Sleeping Bear Dunes:Ultimate Michigan Travel Guide (what you should know before you go)


Sleeping Bear Dunes - The Ultimate Michigan Travel Guide | By Sherry Trautman | Traveling Michigan at Travel-Mi.com

We’ll kick off this exciting Michigan Road Trip near Arcadia so you can get your first killer views of Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes - that's why we're here, right? 

Continuing on famous M-22, we'll explore famous lighthouses, dig our toes in warm sandy beaches, hike amazing vistas and photograph sweeping dunes while winding our way to our grand finale, Pierce Stocking Drive.

Voted Best Scenic Drive in America, M-22 Will Be Our Route As We Explore Frankfort, Pt. Betsie Lighthouse, Empire, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Pierce Stocking Drive and Lots of Adventures Along the Way.


Home to exhilarating adventures, new discoveries, vibrant cities and natural wonders, Michigan is a hidden gem.  It's inspiring vistas, soaring dunes and photographic marvels are unrivaled. 

Thanks for Picking Our Michigan Visitor Guide!


To guarantee the most epic Michigan road trip, Chris and I logged A LOT of hours "researching" this trip just for you - from kayaking down sparkling rivers to licking melty ice cream cones to watching sunsets on the beach, we did it.

And sometimes, just to be certain, we did it twice - like sipping one more glass of Michigan wine or tackled one more epic sandcastle...just for you.  You're welcome. ;)  


Michigan Road Trip Planning Notes (Know Before You Go)


Recommended Time: We recommend at least two full days to explore the sites but if you like to fully engage with biking, beach going, kayaking, shopping, sight-seeing, eating, dune climbing and exploring, you can easily spend 4 days on this Michigan Road Trip through Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Total Mileage: About 50 miles depending on the stops you make.

National Park Pass: If you are parking at any beaches, climbing, parking or exploring within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park you will need a National Park pass.  This pass allows access to all areas within the park including its parking lots and roadside parking. 

A vehicle park pass for Sleeping Bear Dunes is $25 for a weekly pass-daily passes are not offered.  You will need this pass on your vehicle’s windshield for Pierce Stocking Trail and any adventures with Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Where to Buy Them: If you are following our guide, you can purchase a pass at Riverside Canoes or at the entrance to Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Visitor Centers may sell them also.

Pre-Planning Reservations: You will need reservations for camping and Platte River Kayaking at Riverside Canoes.  See our hotel recommendations for Frankfort, Empire and Glen Arbor. Plan ahead for a stress-free trip!


What to Bring On This Michigan Road Trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes


  • National Park Pass if you have one
  • Cash for parking, snacks, rentals, etc. (good to have at least $100 in small bills just in case)
  • Water Shoes
  • Swimsuits
  • Sunscreen
  • Towels
  • Sunglasses and Sun Hat
  • Toilet Paper and Hand Sanitizer (Pit Toilets)
  • Trash Bag
  • Snacks and Drinks
  • Cooler/Ice
  • Walking and Hiking Shoes
  • Bikes/Repair Kits/Bike Lock
  • Binoculars
  • More Packing Tips

Sleeping Bear Dunes Interactive Map

***Remember to use the Sleeping Bear Dunes interactive map link for LIVE connection to Google Maps!!


We created this Sleeping Bear Dunes Interactive Map to help you find your specific stops and aid in planning your trip. 

Helpful Map Tips:

  • Click on the plus and minus in the left corner to zoom in or out of the map.
  • Click on the icons for more info, addresses and photos of the stops.
  • Click on the map to drag and move it to view surrounding areas.
  • In the Header, click on the rectangle in the upper left of the map to see a menu of all of our stops. Click on anything that looks interesting to see where it is on the map. To hide the menu, click the rectangle in the header. 
  • In the Header, click on the "square" icon in the upper right side to expand the map for better viewing. 


Are you ready?  Let's GO!  Be sure to use the map above to reference all our stops!


Inspiration Point Offers Pristine Overlooks of Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes  


Inspiration Point Location: M-22, Arcadia (see map)

Inspiration Point is THE hot spot for photographers and sight-seers seeking thrilling vantage points that promises to rouse the artist, poet or adventurer inside you. 

