Wildflowers, Dunes, Turquoise Waters, and a Sleeping Bear…Shhh!

Long ago, in the land now known as Wisconsin, a mother bear and her two cubs were driven into Lake Michigan by a raging forest fire. After miles of swimming, the two cubs began to lag behind.  When mother bear reached shore she climbed onto a tall bluff to await her two babes but the weary cubs never appeared, having drowned in the lake. Mother bear fell asleep waiting for their safe arrival. Impressed by her faith and determination the Great Spirit created two islands, North and South Manitou, to honor the cubs, and the winds buried the sleeping bear under the dunes, where she waits to this day.    ~  Chippewa legend of the “sleeping bear”

Powerful earth-moving forces of ice, wind, and water, most occurring during the Ice Age, swept glaciers down from Canada, creating the diverse tapestry known today as Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This 35-mile stretch of land along Lake Michigan, in the Leelanau Peninsula (the “little finger” in the Michigan mitten), is dotted with “perched dunes”, formed by glacial sands deposited on plateaus high above the shore.

Where shipping and commerce fueled this region in the 1800’s, today tourism has stepped in, and there is much to tantalize vacationers year-round, given the pleasant summer climate and 80” of snowfall each year. A dramatic National Lakeshore tops the list, but not to be overlooked are miles of sandy beaches to explore, wind-swept bluffs rising 450’ above Lake Michigan, lush forests to hike in the summer and cross-country ski in winter, crystalline inland lakes to canoe and kayak, miles and miles of paved trails to bike, picturesque lakeshore villages to enchant – the list goes on and on. It’s no wonder Good Morning America named Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore the “most beautiful place in America” in 2011.

Indigo Bluffs Motorcoach Resort and RV Park is where we chose to stay and although the RV Park was a bit crowded, it still had a peaceful feel to it. Those who travel in a Class A  can get a bit more pampering next door at the Motorcoach Resort.

With so much to offer in the area, our first stop was the Philip A Hart Visitor Center, where we grabbed some hiking maps, watched a short film, and peppered the rangers with questions about area activities.

Here are a few highlights of our week:

1/  Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

A 10-mile bike trail (each way) that continues to grow, with plans to extend it another 17 miles.  This beautifully paved trail currently connects the village of Empire to the artsy town of Glen Arbor.  Parking is available off-road near the trailhead or you can leave your vehicle 2 miles away at the visitor center, which we did.  Stop to explore historic Glen Haven along the way and take the one-mile dune hike to Sleeping Bear Overlook, for some great views of Lake Michigan.  The Heritage Trail is groomed in the winter for those cross-country ski enthusiasts.

2/  Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

Named after a local lumberman who helped to build this road, this 7.5 mile drive takes you through beech-maple forests and some spectacular lookouts, the most popular being Lake Michigan Overlook, where an observation tower sits 450′ above the lake level.  Many hopefuls come here to experience a special sunset or tackle the steep dunes.  We were among them but Mother Nature did not cooperate during our stay.

3/ Dune Climb/Dune Trail

I had to join the throngs and do the Dune Climb, a very steep climb through loose dune sand that will leave you a bit breathless, as will the run back down.  The Dune Trail can be taken from the crest of the Climb, the most strenuous hike in the park, 3.5 miles through loose, shifting dunes.

4/  Alligator Hill Trail

No alligators to be found here but 8 miles of beech-maple forests through rolling hills and views of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Islands make up for the lack of reptiles.

5/  Port Oneida Historic Farm Tour

Although NPS is in the process of preserving this area dotted with turn of the century farms, it still makes for a picturesque bike ride down lazy country roads, while you inhale the sweet fragrance of hay and wildflowers strewn across the meadows.

6/  Traverse City

This pristine city on the shore of Lake Michigan is the largest producer of tart cherries in the country and the annual Cherry Festival was in full-swing when we arrived.  We did manage to sneak in and score some grass-fed Michigan jerky (yum) and avoid the carnival scene.  Traverse City also offers four bike trails, kayak launches, several vineyards in the surrounding countryside, seasonal farm stands, and a wide assortment of brew pubs.  We stopped by the North Peak Brewing Company for a sampler…very tasty!

