Marvel at Ancient Sand Dunes Along Lake Michigan

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July 25, 2009

General Info: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, near Empire, Michigan, covers 35 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline on the lower peninsula. The area is rich with cultural and ecological significance, and offers plenty of fun activities year round. The park derives its name from the Native American legend of Sleeping Bear.

Download the Sleeping Bear Dunes park map PDF to get acquainted with the area before your visit.

south-manitou-island-lighthouse-built-in-1872-and-served-lake-michigan-shipping-for-generationsHours and Fees: The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire, MI, is open daily all year except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Days. Summer hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the rest of the year. Entrance is $10 per vehicle (good for all areas of the park) and is valid for 7 days from date of issue. Annual passes good for 12 months are available for $20. Call the park visitor center for questions and information at (231) 326-5134 ext. 328.

Activities: From climbing the towering sand dunes and splashing on the lakeshore to touring historic lighthouses and farmsteads, you’ll never be at a loss for things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Outdoor recreation opportunities abound no matter the season; the park features over 100 miles of hiking trails and 21 inland lakes.

Cruise along the top of the dune ridge on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7-mile loop road off MI-109, for spectacular views of Lake Michigan and the dunes. Scenic overlooks are spread along the route, with placards explaining the area’s ecology and history.

Download the Sleeping Bear Dunes 2009 Guide PDF to see a list of recommended activities for those of you on a tight schedule, and for a list of planned special events for 2009.

sleeping-bear-dunes-national-lakeshore-has-more-than-100-miles-of-hiking-trails_-many-of-which-can-be-used-for-skiing-in-winter1Pets: Your leashed pets are welcome to join you at Sleeping Bear Dunes, with a few exceptions to protect park wildlife. See the pet regulations page for a list of No Pet Areas.

Weather: The weather can change quickly due to lake-borne conditions, so wear layers for maximum comfort and flexibility. Summer high temperatures range from the upper 70s to 90s F, but lows can dip down to the 50s-70s F. It’ll be cold (10s-30s F) in winter, with snow typically on the ground between late November and March.

platte-river-campground-map-sleeping-bear-dunes-national-parkCamping Info: The Platte River Campground is a year-round campground with paved, ADA-accessible RV campsites with 30 amp electrical hookups. There are 150 back-ins (12×30’) and 20 pull-thrus (12×70’). Water and a dump station are located at the campground entrance. There are bathhouses with modern toilets and hot showers (two 3-minute shower tokens for $1), with camp sinks for washing dishes, hands, etc. Water spigots are also located throughout the campground for your convenience.

The national park also has a more rustic campground, D.H. Day Campground, with dirt roads, vaulted toilets and no electrical hookups. Or you can stay at Sleepy Bear Campground, a private RV park with full hookups and larger back-in sites (35×60’).

If you’re from Michigan or have visited Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the past, please chime in with your stories and tips! Your insights can help others have a fantastic trip.

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  3. williewood

    Great place. Platte River Campground is a little difficult to get into at times. Also, it has 50 amp, not 30, hookups. This year only about 45 campsites reservable, while I was told next year about 70-75% will be. A big help except to those that are first come, first served. Pads are all paved but do check for length. There is a lot to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes so give yourself plenty of time.

  4. Larry Archambeau

    I love the dunes but had a frightening experience a number of years back.

    We went there when our boys were about 5 and seven years old. The boys wanted to climb, but Mom wouldn’t go, so good old Dad got to go with the kids.

    So off we went with the boys easily out climbing Dad. It didn’t take long before they got out of voice range and I couldn’t tell them to slow down. Then they reached the top, I lost sight of them, and I was struggling to get to the top, myself.

    What you need to know is that when you get to what you think is the top, isn’t really the top. So I got there and started looking for the boys and couldn’t find them for a few minutes. When I did spot them, they were mere specks, having almost reached the top of the less steep, but equally distant, next slope.
    Fortunately, they did not go any farther and allowed me to catch up but I had nearly panicked and exhausted myself to get to them. By the way, from that point, it’s about a mile across more dunes to get to Lake Michigan.

    Moral: keep the kids close at hand.

  5. Janey Shazly

    The author of the above article forgot one very important thing. At the Platte River Campground there is the Platte River that meanders several miles to Lake Michigan. You can use your own raft or rent a canoe/raft/whatever and relax and enjoy a memorable experience.
    The campground is immaculate – bathrooms are unlike any other NP campgrounds. Automatic lights go on & off when you enter and leave. They even have electricity I’ve seen them vaccuming the parking lots throughout the park. It’s really a ruggedly beautiful place – there’s a lot of stuff inland – just gorgeous woodlands & swamps.
    The areas outside the park are beautiful. You seldom see water as clear, clean, & beautiful.