Located west of Traverse City, 235 mi/380 km northwest of Detroit, near the towns of Empire and Glen Arbor, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a spectacularly large area of shifting sand that encompasses some of the most picturesque shore areas in the state. There are numerous hiking trails that lead to the lake, excellent—and often largely deserted—beaches and some breathtakingly high bluffs over the lake. The long, steep dune climb between Empire and Glen Haven has been a rite of passage for generations of Michigan children. Several campgrounds are located within the national lakeshore, but it can be a challenge to land a site on summer weekends.
If you see no other part of Sleeping Bear, be sure to drive the 8-mi/13-km Pierce Stocking Trail that winds through forests until it reaches several observation decks on the lake. One of the decks juts out from the edge of a steep dune, 450 ft/140 m above the lake. It's not unusual to see hang gliders sail by as you look out over the waters. If you have several hours and good physical health, you can hike down the bluff to the water, but as the signs warn, the hike is much more difficult than it looks from the top.
The Sleeping Bear Lakeshore also encompasses North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island, which can be reached by ferry from Leland. The islands offer camping, hiking and some lovely scenery. South Manitou has daily ferry service and developed campground areas, but North Manitou requires visitors to agree to several days of primitive camping until the next ferry arrives.
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