The Most Beautiful Place in America, according to GMA.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a 35 mile stretch of Lake Michigan coastline in Michigan near Traverse City that contains sand dune formations, sandy beaches, rich forests and several historic cultural features including an 1871 lighthouse. In 2011, it was named the Most Beautiful Place in America by Good Morning America.
Why is it called Sleeping Bear Dunes?
The name of the area comes from the Native American Legend of Sleeping Bear. According to the Chippewa legend, an enormous forest fire on the western shore drove a mother bear and her two cubs into the lake. She swam across, but the cubs lagged behind and drowned. When the mother reached the shore, she waited on a high bluff for them. The winds buried the bear in the dunes, where a small tree covered knoll had the appearance of a sleeping bear. The Great Spirit created the North and South Manitou Islands to commemmorate the cubs and the mother bear’s determination.
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was created by Congress in 1970. The law sought to protect from development and destruction the natural setting along the shore of Lake Michigan and on the Manitou Islands, including the outstanding natural features of the forests, beaches, dune formations and ancient glacial phenomena in Benzie and Leelanau Counties.
Sleeping Bear Scenic Drive
The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive offers a self-guided 7.4 mile automobile tour through 12 scenic viewpoints in the lakeshore. Take a short walk from parking lots at #9 or #10 on the route to enjoy a magnificent sunset over Lake Michigan and some of the most spectacular views in Sleeping Bear Dunes.
The Dune Climb is located five miles north of Empire on M-109. The Dune Center at the base of the climb offers modern restrooms and a picnic area. The climb can take as long as 3-4 hours but offers a view of Glen Lake from the top. Be sure to take plenty of water, as the Sleeping Bear Dunes required more search and rescue operations than Yellowstone National Park in 2014.
There are more than 100 miles of hiking trails on the mainland, twenty miles on North Manitou Island and another 12 miles of trails on South Manitou Island.
On the mainland, there are thirteen trails for hiking with a trailhead parking area for each. On the dunes, trails are marked by blue-tipped posts. The Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail is a popular option with its 27 mile hard-surfaced, non-motorized multi-use trail from the northern end of the national lakeshore to south of Empire.
Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of Michigan’s most popular areas for camping vacations. There are a number of campgrounds in the national lakeshore and twenty additional campgrounds nearby. Within the park, there is the D.H. Day Campground, Platt River Campground, and three campgrounds on Manitou Island: the Weather Station Campground, the Bay Campground and the Popple Campground.
For those that don’t like camping, there are a handful of resort options in the surrounding areas of Empire and Glen Arbor. About 25 miles east of the Sleeping Bear Dunes is Traverse City, one of the top destinations in Northern Michigan and home to plenty of lodging options, including the Park Place Hotel, the Great Wolf Lodge, the Bayshore Resort, the Best Western Plus Four Seasons and the Country Inn & Suites.