Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

I’m not one to forget a Do Not Miss. I collect those like other people collect shoes or tools.

Before we set out for our first loop around the country in an RV, Kim said, “You must go to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.” I hadn’t heard of it. There’s a lot of sand somewhere in the middle of the country? Really? Are you sure? Ok. When we decided to set out again, I thought a more northern route might be in order. Let’s go see this sand hill.

I laugh at my own naïveté regularly.

Based on limited internet research, because I deeply believe in going in blind and letting the wonders reveal themselves, I knew there were at least 3 stops I wanted make: the visitor center, the dune climb and the scenic drive.

The Visitor Center

Visitor centers call to me. Information, bathrooms, junior ranger materials and a few national park themed things to buy. Who doesn’t love all that?!

The movie was ok but after the whiz bang show with lit diorama that we saw at Fort Crown Point, NY a couple of weeks ago, my bar is pretty high.

The real stars for me are the park rangers. I get the biggest kick out of the fact that our national park rangers are leading the underground rebellion against the imperfections of the U.S. government. Climate change is real and the rangers are making sure we know it.  I follow all of the altNP accounts.

With a wink I said to the lady Ranger, “I support science guerrillas.” Sure, yeah, ok, if you aren’t expecting it that’s not an obvious play on words. Scott still scoffs. Maybe living in Colombia made me a little more used to the word?! “Guerrilla” isn’t a term most people banter about, trying to be witty. Fine. It was a spur of the moment decision and I will open with something different next time. She didn’t get it. She thought I was asking if there are gorillas in the dunes. I was mortified one of my heros thought I was a complete idiot. No more puns for awhile.

The Dune Climb

What I assumed would be a lively jaunt to the top of a normal sand dune, turned into a never-ending slog from hell through the little-known North American Sahara. They really ought to import some camels. In this case, more research would have been appropriate.

Me to a stranger approaching from the opposite direction after we all had hiked about a mile up a very steep set of sand hills through burning hot sand with bare feet at 2 pm on a hot cloudless day, {struggling} “Hi there!  Hey!  Quick question?!  Could you tell me if we are about halfway?”  She glanced at her man and laughed a little nervously, “Ummmm no.  Sorry.  Not even close.” 

Ohhhhh.  Ok.  That answers that question.  I don’t have that thing in me that needs to reach things like “the top” or “the end” or even see “the lake”.  Time to turn around. I fought the dune and the dune won. {But in full disclosure, I had a great time doing it.}

I think I might still be sore. That was some of the best, full body exercise I think I’ve ever done. Sand = better than running.

The Scenic Drive

Given the level of effort required on the dunes, we were smoked. Scott and I needed coffee. The kids? They were off-the-charts tired. We grabbed a quick bite to eat, half-heartedly worked on the junior ranger stuff, and got back in the car for the scenic drive.

After the first stop of the driving tour we decided there would be no more getting out of the car. Eventually we stopped pulling into the turn offs. The kids fell asleep. The scenic drive turned into “a drive through the woods somewhat close to some picturesque dunes, but we didn’t see them”.

After The Park

Our boondocking site was about an hour south of the national lakeshore. It was still in the same dune feature. There isn’t 1 dune. There is hundreds of miles of dunes. We spent the next few days exploring the area around us. It’s apparently known only to the locals. National Park level coolness but no crowds. The magic happens when you wing it. Trust me. Try it.

The next day we did a 1.5 mile hike through SHADED dunes, popping out onto miles of deserted white sandy beaches. The dunes make for awesome swimming in Lake Michigan. We saw a few families hauling in big backpacks – AT kinda packs – with kids in tow. Apparently you can just go out into the forest and set up a camp. The only rule is that you have to be at least 400 ft from the lake shore. You can even have a camp fire. Oh we’ll be back here, for sure.

So Kim, I agree with you. If you’re a place collector, add this to the list. It was unique and interesting and we all loved it. If you ask me, I’ll even give you the grid for one of the best boondocking roads we’ve ever found.

The Start of the Dune Climb
About 0.5 miles into the climb.
It wasn’t easy at all…
About 0.75 miles into the climb. Little man down!
This is not Lake Michigan. It’s looking back at the parking lot to show distance.
Epic hiking and boondocking about 1-1.5 hours south of Sleeping Bear.
When you didn’t bring your suit because you didn’t know….
Happy Camper
Another Hide-y Hole
On a hill, good enough signal strength, plenty of sun to feed the solar. Yes!
Forest Exploring
That time Mommy may have “kissed” a tree a little bit with the awning.
“Mommy, can we do some homeschool now?” Warms my heart every time…