best places for lake kayaking are Lake Michigan, Big Glen Lake, and Little Glen Lake. Some businesses have kayaks to rent available, and some businesses even provide guided tours.
This is a great way to allow all people to try out kayaking, as all ages and experience levels can give it a try.
Rent a boat
It may not be the popular activity in Sleeping Bear, but boating is a great way to spend a day and there are many places where you can rent a boat.
At Glen Lake Marine, you can rent many different types of boats, from small one-person boats to larger boats. You can also hire paddleboards and jet skis. Never sailed with a boat? You can take lessons at the local yacht club.
Big and Little Glen Lake is perhaps the favorite of most people.
The turquoise water, no waves, and beautiful weather make it fun and relaxing. It’s the perfect picnic for anyone – family, friends, or couples.
Or you can explore nature and the native flora and fauna.
That’s the best part of boating – everyone’s experiences are different, in a good way.
No matter what you intend to do with the boat, the lovely water and surrounding environment will lead to a beautiful day.
Many people enjoy a quiet, relaxing day of fishing and the people around Sleeping Bear Dunes are no different. Fishing is possible to do both from the shore and from a boat, although a boat is more common.
To help control over-fishing and wildlife management, anyone fishing requires a valid Michigan fishing license unless they are under 17-years-old.
There are a number of different ideal times for different fish. Fall is often agreed upon as a good time for fishing. In winter, ice fishing is also popular.
This is only permitted on certain lakes and requires a powered ice auger.
To operate an ice auger, you need a permit, but these are available for free from the visitor center.
Some of the top fishing spots are Little Glen Lake for perch, Lime Lake for bass and trout, and at the mouth of the Platte River during fall there are salmon and steelhead.
There are many different lakes and fish to look for and any keen fishing enthusiast will enjoy the variety of Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Enjoy the sunset
Sunsets are beautiful everywhere, and a crowd favorite for photographers or even just viewers. Lake Michigan has some especially beautiful sunsets due to its parallel.
However, they are also very treasured, as winter’s lack of sun also means a lack of sunsets. If you’re there in the right seasons, here are some of the best sunset spots.
Firstly, the obvious spot is Pierce Stock Scenic Drive; of course, with many wonderful views from the scenic drive, there will be amazing sunsets.
Overlook number 9 has especially been picked as the best sunset view along the drive.
Another popular spot is Glen Haven Beach. That sunset over the beach is a classic sunset viewpoint. Glen Lake is also very beautiful around sunset.
It’s usually known for its bright blue waters but as it gets dark, the bright yellow-orange fills the sky and creates a different atmosphere.
Take a picture of the Robert H. Manning Memorial Lighthouse
The Robert H. Manning Memorial Lighthouse was of course made after the passing of Robert H. Manning by his family and friends. Many think it’s a historical piece but it was actually only created in 1991.
The namesake, Robert H. Manning, lived his entire life in Empire from 1927 – 1989 and was a keen fisherman.
Often when he returned from a fishing trip, he would wish there was a lighthouse to make the return easier. After he died, his family and friends built the lighthouse he never had that would remain for years to come.
It is a working lighthouse and is listed in the Coast Guard guide. It flashes a white light every 4 seconds and is maintained throughout summer.
The design is cute and charming, with a quirky ambiance and it is common for people to come and enjoy the atmosphere.
The surrounding park and outlook to the sea are also relaxing and calm.
Explore the Manitou islands
The Manitou Islands, which consist of the North Island and the South Island, are a mystery I recommend exploring.
You can only go between May and September, because of the ice and environment in the winter months.
You need a Park pass and a ferry ticket.
The ferry runs twice a day to the south island and once a day to the north island.
On South Manitou Island you can find a visitor center, a museum, an old coast guard station, and ghost towns.
Once a thriving village with farms, a schoolhouse, and an active lighthouse, South Manitou is a great blend of nature and history.
There is even a shipwreck to go see! North Manitou Island offers an even more primitive experience than its Southern counterpart.
Over the almost 15,000 acres, you never know what you might find, you could discover something completely new.
There’s the dune topography, flora and fauna, and inland lakes. Lake Manitou is supposed to be a shimmering lake that is warm and gentle to wade through.
You can camp on either island as well, as North Manitou Island has one campsite, South Manitou Island has three campsites.
Go wildlife spotting
Sleeping Bear Dunes Park is amazing when it comes to wildlife spotting.
There are so many different native environments that a huge variety are here.
