Our day at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore focused on sand dune exploration. Every trip to a National Park starts with a stop at the Visitor’s Center for a Junior Ranger activity book. Be sure to do the Junior Ranger activity in the exhibit area of the Visitor’s Center. Kids (and adults) will learn about the different habitats at Sleeping Bear Dunes and which animals live in what habitats.
The Dune Climb
Next we headed to the Dune Climb. Word of advice, get there before 11am. When we arrive around 10am we were behind one car to enter the parking lot. Once we reached the highest point of our dune climb, cars were backed up to the road to go through the entrance. If thinking about having to scale a large sand dune intimidates you, have no fear. You can attempt to scale to the “first” landing and get a great view of Glen Lake. Once you reach that area, you will see people going to another section of the dune to your left. You can get a great view of Lake Michigan from there.
We didn’t make it to that area. My daughter cut the bottom of her foot on who know what. It was nothing major, but enough for her to be done climbing sand dunes. If you don’t make it to the view area, don’t despair. There are many many more accessible views of Lake Michigan throughout the park.
Be sure to do all the Junior Ranger activities at the dune climb area. My favorite was seeing how much the dune has moved over time. There are picnic tables in the shade at the base of the dune, making it a perfect spot for a break and/or lunch. The dune is also the start of a 3.5 mile round trip hike to Lake Michigan. The hike isn’t recommended for beginners or people with young kids. At first I read this and took it as a challenge. Then I came to my senses and realized that while I think we could have handled the hike with the correct provisions, it wouldn’t be worth it to have the one hike be the only thing we did that day. I decided that a better use of our time would be seeing more of the park.
Alligator Hill Trail
After a picnic lunch, we headed to the trailhead for Alligator Hill Trail. We got turned around trying to find the trailhead. Word of advice, find the intersection in the park guide and google map yourself to the location. Once you get close you will see signs. Pick up a trail map at the beginning of the trail. We chose the easy route. This route is just under 3 miles. The trail climbs upward to an overlook of Lake Michigan but the incline nothing the kids couldn’t handle. Plus, you are rewarded with an amazing view of the Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands. It’s also reassuring to know that the loop back is mostly downhill.
Along this trail you will also notice many trees down. In 2015 they had a storm with 100 mile per hour straight line winds. As we were walking along the trail it was great to see how much the kids picked up from the habitat exhibit in the Visitor’s Center. My daughter found an acorn and remarked that it was just like the once in the Visitor’s Center.
Sleeping Bear Dunes Scenic Drive
After climbing a sand dune and walking about 3 miles, the kids were beat. We decided to do the scenic drive before heading back to the Visitor’s Center. The park guide book will give you a play by play of all the stops along the scenic drive. at first I was not very excited about the scenic drive. I always prefer to be out hiking then sitting in a car. But the drive was amazing. The views from the various areas are stunning. This was also a great way to see a lot more of the park with kids who were worn out.
Of course, before we left, we headed back to the Visitor’s Center for the kids to be sworn in as Sleeping Bear Dunes Junior Rangers.
Kim is the founder of Kids and Carry-Ons. She works as a director at a nonprofit organization. She lives in Iowa with her husband and two children. Kim and her husband have always loved to travel and share their advice with anyone who will listen. Having kids didn’t stop their love of travel, it just meant they had to adapt. Follow along on their adventures.