Sleeping Bear Dunes is as old as continental ice sheets and as young as the 1970 Establishment Act that set aside the Lakeshore for preservation of the natural resources and for public use. With miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and numerous inland lakes and streams, this Wilderness is wonderfully water oriented, however, the most prominent features, and those for which the Wilderness is named, are the perched dunes above Lake Michigan. These immense sand dunes are “perched” atop the already towering headlands that are glacial moraines. The dune overlooks at the Sleeping Bear, Empire and Pyramid Point bluffs are about 400 feet above Lake Michigan. Those who have a lot of energy can take a hike on the Dunes Trail to Lake Michigan. This is the most strenuous trail in the area. While only 3.5 miles round trip, it is all sand and you will find climbing the dunes all along the trail to be a challenge.
Although the Lakeshore is long and narrow, it still has the depth for excellent representations of several northern hardwood and conifer forest types, abandoned farm site meadows, wetlands, lakes, streams, and bogs and splendid examples of glacially caused landforms. Whether you are on the sandy bluffs overlooking Lake Michigan, in a canoe on one of the many inland lakes, hiking the myriad of trails through the forest, or visiting the Manitou Islands in Lake Michigan you will have a wonderful opportunity for bird watching, wildlife viewing, and for just enjoying nature at its best.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is located in Northwestern Lower Michigan along the shores of Lake Michigan. The visitor center is in Empire, MI about 25 miles from Traverse City. Most people visit the park via car, but you can fly to Traverse City and rent a car to drive to the park. Take a look at the directions page for driving or flying information.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Conservation and Recreation Act - Public law 113-87 (3/13/2014) To designate as wilderness certain land and inland water within the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in the State of Michigan, and for other purposes.
Those who have a lot of energy can take a hike on the Dunes Trail to Lake Michigan. This is the most strenuous trail in the park. While only 3.5 miles round trip, this may take as long as 3-4 hours as it is all sand and you will find climbing the dunes all along the trail to be a challenge. This is especially true on hot, sunny days. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes and take lots of water. Hiking through the dunes can be disorienting, so be sure to keep children within sight and if hiking with a group, and agree on a destination before leaving.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.