Sleeping Bear Dunes: Bike, Swim, Repeat

We have driven from Oregon to Ontario each summer since 2016. We see beautiful sights and have amazing experiences along the way. The kids start talking about the trip as soon as spring arrives. They set their sights on our annual Sleeping Bear Dunes camping trip!

Whether it is because our nephew joins us on this trip or because we have consistently hit it out of the park in terms of fun, all I know is that they love going to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore. They come by this naturally, as CD and I were married there in 2008. 

Glen Arbor Family History

CD was voting for getting married in the back country of Colorado; I was voting for somewhere a bit more accessible. Next thing I knew, we were in Glen Arbor. I can’t remember if we were having a drink at Art’s or sitting in the coffee shop, but somewhere along the way a local recommended we get in touch with “Don”. Don was well known in the Glen Arbor community. He was elderly and his health was not the best. Don didn’t have any children and he was an active member of the community.

I can’t remember if we were given his number or if we simply walked up to his door and knocked, but later that day we were sitting in his living room. He was happy to meet us and told us about how he met his wife when they were middle aged. She was the love of his life. He asked tons of questions about skiing, Colorado, and where we would ski next. We heard stories about skiing in Chamonix and flying in and out of Aspen. We had an instant friendship. His Lake Michigan beachfront was adjacent to a public access and he invited us to use his beach for our wedding. Glen Arbor has become much more hectic since then and Don is no longer with us but the town still holds a certain charm. Sleeping Bear Dunes is easy to love. 

Highlights of our Sleeping Bear Dunes Annual Trip

  • DH Day Campground
    • Pit toilets, water, access to the bike trail, close to Glen Arbor and Glen Haven
    • Reservations: Until summer 2019, this campground was first-come-first-serve only. We typically try to avoid crowds by going August, mid-week. I have mixed emotions about the reservation system but we were able to get a site, so it has worked out so far.  
Glen Haven
Walk to Lake Michigan from DH Day
  • Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail
    • This paved bike trail is the gold standard by which I measure national parks and campgrounds. We rode North to Glen Arbor and South to North Barr Lake in 2019. Together with three kids, we logged 29.1 miles on the trail in 2 days! The kids would have gladly ridden farther if we had stayed longer.   
    • Here are some reasons that we love this trail
      • It keeps you and the kids from riding on the shoulder of the road
      • You can get from DH Day to Glen Haven in under 5 minutes. You will find nice restrooms with flush toilets and running water when you get there
      • You don’t have to find a place to park in Glen Arbor 
      • It keeps your car free from of sand after the Dune Climb
      • You feel motivated to swim in Lake Michigan. Simply ride, get hot, swim, and repeat. The kids and I are all about this plan!
      • It is good exercise and better for the environment
      • It’s nearly impossible to ride and not smile
      • You get to talk with other riders 

2019 Biking Itinerary

First Day: 

  • Bike from DH Day to Glen Haven to rescue raggedy Ann from a shipwreck using a Lyle Gun.
  • Ride bikes from Glen Haven to Glen Arbor to pick up provisions at Anderson’s Market
  • Bike from Glen Arbor to DH Day

Second Day:

  • Bike from DH Day to the Dune Climb in time to catch the Dune Climb Concert
  • Ride bikes from the Dune Climb to DH Day

Third Day:

  • Bike from DH Day to Glen Arbor for breakfast 
  • Ride bikes from Glen Arbor to DH Day
  • Bike DH Day to North Barr Lake

CD was kind enough to be the support vehicle. He packed up the campsite and met us at the North Barr Lake parking lot.

Parking in Glen Arbor: 2018. Dinner at Art’s
Dune climb parking
2018. DH Day to Glen Arbor
Crazy storm damage from straight line winds: DH Day to Glen Arbor
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake shore
    • Too many great trails to mention. I have pretty much tried and like them all.
    • The Dune Climb trail has earned a quick mention though. Don’t underestimate this trail. If you think you climbed the last dune and are headed for the beach, you aren’t. There are still more dunes to climb! Before having kids, I loved this trail for the pure exercise.
    • South Manitou Island
      • There are campsites. Our site was fine but some of the sites looked really amazing. Try to get one of those!
      • We spent one night there and hiked all the entire island
      • It would be a fun place to take the kids. One night would be enough
    • North Manitou Island
      • More remote than South.
      • We camped one night and walked around the island. It is likely that we would have gotten restless there if we stayed longer
North manitou, 2011?
A few dunes up on the dune climb. Fewer crowds here
Sleeping bear point trail
Sleeping bear point trail; Sleeping Bear Dunes


  • Glen Arbor
    • Art’s Tavern: A local favorite. There may be a wait in the summer. Bring cash – they don’t take credit
    • Good Harbor Grill: The food here is genuinely good and fresh 
    • Anderson’s Glen Arbor Market: bigger than the store in Empire
    • Great Lakes Tea and Spice: Pick up Christmas gifts while you are here!
    • Crystal River Outfitters: We rented kayaks here in late September and spent a day exploring the Lake Michigan between Glen Arbor and Glen Haven. You can also paddle the river.
Glen Arbor public access. Sleeping Bear Dunes
  • Empire
    • Village Park: 1 block from downtown. 2 playgrounds, 2 beaches, boat launch, shelter, vault toilets. Fires are permitted in fire rings. This park was free previously but now parking fees apply. Parking may be tough to come by during the summer. 
    • Empire Bluff Trail: This is a “do not miss” trail if you are looking for the best views in the park
    • National Park Service headquarters: Just in case you need a park cancellation for your park passport book
      • There are at least 4 cancellations in the park.
        • Dune Climb
        • Visitor’s Center
        • Glen Haven general store
        • South Manitou 
Empire Beach

South End

  • Riverside Canoes: Platte River
    • Head here during the fall salmon run. You won’t be disappointed. Avoid it in the summer unless you love crowds!

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