Road Trip: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park

Heather Raulerson

Turning my head, I see the blue water of Lake Michigan on one side and the other, sand, lots and lots of sand. Freedom is calling me to run as fast as I can up the dune and come right back down. The kid in all of us is ready to burst out of you, and do you let it? Of course! You are on vacation at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, and it is prime family fun time! Here are the top 7 Family Fun Things to do at Sleeping Bear Dunes.

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

1. Playing in the Sand Dunes, Water, and Watching the Sunset

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

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You can set up camp right at D.H. Day State Park or bunk at one of the local resorts around Glen Arbor. Or you can try Booking.com for other places in Glen Arbor. Look for the ghost forests, where dead trees are poking up from the dunes that seem to be in the middle of nowhere. Walk along the edge of the sand and dip your toes in the waters of Lake Michigan. Build sandcastles or look for small treasures to take home with you. At the end of the day, sit and enjoy the beautiful sunset that mother nature has on display for you.

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Photos by Heather Raulerson

2. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

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This 7.4-mile loop has all the fantastic views you would want for a scenic drive. Twists and turns through the beech-maple forests, Lake Michigan and Glen Lake overlook, stops for picnic areas, and even dune hikes. This road is an excellent drive with numerous stops that you could spend days taking it all in.

3. Lake Michigan

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The Lake Michigan overlook is one of the stops on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. You have to get down a 450-foot steep sandy hill to put your feet in Lake Michigan at the bottom. The thing to remember is that it is almost double the time to get back up for how easy it looks to get down. There is a deck overlook to wait and watch the most adventurous of your family-run down the hill and lobster crawl back up.

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

4. Cottonwood Trail

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The Cottonwood trail is also a stop on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. It is a 1.5-mile trail through the dunes. This hike is where you can experience all aspects of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Such as Blow-outs, where erosion has left bowl-shaped areas for kids to run on, up and over, wildflowers, or even wild animal tracks from animals that make the dunes home.

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Photos by Heather Raulerson

5. Town of Glen Haven

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Explore Glen Haven, and it will be like stepping back into the 1920s. The General Store’s shelves are filled with antiques, snacks, toys, kitchenware, and of course, books regarding the area. The Blacksmith Shop is an interactive experience where you can watch a real blacksmith create amazing things and get to ask him questions. The Cannery Boathouse is filled with restored old boats for you to check out.

6. Maritime Museum

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Photo by Heather Raulerson

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Photos by Heather Raulerson

Photos by Heather Raulerson

During the summer, kids can participate in the re-enactment of saving victims of a downed ship. Raggedy-Ann and Andy are in buoys that kids have to work as a team to bring them to safety. This technique is how the U.S. Life-Saving Station saved over 178,000 people since 1871. After the rescue drill, you can watch them fire the Lyle Gun into the water. This demonstration shows how they could get the line to the ships to bring the sailors to land. After or before the demo, you can spend some time in the museum and see how the station's keeper lived.

7. Dune Climb

Photos by Heather Raulerson

Photos by Heather Raulerson

The highlight of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park is the Dune Climb. Kids will enjoy climbing and running down this hill. If you are interested in continuing over the hill to Lake Michigan, the hike will take approximately 3-4 hours. Remember to take lots of water on the trek. For those who want to stay close to the dune base, there are plenty of places to enjoy a picnic. You can spend a lovely afternoon here at the Dune Climb.

Where to Stay at Sleeping Bear Dunes?

There are several places to stay in Glen Arbor or near the Sleeping Bear Dunes. My most fun experience was camping at the D.H. Day Campground. Another camping option is staying at Sleeping Bear Dunes-Platte River Campground. I have also stayed at The Homestead in Glen Arbor.

Summary

Sleeping Bear Dunes is a fun U.S. National Park for the family to explore the outdoors in northern Michigan. Spend a weekend or a week; there is enough to keep everyone busy here. And you can visit all year round. I have visited in the summer and the fall, and both times, nature puts on a show at the dunes. Sleeping Bear Dunes is worth a visit, or two, or three.

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Heather is a freelance writer and photographer who loves slow travel where she can stay in one place to get to know the local scenery and culture. She is the owner of Raulersongirlstravel, a travel website sharing her solo adventures and photographs around the world.

Rochester Hills, MI
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