On the northwest tip of Michigan is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. It was commissioned in 1970 when the government was campaigning Lake Michigan as the country’s Third Coast and has become a major tourist destination in the years since.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes runs for 35 miles along the coastline and also includes North Manitou and South Manitou Islands. Beaches, dunes, forests, trails, and farms are all major features of the park.
All year-round, climb the famous dunes for unparalleled panoramic views of Lake Michigan. At the highest point, you can reach a staggering 450 feet above the water.
Get out on the water to participate in all the great lake activities the park has to offer. Boating, canoeing, kayaking, water-skiing, and swimming are all available to visitors, plus there are 21 different smaller lakes within the boundaries of the Sleeping Bear Dunes to explore.
To better acquaint yourself with the park, try attending one of their free ranger-led programs. Choose from biking, hiking or paddle tours that are weather-dependent and change with the seasons.
The area surrounding the park is mainly small-town Michigan, but it’s packed with culture. Visit the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum, the Great Lakes Children’s Museum or the Inland Seas Education Center, among many others.
Make the park your vacation destination by staying, dining, and shopping around Leelanau County. Lodging options include everything from quaint bed & breakfasts to sprawling resorts, and more than 60 bars and restaurants call the area home.
Another major draw at the park is the abundance of campsites. Reserve grounds come equipped with electricity hookups, water pumps, and indoor restrooms, or you can choose to go completely rural. You can also take a ferry to the islands and focus your backpacking and camping on areas isolated from the mainland.
Sleeping Bear Dunes got its name from an ancient Chippewa legend. Allegedly, a forest fire on the west side of Lake Michigan drove a bear and her two cubs to swim across the lake to the current site of the park. The mama bear made it, but the cubs drowned before reaching the shore. Legend has it that she sat on the dunes for the rest of her days, waiting and hoping for the cubs to appear.
It’s said that a Great Spirit then created North and South Manitou Islands in honor of the two cubs, and the mama bear was buried under the sand where she remains today. A tree-covered knoll at the top of the bluff is what’s most often referred to as the Sleeping Bear.