Hike Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear dunes is a challenging hike over 450' tall sand dunes to sweeping views of Lake Michigan. This spot is spectacular for sunsets. 

There are two approaches to conquering the Dune Climb at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. You can run to the top (the preferred method for those under the age of 10). Or, you can slowly trek up the side of this seemingly vertical wall of sand, breathing and sweating heavily, cursing each loose patch that knocks you back three feet for every one advanced.

Once you reach the top, stop for a moment to catch your breath and take in the beauty of the surrounding area. Then continue along Dunes Trail that extends all the way to the shore of Lake Michigan.

Allow 2-4 hours to complete the hike. It's short - 3.5 miles round-trip - but strenuous. You will be hiking up and down dunes over loose sand the entire time. Closed-toe shoes help protect your feet from blisters and the prickly plants lining the trail. Bring a lot of water, especially if you visit in the summer.

The effort is worth the reward once you reach the shoreline of Lake Michigan. You'll start seeing a sliver of blue as your descend the last major dune climb. The trail ends at a wooden staircase leading you down to the beach. The view from the top will take your breath away.

Walk a short distance down the rocky shoreline to claim your own private section of beach. Cool off by taking a dip into the lake's crystal clear water. Eat the picnic lunch you packed - you will have worked up quite the appetite by now.

Spend some time lounging in the sun, but allow plenty of time to get back before sunset. To find the best viewing spot, simply look for the crowd lining the top of the tallest dune. The local tradition is to applaud the sun as it dips into the water, properly thanking it for the day.

Pack List

  • Closed-toe shoes (old sneakers)
  • Twice the amount of water you think you need
  • Food
  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Towel
  • Swimsuit
  • Camera
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RT Distance 3.5 Miles
Activities Camping, Photography, Swimming, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Beach
Easy Parking
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers

Reviews

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Sleeping Bear Dunes

Wow incredible I went when it was cloudy so the sand didn’t burn our feet it was pretty breathtaking amazing and highly recommend it’s steep but worth it!

Challenging and beautiful

The view here is great, and there are several other spots on the scenic route that have comparable views. The large dune itself is honestly quite crazy. It is a steep 450ft (vertical height) dehydrating mountain of sand. Signs warn that it could take up to 2 hours to climb back up if you are daring enough to venture down. I personally witnessed people who had been on the mound for an hour and were only 2/3 the way up. It took me just under 20mins to frantically scramble up the entire dune, but I was well worn out by the end. For every three feet I climbed, I slid back atleast one. I recommend you bring twice as much water as you think you'll need! The bright side is that the water at the beach is very soothing, cool, and clear. (However by the time you get to the top, this is all just a distance memory). Overall, I highly recommend atleast paying the $15 to get into the scenic drive and visiting the dune along with the other stops. If you're somewhat in-shape and feel like taking the challenge, venture down the dune and back up again! If you aren't, still take the time to people watch and chuckle to yourself as people bear-scramble up the dune.

Just be prepared!

It was a good hike, more challenging than expected. Just make sure that you go prepared. Good footwear, sun protection and water!


Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

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