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Visiting Northern Michigan – Sleeping Bear Dunes

August 11, 2021


Lauren Farver

A few weeks ago, we ventured north about 4 hours for a long 4th of July weekend near Sleeping Bear Dunes! We live in southern Michigan [Lauren here!], but northern Michigan is absolutely nothing like southern – it.is.BEAUTIFUL! There are so many great towns to visit – Traverse City, Mackinaw, Harbor Springs, and more, but on this trip we spent our time around Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, in the Empire and Glen Arbor areas!

Take a [virtual] trip up north with me and let me share what we love about the area!

Where to Stay

If you missed the news, we got ourselves an RV, Clark! So we stayed at the Indigo Bluffs RV Park & Resort, which I would highly recommend if you’re into the whole RV thing too!

If you prefer your lodging to NOT be on wheels, there are a TON of AirBnBs [I’d recommend looking in the Glen Arbor area] as well as a resort called The Homestead that is supposed to be great!

What To Do


We did two different hikes throughout our trip to see the dunes. While there are plenty of more strenuous hikes, these were perfect for our little fam which included 3.5 year old legs which can only go so far 😉 I recommend going to these first thing in the morning before the crowds get there!

Empire Bluff Trail:

Empire Bluff Trail: This trail is about 1.5 miles, mostly vertical through the woods. But once you get to the top, you’re greeted with a gorgeous boardwalk on one of the dunes, with views of the blue water and more sand dunes!

Pyramid Point Trail

Pyramid Point Trail: We were the first ones to this trail at around 830AM [it was a bit drizzly which probably kept people away], which made for a peaceful hike and some seriously beautiful time at the top by ourselves as a family! A simple uphill hike only about 1 mile roundtrip to the scenic view and back. [ there is a longer trail if you want to keep going!] When we got back to the bottom the parking lot was full!


Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

There is a bike trail called the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail that spans 22 miles from end to end [that’s 44 miles if you go there and back!]. Most of it is paved, although there are some areas that are still in progress, and there are a few steeeeep climbs, but most of it is pretty flat and smooth! While it was mostly people on bikes, there were a handful of walkers and rollerbladers along different parts of the trail! This was a great way to get some exercise in and see different parts of the area! Simply park at a trailhead and take off in whatever direction you want! We parked at the Bar Lake Road Trailhead in Empire once and the Glen Haven Trailhead the other time!

We brought our own bikes, but you can rent through The Cyclery!

Scenic Drive

Maybe one of the most beautiful views of the whole trip came from taking the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive through the National Park. You’ll need to pay for a pass to do this [I think it was around $20, but then is good for several days]. There are several stopping points along the way, but the dune overlook [a few stops into the drive] is gooooorgeous!


We visited two beaches and they were drastically different and we liked each for it’s own reasons.

Glen Haven Beach

Glen Haven: This beach was serene, had crystal clear calm water, some black sand, and seemed like you were in more of a remote location [don’t get me wrong- there were a lot of people there – but it wasn’t your typical packed summertime beach]. This beach is right next to historic Glen Haven which has, well, nothing in it. A few historic buildings, a blacksmith shop, and a public restroom! You can also hop on the Heritage Trail here, which we rode our bikes on and then hit up the beach after! One thing to note – it is a lot of black sand, which you can see on the little toes above!

Empire Public Beach

Empire Public Beach: This is your more traditional public beach! Lots of people, lots of sand, cold 61 degree Lake Michigan waves! What we loved the most about this one was that it had a huge playground in the sand, which our 3.5 year old loved especially since the water was so cold! Note: you do have to pay to park here!


Glen Arbor is a cute little lakeside town full of shops and restaurants that’s within minutes of all of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. It’s not a huge town, so you can knock it out pretty quickly. If you want something a bit more, you’re also only about 30 minutes from Traverse City, which is FULL of shopping and good eats!

Get Out On The Water

There’s water everywhere up there! Next time we go, we fully plan to rent a boat for a day on Glen Lake. It was SUCH blue water with a huge sandbar! There’s also plenty of kayaking and canoeing in the area, and even charter fishing out on Lake Michigan!

Where To Eat

Most of our meals were enjoyed at the campsite, but we did venture out for a few meals and also had plenty of recommendations from friends who had been before! I’m sharing a mix of what we tried / what they recommended!

Hop Lot Brewery [photo above] : About 45 minutes away was a SUPER cool brewery [we’re a sucker for those] that we had to check out. Tons of outdoor seating in between the tall trees, good brews and food, and family friendly! Check check and check!

Traverse City: As mentioned above, Traverse City is only about 30 minutes away and has a ton of great restaurant options. If you’ve never been before, you should definitely set a day aside to venture over there!

Hopefully this gives you some ideas on planning out a trip up north!

share this with your best girlfriends:

  1. Jen says:

    This is my list for next year. So thankful for
    Your post

  2. B says:

    You missed a lot! The best town on the peninsula is Leland and fishtown and of course Sutton’s bay! Best sandwiches ever are from the cheese shanty! We love the blue bird, the cove, ricks etc

  3. Tillie Thompson says:

    This looks Amazing! Our Family will be going here! Thanks for the information!

  4. Barb says:

    Can you recommend any nice hotels in these areas?

  5. Joanna says:

    Thank you for this, it brought me back 10 years ago to when my husband and I did the hike (later reading on a pamphlet it was the most difficult!) when we were dating. We also visited Traverse City and Grand Haven where we got engaged! We lived in S MI and I agree, something about N MI is a must see. I’ll never forget those road trips and miss the beautiful MI beach towns.

  6. Bobbie Miller says:

    Looks like an absolutely BEAUTIFUL location, Lauren! Thanks for sharing your adventure with us!

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