Everything You Need to Know About the 13 Mainland Sleeping Bear Dunes Hiking Trails

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a beautiful destination in western Michigan. The Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking trails are a huge draw for people wanting to explore the sandy mounds and the terrain in between.

Where are the best spots for hiking in Sleeping Bear Dunes? Read along to learn more!

Whether you plan to visit on a day trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes or for a longer complete stay in the lakeshore, there are plenty of hiking trails ot suit whatever your needs.

Can You Hike Sleeping Bear Dunes?

In short… YES! Sleeping Bear Dunes has 13 mainland trails open for hiking in the spring, summer, and fall. Most of these trails are also open in winter for cross-country skiing.

I’m about to tell you all about each one, so you can make the best decisions regarding which hikes to do based on your abilities and what you want to experience on your hike.

The hiking trails in Sleeping Bear Dunes are really well maintained and clear, from what we’ve found. Navigation on the trails should be relatively easy.

The caveat to this: exercise caution when hiking out on the dunes. It can be easy to get disoriented on the vast expanses of sand. The routes are labeled with blue topped wooden posts, so always be sure to keep the next one in sight.

Following the blue topped posts through the sand to end at Lake Michigan

Where to Find Sleeping Bear Dunes Trail Maps

When you first arrive in Sleeping Bear Dunes, stop at a visitor’s center to grab a free map. If you’re camping at one of the two park campgrounds, you’ll also be able to find maps there. These free maps are all you’ll need to explore the Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking trails on the mainland.

The one thing you should know about the free map is that not all of the small side roads, especially dirt roads, are included on the map. We still found it to be enough to find everything we wanted to see in Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Sleeping Bear Dunes Hiking Trails At A Glance

Trail #Trail nameDistance
1Old Indian2.7 Easy44.702420, -86.185310
2Platte Plains14.7Easy-Mod44.725230, -86.058790
3Empire Bluff1.5Easy-Mod44.799320, -86.058730
4Windy Moraine1.5Easy-Mod44.854530, -86.035730
5Shauger Hill2.4Moderate44.852480, -86.040530
6Cottonwood1.4Moderate44.873350, -86.052110
7Dune Climb3.5Hard44.883060, -86.042020
8Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail22Easy44.828210, -86.058980
9Sleeping Bear Point2.8Moderate44.909280, -86.039330
10Alligator Hill9Moderate44.889110, -85.992350
11Bay View8Moderate44.934227, -85.949473
12Pyramid Point2.8Moderate44.961660, -85.930180
13Good Harbor Bay2.8Easy44.936700, -85.857460
BonusKettles Trail3.0Easy44.821890, -85.920360
BonusPlatte River Campground to Beach Access1.6Easy44.719880, -86.117600

Full Details on All the Sleeping Bear Dunes Hiking Trails

This list of Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking trails is organized according to the map. The numbers here correlate to the trail number on the map, making it easier for you to plan and prepare all of your Sleeping Bear Dunes hikes.

Old Indian Trail trailhead sign, marking the parking area
Look for signs just like this one near the road marking the trailhead parking areas. They’re easy to spot!

1. Old Indian Trail

  • Distance: 2.7 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time to Hike: 1.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 85 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

Located at the southern end of Sleeping Bear Dunes, the Old Indian Trail is a little out of the way if you’re staying at the D.H. Day campground, but it is worth adding to your itinerary. There are 2 loops, each totaling 2.3 miles.

The outer loop, labeled the black loop, has more hilly terrain, but we still found this to be a quick, easy hike. It passes through some small swampy areas where you may be able to catch sight of some wildlife. This also can make it buggy in the summer, so use your bug spray before heading out. The inner, green loop is flatter and quite easy.

At 1.3-1.5 miles, both trails meet at a spur trail that leads through the dunes, and you can walk 0.2 miles through loose sand to a gorgeous pebble beach on Lake Michigan.

If you don’t want to walk through loose sand, just walk a short distance and at least view the lake from the top of the sand dunes.

