A little over two-thirds of the way up the Lake Michigan side of the mitten state’s Lower Peninsula, you’ll find the beautiful Grand Traverse area and the stunning Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Owned and operated by the U.S. National Park Service, Sleeping Bear Dunes is 71,000 acres of glacial moraine and natural areas that include: towering sand dunes, 35 miles of pristine Lake Michigan shoreline, scenic bluffs with dramatic views, isolated off shore islands, shipwrecks, crystal clear lakes and streams, and acres of woodland serenity.
With about 50 miles of marked trails available in the National Lakeshore for snowshoeing, hiking, and Nordic skiing, Sleeping Bear has much to offer in the way of winter recreation. The warmer months are the most popular to explore, swim, fish, kayak, climb the dunes, and just immerse yourself in its beauty, but the winter landscape is definitely worth experiencing. Though not as vast, and dramatic as the towering mountains of the West, this areas drama comes from its relationship to the powerful Great Lakes, and its many inland lakes, rivers, and streams. For a Midwest winter recreation getaway this is a great destination.
In addition to miles and miles of snowshoe and Nordic ski trails around the Grand Traverse area you’ll find Alpine skiing, snowmobiling, and snow tubing. When you’re ready to come in out of the cold there are winery tours and tasting, decadent chocolate shops, pampering spas, late night casinos, and plenty of outstanding eateries and unique shopping opportunities. For those who like the idea of fewer people and better bargains, the winter months and the shoulder seasons, are when you can find the best deals.
Snowshoe With the Sleeping Bear
Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of two National Lakeshores Michigan lays claim to; the other is our first national lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the south shore of Lake Superior, in the Upper Peninsula. Pictured Rocks, with entrances at Munising and Grand Marais is an equally stunning landscape with its mineral-stained sandstone cliffs that rise dramatically from the frigid waters of Lake Superior. This National Lakeshore Park also encompasses some 70,000 acres and 42 miles of Lake Superior shoreline.
Located about 26 miles from Traverse City, you can begin your exploration of Sleeping Bear Dunes at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center located on M-72 just east of the intersection with M-22 in Empire, MI. Here you’ll find plenty of information about the park including displays about the natural and human history of the area. Park Rangers and volunteers are available to answer questions and you can pick up park passes, brochures, and hiking maps here. The visitor center is open year round except for major holidays.
A landscape created by ice, wind and water, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a lesson in the forces of nature. Ancient glaciers once spread across the area and carved out the Great Lakes. When the glaciers retreated, almost 12,000 years ago, they left towering 460-foot bluffs that overlook the brilliant blue waters of Lake Michigan. Ever changing, the sand dunes, at the mercy of wind and water, continue to shift and re-sculpt themselves. The dunes move about 2 feet per year to the East due to the prevailing westerly winds blowing the sand. The Sleeping Bear Point Life-Saving Station had to be moved in 1930 to prevent it from being covered in sand.
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