Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes

Updated on February 25, 2020
The Sleeping Bear Dunes provide beautiful views along the lakeshore.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes provide beautiful views along the lakeshore. | Source

What Are the Sleeping Bear Dunes?

The Sleeping Bear Dunes is a National Lakeshore on the northwestern shores of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. The area is covered with inshore lakes, rivers, the Lake Michigan shoreline, and huge sand dunes. This is a "must-see" area for travelers because the landscape is so beautiful.

The dunes cover more than 50,000 acres and provide 35 miles of Michigan coastline to view. Some of the dunes are more than 400 feet high.

We spent an enjoyable vacation there two years ago. Staying in Frankfort, Michigan, we found excellent accommodations, good restaurants, and fun walking along the Michigan lake shore. My husband likes historic homes and the town has plenty to view, so we spent a few hours checking them out. We also spent a day looking at the dunes, viewing the historic Coast Guard Museum, seeing the lighthouse, and so much more. This is a trip you need to take.

The Legend of the Sleeping Bear Dunes

The Indian legend of the Sleeping Bear Dunes is a beautiful story of a mother bear and the love she had for her cubs. As legend goes, the bears were forced from the shores of Wisconsin by a forest fire. They swam and swam, but the cubs just couldn't keep up. Mother bear finally landed on the shores in Michigan and waited for her cubs, but they had drowned. A dune overlooking Lake Michigan is called the Sleeping Bear Dune and the two Manitou Islands are said to be her two lost cubs.

The dunes were formed during the ice age by glaciers that had pushed down from the north in Canada. These glaciers enlarged river beds that formed the Great Lakes and left behind huge piles of sand and rock debris. The water levels of Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes rose and fell many times, before they became what they are today. The shorelines became more smoothed out as time passed

The glaciers left a perfect setting for leaving behind sand dunes as the winds blue westward and moved the sand along the shores. The dunes are mainly made up of sand.

They are now makeup a wonderful recreation area for us and nature's wonder to enjoy. This area was voted one of the most beautiful places in the US in 2012.

Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station - No longer in use.
Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station - No longer in use. | Source

The Coast Guard Museum

Be sure to visit The Coast Guard museum while visiting the dunes. Here you will see how ships in trouble were rescued by small boats. Many artifacts are showcased at the museum including boats, clothing, ship wheels, and more. The building is the original house used by the men that rescued boats, but it was moved from its original location because it had become almost covered by sand.

Also featured are some homes to visit from the early part of the century and a gift shop.

Large Dune in Background
Large Dune in Background | Source

The Tallest Dune

One of the tallest dunes is a spot where the adventurous try to climb to the top. We didn't try this since it was a hot day and we are no longer that chipper. You can see the people trying to climb to the top on the photo. Walking paths along the dunes offer another popular sport to see some beautiful scenery and enjoy nature. It will take you through wooded areas and you may spot a deer or two.

Lake Michigan Shoreline
Lake Michigan Shoreline | Source

Lake Michigan Shoreline

You'll find beautiful Michigan lake shores along the entire region. Crystal lake is also located in the area and is a must see because the lake is so blue and clear. The lake is the largest inland lake in Michigan.

If you are a gardener, you don't want to miss Crystal Gardens. I thought that I possessed every perennial flower available for Zone 5, but found many new ones there. The gardens are on a 10 acre property with 9 green houses. You'll find garden supplies and art to beautify your garden there also.

We stayed in Frankfort, Michigan at the Bayview Inn. It is the largest resort in Frankfort right on a beautiful Lake Michigan beach. The Village of Elberta is close and a a beach to beach trail that is 4 miles long is available for bikes or walking. The path follows along Betsie Lake passing through parks and several fishing decks are along the way if you'd like to try fishing.

Public beaches are available in both Frankfort and Elberta and both towns have several good restaurants to choose from. Many have decks so you can view the water and fresh fish is offered daily at most of them.

Point Betsie Lighthouse
Point Betsie Lighthouse | Source

Point Betsie Lighthouse

One of the big attractions is the Point Betsie Lighthouse. The lighthouse was built in 1858 and is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the US. I'm sorry I couldn't provide a newer photo, but we visited the lighthouse when it was closed and I couldn't get a good view. It is open only on weekends.

The lighthouse is often described as "the rock star" of lighthouses and is also described by many as the most beautiful lighthouse they've ever seen. It is 37 feet tall and stands 52 feet above the lake. It can be seen 27 miles out on the water. Tours are available up to the top of the lighthouse and through the Victorian home.

16 documented shipwrecks can be seen from the shoreline. The water is shallow here and contains many sandbars which caused the ships to wreck during storms.The passageway was used because it provided a shortcut for ships sailing from Chicago to other ports on the Great Lakes, even though the area contains some of the most treacherous waters in the Great Lakes.

Be sure to visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes area. You won't be disappointed.

Have You or Would You Like to Visit the Dunes?

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    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      7 years ago from USA

      Stephanie, Picking the blueberries sounds like fun. We enjoyed our time there too. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      7 years ago from USA

      Enjoyed your background information on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park! We camped in the park several years ago and did enjoy the dunes, lake and local attractions. One thing that we loved was picking blueberries on one of the old abandoned homesteads! I'd love to go back to that area again!

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      7 years ago from USA

      Fossillady, We took a vacation there about 2 years ago. The area is listed in the top 10 most beautiful places in the US. It is so peaceful and beautiful. Thanks for commenting.

    • Fossillady profile image


      7 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      I always feel inspired by the Sleeping Bear Dunes legend. It's been years since I visited and feel it calling me to come back! Take care, Kathi :O)

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      9 years ago from USA

      Eiddwen, Thanks for the nice comment.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      9 years ago from Wales

      A beautiful an interesting hub, and I now look forward to reading many more hubs by you.

      Take care


    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      9 years ago from USA

      Cardisa, Thanks for commenting and yes you would have a wonderful time visiting here especially if you are a water/beach person like me.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      9 years ago from Jamaica

      Looks like a place I could have a lot of adventure and fun in. Beautiful place.

    • Barbara Kay profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Badder 

      9 years ago from USA

      moonlake, Thanks for commenting. There are dunes in other areas along the Lake Michigan shore, but this area is beautiful. I loved Crystal Lake too. You'll have to return to the area.

    • moonlake profile image


      9 years ago from America

      Great Hub. Love Sleeping Bear Dunes. I didn't know the story of the bear everything on this hub was very interesting. It's been many years that we were last at Sleeping Bear.


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