The return of the loop is a mostly flat 1-mile walk through shaded forest land.

This would be a great hike on a hot day. The trail is mostly shaded, except for the 0.2-mile spur to the lake, where you can dip your toes in midway through the hike.

Dogs are permitted on most of this trail, but they can’t come with you on the dunes. If you bring your pup, just skip the spur.

How to get there: From the visitor center in Empire, head south on M-22 for about 13. 8 miles. The parking lot will be on the right, marked by a large sign just before the turn.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 20 minutes

Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking includes covering exposed loose sandy stretches.

2. Platte Plains Trail

  • Distance: 14.7 miles total, separated into 3 loops
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Time to Hike: 2-3 hours, unless you hike the entire system
  • Elevation gain: 131 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

The Platte Plains trail system is a series of loops, leading through forested land, and around 3 inland lakes and a creek. Most of the trails are easy in difficulty, with the exception of a few hills on the Lasso Loop.

If you don’t want to head out on a nearly 15-mile day hike, there are several shorter loops.

The Bass Lake Loop from the Trail’s End Road trailhead covers about 3.5 miles and has views of Bass and Deer Lakes.

The Otter Creek Loop from the trailhead on Esch Road travels along Otter Creek and Lake for a 4.6-mile journey.

The Lasso Loop, a little longer at 6.6 miles, has 3 spots for viewing Lake Michigan. This section of trail also has some more hill climbs, if you’re looking for a little more of a workout.

You may need your maps to navigate these loops, as they do overlap. There is some signage, but it can get a little confusing.

The only backcountry camping opportunity in Sleeping Bear Dunes, the White Pine Backcountry Campground, can be found along these Platte Plains trails. There are only 6 sites here, and you must have obtained a permit ahead of time.

There are 3 marked trailheads for this system. These trails can also be accessed from the Platte River Campground.

How to get there: To reach the Otter Creek trailhead off of Esch Road, head south on M-22 from the visitor center for 3.9 miles. Then, turn right onto Esch Road. After 1.2 miles, turn left onto Aral Road. In just a couple hundred feet, the parking area and trailhead will be found on the left.

To access the Platte Plains trails from the Trail’s End trailhead, continue south from the visitor center on M-22 for 6 miles. Turn right onto Trails End Road. After 0.4 miles, keep left to stay on the same road. The trailhead can be found after continuing on for another 0.5 miles.

These trailheads are separated by 4.3 miles or about 10 minutes of driving.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 10 minutes to Otter Creek Trailhead, 13 minutes to Trail’s End Road Trailhead

3. Empire Bluff Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Route: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Time to Hike: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 170 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes

The Empire Bluff Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes is quite popular for its Lake Michigan scenic overlooks. This trail, however, is not one where you will descend the dunes to the waters of the lake. You’ll instead view them from above.

The Empire Bluff Trail is also where some of the most Instagrammed Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking photos are taken, so if you’re looking to stay away from the crowds, visit quite early in the morning. It’s also a popular sunset spot.

The trail travels up and down some hilly sections through wooded forests. Old farm equipment can be found along the trail, marking the historic use of the land.

The first lookout faces north towards the Bar Lakes, and Lake Michigan can also be seen. On a nice, clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of South Manitou Island!

Continue on for the real views. You’ll be treated to a wooden boardwalk along the bluffs with expansive views. There are a couple of benches at the end of the boardwalk to stop and rest prior to the return trip to your vehicle if needed.

How to get there: From the visitor center, head south on M-22 for 0.3 miles, then veer right on S Lacore Road which bears right onto Washington Street. Turn left onto Wilco Road, and the trailhead will be on the right in just under 1 mile. Wilco Road continues on to return to M-22 in about 0.5 miles.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 5 minutes

One of the most popular views on any Sleeping Bear Dunes Travel Guide

4. Windy Moraine Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Time to Hike: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 226 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

To be honest, this trail isn’t very exciting in the spring and summer. It’s a short walk through wooded areas. After passing along a meadow, you’ll climb a hill and then return back down. The overlook that is labeled on the trail maps is kind of hidden with tree leaves during those seasons.

