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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the Village of Glen Arbor: A Northern Michigan Guide

Chris enjoys photographing the places he visits. He shares these photos as travel articles and also mixes them with creative writing.

View of Lake Michigan, South Manitou Island and Sleeping Bear Dunes shoreline from the Empire Bluff Trail Overlook.

View of Lake Michigan, South Manitou Island and Sleeping Bear Dunes shoreline from the Empire Bluff Trail Overlook.

About Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was authorized by an act of the United States Congress on October 21, 1970. Located on the northwest shoreline of the lower peninsula of Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes covers 71,000 acres and includes a 35 mile stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline as well as North and South Manitou Islands.

The following Michigan map identifies the names and locations of a few of my favorite places in the park.

Locating the Dunes on a Michigan Map

Michigan looks like a hand, including thumb and little finger.  Sleeping Bear Dunes is on the western shoreline of the Little Finger.

Michigan looks like a hand, including thumb and little finger. Sleeping Bear Dunes is on the western shoreline of the Little Finger.

Nearby Traverse City, Michigan

While the park itself may seem remote, the city of Traverse City is only a half hour drive from most places in the park. Traverse City is a vibrant city featuring many festivals and activities throughout the year.

Points of Interest

Glen Lake and Inspiration Point

This is a view of Glen Lake from Inspiration Point Overlook. In the distance is North Manitou Island. On the narrow strip of land in the middle is the village of Glen Arbor surrounded by National Lakeshore property. Inspiration Point is a great place to take your significant other for a little romantic atmosphere.

Glen Lake, and North Manitou Island

Glen Lake, and North Manitou Island

The Dune Climb and a Sand Dune Science Lesson

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park/Lakeshore Dune Climb, located at the west end of Little Glen Lake on highway 109, is a popular place for families. My son's first "climb" here was when he was just a few days old. I carried him up in a front pack. The kids can run to the top and back down again while Mom and Dad either struggle to the top or wait at a picnic table at the bottom, sipping a soft drink. A Park store at this location can supply the beverages.

A one and a half mile hike across the dunes (after the climb of course) will offer the reward of a refreshing dip in Lake Michigan before the hike back. When I was doing a lot of running, I once ran across the dunes and back. I got a lot of strange looks and probably a few comments after I passed. Be sure to wear sun screen and take plenty of water if you take on this challenge.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes is actually a perched dune, which means it sits on top of hills, called moraines, which were left behind by glaciers. The dunes are moving. As the wind blows off Lake Michigan, more and more sand is deposited on the dunes. In addition, the wind is slowly moving the dunes toward and into nearby Little Glen Lake which at its current deepest is 12 feet. It used to be over 100 feet deep.

View of the "Mother Bear and Her Twins"

The Native American legend says that the dunes were once a sleeping mother bear and her two cubs.

The Native American legend says that the dunes were once a sleeping mother bear and her two cubs.

More Information on the Islands

The Manitou Islands and The Native American Story of Their Origin

The scenery from on top of the dunes is breath taking, especially at sunset. Locals and visitors will go out and just sit in the sand as the sun sinks below the horizon. Binoculars will aid in viewing the distant North and South Manitou Islands. My sons spent five days camping and hiking on both Islands and had a great time, although it did rain quite a bit. It was fine with them though. They just sat on the covered porch of one of the restored buildings and played cards. The ferry will also transport canoes and kayaks that can be used in Lake Michigan, on Florence Lake on South Manitou and on Lake Manitou on the North Island.

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Read More from WanderWisdom

The story of the dunes and the islands has been passed down by the Chippewa Indians in this story which appears on the National Parks website:

“Long ago, along the Wisconsin shoreline, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. The bears swam for many hours, but eventually the cubs tired and lagged behind. Mother bear reached the shore and climbed to the top of a high bluff to watch and wait for her cubs. Too tired to continue, the cubs drowned within sight of the shore. The Great Spirit Manitou created two islands to mark the spot where the cubs disappeared and then created a solitary dune to represent the faithful mother bear”.

The Manitou Islands can be visited by taking the Manitou Island Transit ferry from Leland, Michigan. See their web site for details. Day hikes and overnight camping are just two of the company's offerings. Some activities on the island are back packing, camping, visiting the lighthouse (South Manitou) and other historic buildings which are being restored.

The Port Oneida Rural Historic District and the Port Oneida Fair

Port Oneida is the largest and most complete historic agricultural landscape in public ownership in the U.S. Every August, the Port Oneida Fair is held on six historic sites in the Port Oneida Rural Historic District of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The sites are located about 4 miles north of Glen Arbor on M22. This is another great family event that is getting better each year. They have demonstrations of farm life during the pioneering of the area., including timber framing for barn restoration, horse drawn hay balers, hand crafts and a lot more.

Video of Port Oneida by Tim Courlas and voice over by Brian Michael Block

Two Traverse City Festivals, Among the Best Anywhere

The Village of Glen Arbor

The village of Glen Arbor, Michigan sits squarely in the middle of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park/Lakeshore. Here are some photos of Glen Arbor and nearby Burdickville showing restaurants, B&Bs, and shopping, as well as a link to the village website. My favorite restaurants are Boonedocks, for their fish fry special and Funistrada for Italian Cuisine, which is a bit pricey, but well worth it.

Two Superb Local Festivals

This is a wonderful place to visit, especially if you come during one of our local festivals. I am including links for Traverse City's National Cherry Festival and The Traverse City Film Festival. The Greater Traverse City area is known as The Cherry Capitol of the World. The Film Festival was founded and is still directed by film maker, Michael Moore who lives in the area. Both events are exceptional.

Cherry Capital Airport of Traverse City (TVC)


D.H. Day Campground: 231-334-4634

Indigo Bluffs Campground: 231-326-5050

Lake Leelanau RV Park: 231-256-7236

Leelanau Pines Campground: 231-228-5742

Leelanau State Park: 231-386-5422

Wild Cherry Resort: 231-271-5550

Platte River Campground: 231-325-5881

Sleepy Bear Campground: 231-326-5285

Sleeping Bear Visitor's Center

Sleeping Bear Visitor's Center

Closing Thoughts

That's It. And it's all yours as a part of the National Park system of our great country. Thank you for taking the time to go on this little tour of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. I am excited to share it with you and I hope you have enjoyed reading and browsing through the photos.

If you ever visit, leave me a comment. I'd love to give you some tips on my favorite places in the Park. The rest is information that should be helpful for anyone visiting the area. We look forward to your visit.

Contact Information

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Visitors Center:

Address: Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau
12 Wood Ridge Road
Glen Arbor, MI 49636

Telephone: 1.888.334.8499



© 2012 Chris Mills

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