Let’s get your pulse pounding by blasting up a few stairs for a killer view of Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes. Trust us, it’s worth it (I think I can hear the angels singing!). 



If you are unable to climb stairs, don’t worry, the view is magnificent near the parking area. 

Restrooms: port-a-john (pit toilet).  You might need to bring toilet tissue and hand sanitizer with you, just sayin'.

Route To Frankfort: Continue north on Scenic Highway M22 toward Frankfort, Michigan. 

Distance To Frankfort: Approximately 10 miles


Visit Frankfort Michigan


Scenic Main Street in Frankfort is home to flower lined streets, quaint shops and bobbing moored boats.  Take some time to experience the shops and grab a bite to eat. 

Wander the paved walkways near the marina and relax for a moment on a bench under a shade tree while enjoying the warm breezes and stunning views. 

Frankfort Michigan is home to dunes, lighthouse, beach, Betsie trail system, mineral springs and so much more!

Where to Stay in Frankfort, Michigan

Booking.com

Point Betsie Lighthouse, One of the Most Famous Lighthouses in Michigan 

Remember to use the Interactive Map!


Location: 3701 Pointe Betsie Road, Frankfort, MI

Tip: During the summer, this lighthouse is very crowded and vehicles will be parked along the road for a half mile.  We highly recommend getting here first thing in the morning (I mean, EARLY) if you want to avoid crowds, take photos or park to the lighthouse. 

However, if you have a motor home, you will want to park alongside the road away from the lighthouse as turning around with traffic would be very difficult.



Plan to spend about an hour here as the views are just gorgeous.  Wander the beach, check out the breakwater and maybe take a few minutes to appreciate the beauty around you. 

Breathe in, relax your face, appreciate where you are right now and just be in the moment.  

Here's More About Point Betsie Lighthouse and Touring the Tower.

Route to Platte River Kayaking and Tubing: Continue north on M-22 (N. Scenic Highway).  Check out the scenic lakes and the Sleeping Bear Dunes Welcome sign along the way!  

Distance to Platte River Kayaking and Tubing: 8.7 miles


Scenic Lake and Sleeping Bear Dunes Sign!

M-22, North of Crystal Lake. By Travel-Mi.comM-22, North of Crystal Lake. By Travel-Mi.com

Remember to use the Interactive Map!


On M-22, north of Crystal Lake is this lovely scenic lake and the iconic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sign!  Pull over and snap a couple pics or selfies!! See the interactive Sleeping Bear Dunes map at the beginning of this post for exact locations. 


Platte River Kayaking


Location: 5042 N. Scenic Highway, Honor, MI

Even if you aren’t interesting in kayaking, you MUST stop at Riverside Canoes to check out the view from the bridge (and grab some ice cream from the store). I absolutely love love love it here. 

The colorful striped umbrellas, bright kayaks and sparkling river are jaw dropping beautiful, especially on a sunny summer day. 

Stop inside the gift shop/grocery store to grab a sandwich, snacks or drinks for the road. You can also meander along the river on the opposite side of the kayak launch points.

National Park Pass: If you are parking for the afternoon you will need a National Park pass which can be purchased at Riverside Canoes. This pass allows access to all areas within the park including its parking lots and roadside parking. You don’t need a pass to park for a few minutes.  The park passes for Sleeping Bear Dunes are $25 for a weekly pass-daily passes are not offered.  You will need this pass for Pierce Stocking Drive and any adventures with Sleeping Bear Dunes.

 

We recommend grabbing snacks, water or lunch here before proceeding to Pierce Stocking Drive as there are no restaurants there.

Parking: Across the street for short term parking. There is a lower parking lot behind the store and you will be given further instructions if you plan to go out on the river.

Bathrooms and Food: Located inside the store.

Route to Empire Bluff Trail: Continue north on M22 (N. Scenic Highway) until you reach Wilco Road. Turn left on Wilco Road and continue to the trailhead parking.

Distance to Empire, MI: 19 miles


Empire Bluff Trail


Location: Empire Bluff Trail, Honor, MI (see map)

The trail distance is 1.5 miles and is hilly terrain.  The trail leads to a high bluff offering a spectacular view of Lake Michigan.