It is a hike that would give you a break from some hot summer sun or provide a little variety to all the loose sand hiking.

However, if you are looking for some beautiful fall colors, this would be a great place to see them.

In winter, with fewer leaves on the trees, the overlook would be better.

There is an educational display placed along this loop at about the halfway point, and you can learn about the soil makeup of the area. It gives a special breakdown of how the plants and animals thrive in this special soil makeup.

How to get there: From the visitor center, head north on M-22 for 3.7 miles, then turn left onto M-109. After 1.4 miles, turn right onto W Welch Road, labeled 616 on the free map. The trailhead will be immediately on your right, labeled by a large sign.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 8 minutes

5. Shauger Hill Trail

  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time to Hike: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 96 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

This loop hike includes more hiking through the maple-beech forested terrain, as well as pine areas. It does include hills if you are looking for more of a workout.

Aside from the forested areas, you won’t get many spectacular views like some of the other trails in the park.

You may, however, get to see some wildlife on the trail. Even if you don’t see any animals, you’ll definitely find what they’ve left behind, including evidence of the hard work of woodpeckers in the old trees.

Also of note, this trail does cross the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive route and Shauger Hill Road, two times each. The drive does get quite busy in the summer, so exercise extra caution around the crossings.

How to get there: From the visitor center, head north on M-22 to M-109, continuing left. After 3.4 miles, you’ll turn left at the entrance to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. There will be a parking lot on your right just before going through the ticket booths for the drive, where you can find the trailhead.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 8 minutes

In the distance from the Cottonwood trail, you can see the Dune Climb parking lot and Glen Haven historic village

6. Cottonwood Trail

  • Distance: 1.4 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time to Hike: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 171 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes

The Cottonwood Trail is actually a short hike that is also Stop #4 on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Don’t be fooled into thinking this hike will be a breeze due to the short distance. It mostly consists of walking out over the dunes.

You’ll get an up-close and personal look at the grasses and other plants that call the dunes home. Treat yourself to views that overlook Lake Michigan, Glen Lake, and the D.H. Day Farm in the distance.

If you want to get a glimpse of what it’s like to take on the Dune Climb, you can get a bird’s eye view of the sandy incline and parking lot where that trek begins.

This hike is worth the trek, especially if you want to stretch your legs while on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.

How to get there: From the visitor center, head north on M-22 to M-109, continuing left. After 3.4 miles, you’ll turn left at the entrance to the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. You’ll continue through the ticket booths onto the drive. This hike begins at the overlook at Stop #4, about 2.5 miles into the 7.4-mile drive.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 17 minutes (potentially longer during busy times when the Scenic Drive is busy and backed up)

7. Dune Climb

  • Distance: 3.5 miles
  • Route: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Time to Hike: 3-4 hours
  • Elevation gain: 130 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? No
The Dune Climb is one of the most popular activities in Sleeping Bear Dunes and starts off with this massive sandy climb.

If you haven’t gotten your fill of sandy climbing yet, then you’re in for a treat. The hike starts off with a difficult climb up the loose sandy dune sand and continues up and down, all the way to Lake Michigan.

This is probably the most popular Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking spot.

Many people just climb the first dune and turn around. This is completely fine if you realize more climbing is beyond your abilities. If you choose to continue, you’ll need to conquer 5 more dunes before reaching Lake Michigan.

When you reach the Lake Michigan beach, you’ll be able to explore a little and find remnants of two shipwrecks. One can be found to the north and one to the south.

If you plan to hike the entire route to the beach and back, which totals 3.5 miles, plan for this hike to take about double your normal pace for this distance. The loose sand should not be underestimated.

