Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

#1 in Best Things To Do in Traverse City
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Key Info

8500 Stocking Drive

Price & Hours

$15-$25
8:30 a.m. to 4 or 6 p.m. (depending on the season)

Details

Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, Recreation Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend

scorecard

  • 5.0Value
  • 4.0Facilities
  • 5.0Atmosphere

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the few places in the world that visitors can see perched dunes. The lakeshore's towering dunes, which stretch 35 miles long Michigan's eastern coast, were formed by glaciers. The slopes left behind by the glaciers turned into dunes as a result of Lake Michigan's tide pushing sand up onto the shore overtime. It's this unique phenomenon that garnered the park National Lakeshore status in 1970. 

Today, Sleeping Bear Dunes is enjoyed by more than a million visitors per year, who flock to the park to experience the dunes and enjoy an eyeful of the lakeshore's vibrantly colored waters, forested hiking trails, beaches and bevy of outdoors activities. First-time visitors won't go wrong starting their journey with the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7 1/2-mile drive that takes travelers through forested landscapes and along sand dunes to various overlook points. For hiking, you're spoiled with more than 100 miles of trails. For an easy trek, check out the Empire Bluff trail, a 1 1/2-mile round-trip hike that takes visitors directly to the edge of the dunes. The Pyramid Point trail is a more moderate, hilly option, while the 9-mile Alligator Hill trail takes hikers away from the dunes and higher up to provide sweeping views of the lake and the forests that flank it. If you're looking to do more than just hike, know that you can also bike, kayak, canoe and even scuba dive here. During the winter, the park is open to visitors for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, sledding and more. 

Recent visitors found the park, with its dunes and striking views of Lake Michigan, to be absolutely stunning. Travelers who explored the dunes did say that climbing them is no joke; they are pretty steep to climb continuously and will leave even those in great shape huffing and puffing. As such, it's important to assess your fitness level before taking on trails that are steep or feature several elevation gains. For an unforgettable experience, consider sticking around for the lakeshore's spectacular sunsets.

The main visitor center at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Columbus Day to Memorial Day. Admission is $25 per vehicle though if you walk or bike in you'll pay $15. You can find Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore about 28 miles west of Traverse City. For more information, visit the national lakeshore's website.

 
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#2 Traverse City Wineries

Wine lovers rejoice because Traverse City sits right next to two American Viticultural Areas: Old Mission Peninsula and Leelanau Peninsula. Together, these areas boast more than 40 wineries where visitors can enjoy a taste of local Michigan vino. Considering Michigan's location, it may surprise some that the state has its own wine country. The reason wine production is successful here has to do with its close proximity to the lake. The climate of Lake Michigan protects the vines from harshly cool temperatures on land (all of Michigan's vineyards are within 25 miles of the lake). That, in combination with the region's glacial soil and extra hours of sun it receives during growing season, results in productive wine growing regions. 

Michigan is known for producing a handful of varietals, including pinot blanc, pinot grigio and riesling. While here, make sure to sample something made with Niagara grapes (the state produces the most in the country) as well as ice wine. Michigan is one of the few places in the world where you can enjoy ice wine. The process of making ice wine is incredibly precise: Producers have to pick grapes when temperatures are between 17 and 19 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that production often happens in the middle of the night in the dead of winter. The frozen grapes are then used to create a unique wine that resembles a honey-like nectar. 

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