This variety stems from the sandy dunes, maple-beech forests, inland lakes, and cedar woods. All of these are home to different animals. There are over 50 different types of mammals.
Some frequently sighted animals are white-tailed deer, porcupine, snowshoe hare, and squirrels. Some rarer animals are around too, including the park’s namesake, the black bear.
There are many different birdlife areas, which is great for those who are into bird-watching. These can include bald eagles, common loons, and many shorebirds.
In fact, it is also home to endangered bird species, such as the Piping Plover and the Prairie Warbler.
Stroll around Glen Arbor
While you’re in Sleeping Bear Dunes, you should actually also visit some of the nearby small towns.
Glen Arbor is one such town and lies smack in the middle of Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Glen Arbor is home to The Homestead, which is a large resort with a warm, welcoming ambiance.
The resort has many room options, various restaurants, its own golf course, and a spa.
It’s a great accommodation for something luxurious. Glen Abor is part of the area famous for cherries, so there are many cherry-related things for sale, even a store dedicated to cherry products called Cherry Republic.
These products include cherry chocolate, cherry cheese, cherry salsa, cherry wine, and the like. While in town there are many lovely locally-owned restaurants and cafes which have great food.
There are also many locally-owned independent shops to support.
These include M-22, which creates a range of M-22 (the highway) themed merchandise, independent jewelers, furniture designers, and so on.
Walk around Glen Haven Historic District
The Glen Haven Historic District is in the same area as Glen Arbor and is a wonderful step into the past.
This was once a stopover for ships looking to refuel and so has been kept as a port town.
An impressive number of educational historical buildings have been preserved and some are even still in action.
This includes a 1920s working blacksmith and General Store.
There is also the Cannery Boathouse Museum, a small boathouse museum that exhibits the largest public exhibit of small craft from the Great Lakes.
The Cannery Boathouse also displays some of the boats historically used around the area, including Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands.
They are open pretty regularly during summer, periodically during fall, and closed during winter.
With the proximity to the beach, it’s a place with great cultural heritage and a popular spot to visit for both historical knowledge and relaxing time.
Visit the Maritime Museum in Glen Haven
Close to the Boathouse Museum in Glen Haven is the Coast Guard Maritime Museum.
The museum shows the history of the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Lifesaving Service, and Great Lakes shipping.
There are exhibits on how these three services worked together and provided for the community.
The location was the original Sleeping Bear U.S. Life-Saving Station before it was moved because of the changing sand dunes. A room on the second floor has been redesigned as a steamer wheelhouse with a panoramic view of the Manitou Passage shipping channel.
Every day during summer at 3 pm, there is a live reenactment of the breeches buoy rescue drill.
During this, a park employee guides children on the live breeches buoy process for saving sailors from sinking works.
There is also a Lyle gun demonstration weekly.
Explore Port Oneida
Port Oneida is a cultural and historical heritage town.
There are over 20 farmhouses also following the traditional way of living, which can especially be seen from their farming.
If you want to get a glimpse of the day-to-day life of those in a traditional farming community, look no further.
It’s best to start from Port Oneida Farms Heritage Center, which is housed in its own farmhouse.
Then hike, bike, or drive to some of the other classic structures.
You’ll be able to get a taste of rural life in the earlier 20th Century. While exploring this area, many visitors enjoy the scenery and landscape.
There is rolling countryside, and many of the houses have a few maple trees.
While enjoying Port Oneida, there are fun opportunities for the whole family, whether it be learning about history, taking photos outside, or even playing old-fashioned games that are shown in the exhibit.
While visiting Sleeping Bears Dune, it’s pretty common for people to eat at home or at their camping spot, but at least once we want to out to a restaurant.
There are lots of options for good places to see and eat at. Some food places that regularly come up include The Homestead, with its various dining options.
Whiskers at The Homestead is popular with its beautiful wood-fired grill outdoors and its display kitchen indoors.
Boonedocks is another great option with live music and indoor and outdoor seating, while Art’s Tavern is good for its cozy ‘comfort food’ style.
For a more upscale establishment, there is the Western Ave Bar & Grill.
This restaurant is popular so it is good to get in early if you are later you may have to wait.
Things to do near Sleeping Bear Dunes
Explore the Leelanau Peninsula
The Leelanau Peninsula, located in the northwest of Michigan, is a great spot for a day trip or two while in the Sleeping Bear Dunes area.
The peninsula is full of beautiful places to explore and charming little towns to visit.
