Dune Climb

A large sand hill against a azure sky with green dune grass in the foreground
Scrambling up the Dune Climb. You've got to try it!

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Quick Facts

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It's the most famous attraction at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and a Midwest rite of summer, loads of fun for the young and young at heart: a 284-foot-high wall of glistening white sand that tourists climb for fun--the Dune Climb. This open dune forms the eastern edge of the Sleeping Bear Plateau, a 4 square-mile field of perched dunes that extends to Lake Michigan to the west and Sleeping Bear Point to the north.

Pets are NOT allowed at the Dune Climb.

The Dune Climb is different than almost all other dunes along the Lake Michigan shore. Most dunes are created when the wind takes sand from Lake Michigan beaches and piles it up. But the sand at the Dune Climb has never been in Lake Michigan or on a Lake Michigan beach, and the wind has actually piled it DOWN. The sand at the Dune Climb came from dunes higher up on the Sleeping Bear Plateau.

Climbing this dune takes at least 10 minutes and is a strenuous hike that will fill your shoes and pockets with sand, and take your breath away.
If you get to the top of the first dune you will have a good view of Little Glen Lake, and if you get to the top of the second hill you will get an even better view but you will not see Lake Michigan on the other side. And, be warned: Lake Michigan is not just over that next dune, or the next. From the top of the second hill it is still 1-½ miles up and down across five big dunes to the lake. This is the most strenuous hike in the Lakeshore and will take most folks three hours. It is a great hike if you are prepared with water, sun protection, foot ware and time, but it is a not so fun of a hike if you head out unprepared, which, unfortunately, many people do.

Coming back down though is an entirely different story: many folks run all the way to the bottom, jumping and cartwheeling and sliding and whooping and hollering. And occasionally tumbling and rolling, too, for when you run real fast down the steep slope it's easy to lose control and pitch forward. It's a blast.

If you prefer watching from the bottom of the dune, you'll find a picnic area offers at the base of the Dune Climb, as well as modern restrooms and a bookstore.

It is highly advisable to bring water, and sunscreen. While you and yours may greatly enjoy the feeling of being barefoot in the sand, you should have shoes with you. Often the sand is very hot in places and always the sand is abrasive and could irritate tender toes.

While people can (and do) climb the dunes in other places, the Dune Climb is the only place in the park where dune climbing is encouraged and facilitated.

An active dune

The Dune Climb is an active dune that moves. An exhibit at the base of the dune at the north end of the Dune Climb features a measuring stick that, with the help of a little arithmetic, will calculate how much the Dune Climb moves toward the parking area each year. This is not just a little sand blowing across the ground but the full wall of sand moving ahead.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Last updated: November 7, 2021