Detroit Mom’s Travel Series: Camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes

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Growing up I had no real interest in camping. It wasn’t until I became a mom that I realized the power of the natural joy that comes from being outdoors. Lucky for me, Michigan is a winter and water wonderland. And even more exciting, I have a dear friend seasoned in camping bold enough to invite me and the kids on our first ever family camping trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

Here my family fell in love with Lake Michigan and the never-ending wonder of the mystical legend of the sleeping bear. Since our first trip, we have planned a mom and kid campout to Sleeping Bear Dunes every year. Here are some of our much-loved family-friendly spots I know you will enjoy.

CAMPGROUNDS

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(Pictured: Group 1 campsite and D.H. Day Group Campground restroom)

D.H. Day Group Campground | Glen Arbor, MI
This is where our group stayed. The campground has four large, tent-only sites to choose from that can each accommodate up to 25 people. The Group 1 site offered plenty of shade for the kids to explore, as well as a picnic table and a fire pit. Running potable water, two restrooms, and trash with recycling bins were less than 100 steps away.

D.H. Day Campground | Glen Arbor, MI
This rustic campground is in the northern district of the Dunes and within walking distance to Lake Michigan. Bring your tent, RV, trailer, or pop-up.

Platte River Campground | Honor, MI
In the southern district of the Dunes, this campground offers sites in walking distance to the Platte River. Bring your tent, RV, trailer, motor home, or caravan.

South Manitou Group Campground | Leland, MI
Visit by ferry and backpack to the campsite. This tent-only campsite offers space for 9 to 20 people.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY TRAILS

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(Pictured from the left: Empire Bluff Trail, scenic views, bluff outlook with benches for snack break.)

Empire Bluff Trail | Empire, MI
A hilly and shaded roundtrip of 1.5 miles, our five children under the age of six were able to make it to the top and back down without any physical assistance. The bluff has a beautiful scenic outlook at the top that is the perfect place for a snack break and family photos.

Sleeping Bear Heritage Trailhead | Glen Arbor, MI
This trail is only 145 steps from the D.H. Group Ccampground Group 1 site we stayed at. A paved path of 22 miles that connects you to the Dune Climb and other attractions. Good for biking, roller blading, running, walking, and handicap-accessible through different trailhead locations.

Sleeping Bear Point Trail | Glen Arbor, MI
A loop less than three miles, this trail is easier than the sandy dune trail that starts at the Dune Climb. This trail also provides access to Lake Michigan.

BEACHES YOU MUST VISIT

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(Pictured from the bottom left: path to Platte River from parking lot, Platter River, the path to North Bar Lake from short trail walk, North Bar Lake.)

Empire Beach | Empire, MI
With a playground, boating dock, picnic area, and restrooms, this beach has it all. No long walks required, the parking lot is just steps away from all the excitement Lake Michigan has to offer.

North Bar Lake | Empire, MI
A short walk from the parking lot through a sandy path takes you to the waves of Lake Michigan and the stillness of North Bar Lake in one spot. This beach is worth spending the day at rock collecting, swimming, sunbathing, and exploring.

Platte River Point Beach | Honor, MI
Two parking lots, restrooms, a boating ramp, and lots of picnic areas are nestled here where Platte River and Lake Michigan meet. Build a sandcastle, fly a kite, or walk and swim the sandy shores.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY ATTRACTIONS

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The Dune ClimbGlen Arbor, MI
Pack plenty of water and snacks before you challenge the family to make it to the top. The Dune Climb is a great place for sand lovers and adventurers alike.

Pictured above is the pathway we took on the side of the dunes from the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail near our campsite. The course was sandy and rugged with plenty of plateaus for quick breaks. It also provided easy access to Devil’s Pit where the kids enjoyed rolling down the sandy hills.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive | Empire, MI
This is an almost 8-mile loop of road through the forest and sand dunes with overlooks of Lake Michigan and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. This is the perfect self-guided drive for a quiet afternoon of majestic sight seeing. There are rest areas, picnic areas, and outlooks throughout.

NEARBY CITIES FOR RESTAURANTS AND SHOPPING

Glen Arbor, MI | 4 miles from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Cute and friendly downtown shopping area with restaurants, bike rentals, and the Crystal Rivers Recreational District.

Empire, MI | 5 miles from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Home of the EZ Mart and gas station closest to D.H. Day Campgrounds. Treat yourself to pizza and ice cream after hitting Empire Beach.

Honor, MI | 17 miles from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Find delicious BBQ at Jim’s Joint and fun tubing and canoe trips at Riverside Canoes.

BONUS TIPS TO SLEEPING BEAR DUNES

  • Campground reservations are required and spots fill fast. I made reservations for the group site in March and it was slim pickings. Be prepared at the start of the year to reserve your campsites for the summer.
  • Bring clothing you can layer. Even though it’s summer, Michigan can provide high temps and low temps all in the same day. Campsites and beaches can be windy during the day and chilly at night. It’s best to layer up at both and remove layers based on your comfort level.
  • Be prepared for sand to get into everything, so welcome the mess.
  • We camped the weekend after Memorial Day. Campsites and popular tourist attractions were less busy and made for a delightful, casual experience.
  • Read books on the story of the Sleeping Bear.
  • Don’t forget to stop and enjoy what this area has to offer!

Where’s your favorite vacation spot? Check out our previous Travel Series location–Manistee!

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