The entire region is famous for its cherry growing with Traverse City known as the Cherry Capital and even holding a yearly Cherry Festival. Leelanau actually holds most of the cherry-growing farms in the region.
These are beautiful to view in Spring when the cherry blossoms bloom, and some farms offer cherry-picking experiences. There are a number of small towns in the area, such as Glen Arbor, Leland, and Northport.
These are all great for finding cherry-related items, eating at amazing restaurants, and supporting local businesses.
Leelanau actually has its own state park on top of the many amazing parks nearby.
The Leelanau State Park is right at the tip of the peninsula and houses the Grand Traverse Lighthouse and the accompanying museum.
This is one of the oldest lighthouses in the region, dating back to 1852.
It’s is a unique and interesting spot to explore and enjoy.
Go wine tasting
The Leelanau Peninsula is just north of Traverse City and close to the Sleeping Bear area.
It has recently emerged as an up-and-coming wine-growing area with up to 25 wineries now in business.
The area lies on the same parallel as some of the major wine-growing regions in France, such as the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux.
While the weather isn’t exactly the same, there are many similarities, making the area ideal for wine-making.
The 25 wineries are arranged into the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, which consists of three main loops.
These are the Sleeping Bear Loop, the Northern Loop, and the Grand Traverse Bay Loop.
This style of organization makes it easier for visitors to decide how to visit the various wineries. Visitors can stay within one loop, peruse the entire trail, or pick and choose particular wineries of interest to them.
The area is particularly well-known for its white wines, although sparkling wines, dessert wines, and the like are also available.
FAQ about Sleeping Bear Dunes
- Best time to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes
The best time to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes largely depends on personal preferences.
Most people prefer the mild temperatures of summer, along with being able to use the beaches and lakes.
Fall is also popular due to the beautiful scenery of changing leaves and not-yet-cold weather.
There are occasionally winter explorers or early spring travelers, but often certain attractions aren’t open during this time so it becomes a lot more solitary.
- How to get to Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes is located in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. When in the area, it is recommended to have a car whether it be owned or rented.
There is not much access to public transport.
It is possible to drive straight to Sleeping Bear Dunes, or if you are coming from across Lake Michigan there is a ferry that could be a good option as well.
For longer journeys, flights are available to Traverse City’s Cherry Capital Airport.
Traverse City is about 28 miles from the Sleeping Bear Dunes visitor center.
- Renting a car in Sleeping Bear Dunes
Sleeping Bear Dunes can be best visited by car. If you don’t have your own car, we recommend you to check out Discover cars.
This is an aggregator website where you can quickly and easily compare the prices of different rental companies.
All rates include a basic CDW and information about the deductible, fuel policy, included mileage, cancelation policy, etc. is also clearly stated.
Most cars are cancellable up to 2 days in advance without any fees. In some cases, a fully refundable deposit is taken at the time of booking.
Check prices and availability:
- Stop by the visitor center
The Phillip A. Hart Visitor Center is the most common first stop when visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes.
The visitor center has a large range of maps, activity guides, and information regarding what to do and how to do it.
They also have many dioramas, exhibits, and unique information about the park and the surrounding area.
- Purchase a Park Entrance Pass
Before enjoying the park, it is necessary to purchase a park entrance pass.
This can be bought at the Phillip A. Hart Visitor Center, as mentioned above, year-round.
Some other locations sell the pass during more popular times of the year.
These include the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive Entrance Station, The Homestead, and the Dune Climb Entrance Station. Passes cost $25 for 1-7 days for private vehicles.
The price is slightly lower for motorcycles and organized tours. It is also possible to buy an annual pass for $45.
- Where to stay in Sleeping Bear Dunes
When looking for accommodation for your stay at Sleeping Bear Dunes, there is a large variety of accommodation types to consider.
There are many campgrounds, cabins, hotels, and more. For more information on some of the best places in the area, check out our article here.
There are also many Airbnbs and vacation houses in the area, which can offer a more homely or unique atmosphere.
We have also covered some of the best Airbnb and vacation options in the area here.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is an amazing area of Michigan full of beautiful nature.
The forests, beaches, and lakes provide wonderful scenery for hiking, photography, and more.
Over time, more and more ways to enjoy the dunes and the surrounding area have popped up.
Here we have showcased some of these ways and narrowed down the best ways to enjoy Sleeping Bear Dunes.
See the web story that accompanies this post.