Everything You Should Know About Sleeping Bear Dunes: A Comprehensive Travel Guide


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: A Natural Paradise in Northern Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a stunning destination located along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan in Northern Michigan. With its breathtaking landscapes, pristine beaches, and a wide range of activities, it is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. Whether you prefer warm summer months or the scenic beauty of spring and fall, Sleeping Bear Dunes offers something for everyone. In this travel guide, we will take you through everything you need to know to make the most of your visit and ensure a perfect day in this natural paradise.

Disclaimer: This article may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. We appreciate your support, as it helps us create quality content to share with you. Thank you!

Time Zone

The time zone in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is EDT/EST.

Best Time to Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes

The best time to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes depends on your personal preference. Many people enjoy the peak summer months when the weather is warm and the dunes and beaches are most enjoyable. Others prefer the milder temperatures of spring and fall, as they offer fewer crowds and a more relaxed atmosphere. If you love the cold, the winter season in Northern Michigan is a winter wonderland experience. The region experiences four distinct seasons, each with its own unique charm. Spring blossoms and fall colors are particularly magnificent in this area.


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore enjoys pleasant temperatures even during the peak summer months. Highs typically range from the high 70s to mid 80s, while lows range from the 50s to 60s. Winter temperatures are colder, with highs in the 30s and lows in the 10s to 20s. Snow is typically on the ground from November through March. Spring and fall offer moderate temperatures, making it an ideal time to visit. It is always a good idea to dress in layers for versatility.

Getting to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Getting to Sleeping Bear Dunes is straightforward, as it is located in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Most visitors arrive via Traverse City, a charming city with its own attractions. If you are driving and have strong cell service in the area, simply enter “Sleeping Bear Dunes” into your GPS for directions. However, it is always a good idea to have an alternative route and offline maps in case of poor signal. Here are the basic directions:

  • From Traverse City, take US-31 North to the town of Honor.
  • In Honor, turn left onto M-22, which will take you through the heart of the national lakeshore.

Parking & Fees

According to NPS.gov, a Standard Entrance Pass is required for all visitors and costs $15-$25, although there may be exceptions in some cases. The fees for various types of vehicles and visitor groups are as follows:

  • Private vehicle – $25
  • Motorcycle – $20
  • Per Person (on foot) – $15
  • Annual Entrance – $45
  • Education/Academic Group – $0.00

It is worth noting that there are free admission days on certain holidays throughout the year. The specific days may vary, so be sure to check the schedule for the current year. Some of the holidays that typically offer free admission include Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first day of National Park Week, The Great American Outdoors Act Day, National Public Lands Day, and Veterans Day.

Visitor Centers

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has several visitor centers where you can find information and resources. These include:

  • Phillip A. Hart Visitor Center – located on M-72 just east of the intersection with M-22 in Empire, MI.
  • South Manitou Island Visitor Center – housed in the former general store on South Manitou Island.
  • Port Oneida Heritage Center – located inside the Charles and Hattie Olsen house.
  • The Dune Center – situated at the base of the Dune Climb off of M-109.
  • Glen Haven General Store – located in the historic village of Glen Haven, on M-209 between the Dune Climb and Glen Arbor.

Things To Do at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

1. Do the Dune Climb

The Dune Climb is one of the most popular activities at Sleeping Bear Dunes. The climb offers stunning views as you ascend, with panoramic vistas of the dunes and surrounding forests. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Glen Lake and On the Narrows Marina. For the more adventurous, continue hiking to reach the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, including North and South Manitou Islands.

2. Hike Down to the Beach and Swim in Lake Michigan

If you’re up for a physical challenge, consider hiking down the sandy trail to the beach and taking a refreshing swim in Lake Michigan. This hike offers a unique adventure, but be aware of the physical demands and risks involved. Signs warn of the potential dangers and costs of a rescue if you get stuck. However, the majestic dunes, invigorating freshwater breeze, and pristine shoreline make this hike a memorable experience.

3. Hiking the Empire Bluff Trail

Another popular hiking trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes is the Empire Bluff Trail, located near the Hart Visitor Center. This 1.5-mile round-trip hike takes you through a lush forest to a stunning overlook. From the Empire Bluff, you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the dunes meeting the clear, turquoise waters of Lake Michigan.

4. Pyramid Point Hike

The Pyramid Point hike is a hidden gem at Sleeping Bear Dunes. Located northeast of the Dune Climb, this hike offers a leisurely and picturesque trail that gradually ascends through tranquil forests. As you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking panorama of Lake Michigan. Take a moment to sit on the sand dune and fully appreciate the serenity and beauty of the surroundings.