We find ourselves back in northern Michigan again almost three years since we began this roving lifestyle, having watched the fall colors change our last time through.  I had forgotten how striking the landscape – carpets of wildflowers, undulating sand dunes, crystalline turquoise waters, and air so fresh it is intoxicating.


57 thoughts on “Wildflowers, Dunes, Turquoise Waters, and a Sleeping Bear…Shhh!

  • I lived in Traverse City a few years before moving down to Chicago, and I miss it constantly. That area of Michigan is so incredibly beautiful that it’ll always have a grip on my heart. Alligator Hill is one of my favorite trails, too. I know that bench! So glad to see some love and appreciation for this wonderful slice of earth.

    • We loved Traverse City and only wish we had more time to explore the area. One week was just not enough. We both marveled at just how pristine everything in this part of MI has been. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • So glad to see your latest posting, LuAnn. Again some great photos that transport all of us to the very area where you and Terry are now. You do this well. Everything is going fine with us, we are enjoying being home in Lake Arrowhead for a few months. Sure hope you might come back to San Elijo sometime in the future, though it is apparent that you two are having a wonderful time with new experiences daily……….MrG

    • We are enjoying being back on the road again but do miss the west. We don’t know for certain when we might be back at San Elijo but we do plan to spend part of the winter in So. Cal. Perhaps we can get together?

  • What a great post! I’m so glad you were able to do and see so much, and take such beautiful pictures, even though the weather was not always cooperative. I love that you include the history and other information about what you are showing us. I remember the last time you were through there, that you had such a great time, too. It’s nice to know, that Detroit is not the only place in Michigan. Thank you so much.

  • Thanks for the memories:) I so enjoyed this area. I fell in love with Lake Michigan, an ocean without salt is how I saw it. The water was so clear and gorgeous. We were also impressed by the absence of bugs in late June. We could sit out each evening without any bother. I guess this year is different in many places. So glad you had a great time. Congratulations on conquering that dune climb…you go girl!!! Your flower photos are beautiful:)

    • Thanks Pam! We have loved visiting Michigan again and are experiencing cooler weather, another plus, although today it is in the 50’s and raining. Having said that, I will take even this over hot, muggy weather.

  • Fabulous…. I love this part of Michigan. Ashton and I tent camped there while passing through 3 years ago (can’t remember the name of the campground, but it would not fit our rigs – dry camping as well). Hubby and I almost planned a late August/early September visit this year to the area but alas those plans in Jell-O always get rearranged. We’ll move that excursion into next year. I’m sure there is a visit to an island in your near future 😉

    • We have really enjoyed our time here and highly recommend being in northern MI for the fall colors. As far as an island, we will just have to see. 😉

  • Wow Lake Michigan looks gorgeous Lu Ann … I don’t think I fancy that arduous dune trail mind Lol
    Super pictures !

  • WOW! WOW! WOW! What a terrific post LuAnn. The Chippewa legend/story pulled me in immediately and your descriptions of these places are soooo inviting I’d leave today to visit them if I could. I especially loved the photos which are EXCELLENT. And, this post could not have been better timed since I’ll be the photographer in residence this year at Pictured Rocks National Seashore just north of where you are right now in Michigan. When I finish there my plan had been to photograph in Sleeping Bear Dunes and Port Oneida but since I’d never been there before I had no idea what to expect, and now I do. Many many thanks and best wishes for continued safe and happy travels. Rick

    • Thanks so much Rick. We had a great time at Sleeping Bear Dunes and with that name, I just knew there would be a wonderful Native American legend involved. The cloud formations and the stunning hues of the crystal-clear lake were fabulous!

      Three years ago we spent a week at Pictured Rocks National Seashore and had a fabulous time. I cannot wait to see your photos. I liked mine and I knew so very little about photography back then (now almost know enough to be dangerous), so I can only imagine what images you will capture.

      I am still trying to decide on one of your Zion images. You don’t make it easy to choose with everything being so breathtaking. 😉

  • I enjoyed the legend in the beginning – all the stuff in-between & how you wrapped it up with a lovely bouquet of flowers at the end! 🙂

    • Thanks RoSy! When we arrive at a place with a name like Sleeping Bear, I am always anxious to hear where the name originated. It sounded to me like there was a Native American story behind it, and indeed there was. Hope you and your family are having a great summer. 🙂

  • What a wonderful post – from the Indian legend to your beautiful photos and descriptions. We”re looking forward to exploring that area in the next couple of years. Now we have a little taste of what it offers.