This is a great spot to view a sunset from atop the dunes, but it can be quite windy since it is so open. Even if it’s a warm day, we’d recommend bringing along long sleeves or a light windbreaker. As the sun goes down, it can get a little chilly.

We also wouldn’t recommend heading this hike in flip-flops, even though it passes on so much sand. The sand gets really hot, really quickly in the summer, and you don’t want to end the hike with burnt feet.

How to get there: From the visitor center, follow M-22 and M-109 north for 5.6 miles. The entrance to the Dune Climb will be labeled by a large park sign on the left, accessed by following Hunter Road for 100 yards. You can spot the signature Dune Climb hill from M-109.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center:11 minutes

8. Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

  • Distance: 22 miles currently
  • Route: Point to point
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time to Hike: 6 hours one way
  • Elevation gain: 2,080 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

First of all, this trail is a multipurpose trail, unlike the others which are solely hiking trails in the summer. It’s mostly paved, can accommodate wheelchairs and strollers, and can also be used for biking and rollerblading. A few miles around the Bay View trailhead and through Port Oneida are crushed stone and probably best avoided on rollerblades.

Multipurpose asphalt surface of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

This trail is not yet complete, as it is planned to cover 27 miles of Lakeshore terrain. Currently, at the time of publication, it covers about 22 miles. Because of the distance, it’s probably best biked instead of hiked, but would be a great option in sections for those with wheelchair or stroller needs.

The trail connects many of the top sites of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, including the towns of Glen Arbor and Empire. You can access this path from many of the other trailheads, including the Dune Climb, beginning of the Scenic Drive, Alligator Hill, and Bay View.

A popular way to explore one of the shorter sections is to begin from the Dune Climb lot and head north just over 2 miles to explore the Glen Have Historic District.

If you want to ride (or hike, I suppose) the whole length of the trail, there is typically a shuttle operating from one end of the trail to the other.

How to get there: There are 10+ trailheads to access various points along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. This map of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail including all the trailheads from the NPS website would be extremely helpful in planning your route from start to finish.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: Varies

9. Sleeping Bear Point Trail

  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time to Hike: 2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 314 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes

The Sleeping Bear Point Trail is another spot where you’ll find plenty of loose, sandy terrain. This one is a little shorter than the Dune Climb at 2.8 miles, and if you begin the loop clockwise further from the dunes, it starts out with some more packed sand and a little shade.

Many recommend hiking this trail in a counterclockwise fashion, which arrives much more quickly at a spur trail to a less-visited beach along Lake Michigan. The spur trail entails about 0.5 miles of hiking to reach the beach.

You’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the Manitou Islands off in the distance into Lake Michigan.

We’d recommend the opposite, clockwise loop, for a sunset hike. Begin with plenty of time before sunset, and head out beginning on the shaded, packed section of trail. You’ll head up out and over some of the dunes for spectacular lookouts with beautiful lighting. Then, after crossing lots of loose sand dunes, stop and take a break to enjoy a beautiful sunset from the top of the dune before heading back to your car.

Even though the beach along this trail isn’t as busy as some of the others, there isn’t anything else really notable about it. You won’t miss much by skipping it.

As with the other dune hiking trails, the same suggestions apply. Sunscreen is a must. Plan appropriate footwear. And if you take our advice on the sunset hike, take a jacket or some sort of long sleeves. The wind at the edge of the dunes while waiting for sunset can be quite chilly.

You could also pack a small blanket and a snack to enjoy a little picnic with an absolutely fantastic view.

Pets are not permitted on this trail during the summer months from April 15 to August 15 due to piping plover breeding (A piping plover is a small bird, in case you’re wondering what that is!).

