Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

23 August 2016

Sleeping Bear Dunes lies on the western side of Michigan next to Michigan Lake and comprises of three areas, like it was an afterthought and they couldn't get all the land. The national parks campgrounds were fully booked out so I found a county campground in Empire that had sites nestled under the pine trees, it was so private we didn’t think there was anyone else there besides our immediate neighbour.

Lake Michigan

We got some ideas from the park visitor centre and our camp host as to the must do’s in the park.

Most of the dunes are covered in vegetation

The one way Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive has a number of spots to stop on the way, but really it’s nothing special and by the time we got to stop number 9, Lindsay didn’t want to stop any more. It turned out to be the main stop of course and we had to go back and do it again. Number 9 is the very steep sand dune that goes down to the water. There is a sign that warns you that if you go down, it may take you two hours to get back again! There is a platform that takes you over the edge but it's hard to get a perspective photograph.

the mother of all dunes

The Dune climb is not just one dune but a number of dunes. I walked up to what I thought was the top only to be confronted by more dunes. I could just see the water in the distance but couldn’t really tell how many dunes I could need to cross to get to the waters edge.

the Dune climb, I thought I was fitter than I felt

The Empire Cliffs is a pretty walk through a forest that leads you out to high cliffs that overlook Lake Michigan. We’ve never seen such a large lake and were surprised that it had beaches and waves just like the sea. Except that of course it’s fresh water.

The Empire Cliffs trail
Not the end of the trail, but the prettiest picture

Pyramid Point was a little difficult to find. Trying to read the parks maps isn’t easy and I’m not a very good map reader anyway. Eventually we found the trail’s carpark after driving down a narrow, nearly 4WD track, surprise surprise - it wasn’t the main road in! The trail to the point was simple enough but then it got interesting. On the way up there had been two tracks so we assumed that it was a loop but trying to find the way back was very confusing and we got lost. We had been speaking to Ashley, Kamila and Brett in the carpark and again at the point and we could hear them close by so called out. Brett was a local so he knew how to get out of there and took us through the jungle (there is just no other way to describe it) and up onto a sand dune overlooking the water. Ashley and Lindsay continued their conversation of people they both know from Black Rock and Sandringham sailing clubs at home (it’s that 6° of separation thing again). Down through the jungle again and safely back to the carpark.

The jungle
Ashley, Kamila & Brett

We had our second day of all day rain during this trip which gave us a chance to do some cooking such as bolognese sauce for easy pasta dinners and for me to catch up on some photo editing.

It was humid during the day and at night we had some fantastic thunderstorms, but it was just too overcast to get any shots.

Just outside the campground there were a few hop farms near our campground. My brother-in-law has always wanted to make his own beer but I think he is waiting for Lindsay to come home to help put the poles up. We will be visiting in October next year Guy, so get ready!

Hops nearly ready for harvest
Mackinaw Bridge, the longest bridge we have been on
The Mackinaw bridge is the only way to drive from the bottom of Michigan to the top. I had read that the toll for the bridge was exe, so I had a look online but couldn't really understand what we would be charged. It turns out that whatever the lead vehicle is, that is what the rate is based on. As our lead vehicle is a truck we had to pay $4 for that, then only $4 for the trailer. RV's on the other hand, I think, have to pay a special rate per axle and if they have a toad, this rate applies to that too. I was pretty happy with our $8 toll.

Empire City Campground


  1. Another place that's on our list—thanks for describing the hikes and auto tour! It would be tempting to walk down the big dunes, but coming back up is another story. It really does look like the ocean.

  2. We picked up LugNutVan in 2010 in Huntington, Indiana after the conversion was finished and also went over the top of the lake from the east, but did not have time to see all you did. I grew up in Chicago but did not know the biggest dunes were on the east side---very impressive. On west side saw oil globs in campground closest to the bridge :(