  • Now it’s my turn to gawk at your gorgeous photos, LuAnn. The cover photo is just spectacular and I love the daisies too, along with all the others. You’re in a beautiful part of the country that blew me away on our brief tour there. You make me want to go back and do all those hikes, since we were lazy and just did the drive…!!

    • Thanks so much Emily! We had forgotten how beautiful northern Michigan is. We could have done more hiking and biking if the weather had cooperated but we thoroughly enjoyed our time here.

  • Fabulous header photo! LuAnn, And all your captures on this beautiful post. You know, we will not make it in this area this year or ever. So I will just have to rely and gawk at your adventures and enjoy the place with you. I would have love to do the dune walk! Great post and pictures, thank you.

    • Glad you enjoyed the tour MonaLiza. We missed Sleeping Bear Dunes when we came through Michigan three years ago so glad we got to see it this time around. We don’t see ourselves coming back either so we took in what we could while we had good weather.

  • What a lovely part of the country you’re showing us with your great images. The closest I’ve been was across the border on my Canadian trip, at Sault Ste Marie. Thanks for showing me what I missed! I’ll definitely skip the dune climb though.

    • We were in Sault Ste Marie three years ago but didn’t get to Sleeping Bear Dunes. Since we don’t see ourselves getting back out here again, we decided it was now or never. We are glad we took the time. While everyone out west is probably dealing with some pretty warm temps, we are sitting in the low 50’s right now.

  • I love the name, “Sleeping Bear”, in honour of that devoted mom. What a sad story though. What an energetic time you had in those dunes! I’m sure you slept very soundly that night. 🙂 Thanks for showing me some more of your beautiful country, LuAnn,. The lake is really stunning, and the wildflower carpets must have been a lovely sight to behold.

  • What a wonderful, rich myth, they don’t pass oral traditions like that anymore! I love all the different things there is to do at lake Michigan, although I may add that you can also read a book but I am being picky. I always enjoy hearing your samplings of the local drinks as well, that never fails to put a smile on myself.

    • There are many Native American legends here in this country, which always appeal to me. With a name like Sleeping Bear, I knew I would find such a legend. This is a great place to relax sitting by the lake (reading a book) or taking a brew tour, which they offer in Traverse City. There are sooo many brew pubs around and we did have to sample a few…very tasty! 🙂

      • It would be rude not to sample them with such a number and you are definitely not the impolite sort. Books and nature, it is hard to know which to pay more attention to in such surrounding, it is a good problem to have though.

    • It was really fun to watch the little ones trudge up the hill and come racing back down with huge smiles on their faces. 🙂

  • What a fabulous tour, LuAnn! We’ve been uncertain as to whether or not we will ever venture into Michigan — too many mosquito horror stories, for one thing — but your photos and writings make me really want to go there. Thanks for offering such a wonderful recap of your adventures.

  • This is absolutely stunning LuAnn! Have you ever been to the North Shore of Lake Superior in MN? Even more rugged than Lake Michigan and beautiful in its own right.

    • Next week we will be staying at Knife River for a few days, then on to Grand Portage, then to Ely and the boundary waters. Can’t wait to experience this. 🙂

      • Wish we were getting near Minneapolis, as I would love to meet you, but probably not this year. I will let you know if plans change, as many of them for us are made in jello! 🙂

  • Your photos testify to its heralded beauty. That second pic is something they base on to make a tapestry.
    Awesome opening, Lu.
    Silly me, I know of the dunes here in California but have yet to actually explore one.

  • Love the shot of you sitting on the bench! Your photos are gorgeous! Perhaps one day we will travel up that way; it looks stunning. I can’t imagine climbing those sand dunes! Not me!

  • This region looks as enchanting as that legend Luann. Your photos do it full justice, especially the one of the view over lake Michigan.

  • WOW! WOW! WOW! The photos here are extra fabulous. But your specific details describing everything you saw makes me want to visit here very soon! 🙂

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