How to get there: Continue along M-22 and M-109 north from the visitor center. After 7 miles, continue left onto Glen Haven Road. The road takes a sharp left, turns into Sleeping Bear Dunes Road, and continues along the lakeshore past the Cannery Boathouse Museum. You’ll have to navigate a roundabout in front of the Coast Guard Station, where you’ll need to take the third exit, which is for West Sleeping Bear Drive. Pass the exits for the Coast Guard Station and Sleeping Bear Dunes Road. West Sleeping Bear Drives ends at the trailhead parking lot in 1.4 miles.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 15 minutes

Sunsets are beautiful from the dunes in Sleeping Bear

10. Alligator Hill Trail

  • Distance: 9 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time to Hike: 2.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 669 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

Another trail system that is divided into several smaller loops, the Alligator Hill trail covers a total of 9 miles. It is separated into loops based on difficulty with an easy, intermediate, and advanced trail.

At the beginning of the trail, you’ll see some historical significance of the area in the charcoal kilns used by Pierce Stocking during his years working in the area.

Side note: You’ve probably come across that name at least a few times in planning a Sleeping Bear Dunes trip. He worked in the lumber industry in this small area of Michigan. He found that his sawmill produced a significant amount of waste, which he did not like. He built these kilns to turn the waste into charcoal to sell to campers throughout the state of Michigan.

The most popular route on this hike takes you just less than 1.5 miles through forested land to the Island Lookout, where great views of the Manitou Islands and Sleeping Bear Point can be seen on clear days. There is a bench here to stop and take in the views.

You can then continue up the spur trail to Big Glen Lookout, which is 0.8 miles one way. The overlook peeks through the trees to see Glen Lake. You’ll then need to return 0.8 miles the way you came to get back to the trail split. If returning to your car, in total, this route would come to about 4.6 miles.

Subtract the Big Glen Lake Lookout, and you’ll have a hike of about 3 miles. If you’re looking to extend, you could continue on the intermediate trail to add about 2 miles. Continuing on the advanced trail from the junction for Big Glen Lookout would result in a 3.2-mile return trip to the parking area.

These extra loops travel mostly through forested terrain, so you won’t really miss much if you want to skip them.

How to get there: Continue along M-22 and M-109 north from the visitor center. Turn right in 6.2 miles onto Day Farm Road. In 0.6 miles, Day Farm Road meets Stocking Road, where you should turn left. The trailhead and parking area will be found after just a short distance on the right.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 12 minutes

11. Bay View Trail

  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time to Hike: 3 hours
  • Elevation gain: 479 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

Yet another series of smaller loops that can be combined or separated for hikes of numerous lengths, the Bay View trails wind around and through the Port Oneida Historic District.

Some sections travel through the maple-beech or pine forests, while others pass through farmlands and meadows.

During the summertime, this trail is great for viewing wildflowers in the meadows. The best time to hike this trail, however, is during the fall. The wooded trails are transformed with the reds, oranges, and yellows of the foliage.

Stop at Lookout Point to snap a photo from the bench while taking in the views of the farmland and Lake Michigan in the distance.

Here are a couple of route options for this collection of trails:

  1. For the shortest possible hike, take the Farms trail to the Ridge Trail, past the Lookout Point, and back to the Farms Trail to return to the trailhead. This route provides views of the highlights in a quick 2-mile loop.
  2. Take the Farms Trail, with a quick 0.2-mile detour to Lookout Point, then continue on the Farms Trail past the Miller Barn and Olsen Farm. This adds just a little distance and ends with a 2.5-mile hike.
  3. Hike the high and low trails in a loop for sweeping views. Take the high trail out and low trail back, as the low trail is now paved and part of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. This loop is 3.3 miles long taking the connector trail from junction number 8 to 9.
  4. Hike the entire outter loop! Just don’t forget to include a quick detour to Lookout Point. That should cover around 6.5 miles.

However you choose to hike this loop, you’ll likely be treated to some smaller crowds and more solitude as it is one of the northernmost spots in the park. It’s also often skipped by people who favor more of the dune hiking experiences.

