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Hiking At Sleeping Bear Dunes. Challenge Yourself With The Dune Climb

hiking at sleeping bear dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore is located near Traverse City Michigan. It is one of the most well known and popular attractions in Northern Michigan. There are over 100 miles of hiking trails inside Sleeping Bear Dunes. If you feel like hiking at Sleeping Bear Dunes, there are 2 things you shouldn’t miss. The Dune Climb and Dune Trail and climbing down the bluff to Lake Michigan. Both of these trails are very high intensity requiring endurance to complete. They are not for faint of heart.

Hiking at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore contains 35 miles of Lake Michigan. It also includes North and South Manitou Islands. It was established as a National Seashore in 1970. The Sleeping Bear Dunes were named as part of an Ojibwe Tribe legend. The sand dunes themselves are a glacial feature leftover from the last ice age. As the glaciers receded, sediment deposits remained to create the sand dunes. To learn more about the history of Sleeping Bear Dunes click here.

Getting to Sleeping Bear Dunes is easy. It is 30 mile/40 minute drive from Traverse City Michigan.

Admission to the park costs $25 per car and the pass is good for 7 days. For people biking or hiking into the park, the cost is $15 per person.

For more information about fees at Sleeping Dunes National Seashore click here.

sleeping bear dunes map

Dune Climb And Dune Trail

The Dunes Trail starts at the Dune Climb and ends at the Lake Michigan shore. The trail is 3.5 miles round trip. It will take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to complete the hike. The hike starts by climbing up the Dune Climb. This is a large sandhill. Just when you think you have gotten to the top you will discover there is another large sand hill to climb behind it. You’re only half way up the initial climb. After getting to the top the trail is a continuous climb up and down sand hills for the entire length of the trail.

There are blue markers indicating where the trail is. Do not lose sight of the markers or wander off too much. The scenery is very disorienting with large dunes everywhere.

From the top of the dunes, you get nice views of Glenn Lake and Lake Michigan.

There are many buried and uncovered trees in the sand. These are referred to as ghosts. As the dune shifts, the sands cover up live trees and uncover trees that were burried.

When you finally get to the shore of Lake Michigan you can relax and wade in the water and rest up before the return hike.

The sand on the dunes is very loose. It feels like walking along the dry part of a beach. Traction isn’t great and you waste a lot of energy digging your feet into the sand. Whatever shoes you wear are going to be full of sand pretty quick.

Be sure to bring enough water. It gets hot and there is very little shade on the dune. You will sweat and get hot very quick.

For more information on the Dune Trail click here.

sleeping bear dune climb start
looking down the dunes over lake
overlooking a lake
walking along the dunes
people climbing the dune ridge
view of lake michigan from dune climb

Lake Michigan Bluff

The Lake Michigan Bluff rises several hundred feet up from the shores of Lake Michigan. It is very steep, around a 45 degree angle. There is a large warning sign at the top recommending you don’t go down it. It goes on to mention how you risk a heart attack and every other bad thing that could happen to you if you do it. The Sleeping Bear Dunes website mentions that climbing the bluff is not prohibited and also not recommended.

To get to the Lake Michigan Bluff you take Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. At the far west end of the drive, you’ll come to a parking area with a scenic overlook over Lake Michigan Bluff. You’ll also see the sign at the top warning you about going down the bluff. To get more information on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive click here.

The sand on the bluff is the same really loose sand you’ll find at any beach. You won’t have good footing and you’ll waste a lot of energy digging your feet in and out of the sand. Make sure you really really want to do this climb before starting down. If you are worried you won’t be able to make it back up, turn around.
A word of caution if you have children. I have witnessed this every time I have been to Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Children start running down the bluff thinking it looks fun. Their parents looking terrified are then forced to go down after them. This means they have to climb back up.
The view is really great once you get to the bottom. The sand bluffs rise very steep off the beach. It is absolutely worth it to go to the bottom. Please take every word of caution on the warning sign seriously before starting down.

Take lots of water with you because the climb back up is tough. Take lots of breaks if you are getting tired. The climb back up is a marathon, not a sprint.

top of lake michigan bluff
looking south lake michigan bluff
steepness of bluff climb
looking up bluff climb
manitou island from lake michigan bluff
looking down bluff climb
hiking at sleeping bear dunes
lake michigan shore at bottom of bluff
Lake Michigan shore at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Glen Arbor Beach

After taking on the Dune Trail and Lake Michigan Bluff you may want something more relaxing. Glen Haven Beach is a nice place to check out. There is a campground there. There are some leftover remnants of an old cruise ship dock. There is also a general store and a few other attractions. To learn more about Glen Haven Beach click here.

Gen Arbor Beach at sleeping bear dunes

Wrap Up

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore has some really excellent views and hiking trails. The Dune Trail and climb down the Lake Michigan Bluff are 2 of the most challenging. If you go you will feel a sense of accomplishment after completing them as well as some great views.

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selfie for info block

About the author

My name is Doug Ryan. I am an adventure sports fan and an avid skier, sailor, mountain biker who also enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and travel. I take any chance I can get to get out in the snow or water.  I actively run an adventure sports meetup where I get asked many questions.  I decided to start Gear Craver as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for adventure sports their gear.

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