Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

Complete Guide to Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

A trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is perfect for any type of family vacation.  There are so many things you can do during a visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and that means your entire family, or whoever you are traveling with, will have a fabulous time doing things they want to do.  Of course, at the same time, you will have a plethora of things you enjoy as well.  

Where is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore?

According to the Sleeping Bear Dunes map, this beautiful natural area can be found four hundred fifty feet above Lake Michigan.  The Sleeping Bear Dunes address for mail going to the park is 9922 Front Street in Empire, Michigan.  A visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park will have you spending time amongst the high dunes, as you gaze out towards the lake, the lighthouse, and many charming coastal villages. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes map
Credits: Wikimedia Commons 

Sleeping Bear Dunes Weather

The Sleeping Bear Dunes weather varies according to the season.  The precipitation is fairly consistent in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, but you will see more rain during the months of August, September, and October.  

As for the temperatures, the winter months average a high of twenty-eight to forty-four degrees Fahrenheit, while the average low is between eighteen and thirty-three degrees.  The summer months bring an average high of between seventy-three- and seventy-seven-degrees Fahrenheit, while the low is between fifty-four and sixty degrees.  

It is important to note that it can get really cold during the summer months, just like there can be record highs in the nineties.  It can also get extremely cold, or stay on the warmer side, during the winter months. It all depends on the year, just like the rest of the country.  

Best Time to Visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

It is best to visit Sleeping Bear Dunes during the spring or the fall, because the temperatures are starting to get warmer and the rain hasn’t arrived in full force.  However, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the beauty that Sleeping Bear Dunes offers at any time of the year.  

Where to Sleep in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Hotels Near Sleeping Bear Dunes

There are a few different options when it comes to Sleeping Bear Dunes hotels, so you never need to worry about finding accommodations.  However, you may want to choose one of these favorite hotels near Sleeping Bear Dunes. 

1) Bayshore Resort

Bayshore Resort is approximately twenty-three miles from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, directly on the shores of Traverse Bay.  There is a private beach you can use when you are not out in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park and the hot tub is perfect after a long day out on the trails.  

2) Park Place Hotel and Conference Center

The Park Place Hotel is a little more than twenty-two miles from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, right in the middle of Traverse City’s Downtown area.  This is a boutique hotel that has an on-site lounge where you can listen to live entertainment while enjoying a drink and an appetizer or two. When you are not out in nature, you may want to check out the nearby wineries or attend a performance at the City Opera House.  

Park Place Hotel and Conference Center
Credits: Park Place Hotel and Conference Center

 Inns Near Sleeping Bear Dunes

There are not as many inns, as there are hotels, in Sleeping Bear Dunes.  However, that doesn’t mean that you cannot find the perfect one for your stay.  A favorite of past guests includes:

1) Knights Inn Traverse City

Knights Inn is approximately twenty-four miles from Sleeping Bear Dunes, and you will find you are close to many nearby attractions in the downtown area.  It is a little walk to the beach, but you can make it there in only a few minutes.  

Camping Near Sleeping Bear Dunes

There are a few different campgrounds near Sleeping Bear Dunes, so you should always be able to find a campsite, unless it is peak season.  If you are planning a trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park during peak season, it is best to make your campground reservation well in advance.  

1) Platte River Campground

The Platte River Campground is open all year long, but it is best to reserve campsites for stays between May and October up to six months in advance.  This Sleeping Bear Dunes campground offers both RV and tent sites and you will have access to water and a dump station. There are even restrooms and hot showers, so you don’t need to live without the comforts of home.  

2) DH Day Campground

The DH Day Campground is a little more rustic, but it is still quite popular since it is closest to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  There are eighty-one private sites at this Sleeping Bear Dunes campground, and you will find you are very close to many restaurants, shops, and even museums.  There are no hookups at this campground, and you must travel to the Platte River Campground if you are looking for a shower. You can only stay at this campground from April through November, so plan your stay accordingly.  

Camping

3) Camping on Manitou Islands

There are Sleeping Bear Dunes campgrounds on both North and South Manitou Islands.  On South Manitou Island, you can only camp at the Bay Campground, Weather Station Campground, and Popple Campground.  Bay Campground is closest to the dock, while Popple Campground is the furthest. There is no purified water on this island, so you must be prepared by either bringing your own water with you or utilize your own water filtration system.  

Over on North Manitou Island, there are only eight campsites within the small Village Campground.  You may camp out in the wilderness but be aware that you cannot have a campfire outside of the Village Campground.  You must pay for a backcountry permit if you plan on doing any backcountry camping. Those permits are available on the island, as well as on the mainland.  

4) Airbnb Sleeping Bear Dunes

You will find plenty of homes, cabins, and cottages available when you are looking for Airbnb Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Each one of the available options are within a few miles of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, which means you will spend less time traveling and more time having fun within this outdoor location.  Plus, every home, cabin, and cottage have multiple rooms, so you will have plenty of space for everyone in your group to spread out when you are all ready for some downtime.  

Sleeping Bear Dunes Things to Do

Things to Do at Sleeping Bear Dunes Beach

There are plenty of beaches near Sleeping Bear Dunes.  The best of the best when it comes to Sleeping Bear Dunes beaches though are Good Harbor Beach and Esch Road Beach.  There are plenty of things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes beaches, but all-time favorites of past visitors have included swimming, taking strolls along the sandy shoreline, and making some incredible sandcastles.  

Add in some time body surfing the perfect waves and you will have a Sleeping Bear Dunes vacation to remember!

