Last updated: November 7, 2021
Beach/Water Access, Entrance Passes For Sale, Information Kiosk/Bulletin Board, Parking - Auto, Picnic Table, Toilet - Vault/Composting, Wheelchair Accessible
Sparkling sand, aquamarine water, and amazing sunsets over views of Pyramid Point and Whaleback sand dune make this secluded beach a quiet gem. Known as the Copacabana of Sleeping Bear Dunes, Good Harbor Beach is a big, long beach that is great for quiet walks and can accommodate the crowds that flock to it. Its gentler water and huge swathes of soft sand and low slope provides kid-friendly fun at the beach and the perfect setting for a sunset bonfire.
Walk a few seconds south to find Shalda Creek, a stream running from the woods into Lake Michigan. The stream is great for kids to play in, fun to follow into the woods, and nice to stand in the warmer waters of the stream after a cold dip in Lake Michigan.
Good Harbor Bay Beach rivals Platte Bay Beach in its size and beauty. The beach/dune system extends eastward from the Point Pyramid headland to Carp River Point, just south of Leland.
Good Harbor Bay is the remnant of a once greater embayment that extended south into the area that is now Little Traverse and Lime Lakes. With time and as lake levels fell, a series of spits and beach/dune ridges formed, separating these lakes and forming a distinct topography of low ridges and swales, although difficult to recognize under the forest cover.
The sands making up today's dunes and beaches have been recycled many times-perhaps having come from Canada as glacial sediment, carried by melt waters from those glaciers, and those deposits eroded by ancestral lakes, carried by waters and wind in bars, beaches, and dunes, over and over. From William J. Neal & Gregory C. Wilson, Department of Geology, Grand Valley State University
Look! A Petoskey stone!
Watchful beachcombers can find a rainbow of pebbles dotting the shore, but uncovering a Petoskey stone is finding beach treasure. Petoskeys have an interesting shape and the intricate hexagonal patterns of the fossil colonial coral. Tossed by the waves, a Petoskey is rounded and smooth. Their attractive gray to brown color make Petoskeys stand apart from all other local rocks, and they are a favorite of rock hounds. Admire these natural beauties all you like, but please don't take them from the beach:** it is illegal under federal law to remove stones from the National Lakeshore. Leave what you see for others to discover!**
If you walk along the beach to the mouth of Shalda Creek, you'll be standing where, in the late 1800s, the community of North Unity stood.
North Unity was settled in 1855 by a group of Bohemians from present-day Czech Republic and Germany, by way of Chicago. An account of the early settlement written by one of the settlers, Joseph Krubner and published in Chicago Bohemian newspaper reveals the hardships of pioneer life.
According to Krubner, the Bohemians were looking for paradise. They hoped to find it in Chicago, but winter, few stores, and no jobs required they look further. So, they hired a sailboat and sailed 270 miles up the Michigan coast still looking for paradise. They landed in Good Harbor where they found a group of people who were already living there, so they traveled ten or so miles and settled near Pyramid Point. "Here, at the Lake Michigan near Pyramid Bay, in deep forests never touched by human hands, began a new city, North Unity, Krubner wrote.
The immigrants built a wooden 150-foot by 20-foot barracks partitioned into sections to provide temporary housing for the families to house them through winter. In spring they would select a farm site and build more permanent cabins. Some families built their own temporary shelters near the barracks, "everybody had his own idea," wrote Krubner. "Some houses were all covered with hemlock branches, leaving small openings for windows. They looked more like bear huts instead of homes for humans. Some places they built the log house so low it was difficult for tall man to stand up in one."
The temporary shelters were cold and damp in the harsh northern Michigan, and their first winter was hard and cold. Lake Michigan lake froze and snow began to pile up, cutting off the little settlement. There wasn't enough food. There wasn't anything they could buy except a little corn from the Indians. Some had brought provisions with them from Chicago and shared the little flour and meat they had. No cows meant no milk. Living near the beach buffeted by winter winds, the Bohemians must of questioned whether they had indeed found paradise.