How to get there: From the visitor center, head north on M-22 all the way to Glen Arbor, which is 7.8 miles. Turn right at the T in Glen Arbor to continue on M-22 for another 3.5 miles. Here, M-22 veers to the right, but you’ll want to keep straight onto S Thorenson Road. The trailhead will be on the left after 0.3 miles.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 20 minutes

12. Pyramid Point Trail

  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Time to Hike: 1.5-2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 260 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

I’ll be blunt. This is a popular Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking trail. You’ll have a more difficult time finding solitude here. Oftentimes, especially on weekends, the parking lot fills up and you’ll find plenty of cars parking along the dirt road to access this hike.

The trail is short and sweet but can be made even shorter.

From the trailhead, the lookout at Pyramid Point is a mere 0.6 miles from the trailhead. Most people just hike this as an out and back route, totaling a mere 1.2 miles.

Take note, though, that the trail section to reach the lookout point is almost entirely uphill. Some sections are quite steep. The return trip, on the other hand, is mostly downhill!

View from the Pyramid Point lookout, a great Sleeping Bear Dunes hiking trail

This would be a great hike for the family, as the viewpoint is not far from the parking area. If you’re bringing children, there is the option to return back to the car or continue along another loop hiking trail.

The place to get away from the crowds on this trail to continue on the rest of the outer loop through the forest and meadow scenery. This is the 2.8-mile loop. Just note that the last 0.4 miles of this return trip follow the dirt Basch Road to the parking area.

How to get there: Head north on M-22 for 12.1 miles through Glen Arbor. Then, turn left onto South Port Oneida Road. You’ll continue for 1.9 miles, weaving past Camp Leelanau & Kohahna. Then, turn right onto Basch Road. The parking lot and trailhead will be on your left after 0.3 miles on this dirt road.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 25 minutes

13. Good Harbor Bay Trail

  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time to Hike: 1.5 hours
  • Elevation gain: 16 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

The Good Harbor Bay trail is the furthest trail from Empire to the north. It is also a really easy hike on flat land but does have access to a beach and smaller sand dunes at the beginning.

This trail might be one best saved for when there hasn’t been any rain in the last couple of days. The section after taking the footbridge across the creek before returning back across the boardwalk is marshy and can get really muddy.

This trail is an interesting perspective into the development of the habitats as you move away from Lake Michigan. From active dunes to the older growth beech-maple forest and everything in between is a progression of the plant life of the area. As plants decay and produce topsoil, larger plants and trees can grow.

Even though this is an easy trail, it’d be smart to wear waterproof shoes or boots when hiking it. Being such a lowland trail, it can go beyond muddy to flooded out, even when some of the other area trails are in great condition.

After this hike, enjoy a picnic at the picnic area just beyond the trailhead on West Lake Michigan Road, or head down and enjoy the clear Lake Michigan waters from the beach.

How to get there: Take M-22 north through Glen Arbor and past Port Oneida for 15.5 miles. You’ll then turn left onto South Bohemian Road. When you reach the intersection with West Lake Michigan Road, just before the parking area for Bohemian Road Beach on Good Harbor Bay, turn right. You’ll find the trailhead at the end of the road in less than 1 mile.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 28 minutes

Bonus: Kettles Trail

  • Distance: 3.0 miles
  • Route: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Time to Hike: 1.5-2 hours
  • Elevation gain: 364 feet
  • Dogs Permitted? Yes, seasonally from April 1-November 30

The Kettles loop trail isn’t marked by a number on the free access map. However, you’ll find this 3-mile trail on the marked authorized parkland to the southeast of Glen Lake.

This trail is perfect for getting away from the crowds for a nice, quiet hike in the woods. The downside is that you won’t see the spectacular Lake Michigan views. It does lead to a few nice little spots near kettles moraine and bog.

The trail is mostly shaded and would also be great to hike on a hot, sunny day.

In prime times, the meadows along the Kettles loop are perfect for wildflower viewing. Consider this, especially in the late spring and summer.

