Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Lake Michigan Lighthouses

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Until a few weeks ago, I had been to every state east of the Mississippi River except for Michigan.  I had also never seen a great lake in person. So when my husband had to be in Michigan on a work related trip I jumped at the chance to finally get to see Michigan or more specifically, Lake Michigan.

Disclaimer: Sometimes you see sponsored content on this blog. This is not a sponsored post. We enjoyed this trip and paid for all our adventures. 

Pure Michigan

My husband had a work event at Michigan State University in East Lansing in late May. After spending 4 days on campus, we had some time to do some sight-seeing. We wanted to get the most bang for our buck as we only had a day so needed to see what we could in about a day’s drive. 

Several people recommended Mackinac Island and the Mackinac Bridge which connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.  These both looked and sounded amazing, but would take us to far out of our way and needed more time than out schedule allowed. I decided to file these into the “next time” basket.  

Someone else mentioned Sleeping Bear Dunes and a quick internet search had me intrigued. The drive from East Lansing to Empire (home of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Headquarters) was only 3 hours. We could spend a few hours inside of the park and then head south along Lake Michigan as we headed home. We would have the opportunity to see some beautiful sites and end the day not too far out of our way. 

A Day on Lake Michigan

Empire, Michigan – Philip A. Hart Visitor Center

Empire, Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes

The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center serves as the park headquarters for the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This was our first stop before entering the park. We were able to purchase our park pass and get some helpful information from Park Rangers.  The center also has nice restrooms, a small museum about the lakeshore, and a bookstore. They also have national park passports and a Junior Park Ranger program available. 

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Richie and Julie Sleeping Bear Dunes Lake Michigan

The Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is the highlight of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. With 12 scenic stops, you should expect to spend at least an hour and a half on the loop drive.  It was on this drive that I got my first magnificent view of Lake Michigan. I won’t lie – I got a little choked up when  I first saw it!

Lake Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes

Dune Climb

Dune Climb Sleeping Bear Dunes Lake Michigan

The Dune Climb is the only place in the National Lakeshore park when dune climbing is safe and recommended. You can climb the 110-foot dune. While beautiful, it’s no walk in the park so be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen. The climb up is a workout but coming back down is a lot of fun!  Expect to spend 30-40 minutes climbing to the top of the first dune. 

Glen Haven Historic Village

Glen Haven Historic Village Lake Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes

Glen Haven has a lot to offer for the history buff in your family plus beautiful lake views to boot. It was originally called Sleeping Bearville and served as a harbor for steamships traveling between Chicago and Buffalo. The Glen Haven General Store and Blacksmith shop in the historic village are available to tour. There is also the original cannery which now serves as a boat museum and the Good Ship Aloha is “docked” for viewing. 

Glen Haven Maritime Museum

Glen Haven Maritime Museum Lake Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes

The Maritime Museum is dedicated to showing the work of the US Coast Guard and its life-saving operations. The Museum is located inside the original crew quarters and also includes the boathouse. 

Note: North and South Manitou Islands are visible from Sleeping Bear Bay in Glen Haven and Glen Arbor when the weather is cooperating. There was thick fog on the day we visited and we were only able to spot a faint outline of the lighthouse on South Manitou Island. Seasonal passenger ferries are available out of Leland, Michigan. 

Glen Arbor

Glen Arbor is a cute bustling town in the heart of Sleeping Bear Dunes. It’s a great midpoint if you have time to explore the northeastern section of the National Lakeshore and is a great spot to grab some lunch. They have many locally owned and operated restaurants along with cute shops and some lodging choices including some quaint-looking B&Bs. Glen Arbor was our turn around spot. We enjoyed lunch at a fun spot called Boone Docks. We chose Boone Docks because every summer we vacation in Panama City Beach, Florida. One of our favorite restaurant there is Boon Docks. We loved the juxtaposition of the two similarly named restaurants in two very different waterfront locales. 

After eating lunch in Glen Arbor, we turned around and traveled back through the park before heading south along 22 with Ludington being our destination for the night. We decided this would be the perfect time to see some of the lighthouses along Michigans western coast. 

Point Betsie Lighthouse

Point Betsie Lighthouse Lake Michigan

Point Betsie is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Michigan and it is easy to see why. The lighthouse is attached to the keepers quarters and is tourable. You can even climb to the top of the lighthouse for a beautiful view of Lake Michigan. The property also includes the fog horn building, a visitor center and shop and a separate museum. 

Cool Facts:

  • You can actually stay in the keeper’s quarters as they are available for rent for a week at a time.
  • The light is still functional but is fully automated. The light itself contains 6 bulbs and the light will automatically change its bulb if one burns out. This enables coast guard visits and maintenance to be limited to about once a year.

Lake Michigan Sleeping Bear Dunes Waves

Frankfort North Breakwater Light

This breakwater light is located in Frankfort Michigan. The current lighthouse was constructed in 1912. The original lighthouse which was first lit in October of 1873 actually sits atop the 2-story addition that was built in 1912. The lighthouse is 44 feet tall.

Frankfort North Breakwater Light Lake Michigan

Manistee’s North Pierhead Light

The North Pierhead Light was originally built in 1869 but was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1872. The original catwalk was built of wood and was replaced by an iron one in 1900. What makes this lighthouse so unique is that the catwalk still exists. Most catwalks were removed when lighthouses began to be automated. Somewhere along the line, the decision was made to keep North Pierhead Light’s intact.  

Manistee's North Pierhead Light Lake Michigan

Ludington’s North Breakwater Light

Ludington’s North Breakwater Light is one of the most visited lighthouses in Michigan. There is also a second lighthouse located inside of the Ludington State Park that is very popular. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to visit that one as it is only accessible during park hours. 

Ludington North Breakwater Light Lake Michigan

The town of Ludington was where we landed for the night and what a fun town it was. We stayed at the Ludington Pier House which was super clean and affordable. Best of all it was a very short walk from the hotel to the water. While in town we also ate at the Jamesport Brewing Company which was fabulous and offered a great selection of beers. 

Ludington is famous for the SS Badger, a car and passenger ferry that travels between Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The passage takes about 4 hours and is really affordable. Had I known, I probably would have signed up to cross Lake Michigan on the ferry and traveled home through Wisconsin. Maybe next time!

I was totally taken aback by how beautiful Michigan was. It was a truly enjoyable trip and I hope to get back someday soon. I’d love t0 visit Mackinaw Island. Have you ever been to Michigan? What were your favorite parts?


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One thought on “Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Lake Michigan Lighthouses

  1. Loved your Michigan recap! I love Mackinac Island. I’d been there as a toddler with my parents but hadn’t been back until Thom and I were long distance dating and he was up for a visit to take me to the island. I can’t wait to go back.

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