Things to Do at Sleeping Bear Dunes Spring, Summer, and Fall

The spring, summer, and fall months in Sleeping Bear Dunes bring nice weather and that means that there are more things you can do during those times of the year.  Now, this isn’t to say that you cannot visit Sleeping Bear Dunes during the winter months, but your experience will be different, as you will see in a few minutes.  

Here are some of the best things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes spring, summer, and fall:

1) Go Hiking

There are thirteen different hiking trails within Sleeping Bear Dunes, so you can start with one and then work your way through the rest.  One of the shortest ones is only a half mile out and it will take you to Sleeping Bear Point. Despite the fact it is the shortest, it is also the most popular.  

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Hiking
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

2) See a Ghost Town

There are so many ghosts within this area, but that doesn’t mean you will see them all the time.  Glen Haven is an excellent place to start if you want to try for a ghostly encounter. This former steamship stop has been completely restored to look exactly as it did when it was bustling during the 1920s.  The general store, blacksmith shop, and former cannery hold the secrets of the people who used to live and work there. The Port Oneida Historic District is another option if you want to focus on ghostly areas to the north.  

3) See the Nearby Islands

One of the best things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes in summer is island hopping.  Over on South Manitou Island, you can stop at the lighthouse before visiting the shipwrecks and isolated beaches.  You can also take a trip to North Manitou Island, but that trek usually requires an overnight stay at a campsite.  

South Manitou Island
Credits: Wikimedia Commons

4) Participate in a Ranger-Led Program

Rangers lead programs at Sleeping Bear Dunes throughout the year, but they are scheduled more often during the spring, summer, and fall.  These programs cover a large range of topics, so it is possible to participate in a few different ones during your stay.  

Things to Do at Sleeping Bear Dunes Winter

The winter months at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park usually brings snow and cold.  That means that many of the favorite spring, summer, and fall activities are no longer available.  I do not think you will want to swim in the cold waters of the lake during the winter months, so while you may be bummed, you won’t have as much of a problem with it as you could! 

Don’t worry, there are still plenty of things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes winter.  Here are a few favorites:

1) Go Skiing

There are four ski resorts within a twenty-mile radius of Sleeping Bear Dunes, so you should have no trouble at all finding a place to stay during your visit.  While the most popular option is downhill skiing, there are also nine cross-country ski trails to conquer.  

Skiing

2) Go Snowshoeing

Not everyone loves skiing or has the equipment that is needed.  However, snowshoeing is the next best thing and you can do this Sleeping Bear Dunes winter activity on any of the cross-country ski trails.  

3) Go Snowmobiling

There are more than one hundred and thirty miles of groomed snowmobile trails near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  

4) Take a Beer or Wine Tasting Tour

There are thirty breweries and taprooms, forty-one wineries, and a combined eighteen cider houses and distilleries near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.  While you can do these tastings at any time of the year, the winter is usually the best since you are looking to get out of the cold occasionally anyway.  

Wine Tasting Tour

5) Go Sledding

Kids of all ages will love it when the Dune Climb is covered with snow, because that means they can hop on their sleds and going zooming down the hill.  You must pay attention to the area where sledding is allowed and never venture out to the areas where it is not. Other than that, you can use any type of sled you have on hand.  A few favorites of past guests have included sled, saucers, toboggans, and inflatable tubes.  

6) Do a Little Ice Fishing

You must obtain a permit from the Visitor Center before you do any ice fishing, but the permits are free.  Basically, when you receive the permit, you will learn all the rules and regulations you need to follow when you are out ice fishing.  

Ice Fishing

7) Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a must-do item that everyone needs to have on their Sleeping Bear Dunes itinerary!  The drive is 7.4 miles long and goes directly through the beech-maple forest. In addition to learning a plethora of history about Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Michigan, you will have the chance to stop at many of the different overlooks.  Each one of those overlooks offers incredible views of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Lake Michigan, and the Glen Lakes.  

The best way to experience the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is to pick up a copy of the free interpretive guide at the Visitor Center.  As you reach each stop, there will be a number that corresponds with the guide.  

You must be careful as you drive along this route, because there are many other people on the road.  Some will be walking, while others will be on a bicycle or another type of motorized vehicle.  

Tips for Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

It is always best to check out the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore website prior to going to Sleeping Bear Dunes.  This will ensure that everything you want to do during your visit is available and you won’t need to worry about running into any complications at the last minute.  The website will even let you know what sections of the park are currently closed, the reason why, and when they are expected to be reopened.  

Over on the operating hours page of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore website, you will gain lots of knowledge of when the Visitor Center, Bookstore, and Sand Dunes are open.  That page also lists all the special programs and exhibits that are going on in each location.  

Visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

There is currently a fee to enter the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park.  That fee is $15 per person, $25 per private vehicle, and $20 per motorcycle.  The passes are valid for seven days from the date of issuance. There is also an annual park entrance pass available for $45.  That pass is valid for twelve months.  

It is imperative that you obtain a park pass before entering Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, because you can be fined if you are caught without one!

If you plan on doing any backcountry camping within Sleeping Bear Dunes, you must obtain a backcountry camping permit.  

It is always best if you plan your trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore well in advance, so you know exactly what you are doing once you arrive.  This will ensure that you do not spend hours trying to figure out what to do and waste precious time out of your already limited vacation schedule.  

Now that you know what to expect when you visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you will be prepared for anything that comes up during the planning stages of your trip, and the time that you are in this area.  Don’t worry, there is always a ranger around to give you additional tips and advice, and you will always be able to get answers to the questions you may have once you get there.  

This means that you can easily sit back and relax when you are on vacation in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Or at least when you are not out and about exploring the area! 

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