Safety Precautions

When visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it is important to take certain safety precautions:

  • Stay hydrated, especially during physical activities like hiking and dune climbing.
  • Apply sunscreen and wear protective clothing to shield yourself from the sun’s rays.
  • Adhere to park rules and guidelines to protect the natural environment.
  • Download offline maps in case of limited or no cell service.

Packing Essentials

When visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes, it is essential to pack the following items:

  • Comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots
  • Reusable/refillable water bottle
  • Snacks, including salty ones for hydration
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm, and a hat
  • Beach towels, swimsuits, and snorkeling gear for swimming
  • Binoculars for birdwatching and wildlife spotting
  • A camera or phone to capture the stunning scenery

Practice “Leave No Trace”

When exploring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it is important to follow the principles of “Leave No Trace” to preserve the natural environment:

  • Leave nature as you found it and avoid disturbing plants and wildlife.
  • Pack out any trash and dispose of it properly in designated bins.
  • Stay on marked trails to minimize erosion and damage to sensitive areas.

Where to Stay and Eat Near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park

There are two charming villages near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore where you can find accommodations and dining options: Glen Arbor and Empire.

Where to Stay in Glen Arbor

Glen Arbor Bed and Breakfast and Cottages

Glen Arbor Bed and Breakfast and Cottages is a historic inn located in the heart of Glen Arbor. It offers modern amenities, warm hospitality, and delicious breakfast options. The inn is just steps away from unique shops, gourmet restaurants, sugar-sand beaches, hiking and biking trails, and water sports.

Where to Eat in Glen Arbor

Cherry Republic

Cherry Republic is a must-visit in Glen Arbor. This unique establishment offers a wide variety of cherry products and a charming campus-like setting. Enjoy cherry-inspired dishes, craft beers, freshly baked pies, and homemade ice cream. Don’t miss the opportunity to try their famous cherry-covered whiskey figs!

Where to Stay in Empire

Cottonwood Inn Bed and Breakfast

Cottonwood Inn Bed and Breakfast is a quaint Victorian farmhouse nestled on a quiet side street in Empire. It offers a cozy and welcoming atmosphere, with updated guest rooms and a Carriage House. The inn is just minutes away from Empire Beach, shops, restaurants, golf courses, and hiking and biking trails.

Where to Eat in Empire

Empire Village Inn

Empire Village Inn is a family-friendly restaurant that offers pizza, local craft beers, cocktails, and sandwiches. This relaxed and welcoming establishment has an old-school inn vibe and is known for its delicious food and excellent service. You can also visit the attached grocery store for take-out options, beer, wine, and souvenirs.

Grocer’s Daughter Chocolates

Grocer’s Daughter Chocolates is a must-visit for chocolate lovers. This shop offers a wide selection of creative and beautifully crafted chocolates. Founded by a Danish founder and made by an Ecuadorian chocolatier, their chocolates are of exceptional quality. Don’t miss the opportunity to try their unique flavors and indulge in their exquisite chocolate treats.

Bonus Stay in Empire – On the RV Tip!

Indigo Bluffs RV Park and Resort

For those traveling in RVs or looking for alternative accommodations, Indigo Bluffs RV Park & Resort in Empire offers a range of options. Whether you bring your own RV or prefer to stay in one of their cottages, this park and resort can accommodate your needs.

A day at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a perfect way to experience the natural beauty of Northern Michigan. Remember to respect the environment, follow safety precautions, and make the most of your visit by enjoying the amazing activities and breathtaking vistas. Whether you are climbing the dunes, hiking the trails, or simply relaxing on the beaches, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a true natural paradise waiting to be explored.

If you have any questions or would like to share your own experience at Sleeping Bear Dunes, please leave us a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more travel content and stay tuned for our upcoming vlog on Northern Michigan. Your support helps us continue creating quality videos and posts for our audience.

Follow our Mission to See All 50 States by checking out our interactive map right here on our blog. We are currently living full-time in our DIY-built Sprinter camper van “Ace” and documenting our journey across the United States. Sign up for our monthly newsletter and receive our FREE Ultimate Road Trip Guide, packed with valuable information, tips, resources, and checklists to help you plan your own ultimate road trip adventure.

Check out our Road Trip Packing Essentials kit on Kit.co, where we curate kits of products we use and recommend for different travel needs. Give us a follow and stay up to date with our latest recommendations and discoveries.

We hope this article has provided you with all the information you need to plan a fantastic visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Enjoy your time in this natural wonderland!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top