30 Jun Sleeping Bear Dunes – 3 days pure nature
Before we start, let’s figure out one thing first:
What on Earth are the Sleeping Bear Dunes?
It is a nature preserve of 300 square kilometers in the north of the US State of Michigan. The name may seem strange. However, this name was given by the indigenous people of America, the Indian tribe of the Anishinabe. It refers to the appearance of the shoreline.
The Indians used the sand dunes as landmarks to help them safely navigate their canoes through Manitou Passage. On the map this passage can be seen north of Glen arbor.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes were voted No. 1 of “The most beautiful places in America” on ABC’s Good Morning America.
What can you do in three days here? Let’s start with a classic: Hiking
DAY 1 – Hiking
Officially this area offers 13 short to medium length walking trails. In my opinion, the Dune Climb is a must. I leads through the dunes to Lake Michigan. Ideally, you could start the tour in the afternoon so that you can enjoy the evening sunset at the lake.
If you prefer a trip through the cool forest to climbing the dunes, I recommend Pyramid Point Trail. If you keep your eyes open you will quickly see how full of life nature still is here. In just a few hours I have encountered squirrels, buzzards, chipmunks, butterflies and even wild deer.
Totally exemplary are the cards available at every trail starting point. To be completely safe, there are maps of all of the trails of the Sleeping Bear Dunes in PDF on the website of the US National Park Service. And of course, there is always google maps that also offers useful offline navigation now.
As far as difficulty goes, even though there is some treacherous terrain, all of these routes seem doable for most reasonably fit people.
For advanced hikers and more fit people it is possible to take several paths in one day. Or you could leave the beaten paths and continue along the coastline, because there they have…
DAY 2 – Beautiful Beaches
Lake Michigan is the third largest freshwater lake in the world. Therefore, its banks are of a whole other caliber than ordinary lakes.
There are numerous beaches along the coast of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. They are more reminiscent of the Caribbean than a freshwater lake. Not at all reminiscent of the Caribbean are the water temperatures. At 10 degrees Celsius or 50 degrees Fahrenheit, bathing here is a very refreshing matter =)
The following video was made after walking Pyramid Point. But if you want to get to the lake you will have to take on the “Advanced Trail”. This will be more challenging taking steep paths leading to a view point and going cross country to Lake Michigan.
Doing this will guarantee lots of sand in your shoes for the rest of the day but who cares when you see the reward at this destination?
What I am trying to show in the video is the nature of the rocks – which they are obviously not! The entire coastline inclusive of the mountains consist of pure sand. Over the last 2000 years it was repeatedly baked by the sun to be rock hard and then compressed by rain and the cold winters here.
Of course, there are other beaches here that can be reached more easily.
Are your feet hurting yet? At this point I had had enough of the sand. If you feel the same, let’s exchange our shoes for a paddle:
DAY 3 – Kayaking on Crystal River
The name says it all. Crystal River is a stream of crystal clear water. The name “River” is deceptive, however, at least in June. The water is not very deep and it flows at a very moderate rate.
You can rent kayaks at places like Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor, for example. There you can find good advice on the route and getting to the starting point with the kayak was well organized.
Unlike the usual three hours, they gave me the kayak for the whole day. This way I could explore Crystal River without any time restraints.
Points 1 through 3 are definitely enough to experience three fantastic days at Sleeping Bear Dunes and you could vary how you combine your activities.
I can also recommend the following:
BONUS – Civilization, History or Sports
A further south in the park is Empire. It’s a former settlement of lumberjacks with nice stores, an ice cream shop and an outstanding beach, as well as the beginning of a trail with beautiful views of Lake Michigan.
Glen Haven is also worth seeing. It’s a tiny, historic village with a wonderful swimming beach and a small museum showing the local fishing history.
My tip: Definitely visit the blacksmith in Glen Haven. In an original period building, the Blacksmith Workshop, you can see a demonstration of how a blacksmith used to work and what was important here. The building was constructed in 1850 by German settlers who had very advanced building techniques for their time. I was even fortunate enough to get a little sample of his work to take home with me.
And what to do when you have free time? Sports, of course. Sleeping Bear Dunes are ideal for runners and cyclists. With rolling hills and fresh air working out along country roads and on the trails is simply a pleasure.
However, you should always keep an eye out on the weather. I recorded the following video in Glen Haven. It clearly demonstrates what kind of weather can roll in on you in no time:
The main concern for a budget here are the costs for lodging. The Sleeping Bear Dunes are a popular destination and prices are high. There really doesn’t seem to be anything under $70 a night. It will be somewhat easier for groups as you can rent a whole house and at full occupancy you may get down to $30-$50 per person.
Otherwise there really is only one sensible solution for price conscious backpackers: Camping. In my opinion it’s the best option. This way I am right in the middle of nature and can be part of it. That includes an evening bonfire and a jump into the lake or river in the morning. That’s a matter of personal preference, of course. Financially, it has certainly paid off. All activities including camping/lodging and meals with fresh food came to around $100.
Is this the most beautiful place in America? Many of the people I have talked to here seem to think so. I, for my part, do not want to make such a statement. Because the more I travel through North America, the more I realize that there can’t be just one “most beautiful place”.
One thing is for certain: It is a real jewel of nature. It’s definitely not untouched – for this you would probably have to go further north. However, you have a good mix of nature and civilization that has something to offer for people of all ages and budgets.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that in spite of being so popular with families and groups there was a lot to do for single travelers. Not only because of the vast array of activities offered but also because of the available room here. Therefore, this area is ideal to clear your head, recharge your own spirit and to focus on your personal goals.
In short: If you are travelling through the north of the United States you should not miss out on Sleeping Bear Dunes.