How to get there: From the visitor center, turn left on M-72 and follow for 6.8 miles. Turn left onto South Gilbert Road, and follow this road for 1 mile to W Baatz road. Then, turn right. The trailhead can be found in 0.8 miles on the left.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 14 minutes

Bonus: Platte River Campground to Beach Access

  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Route: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time to Hike: 1 hour
  • Elevation gain: 55 feet

The trail begins behind the restroom building at the loop parking area for all of the walk-in campsites. The trail continues past some of the walk-in sites on the “C” spur.

Leading through the typical maple-beach forests, then through a smaller set of dunes, eventually in 0.8 miles, you’ll end up at the beach on Lake Michigan.

The terrain at the beginning of the trail is packed dirt, and it ends with loose sands heading to the beach.

If you’re camping at Platte River, this would be a great trail to end the day with! Return to your campsite to drop off your vehicle, then hike down the trail to the beach and enjoy the sunset! A short return trip, less than 1 mile, and you will have returned to the campground where you will lay your head for the night.

Directional sign on the trail between Platte River Campground and Lake Michigan
The trails are generally well marked with signs just like this one labeling distance and direction.

How to get there: Just head to the Platte River Campground! Head south on M-22 for about 10 miles. Turn right onto Lake Michigan Road, just before the bridge over the Platte River. In 0.3 miles, you’ll turn right into the campground, where if you’re camping for any length of time, you’ll need to stop and check in at the ranger station. After stopping at the ranger station, continue on through the campground to the left. The walk-in sites are located at the end of the drive, on a small dead-end loop.

Drive Time from Philip A. Hart Visitor Center: 17 minutes

A Note About Dogs on Sleeping Bear Dunes Hiking Trails

The national lakeshore is generally welcoming to pets, but they do limit access to certain areas. This is because sometimes habitat is fragile, an endangered species are nesting in the area, or it is dangerous for pups.

It can be confusing to know where pups are allowed and where they are not. Seasonally, pets aren’t permitted on cross-country ski trails. They also aren’t permitted at the backcountry campsites both on the mainland and the Manitou Islands.

To be on the safe side, always follow signage at trailheads, as well as along the trails. Sometimes, areas will be temporarily closed for one reason or another. We did our best to give you general guidance, but please refer to the lakeshore’s advice on pets for the most up-to-date restrictions.

What to Bring on your Sleeping Bear Dunes Hiking Trip

  • Sunscreen for the dune trails and beaches
  • Hat
  • Light Jacket
  • Plenty of water
  • Comfortable hiking shoes or sandals… I love my Chacos for this type of trip!
  • Bug spray for the wooded trails

Final Things to Know Before Hiking in Sleeping Bear Dunes

As with many other national parks sites in the US, Sleeping Bear Dunes does have an “entrance” fee. At the most popular attractions such as the Dune Climb and the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, there are ticket booths you must drive through prior to entering the parking area.

At other smaller or less crowded areas, there are no staffed ticket booths, but a receipt or park pass is required to be paid and displayed on your car prior to beginning your hike. The $25 fee for the car covers visiting sites for up to one week, and it goes back into maintaining the parklands. Rangers do check and are known to write tickets for unpermitted vehicles in specified lots, so I wouldn’t recommend trying to get away with something!

Wrapping Up: The Best Sleeping Bear Dunes Hiking Trails

All of the hiking trails in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore have their perks and draws, but some rise above the rest. If you’re looking for a hike for a particular reason, here are our favorites!

  • Best Viewpoints: Cottonwood Trail
  • Best Terrain Variety: Old Indian Trails
  • Best Overnight Hike: Platte Plains Trail
  • Best Easy Hike: Empire Bluff Trail
  • Best Moderate Hike: Sleeping Bear Point Trail
  • Best Advanced Hike: Dune Climb
  • Best Hike with Children: Pyramid Point Trail

Sleeping Bear Dunes is a great place to spend a weekend or more exploring. Looking for other suggestions on where to explore? Our full guide to Sleeping Bear Dunes covers everything there is to do.

Check it out, and let us know your favorite spots in Sleeping Bear Dunes, too!