Route: Continue north on Wilco Road into the town of Empire. Wilco Rd turns into S. Lake Street. Turn left onto Niagara Street and then turn right onto Lake Michigan Drive to the Lighthouse.

Bonus Stop: Visit the Philip A. Hart Visitors Center for more information, maps, ideas, questions and restrooms located at 9922 W. Front Street, Empire, MI.

 

Robert H. Manning Memorial Lighthouse

Remember to use the Interactive Map!


Location: Lake Michigan Drive, Empire, MI

The tower is closed but the lighthouse is stunning to view.

Route to Pierce Stocking Drive: Proceed east on Niagara Drive. Turn left onto M-22 (S. Leelanau Highway).  Turn left onto 109 to Pierce Stocking.

Distance to Pierce Stocking Drive: About 3.5 miles


Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive


Location: Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Empire, MI 

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is a must-do activity when visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This incredibly scenic 7.4 mile drive loops through the Beech-Maple forest and sand dunes with spectacular overlooks of the Glen Lakes, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and Lake Michigan. Dune hikes are amazing along the Cottonwood Trail.

Notes:

  • Make sure you have food, drinks, etc before embarking on your drive as there are no restaurants in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  There is food in nearby communities.  Make sure you have everything you need before entering the drive.
  • Most roads in the park are county and state roads and are open to RVs or travel trailers. The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive has some steep hills and tight curves. For that reason, there is a parking area at the entrance of the Scenic Drive for you to drop off your travel trailer before taking the drive. You can pick it up on the way out. Plus parking can be limited.
  • Visitors Center: Philip Hart Visitor Center: 9922 Front Street, Empire MI.
  • National Park Pass: The park passes for Sleeping Bear Dunes are $25 for a weekly pass-daily passes are not offered.  You will need this pass for Pierce Stocking Drive and any adventures with Sleeping Bear Dunes. This pass allows access to all areas within the park including its parking lots and roadside parking. You don’t need a pass to park for a few minutes. 

Time Allotment: 2-3 hours depending on how long you spend at each stop and if you hike.


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The observation deck at the Lake Michigan Overlook is about 450 feet above the lake level and is one of my favorite overlooks.  The view is breathtaking!

As you can see, the angle to the lake is very steep. You can descend down the bluff to the lake, but it is VERY difficult going back up.  We only recommend this if you are very physically fit because if you can't make it back up, the cost for the park to bring you up is exorbitant. 

Climbing also causes erosion of the bluff face.  



This is a view of Glen Lake from the Glen Lake Overlook stop on the Scenic Drive. If you look closely, you can see M-22 separate Big and Little Glen Lake. 

Restrooms: Pit toilets. Bring toilet tissue and hand sanitizer.

If you haven’t had enough of the dunes, check out the Dune Climb located on state route M-109.  The address is: 6900 South Dune Highway, Empire, MI.


Where to Stay in Empire

Booking.com

Where to Stay in Glen Arbor

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Great advice Not rated yet
Thank you for sharing such wonderfully specific advice, with so many details. When travel is safe again, it looks like my trip here is already all planned! …

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The first time I went to Sleeping Bear Dunes I had NO IDEA how huge it was. We kind of started hiking it on a whim without water, snacks or sunscreen. …

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View this post on Instagram

Today, I'm DYING to feel warm sand between my toes, to feel the heat of the sun on my arms and the breeze on my face. SO, I decided to post a warm photo to cheer me (and you!) up! Sweet deal, huh?! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This #throwbackthursday pic is from last summer's trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes. What a magnificent view of Lake Michigan, isn't it? Sigh...⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ .⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #greatlakes #michigan #michiganunsalted #michiganders #onlyinmichigan #bluesky #crashingwaves #landscapephotography #thursday #puremichigan #lakemichiganbeach #michigantravel #greatlakesstate #sleepingbeardunes #sleepingbeardunesnationallakeshore #travelingmichigan #michiganoverboard #michigan_wanderlust #greatlakesstateofmind #puremittenpride #lovemichigan #michiganders #exploremichigan #greatlakesstate #greatlakesstateofmind #greatlakeslocals #midwestmoment #onlyinmichigan #michiganunsalted

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