Hungry and desperate, a small group of men took a sled and traveled across the lake to the island in hopes of buying some potatoes. The islands were settled long before the mainland, and the wooding industry-felling trees for cordwood which was sold to passing steamers for fuel-left cleared areas that islanders planted with potatoes and other crops. Several North Unity men took a sled and walked across the frozen lake to North Manitou Island. They bought a few bushels of potatoes and started back home. The return trip proved more difficult as the ice began cracking and breaking under their feet as the neared the shore.
The potatoes lasted through the rest of winter, according to Krubner. "For a while hungry wolves were chased away from our doors. But with approaching spring, when the snow melted and the lake still frozen, no boats were able to reach us, potatoes and whatever we had was gone, hunger began to strike again." The Bohemians were saved again, this time by the annual spring migration of the now extinct carrier pigeon--large swarms of pigeons would descend on Northern Michigan, literally darkening the skies. This particicular spring, the pigeons provided ample food for the starving settlers. "Everyone who had a gun, and was able to use it, was shooting them," wrote Krubner. Soon after, the small lakes began to thaw and the Bohemians added fish to their menu.
As the weather warmed, individual families began to build their own houses, and start gardens, growing potatoes, cabbage, beans, and corns, as well as wheat. Cattle were brought in from Chigcago two years later to provide milk. The small community prospered as more people arrived building a sawmill and schoolhouse. In 1859, a two-story general mercantile and post office opened; dances were held on the second floor. One of the early Czech pioneers, John Shalda, built a gristmill at the outlet of Shalda Creek.
Fires were common during the 19th century, especially in the spring. And in 1871, North Unity was destroyed by fire. Fires and the insufficient area for supporting the growing community led many familie to move inland to what is know now as "Shalda Corners" (M-22 and County Road 669), where they rebuilt their homes, post office, stores, school, and church
Enjoy the Beach safely
**Poison Ivy: leaves of three, leave it be!**
Poison ivy grows plentifully in many areas of the Lakeshore as a vine or low shrub. The leaves are red in early spring, shiny green in summer, and an attractive red or orange in the fall. Each leaf consists of three leaflets. Most people are sensitive in varying degrees to the sap of this plant, which makes the skin itch, blister, and swell.
Avoid contact with all parts of the plant. Avoid plants with three leaflets.
If exposed, wash the affected skin with soap and water as soon as possible.
Roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over glowing coals while watching the sun go down over the lake is a perfect ending to a fun day at the beach. Beach fire are allowed on our mainland Lake Michigan beaches between the water's edge and where the dunes begin, and away from any vegetation. Make sure you use firewood from park approved vendors to help us protect our forests from pest and disease. And be sure to extinguish all beach fires with water. DO NOT bury fires-hidden embers could burn unsuspecting bare feet!
Take care around plover nesting area
Keep a watchful eye out for a tiny animal friend, the piping plover, a threatened species that breeds here in the spring. Piping plovers find the cobbled beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes an ideal place to find mates, nest, and raise their young. To protect the plovers and their nests, some parts of the beach may be temporarily closed to visitors and pets. Please help us protect these special birds by keeping dogs on a leash and obeying all beach closure signs.
Step around the Pitcher's thistle
Pitcher's thistle (Cirsium pitcher) blooms only once, when the plant is seven years old. This native thistle grows only on the shorelines or sand dunes of the Great Lakes and is common in the Lakeshore. It is a threatened species: it is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
Walking through foredunes on your way to the beach may trample and kill these plants before they can reproduce. So please watch out for the Pitcher's thistle: stay on the wooden walkways and established trails.
The Lakeshore's pristine beaches are ideal for swimming, but forceful waves and rip currents can turn a fun visit into a frightening one. Use caution when swimming alone and take special precautions with children: keep a close watch on all children, stay within arm's reach, and be sure they are wearing a life jacket.
Be alert for rip currents
Although they are not common in the Lakeshore, rip currents are dangerous and can occur at any beach with breaking waves.
Lake Michigan conditions can change quickly. Know what to expect before you go in the water. Monitor the weather and check out the swim risk level for the beach you plan to visit. Read more in Safety.
Before going out for a paddle, check the weather. Have a boating plan and make sure others know it. Always wear safety gear, including personal flotation devices. Buddy up, don't go out alone. Check your boat and make sure it is safe for conditions. And always keep the shoreline in sight.