Self-guiding Activities


The staff of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore tries to accommodate all the schools that request a ranger-guided activity, but at times the demand is greater than we can handle. In addition, most groups arrange field trips that involve a combination of ranger-guided and self-guiding activities, so look over these activities and select some that will fit the educational goals for your field trip.

Reserve a teacher-led field trip kit and lead your students through hands-on, science-based activities at Esch or Good Harbor beaches! Explore the habitat of the endangered piping plover, learn about invasive mussels, conduct water quality tests, and leave the beach a little cleaner than you found it while also practicing your math skills. A ranger will work with you prior to your trip and provide you with curriculum-based pre-visit and post-visit activities as well as give you tips on how to plan and prepare for a successful day at the beach! e-mail us for more information.


Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. Take the 7.4-mile drive through the park, which will take you through beech-maple forest to spectacular overlooks of Glen Lake, Lake Michigan, and Sleeping Bear Dunes. The guide book provides a description of each of the 12 stops on the drive. You will also find interpretive signs at some of the stops. Stop #4 is the Cottonwood Trail. Pick up a Trail Guide and learn about the dune ecology and some of the plants that live on the dunes. Picnic areas are located at Picnic Mountain and North Bar Lake Overlook. Restrooms are available at Picnic Mountain, Lake Michigan Overlook, and North Bar Lake Overlook stops.

Dune Climb. Everyone wants to climb the dunes, but there are some good lessons to learn here too. Your class can climb to the top of the dune and get a great view of Glen Lake. You will begin to understand the magnitude of the natural power of the wind and sand. Walk along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, which is located just to the right of the Dune Climb. This trail is handicapped accessible and connects to Glen Have and then Glen Arbor. There is a large Picnic Area at the base of the Dune Climb. Restrooms are also available.

Maritime Museum. Visit the U.S Life-Saving Station and Boathouse just west of Glen Haven. Students will learn about the men who worked and lived at the Life-Saving Station and the equipment and procedures they used to rescue shipwreck survivors. Rangers lead a program demonstrating the use of the Lyle Gun and Breeches Buoy each day during the summer, and once a week a ranger will demonstrate the firing of the Lyle Gun. The museum is located right on the beach, so take this opportunity to take a hike along the beach to Sleeping Bear Point. The Sleeping Bear Point Trailhead is located near the museum, so consider a hike through the dunes to Lake Michigan and back along the beach to the Museum. Restrooms are available. The Maritime Museum is open seasonally. Please contact Lisa Griebel for hours of operation or to schedule a visit.

Blacksmith Shop. The original blacksmith shop in Glen Haven has been restored and is operated by volunteers. Students will learn about blacksmiths and why they were so important to the little communities that sprang up to support logging and farming in the area. Watch the blacksmith as he uses some of the common tools to make useful metal parts. There are restrooms in Glen Haven. The Blacksmith shop is open seasonally. Please contact Lisa Griebel for hours of operation or to schedule a visit.

Cannery Boathouse. A variety of boats were used on the Great Lakes. This museum, located in Glen Haven houses a variety of these boats with interpretive signs describing the boats and how they were used. There are restrooms in Glen Haven. The Cannery Boathouse is open seasonally. Please contact Lisa Griebel for hours of operation or to schedule a visit.

Port Oneida Tour. The Port Oneida Rural Historic District located in the northern part of the park preserves the farm culture and history of the area. Use the Port Oneida Driving Tour booklet to guide you through the district and introduce you to some of the people who lived there. You can get a preview by clicking through the Port Oneida Virtual Tour before you come. There are no restrooms.

Interpretive Trails. Learn while you hike. There are three trails in the Park that have interpretive signs or trail guides: Cottonwood Trail located on the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Windy Moraine Trail located on the east side of M-109 near the entrance of Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, and the Empire Bluff Trail, located on Wilco Road, just south of the visitor center on M-22.

Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The first 4 mile segment of the Heritage Trail is complete. It starts at the Dune Climb and ends in Glen Arbor. The trail is hard surface and accessible. When complete, the trail will be 27 miles long.

Geology Tour. Drive to various points within the Lakeshore to view evidence of the geologic origins of the area. You can pick up a brochure and maps at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center. Before you come, take a virtual tour, but you will get a much better appreciation for the size of these features when you climb the hills and walk the beaches and dunes.

South Manitou Island. A field trip to South Manitou Island is an all-day affair. The ferry to the island leaves at 10:00 AM (Check-in at 9:15 AM) and returns about 5:30 PM. This trip offers a unique opportunity for students to visit the island and learn about life in this little community and the logging and farming business that supported it. The lighthouse is open for visitors to walk to the top for a spectacular view. Bring your food and water for a picnic, because there is no food to purchase. There are vault toilets on the island.

Last updated: September 28, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

9922 Front Street
Empire , MI 49630


231 326-4700

Contact Us

Stay Connected