Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a 35-mile long stretch of beaches, forest, giant sand dunes and two islands located on the northwest coast of Michigan’s lower peninsula. As a Michigan-native, I grew up learning about the Ashininaabek lore surrounding Sleeping Bear Dunes and the story always made me really sad. There are a few different versions but here’s the one that I remember as told by the National Park Service:
Long ago, along the Wisconsin shoreline, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. The bears swam for many hours, but soon the cubs tired. Mother bear reached the shore first and climbed to the top of a high bluff to watch and wait for her cubs. The cubs drowned within sight of the shore. The Great Spirit created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the eternal vigil of mother bear.
It’s one of the most beautiful places in Michigan and probably the entire country. You won’t find sand dunes like this at most ocean beaches.
If you only have a day at the park I recommend stopping at the Dune Climb to get a feel for how difficult it is to traverse the steep dunes. It’s hard to tell from photos, but some of these are super steep!
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a great way to see the dense forests and hop out at different overlooks for amazing views of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands.
And of course, you have to stop at the beach and take a dip in the lake.
We stayed the night in the Platte River Campground at one of the walk-in sites. It wasn’t much to write home about because the walk-in sites were right next to the road and fairly close together but we still enjoyed it.
If you visit this area in the mid- to late-summer, you’ll see lots of roadside stands selling strawberries and cherries, of course. Did you know that Traverse City, Michigan is the Cherry Capital of the World?
Growing up in Michigan, I think I took for granted how diverse and amazing the landscape is. It took moving out of state to appreciate it’s one-of-a-kind beauty and I’m so glad I’ve been able to explore my home state as an adult. My iPhone photos don’t do it justice – I highly recommend you check it out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed!