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 to 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.
You can set up camp right at D.H. Day State Park or bunk at one of the local resorts around Glen Arbor, like The Homestead. Or you can try Booking.com for other places in Glen Arbor (M22 Inn or Sylvan Inn Bed & Breakfast). 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.
2. Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
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, overlooks of Lake Michigan and Glen Lake, 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
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 for how easy it looks to get down, it is almost double the time to get back up. There is a deck overlook to wait and watch the most adventurous of your family-run down the hill and lobster crawl back up.
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.
5. Town of Glen Haven
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.
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 were able to 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 keeper of the station lived.
7. Dune Climb
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 that want to stay close to the base of the dune, 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. You can also find more places to stay through this link to Booking.com.
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 in 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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If you would like to see more of my nomad travels, check out my post on my first month of traveling full-time: One Month of Nomad Travel. If you are visiting national parks in the United States, check out these posts:
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- Montezuma Castle – “It’s not a castle, and Montezuma was never here.”
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- Explore Valley Forge National Park
- The Solemn Beauty of Arlington, Virginia
- Stepping into the past…afternoon at Mount Vernon
- The Washington D.C. trip that was 18 years in the making!