Exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

DH Day Farm – I love this scenic barn built in the 1880’s.

Because we were staying for over a week close to the National Lakeshore, we were able to leisurely visit this lovely area along Lake Michigan in the Northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula. One of the not to be missed attractions is the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive which loops through a dense beech-maple forest, past sand dunes and overlooks of Lake Michigan, Glen Lakes and Sleeping Bear 🐻 Dunes.

Ah……the trees!

I mentioned in my previous post that my sister and I did a trip to MIchigan about four years ago. We also took this scenic drive on that trip and at one point we stopped and took a picture of me in the road looking up at the trees. On this trip I paid close attention to try and find that bend in the road again as I wanted to recreate that photo. During my first trip here I was so taken with the hardwood forests along this drive that I had to stop for a closer look. Coming from the “dry” Central Valley of California, a dense forest of beech and maple was a sight to behold. On this trip I still found the trees to be amazing, but after traveling throughout the Eastern and Midwestern U.S., we have come upon these forests several times, so they are no longer a novelty, but still such a beautiful sight.

At the top of Sleeping Bear Dune

The most popular stop on this scenic drive is Sleeping Bear Dune. At 450 feet tall, this appears to be the tallest and most well known dune in the area. Although it is not advised, some people brave the trip down and back up. The National Park Service was giving more warnings than usual, because the lake level is high therefore there are less exposed beaches. If people descended in previous years, there was the option to walk down the beach and find an alternate way out besides the very difficult climb up.

A large platform is provided at the top of the Dune so visitors can admire the great views of Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear.

Below, are photos of people struggling back up. In the first photo they look like ants on the sand. Since it is so steep, people often resort to crawling on hands and knees.

Sleeping Bear Dune
Close up view of dune crawlers

There is an Indian legend associated with Sleeping Bear Dune. Long ago, a bear and her two cubs tried to come to this part of the lake from Wisconsin hoping to find more food. After searching for food along the beach, they decided to swim across the rest of the lake. They went a long way out into the water and the cubs became very tired and weak. They eventually sank into the water and drowned. The mother bear sadly waded ashore and laid down, looking out on the water where her cubs had died. Eventually, both of them came to the surface as two little islands and the mother bear still lies there today atop the dunes, looking after her children.

Another view looking out at the dunes

The Dune Climb which is not located on the scenic drive is an easier dune to explore than Sleeping Bear. It is a popular attraction because it is fun to explore all that sand. Fun but also a lot of hard work climbing uphill, especially when my feet kept sinking in all that sand, hindering my progress.

The popular Dune Climb
Making my way up the dune

The views at the top were very scenic and worth the climb.

View of Glen Lake from the dunes
More dunes past the main dune climb

For those interested, you can climb up and down many more dunes to reach the shore of Lake Michigan. I walked about half way on the “trail” but decided not to do the whole distance as it was tough going at times. When I saw the young out of breath and struggling I decided not to wear myself out.

Mark checking out the view

The National Lakeshore features the U.S. Coast Guard Sleeping Bear Point Station (once known as the Life-saving Service) which was in use from 1902-1942. This building housed crews and equipment to rescue passengers and crews that were in distress on this part of Lake Michigan. Surf boats were usually sent out, but if the surf was too dangerous a rope and pulley system was launched from shore to the distressed vessel. Once secure, a sturdier rope went across to be set up like a zip line so people could be moved off the ship. Every afternoon park service rangers re-enact a rescue with kids getting to act as crew to save a stranded Raggedy Ann and Andy. The building pictured above is now a museum with photos and information about the daily lives of the coast guard crew. One of the signboards gave information on weekly duties at the station. I chuckled a little at the terminology in this section: “For Friday, practice in the method adopted for restoring the apparently drowned.”

Lake Michigan shoreline near the Coast Guard station
A building onsite houses historic Coast Guard rescue boats

Glen Haven was at one time a thriving little village located next to the Coast Guard Station and Lake Michigan. There was once a general store, blacksmith shop, hotel, wagon shop and school. A cannery was also built near the shore where cherries and apples were processed from nearby farms. The cannery building is now a boat museum.

Boat Museum

Michigan seems to have some of the prettiest turquoise colored lakes of any state I have visited and Glen Lake pictured below is no exception.

Glen Lake Overlook

Stay tuned for more exploring in Michigan!

4 thoughts on “Exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan”

  1. Thank you for the gorgeous pictures of my once home state. We visited that area close to us but never got such beautiful pics. You are a professional photographer.

    1. Thanks Sharon for such a nice compliment! Michigan is such a great state to travel in and you are fortunate to have once lived in such a beautiful state.

  2. OMG. We did similar things in OR on the dunes. Sometimes we did 40 miles per day.
    Yet I am a MI girl. Born in the UP but had cousins in this area you talk about. An amazing place. Thanks for the photos and descriptions.

  3. Beautiful area. I really want to get out there and experience the lakes. Ruben, a friend of ours, served in the coast gaurd and I believe he did some work in the Great Lakes Region, I’m pretty sure I remember him describing some horrific storms out on the lake that he had to sail in. I bet a large percentage of people who go down the dune regret it when they are trying to climb back up! Must be a good workout though

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