Visiting the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook is something that everyone needs to experience if they’re in the area. Even though we’ve been there plenty of times already, we still make a point to stop by whenever we go to Traverse City.
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast or just someone who likes a good view, the overlook is the perfect opportunity to take in the scenery and relax. This guide goes through everything you need to know about visiting this amazing destination.
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Why You Should Visit The Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook
Simply put, the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook provides you with breathtaking views that’ll truly put you in awe.
The overlook is on the shores of Lake Michigan and roughly 450 feet above sea level, which makes it perfect for viewing all of the surrounding area or taking in a sunset. You’ll not only get a great view of the dunes, but also the lake as well as the North and South Manitou Islands.
Author Note: Due to the geography of Michigan it can be hard to find expansive views like this (which is probably why the Sleeping Bear Dunes overlook is so popular). As Michigan natives we remember being blown away the first time we visited this spot when we were younger, since we weren’t used to views of this scale.
And getting to the lookout is half the fun. You drive along the 7.8-mile Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, with each turn revealing more of the lakeshore’s natural beauty, including North Bar Lake and a beech-maple forest. Your drive ends at this fantastic ninth stop – The Overlook. This is one of those prime spots for watching sunsets over Lake Michigan, so don’t forget to pack some blankets and foldable chairs if you plan on sticking around for a while!
Pro Tip: During the summer it’s quite common to see other people up at the top during sunset (the view is just too good to pass up). But if you go during the winter, you’ll often have the entire place to yourself! Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive is usually closed so you’ll need to park your car at the bottom and walk to the overlook. However, it doesn’t take long because you can hike the shorter way up by going clockwise up the loop.
And if you’re up for a bit of adventure you can run all the way down the dune to the shoreline. It’s a blast! Climbing back up does require a bit of effort (it’s not something we recommend unless you’re in decent shape), but it’s all part of the fun. You’ll be able to appreciate the size of the dunes and enjoy the sounds of the lake before heading back up. If you’re someone who would rather take it easy and relax then there’s no harm in hanging out at the top, but if you want to spice it up and challenge your legs and lungs we encourage you to make the trek!
Recently we visited and stayed at a nearby campground that we found on Hipcamp. It was great because we could spend as much time as we wanted at the overlook before heading back. In the past we had always stayed in Traverse City which meant eating a late dinner if we wanted to catch the sunset, so being closer was quite handy. Something to think about when making your plans!
How To Get There
Fortunately, getting to the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook is pretty straightforward. All it takes is a quick drive and walk from the parking lot before your eyes are met with the mesmerizing beauty of Michigan’s lakeshore landscape.
Start on the historic M-22 highway in Empire, Michigan. Whether you’re coming from the north or south, you can follow this until you reach M-109. Then make a turn onto M-109 and continue until you arrive at the entrance of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.
Once there, you can begin your adventure. This drive is dotted with 12 stops and overlooks showcasing the beauty of Sleeping Bear Dunes (there’s also access to some great hiking trails). You’ll find the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook at stop number nine. And don’t worry about parking, there’s always plenty of space available for visitors.
From the parking lot, follow a small footpath for approximately one-fifth of a mile to reach the overlook
The trail starts as a paved path but transitions into soft sand as you get closer to the top. There is a slight incline here, but don’t let that deter you because the view is absolutely worth it!
Once you reach the wooden deck lookout you’ll be able to take in the breathtaking views and serenity that Lake Michigan has to offer.
Pro Tip: There are also some informational signs that point out notable landmarks as well as the location of nearby shipwrecks! Checking these out is a great way to learn a little bit more about the history of the area.
Other Fun Things To Check Out Nearby
While the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook is definitely a main attraction, there are plenty of other great things to do in the nearby area. If you’re just passing through or are staying the night near Traverse City, it’s far more convenient to explore while you’re nearby (since it’s a little bit of a drive to get here).
A popular activity is to explore the charming town of Glen Arbor, where you can soak up the local culture and get something to each. Don’t forget to check out the restored port area called “Fishtown” too – it’s like stepping back in time.
For those who love being active, you can lace up your hiking boots and hit trails like Alligator Hill, Cottonwood Trail, or Heritage Trail. Each one offers a unique adventure with plenty of breathtaking sights along the way.
If camping is more your style, then you’re in luck! The Platte River Campground and DH Day Campground both offer an immersive outdoor experience that you’ll remember for years to come. These are also convenient spots to stay if you want to catch a sunset at the overlook. Feel the connection with nature as you pitch your tent beneath twinkling stars and wake up to fresh air each morning. When you feel like venturing further afield, take a day trip to Leelanau Peninsula for boat tours or drop by their maritime museum.
You’ll probably see North and South Manitou Islands from the overlook, and they can be accessed via ferry during the warm months of the year. Pyramid Point is another must-see spot that’s nearby, and its beautiful views are sure to leave you speechless.
The entirety of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is at your fingertips when you go to see the overlook, so don’t hesitate to do some exploring. It doesn’t take long to leave the crowds behind and enjoy nature by yourself.
See It For Yourself!
If you’re in the area, you can’t miss out on the breathtaking beauty of the Sleeping Bear Dunes Overlook. It’s an unforgettable experience that you’ll cherish for many years.
And remember, there are plenty of other activities nearby to explore and enjoy. Your adventure doesn’t end at the overlook; it’s just beginning!
We’ve been lucky enough to go on some great adventures all over the world, and this spot still remains one of our favorites to this day.