Nature transforms Sleeping Bear Dunes from season to season, and winter provides the opportunity to experience this wonderful landscape with fresh eyes. The trails, scenic views and popular destinations are all still here…just embellished with a new look. The days are shorter, the pace is slower and crowds are never an issue during the winter months. Yet activities are abundant and the Lakeshore remains a wonderful place to explore.
Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in Empire is open 8:30 to 4, seven days a week, year round, and is located just east of the intersection of M72 and M22. Pick up a Park Entrance Pass, maps, and brochures. See the wonderful captioned multimedia presentation and exhibits. There is free wifi where you can check on the weather, and accessible restrooms and a souvenir shop. Start your visit here and get all your questions answered!
Please exercise caution! The Lakeshore offers fascinating winter activities, but freezing temperatures, as well as slippery and unstable surfaces, create hazards. Ice formations along the Lake Michigan shoreline may be tempting to explore but are dangerous. Avalanche is a possibility on steep, snow-covered dunes.
Snowshoeing is permitted on all snow-covered dunes, fields, and forests in the Lakeshore, although it is recommended that you stay on well-marked pathways. If you are snowshoeing along a cross-country ski trail, please stay off to the side of the skiers' tracks.
Guided Snowshoe Hikes enable visitors to explore the Lakeshore with a National Park Ranger. The winter schedule starts between Christmas and New Years and continues every Saturday during January and February. All hikes will start at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center at 1:00 p.m. Bring your own snowshoes or try out those available for use on the hikes. Rangers will first provide basic snow shoeing instructions, and then everyone will travel by car to a specific trailhead. During the snowshoe hike, rangers will share interesting facts about the park’s unique features.
Cross Country Skiing is wonderful on the groomed sections of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. This paved multi-use trail is transformed in winter, and skiing conditions may be found at FriendsofSleepingBear.org, and on the park Facebook page. The park’s popular hiking trails are not groomed, though some are designated ski trails. These include Old Indian Trail, Platte Plains, Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, Windy Moraine, Alligator Hill, and Bay View. Trail maps are available at the visitor center in Empire, or on the Park website at NPS.gov/SLBE. Be safe! Ski with a partner! Pets are not allowed on ski trails while snow is on the ground.
Sledding is permitted at the Dune Climb in the designated area only when it is covered with snow. Sleds, skis, snowboards, toboggans, saucer sleds, inflatable tubes or similar equipment are restricted to use within the designated snow covered area of the Dune Climb.
Ice fishing in compliance with State of regulations is permitted. Restrictions apply to the use of powered ice augers and power engines to cut through the ice. A free permit is available at the visitor center.
Snowmobiling is not permitted on lands or waters of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.