Sleeping Bear Point Trail

Spiky pink-flowered plant with silver leaves on a dune with blue lake in background
Pitcher's thistle along the dune trail.

NPS credit

Quick Facts

Toilet - Vault/Composting, Trailhead

Pets: This trail is closed to pets April 15-August 15.

If you can only do one hike in Sleeping Bear Dunes, this is the one! Sleeping Bear Point offers a little bit of everything: woods, dunes, water; shaded and more exposed areas; and beauty, beauty, beauty. While trekking the 2.8-mile loop through the sand of the Sleeping Bear Dune plateau is work, it is not nearly as long or strenuous for young children as the Dune trail from the Dune Climb. Take a dip in the cooling waters of Lake Michigan after your hike and add a visit to the Maritime Museum, and you have a great family afternoon in the park.

Spectacular in every season, with easy-to-follow blue-tipped trail markers, the trail rewards hikers with fantastic views of the dunes, Lake Michigan (Sleeping Bear Bay up to Pyramid Point on the right (east and north) and Platte Bay on the left (south) and across the Manitou Passage to North and South Manitou Islands. Give yourself plenty of time to stop and gaze.

The trail then cuts inland onto the dune plateau and through a ghost forest. Winds, weather, logging, and other disruptions have resulted in some dune "blowouts" resulting in the parabolic shapes in the dunes. The trail continues to move inland and eventually leaves the dunes all together and then cuts into a beautiful lush green forest.

Don't underestimate this short hike. Walking in sand can be strenuous and in the middle of the summer, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, suntan lotion, and a quart of water are needed to survive the desert-like heat that radiates off the dunes. Drinking water is available just down the road at either the Maritime Museum, the Cannery parking lot, or the modern restrooms and drinking fountain in Glen Haven.

While about 75% of hikers hike the trail loop counterclockwise, many say going clockwise is a somewhat less strenuous path-and saves the views for last!
About 1/3 mile (.5 km) from the trailhead, going counterclockwise, there is a half mile (0.8 km) spur trail which goes to Lake Michigan.

What is a ghost forest?

The sand that makes up the landscape of the Sleeping Bear plateau is constantly moving. You may not notice this phenomenon one day to the next, but year after year the tiny quartz grains shift little by little. Constant winds blowing off of Lake Michigan cause the dunes to migrate and expand, and for new dunes to grow. 

Over time, the drifting and accumulating sand engulfs whatever is in its path, including trees. When migrating sand moves into a wooded area, it gradually buries and kills the trees. As the years pass and the sand continues on its journey, the trees are eventually uncovered. Those that remain standing appear as ghosts-dead, white, and stripped of their branches.

Take the Trail Trekker Challenge

Do you think you can hike all of the trails in one year? Want to explore the landscape of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, exercise, and have fun all at the same time? Join the Trail Trekker Challenge! Earn a prize and bragging rights by successfully completing each of the 13 mainland trails in the National Lakeshore. Hiking is a great way to get daily physical exercise and promote health while also discovering the beauty of the area. What better way to get your muscles warm, your heart pumping, and your senses savoring the views!

Pick up a copy of the Trail Trekker Challenge brochure/logbook at the visitor center in Empire.

Hike Safely

Before you take off down the trail, take time to prepare for a successful hike. Make sure the trail is appropriate for your ability, and travel with a companion and notify someone of your route and expected return time.
Take plenty of drinking water, bring sunscreen, wear a hat, and be prepared for mosquitoes.

Be careful of your footing-trails have uneven ground, exposed roots, etc.
Sand slide danger is always present on steep dunes. Stay off steep bluffs to avoid falls and dislodging rocks that can injure people below. Because of heavy treefall, avoid forested trails on windy days.
Remember, deer rifle season is November 15-30. Other hunting seasons occur throughout the year. Wear bright-colored clothing to be seen and safe in the woods.

And please stay on designated trails and help prevent erosion and damage to vegetation. Off-trail hikers can quickly produce paths that take years to revegetate. Threatened and endangered species occur in the park, avoid disturbing plants and animals.

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.

Don't get ticked!: protect yourself from tick bites
Avoid ticks by walking in the center of trails and avoiding contact with vegetation.
Use a repellent (on skin or clothing) and wear close-toed shoes, long sleeves, long pants, and socks.
Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to easily spot ticks.
Check your clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks. Avoid sitting directly on the ground, fallen logs, or stone walls.

After being outdoors
Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, and remove any ticks you find.
Check your clothing for ticks. Place clothes into a dryer on high heat for at least an hour.
Shower soon after being outdoors; it may reduce your risk of being bitten.

Check these parts of your body and your child's body for ticks:
Under the arm, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, in and around hair, between the legs, around the waist.

If you are bitten by a tick
Remove an attached tick as soon as you notice it. Using fine-tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and then slowly, but firmly, pull it straight out. Immediately wash the bite area and your hands with soap and water, then apply an antiseptic to the bite wound.
Watch for signs of illness.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Last updated: May 20, 2024