Visit Michigan's Momma Bear On the shoreline of Lake Michigan rests the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where legend and adventure await. BY TOURING & TASTING
Photos courtesy of Traverse City
A couple in the top left corner of the image stands atop the dune.
“ Thirteen designated hiking trails totaling 100 miles meander through the Lakeshore wilderness.”
"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 Chippewa Legend of Sleeping Bear
Today, the faithful mother bear still rests on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. This incomparable area is called the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a more than 50,000-acre tapestry of sand beaches, forests, and hills dotted with lakes and rivers, and a series of towering sand dunes and bluffs that hug the lake. It is majestic, beautiful, and should be part of everyone’s itinerary, at least twice in a lifetime. What’s extra nice for wine enthusiasts is that, less than 30 minutes away, lies Traverse City’ s wine country. Stretching into Grand Traverse Bay, the Leelanau and Old Mission peninsulas are home to more than 30 wineries (25 on Leelanau and 8 on Old Mission) pouring wonderful, world class wines. So it’s easy to combine dunes and wine in your itinerary. "You should definitely plan to spend a few days at the Lakeshore," advises Merrith Baughman, who is the park’s chief of interpretation and visitor services. "There is so much to do!"
On your way to the dunes, stop at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center for a wealth of information not available on your smartphone. The large relief map in the main lobby gives a bird’s eye view of the whole park. Plus, you can get your park pass, brochures, and maps at the information desk.
Climb the Dune
Just about five miles up the road, you'll reach the famous Dune Climb, where generation after generation of young people have raced, and huffed, and puffed up the steep sand slope, and then tumbled and rolled back down. Enjoy a brief cardio blast and then stop in The Dune Center Bookstore to check out the assortment of mementos and gift items.
100 Miles of Hiking
Thirteen designated hiking trails totaling 100 miles meander through the Lakeshore wilderness. The Lake Trail, considered to be "the classic" hike, is an out-and-back two- mile trail that leads you across the Sleeping Bear Dunes. "I really enjoy hiking the high dunes above Lake Michigan at sunset," Merrith says. Her two favorite trails are the Pyramid Point trail, a hilly 2.7-mile loop with a spur trail that leads to a lookout point high over the trailhead; and the Empire Bluff Trail, a shorter 1.5-mile loop that leads to a high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Another option recently opened: The Heritage Trail, a four-mile trail, connecting the Dune Climb to the village of Glen Arbor, is ideal for walking and cycling.
Travel the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
Treat yourself to this 7.4-mile self-guided car tour and discover some of the most spectacular views in the Lakeshore. Pick up your free interpretive guide at the visitor center in Empire or at the entrance of the drive and get insight into the history of the area as you enjoy the jaw dropping views of the dunes, Lake Michigan, and other fresh water lakes.
Go Back In Time at Glen Haven Historic Village
This little village has a history that dates back to 1857. Many of the buildings, including a blacksmith shop, an inn, and D. H. Day’s General Store have been restored and are open. The blacksmith shop gives demonstrations and the store sells a variety of merchandise, plus there’s a small exhibit and museum area. Nearby, the Cannery Boathouse is now a museum of local historic boats.
Float Over to the Maritime Museum
Just west of Glen Haven, the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum has fascinating exhibits that outline the U.S. Life Saving Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the shipping history of the Great Lakes. Don’t miss the Steamer Wheelhouse on the second floor.
Taste the Trail
Each day, or two, or three, after you’ve spent time exploring the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it’s time to take in Traverse City wine country. "We’re lucky to live in a region where natural beauty surrounds," says Lorri Hathaway, director of the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail. "The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is stunning and it offers fabulous opportunities for visitors and locals alike to embrace the outdoors. Whether it’s a vigorous climb of the dune hill or a leisurely walk along the beach, the fresh breeze of Lake Michigan is like no other in the world." The area’s wineries are also well worth exploration. "I am thrilled that our wine region continues to garner national attention for the quality of our wines," Lorri says, "and I’m really proud of our winemakers."
Joan O’Neill, who represents the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula, agrees. She loves to cycle along the Heritage Trail or hike the Empire Bluffs Trail. "I suggest wine touring in the early afternoon and, of course, buying some wonderful wine from the tasting rooms," Joan says. "Swing into downtown Traverse City, pick up some sandwiches and other treats, and head out to the Sleeping Bear Dunes for a walk or hike." She recommends bringing along a blanket and flashlight. "Drive to any of the beaches within the park to watch the sun set and, if you’re game, stay to stargaze."