Even if it were not for the comparative let-down of the urban Indiana Sand Dunes, the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore would’ve still taken my breath away at first sight! The water was several shades of crystal blue and the sand ranged from white to tan to pink, depending on the dune and the direction of the sun. This national lakeshore is more than just sand and 35 miles of Lake Michigan beaches though; it boasts over 100 miles of hiking, biking, ski, and snowshoe trails, plus plenty of kayak/canoe access points to Lake Michigan and the Platte and Crystal Rivers.
Immediately after setting up camp at Platte River, one of the two established campgrounds run by the NPS on the National Lakeshore, I headed over to the Visitors Center to get the lay of the land and recommendations from the Rangers on how best to spend my time in the area. Kim, a Ranger who also happened to be a fellow rider, helped me work out the perfect itinerary for my stay, including where to take my bike for the easiest parking, hiking, and best photos! One of the first activities was to take the 7-8 mile scenic Pierce Stocking Drive Loop that provides sweeping views of Glen Lake and Lake Michigan. There are a dozen stops along the way with educational signs describing the history and preservation efforts of the scene before you. Truly epic!
At the northern tip of the National Seashore lies the Maritime Museum, which provides education about the U.S. Life-Saving Service, U.S. Coast Guard, and Great Lakes shipping. Shipwrecks, and the loss of life and commerce, on the Atlantic Coast and in the Great Lakes, had become so common that Congress finally dedicated money to professionalize the volunteer force that had been responding to the emergencies, thereby creating the U.S. Life-Saving Service in the 1870s. Dozens of Life-Saving Service stations were established along the Great Lakes.
Back at the campsite, I settled in for the evening after grabbing dinner in town so I wouldn’t have to cook. Because of bear activity in the area, dish-washing is not allowed at campsites, only in the designated, indoor dish-washing room at the bathhouse. Although this only added to my uneasiness about camping in bear country, I’m happy to report that there were no bear sightings during my stay! In fact, I found this campground to be one of the cleanest and quietest I have stayed at yet. All in all, Sleeping Bear is definitely in the top 3 of my favorite National Park units so far this year!
Next up… moving north again.